Employee motivation is important in any business. It can be the difference between an employee that will go above and beyond - when no one is around - and one that will do a poor job, even when someone IS watching. And ultimately, those actions can make the difference between increasing and decreasing business revenue.
Of course, hiring the right employee is critical. But even when that is done correctly, it is possible for great employees to lose the fire and motivation they once had. In fact, it's not only possible, but it's also likely.
Inc. magazine shared research from one Harvard Management Update, which suggested that in approximately 85 percent of companies, "The morale of employees sharply declines after their first six months on the job -- and it continues to deteriorate for years afterward."
Inspiring employee motivation is an important investment that must continue as long as you have employees that work for you and care about your bottom line.
employee recognition (what could go wrong?)
We've all seen public examples of employee recognition, such as the "employee of the month" pictures. A long row of individual photos lines the wall in many businesses, various employee expressions captured as they hold their plaque or certificate.
Here's why generic recognition doesn't work.
There is nothing inherently wrong with recognizing employees who receive positive customer feedback (assuming all employees have equal interaction time with customers). This is how many employee of the month programs are structured. There is also nothing wrong with recognizing an employee for going above and beyond (assuming all employees have the same opportunity and authority to do so).
The problem with these recognition programs is that they are often based around a "reward" that may mean very little to employees, which means it does nothing for their motivation. Think about it this way - if you were to ask your employee what recognition they would find motivating and meaningful, do you think their response would be, "I'd really like to come to work, hold a plague and have my picture taken for the break room?"
Chances are, the answer is no.
the power of individualized recognition
Another problem with many existing recognition programs is that they apply a one-size-fits-all solution. But the truth is that each employee is an individual and will respond to one type of recognition differently from their colleagues.
For example, your millennial employee might want to have another day off after achieving a big goal. In contrast, your long-term senior employee might appreciate a generous gift card to their favorite upscale restaurant, so they can take their spouse out for a night on the town. If your employee recognition program acknowledges both with a cheese basket, you haven't motivated either. And in fact, the chances are that your good intentions will actually backfire.
Michael Page, one of the world's leading professional recruitment consultancies, says it this way, "It's important to recognise that true engagement will mean different things to different people and to understand what really drives an individual's motivation."
This is especially important in today's landscape, as younger generations become the majority of the workforce. These employees are less likely to stay with an organization because of "job security" or a consistent paycheck and more likely to find a job that contributes to or aligns with their values and well-being.
According to research by Mercer, there are three factors that most employees and job candidates are looking for in a company. "This included permanent workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and well-being and working with a purpose."
What are the ways to help build purpose for employees? According to the report, they include showing recognition, expressing gratitude and letting employees know how their job makes an impact.
All three of these suggestions require intentional action by employers. And may beg the question, is it really worth all the effort? The answer is clear - yes!
Beyond the obvious benefit of happy employees, effective recognition programs lead to less absenteeism, turnover, shrinkage, safety incidents and higher productivity, sales and customer satisfaction. Companies with an employee engagement strategy that includes employee recognition also experience an increase in profitability by more than 20%.
building authentic relationships
Taking steps to develop an effective employee recognition program conveys a real appreciation for what each individual does in the organization. It's the difference between a thoughtless gift and a personalized expression of thanks.
This is true in all areas of our life. For many of us, we've experienced what it is like to have a friend or partner pay enough attention to our likes and dislikes that they surprised us with something personal when the holidays came around. That feeling of, "I can't believe they remembered," creates a strong emotional connection and a deep sense of appreciation. It feels like that person "knows" you and "gets" you. This is usually different than the emotions we feel when we receive a gift card or a card signed with simply a name (and not a note).
While both gifts are appreciated, one creates a stronger connection between the giver and the receiver. Companies who understand the power of building authentic relationships where their employees feel valued experience limitless returns.
Understanding how recognition impacts motivation is just the beginning. The next steps require a deep dive into employee priorities, values and culture - individually and as a whole.
It can sound overwhelming to business owners who want to inspire motivation but aren't sure where to begin or how they'll find the time to take on such an important initiative.
Our recommendation is to utilize professionals that understand how to evaluate, create and implement personalized recognition that converts into motivation. Not only do experts in the field understand how to design and execute an effective strategy, they often receive more honest feedback from employees than a superior in the organization might. And genuine feedback is a critical step in developing an effective strategy.
Look for someone with proven solutions and experience in improving employee motivation with recognition. The proper knowledge and expertise will increase your likelihood of success, not only in employee satisfaction but also in improving the bottom line.
As you consider your internal programs, here are some questions to ask:
Do we have a recognition program?
Does it have a specific goal, or did it check a box?
How long has it been since we reviewed it?
How long has it been since we asked our employees if it is motivating?
Is it personalized and purposeful?
"you are what you do, not what you say you'll do. "
Carl Gustav Jung