Workhuman Live 2023: Bringing Humanity Back to the Workplace

April 18, 2023 Eric Mosley
 Workhuman Live Keynote

It’s been a year since we were all together at Workhuman® Live, and what a year it’s been. Since that time, we’ve seen and heard stories of teams coming together, reigniting human connections and a collective sense of purpose in a post-pandemic world. I can feel it now in this lively auditorium at Workhuman Live 2023, that energy and enthusiasm, that wellspring of positivity that grounds us and reminds us that we are all in this together.

But let’s not pretend that this past year has been easy. Amidst a tidal wave of volatility in the market, we have lived in a constant state of flux, with everything changing so fast that we all have whiplash.

For all the disruption to business, it’s our people who have been hit hardest, and we’ve felt the downstream impact reverberating across organizations.

Trends are all over the place – one minute it’s The Great Resignation, the next it’s quiet quitting – it’s enough for one labor economist to say Beyonce’s “Break My Soul,” a song that has become somewhat of an anthem for those plagued by work burnout, has “seeped into the zeitgeist.”

So, where do we go from here?

The speed of change in the current economic climate causes everyone to play catch up, which has us running around like mad, trying to catch all the balls before we’ve even questioned if we’re playing the right game. The only way to get off this carousel is to build systems that are about – and responsive to – change: In other words, build for the now.

And that’s why we’ve gathered all of you, the industry’s best and brightest, here at Workhuman® Live in San Diego. We built this cool, forward-leaning conference to help you win. We exist to help you win at pivoting: Workhuman is the solution that can bring HR into the now economy.

It starts with putting human beings at the center of everything we do – bringing “humanity back to the workplace,” so to speak. Humans need to feel seen – to know they’re valued and appreciated for who they are as people and what they bring to the table – and organizations need engagement and momentum. When things are in a state of flux, the companies that double down on caring for their people are the ones that win every time.

It’s time to evolve our thinking, enact effective people strategies that help organizations win, and celebrate the humanity that bolsters the workplace.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the highlights I shared during my opening remarks:

All roads lead to Rome – and Rome is recognition

eric mosley speaking at Workhuman Live 2023

At Workhuman, we like to say we’re a “mission with a company” – and that mission is to make work more human for every person on the planet (starting with our 7 million happy users around the globe).

What’s more human than feeling seen, valued, and appreciated? The simple and powerful message of “thank you” goes a long way.

At a time when retention is the big thing on everyone’s mind – and with people still leaving their jobs at higher than pre-pandemic numbers – this becomes more critical than ever. Pre-event surveys for Workhuman Live, in fact, showed us that what attendees want to know most is how to create a workforce that can withstand change – and the answer is quite simple: Recognition.

Recognition (or, as we at Workhuman call it, Social Recognition®) is proof we exist. We like to stay at places that see us and make us feel valued.

The concept of recognition – the idea that all employees benefit from feeling acknowledged and appreciated for their hard work and unique contributions – is perhaps best explained in our recently released company commercial:

But don’t just take our word for it.

McKinsey research shows that, while employers assume pay, work-life balance, and wellbeing are the main motivators for people leaving their jobs, more than half (54%) of employees report that not feeling valued and a sense of belonging at work trump these other factors.

Recognition is a simple way for organizations to demonstrate their investment in and commitment to their people. But it makes good business sense, too. It’s a win-win.

A new report from Gallup and Workhuman reviewed correlations between recognition and key business outcomes across hundreds of organizations and thousands of teams in different industries. Globally, one in four employees in Gallup’s database strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week.

Gallup found that if the median business in their database doubled the number of employees who strongly agree to this item, that business could see a:

  • 9% improvement in productivity
  • 22% decrease in safety incidents
  • 22% decrease in absenteeism

Using these results, Gallup calculated how much an average U.S. business of 10,000 employees could expect to save based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, and the results are striking.

