Why poor employee recognition can throw wellbeing ‘out the window’

How good are you at connecting the dots? 

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As an HR leader, you likely already recognize that a healthy dose of employee recognition can lead to better outcomes for your people and your organization, as can tending to employees’ wellbeing. In fact, a new report shows that rather than looking at these efforts individually, connecting the dots between recognition and wellbeing can supercharge efforts to protect your workforce in the long run.

A Gallup-Workhuman report released today finds a correlation between the level of recognition that employees receive and their level of wellbeing. That, in turn, can help or harm employees’ job performance, views on pay equity and desire to search for a new job.

“I certainly expected great recognition to have a positive effect on employees’ wellbeing, but I was surprised by how poor recognition can throw wellbeing out the window,” says Dan Witters, research director of Gallup’s National Health and Well-Being Index. He added that poor wellbeing, not surprisingly, can impact job performance.

Seventy-four percent of employees whose overall wellbeing is thriving are apt to be told they are top performers, compared to just 42% of employees whose wellbeing is suffering, according to the report, which surveyed more than 10,000 working adults in the U.S. Similarly, only 18% of employees whose wellbeing is suffering overall feel they are paid fairly, while 60% of employees who are thriving overall believe they are paid fairly.

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And when it comes to retention, the study found it can be linked to wellbeing and recognition: 75% of employees whose wellbeing is suffering and who feel they receive poor recognition are considering looking for a new job. Compare that to the percentage of survey participants considering looking for a new job (40%) who reported their wellbeing is suffering and that they receive a large dose of recognition, according to the study.

Related Link: 8 ways HR leaders can take to overcome burnout

Are HR leaders and managers aware?

Ed O’Boyle, global practice leader at Gallup, also was surprised by the magnitude of difference between someone with “thriving” workplace wellbeing as compared with employees who were struggling and the level of recognition they received.

Most HR leaders and managers are overwhelmed in their roles and have many priorities, meaning they often don’t take the time to connect the dots between recognition and wellbeing, O’Boyle says.

But some do. “I think the best managers intuitively understand the connection between having their people heard and recognized for their performance,” says O’Boyle. 

Actionable employee recognition steps

Gallup uses five pillars to evaluate whether leaders are using strategic recognition versus throwing out praise inconsistently and inappropriately. These are:

  • Fulfilling employees’ recognition expectations with the appropriate amount of praise;
  • Delivering authentic praise versus working from a checklist;
  • Offering personalized recognition;
  • Providing equitable and fair recognition; and
  • Integrating recognition into the daily culture of the organization.

In addition to using the pillars as best practices, Gallup experts suggest that HR leaders take four steps to simultaneously increase recognition and wellbeing within their workforce.

First, link wellbeing and recognition strategies by, for example, acknowledging and rewarding employees who successfully track their daily steps and receive preventive wellness checks.

Based on studies from Workhuman, O’Boyle says, recognition should not be solely work-related but should encompass the whole person. This can be done by celebrating milestones for everything from birthdays, weddings and the birth of a child to achieving personal goals such as running a marathon.

A second step is educating managers on the importance of recognition and wellbeing and then empowering them to take action. Suggest they share the information with their teams and work to take advantage of the synergies between recognition and wellbeing work.

Third, leaders should set the tone by acting as recognition role models for managers and team leads.

Finally, HR leaders and managers should support employees by putting personal wellbeing and health front and center. Consider company-wide health challenges, for example, that provide opportunities for employees to cheer each other on and recognize their accomplishments.

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.