Article: The truth about employee recognition: Why boosting morale isn't always effective

Benefits & Rewards

The truth about employee recognition: Why boosting morale isn't always effective

Creating a culture of recognition and appreciation comes with its challenges. Overcoming obstacles like biases, favouritism, and inconsistent acknowledgment demands a dedicated and intentional approach.
The truth about employee recognition: Why boosting morale isn't always effective

In our life journey, relationships serve as steadfast pillars, providing solace, joy, and a sense of belonging. Research underscores the profound impact of human connection on our overall well-being and resilience. However, these relationships extend beyond our personal lives; they wield significant influence within the confines of our workplaces.

According to Aaron Hurst, founder of Imperative, relationships act as the linchpin of fulfilment at work. Given that individuals dedicate a substantial portion of their lives to their professional endeavours, nurturing meaningful connections becomes paramount in fostering a conducive and enriching environment. One potent method to cultivate and reinforce these relationships is through recognition.

However, recognition transcends a mere pat on the back; it serves as a cornerstone of a flourishing workplace culture. When executed effectively, it instils a sense of appreciation, motivation, and camaraderie among employees. Yet, herein lies the challenge: poorly implemented recognition initiatives can backfire, undermining the very culture they aim to fortify.

The path toward building a culture of recognition and appreciation is not devoid of obstacles. Overcoming barriers such as biases, favouritism, and inconsistency in acknowledgment requires a concerted effort. Organisations must invest in robust recognition programs, complemented by training and education to ensure equitable and transparent practices.

Recognition in the workplace doesn't always equate to appreciation!

Typically, recognition entails acknowledging achievements and performance outcomes, while appreciation delves deeper, recognising an individual's intrinsic worth and contributions to organisational culture. Understanding this distinction is pivotal as it significantly influences employee engagement, morale, and overall organisational culture.

Appreciation extends beyond measurable performance metrics, acknowledging an individual's unique qualities and intrinsic value. It underscores who they are rather than solely focusing on what they do. As aptly articulated by Mike Robbins, "recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are." This nuanced differentiation underscores the importance of valuing employees for their inherent worth and character, not solely their contributions to the bottom line.

However, despite the significance of appreciation, many workplaces prioritise performance-based recognition, inadvertently overlooking the profound impact of genuine appreciation. This preference for recognition over appreciation can lead to detrimental outcomes, including conditionality and scarcity.

Conditionality in recognition stems from its link to past achievements and performance outcomes. Employees often feel compelled to outperform their peers and surpass their past accomplishments to receive recognition, fostering a hypercompetitive work environment that undermines collaboration and teamwork.

Furthermore, the scarcity of recognition exacerbates this issue, as tangible rewards such as bonuses or promotions are limited. In this competitive landscape, employees may feel undervalued, leading to disengagement and disillusionment.

To foster an inclusive and supportive workplace culture, organizations must recognise the intrinsic value of appreciation alongside performance-based recognition. Embracing appreciation fosters a culture of gratitude, empathy, and mutual respect, strengthening interpersonal connections and enhancing employee morale.

Ultimately, integrating both recognition and appreciation is imperative for creating a positive and thriving workplace environment. By valuing employees for their tangible contributions and unique qualities, organisations can foster a culture where individuals feel recognised, valued, and empowered to bring their whole selves to work.

Unhealthy recognition = Toxic workplace cultures

The perils of this model are starkly illustrated in Japan's epidemic of karoshi, or death from overwork. Japanese professionals routinely log over 100 hours of overtime per month, a practice that significantly elevates the risk of stroke and heart disease due to the combined emotional and physical stress of work.

In a tragic incident that epitomises this issue, Miwa Sado, a reporter for NHK, succumbed to congestive heart failure while clutching her smartphone. In the month leading up to her death, she logged an astonishing 159 hours of overtime and took only two days off. She was just 31 years old.

While the causes of karoshi are multifaceted and complex, Japanese business culture's heavy emphasis on performance-based recognition plays a significant role. In this context, performance is often equated with the number of hours spent working.

According to Yoko Ishikura, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University, many companies and bosses in Japan evaluate performance primarily based on face-time, or the amount of time spent in the office. This narrow focus on hours worked often disregards efficiency and productivity, leading to a culture where long hours are equated with competence and dedication, while those who work efficiently are overlooked.

You can also read: 

How to recognise your employees?

To truly make an impact and avoid the pitfalls that can undermine recognition efforts, business owners need to adopt a strategic approach. Here are some no-nonsense tips for getting it right:

Ditch One Size Doesn't Fit All

Generic forms of recognition fall short of making a meaningful impact. Tailor your recognition efforts to each individual employee. Take the time to understand their preferences—some may prefer public praise, while others appreciate a private acknowledgment. Demonstrating emotional intelligence in your recognition efforts ensures that your gestures resonate with your team members on a personal level.

Harness the Power of Specificity

Specific recognition is not only courteous but also psychologically powerful. When you acknowledge a specific achievement or behaviour, you reinforce its importance and increase the likelihood of its repetition. Avoid generic praise, which can create confusion and breed complacency.

Embrace Timeliness: Recognise Achievements in Real-Time

Delaying recognition diminishes its impact. Immediate acknowledgment triggers the release of dopamine, reinforcing the desired behaviour and increasing the likelihood of its recurrence. Waiting for quarterly reviews or annual evaluations to provide praise is outdated and ineffective. Recognise your employees' achievements as they happen to maximize their motivational impact and shape future performance.

Align Recognition with Company Values

Effective recognition reinforces and exemplifies your company's core values. Celebrate behaviours and accomplishments that align with your organisational goals and mission. By tying recognition to company values, you not only make employees feel valued but also strengthen organisational culture and strategic alignment.

Recognise the Art and Science of Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is more than just a buzzword—it's a multidimensional practice that blends psychology, neuroscience, and business strategy. A strategic approach to recognition acknowledges its complexity and leverages it as a powerful tool for driving performance and shaping culture.

Read full story

Topics: Benefits & Rewards, #TotalRewards, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?

Your opinion matters: Tell us how we're doing this quarter!

Selected Score :