By doubling the one in four employees who strongly agree, in Gallup’s database, to receiving recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week, an average business could expect to save:

  • $91,989,474 in gained employee productivity
  • $2,807,200 due to decreased injuries
  • $3,801,336 due to fewer unscheduled absences

Those are some pretty big numbers that ultimately boil down to two powerful little words: thank you.

The science behind recognition

Recognition programs existed long before Workhuman, but we came along more than 20 years ago and decided not to settle for what was there before. And one of the biggest ways we set ourselves apart from the competition is by continuously innovating – making sure what we do will be the best for years to come.

We’ve gone deep into the science of recognition with the help of our Workhuman iQ – now, simply, “iQ” – team: renowned psychologists, data scientists, researchers, linguists, and engineers. Through machine learning models, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing, our iQ team analyzes tens of millions of data points on how we work – ultimately uncovering critical insights into employee motivations, behaviors, and sentiment.

That’s the holy grail of HR – to try to unlock more points of human connection and drive performance – and recognition is the superpower to get teams where they want to be.

A big part of this revolves around getting HR program managers to understand the impact of recognition on employee potential, not just on performance. And, in order to do this, they need to internalize the science behind recognition.

To illustrate how this might work in practice, let’s look at the annual performance review. We’re all familiar with the standard 9-box below, which shows employee performance along the X axis and potential along the Y axis. Tools like this are useful in identifying stars versus those who may need additional coaching, but annual performance reviews themselves can be tedious and time-consuming.

Performance vs potential

Now here’s a major breakthrough: What if we could eliminate the annual performance review process altogether and still get this type of insight into employee performance and potential?

Using recognition data, AI, and natural language processing, our iQ team has built a proxy for the 9-box. They’ve taken all of this recognition data and painted every individual employee into a 9-box, with the X axis reflecting the number of awards each employee has received and the Y axis reflecting the average number of employee skill mentions per award.

performance vs potential on a graph

With all of this recognition data, we can get a full picture of each employee – we’re analyzing recognition messages specific to the individual and looking at quantity of messages. It’s not just about high versus low performers – it’s about identifying how to best use each person’s unique skills, setting them up for success.

But there is so much more we can do with recognition data and insights.

Last year, we debuted the Workhuman iQ App, helping organizations see and analyze their workplace culture in real time – showing changes in behaviors and raising awareness of new emerging patterns.

Throughout this year, we’ll release new capabilities on the Workhuman iQ App, including organizational trends, engagement insights, skills visibility, and analytics and AI.

Let’s take, as an example industry, call centers. If there were ever a group to be susceptible to employee burnout, it’s call centers – and that’s why they have a 30–45% turnover rate. However, among call center groups, those with the highest turnover rates have the lowest recognition awards per employee.

That seems obvious – but do all call center managers know this? Have they internalized that, if they can increase the percentage of recognition awards per employee, they can reduce their turnover?

All of this is to say that’s why we’re releasing new Workhuman iQ App capabilities – to get these types of insights into the hands of managers and empower them to improve performance, culture, and engagement.

In other words, we’re building all of this to help you win at being you.

Workhuman integrations

Since our inception, our goal has always been to build a more “human workplace” for everyone. It’s in our company DNA – this notion that recognition connects, binds, and builds relationships between people.

But, with teams in a post-pandemic landscape working in new and different ways – on-site, hybrid, and remote – we needed to rethink where and how we brought recognition into the hands of our customers.

To that end, we released Workhuman integrations last year. By injecting the power of recognition, Conversations®, and Community Celebrations® into commonly used enterprise productivity tools, we’re able to build cultures of connection and recognition wherever and however people are working. Our integrations enable Workhuman to be wherever users are, including critical workplace applications like Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Slack, Workday, and more, allowing the real-time recognition to fit seamlessly into any workflow.

This year, we want to take integrations a bit further, beginning with new capabilities in Microsoft Teams and extending into a full proliferation throughout the Microsoft 365 universe. With these new capabilities, we will radically change the recognition experience, building energy and positivity within the Microsoft platform itself, as opposed to users having to context switch from Microsoft to the Sparks recognition platform.

