Holding Leaders Accountable for Employee Recognition

Progressive companies are adding a new layer to recognition programs.
By: | March 20, 2019 • 2 min read
employee recognition

Twenty-five years after the publication of Bob Nelson’s best-seller 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, the author says some companies still fall short at employee recognition. But Nelson’s advice on how to change that may seem counter-intuitive.

“Don’t do another program, another reward,” says Nelson.

His latest book, 1001 Ways to Engage Employees, reveals that recognition, career development and the role of the manager are the top three influencing factors for employee engagement. Therefore, he says, “we need fewer programs and more appreciation, value or making people feel special about the things they’ve done.”

Years ago, employee recognition typically consisted of an annual event where honored or retired workers received an engraved plaque or gift. Remember lapel pins or the legendary gold watch? The concept of recognition later morphed into attendance awards, safety awards or employee-of-the-month programs where employees were handed a certificate, purchased items from the company store or chose experience rewards ranging from flight lessons to weekend getaways. Although many companies still engage in such practices, progressive employers have added another layer—leaders and managers are now being held accountable for acknowledging employee accomplishments in various ways.

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“It becomes part of how you do things, not the exception,” says Nelson, who was recently named among the top 20 management gurus by Thinkers50, a London-based consulting firm. “HR has to say, ‘This isn’t optional anymore.’ ”

Although the types of rewards that employees receive constantly evolve, he explains that the need for employees to feel appreciated or valued remains constant.

In this economy that currently boasts a 4 percent unemployment rate, 6.6 million jobs went unfilled last year, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Nelson says that while it’s harder to recruit talent and hang on to those who can contribute to your company’s success, employees in organizations that support a culture of recognition feel five times more valued than those in cultures that don’t. Those workers are also six times more likely to praise their employer as a great place to work and seven times more likely to stay with the company throughout their career.

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HR professionals need to convince company leaders and managers to hold each other accountable for acknowledging employees, which includes individuals who exemplify the company’s values, says Nelson. HR departments also must present evidence or industry research about the positive impact of ongoing recognition on recruitment and retention, employee morale, engagement, motivation and performance and just as important, the company’s bottom line.

“Every leader, every day, must take time to acknowledge employees, show recognition to people who work for them,” says Nelson. “Get your leaders to actually take the time to thank employees in a timely, specific way when they’ve done a good job. That’s HR’s biggest challenge—to get them to take this seriously and actually do it.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]