And that’s the whole purpose:

To enable in-the-moment recognition.⏰

Let’s say, for example, you’re on a videoconferencing call – as we all are most days. You’re talking about how great a project went and you want to reward your team, so you bring up another browser window to log into Sparks while trying to listen to the call.

You get a notification from the Microsoft Authenticator app to respond – but your phone’s dead, your phone charger is across the room, and your cat’s asleep on your lap. Does this sound familiar?

With the new Microsoft integration, you can hit the little Spark symbol directly in Teams and recognize your colleagues right in the meeting, without missing a beat.

It’s these kinds of impromptu recognition moments that will remove the friction and allow for a fully immersive recognition experience, ultimately facilitating better connection and engagement across teams.

Custom programs

Strategic recognition – that is, recognition that is truly embedded in company culture – is kind of like a bonsai tree: You snip branches, encouraging new growth and new behaviors and cutting out the values that you don’t want so that, over time, you get a culture that mirrors the vision for your company.

In that sense, strategic recognition is a generational investment in culture management.

But, sometimes, teams may have a spot need to localize recognition in one specific area of the business.

Let’s say, for example, you have an overseas factory where production quality is lacking. In this circumstance, you’d highlight quality control and get everyone galvanized around this specific value, making it a part of the culture in that particular factory even though it may not be part of the big corporate list of values.

The way it would work is you’d set a little custom program for that specific need and raise it up to the point where quality and consciousness of quality is prevalent in that factory. Once this happens, you’d shut down that specific custom program.

This is a legitimate use of custom programs – it’s always going to be an 80/20, where 80% of your efforts revolve around the corporate recognition program and 20% revolve around these tactical, local programs that come and go.

💭Think of it this way: Strategic recognition + crowd-sourced programs that have tactical, short-term needs.

Custom programs are enormously powerful, and there are huge advantages to running these spot programs off an existing program. They’re designed entirely to meet your specific, in-the-moment needs.

Workhuman experiences

There are many benefits to recognition: building culture, driving performance, and inspiring genuine human connection. But one of the biggest benefits is that recognition is personalized to the individual – it shines a spotlight on a person’s unique qualities, characteristics, and contributions to the company.

What makes recognition even more powerful is that employees can redeem their awards in ways that are most meaningful to them. We’ve all had a tough couple of years – and what better way to look toward the future than to re-introduce surprise, delight, and joy back into our lives.

To that end, this year, Workhuman will be introducing the industry’s largest, deepest, most global catalog of experiences to our rewards store. This world-class award redemption assortment – everything from a river cruise on the Seine in Paris to a Hawaiian helicopter ride – is just one of the ways we’re demonstrating the value of recognition to each and every employee.

Our global network of experience packages includes:

  • A global catalogue of more than 300,000 experience packages
  • 500,000 hotels, car rentals, and flights that can be booked directly through our store using recognition award points
  • Access to an extensive global gift card assortment of partnerships with trusted experiences and travel partners for thousands of more choices

It’s all part of our pledge to create human moments – memories, experiences – that matter.

Final thoughts

Eric Mosley on stage at Workhuman Live 2023

This year, the world of work will be more connected, culture will be more crucial, and recognition, values, appreciation, and community will be invaluable.

Cultures that will win the future know this deeply. They are moving toward agile systems that allow them to be in the moment with their employees, in constant communication and evolution.

And that’s what this year’s Workhuman Live is all about: movement, connection, humanity.

Social psychologists Morris Rosenburg and Claire McCullough wrote that feeling noticed is “the most elementary form of mattering.” When we think about the future, how to build cultures that can withstand chaos and market volatility, we need to be keeping this in mind: How to uplift our people to uplift our community.

Recognition is the tool to get us there.

🚀Discover how Social Recognition® and the rest of Workhuman Cloud® can transform your organization’s culture into one with gratitude at the center. 🚀

🌟Get more information today!🌟