Recognition: The Heart of Working Human

January 5, 2021 Aaron Kinne

5-minute read  

(This post is the latest in our continuing series, highlighting each chapter in the recently published book, “Making Work Human.”) 

thank you spelled in scrabble tilesSocial recognition is the practice of people recognizing and rewarding each other’s efforts, using positive feedback to unlock human potential,” write Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine in the seventh chapter of their recent landmark book, “Making Work Human.” “It’s the foundation for creating a more human workplace because it reinforces shared purpose and gives individual meaning through gratitude.”  

So, what are the benefits of a culture that embraces and celebrates gratitude and acknowledgment? According to the authors, it “improves performance, deepens relationships, drives engagement, ties together geographically dispersed teams, inspires better work, and builds trust in your brand.”

Eric and Derek point to three essential reasons organizations should create moments of gratitude and capture them in a social recognition platform:  

  1. The power of gratitude itself: The benefits – for both giver and receiver – “echo out into the culture, as more and more people describe good performance and extra effort.” 

  1. Creates teachable moments: By highlighting positive behavior and positive results for all to see, “you provide raw material for understanding subtle organization dynamics.” 

  1. Expands and enriches a database of human-to-human interactions: “Data analysis can identify which interactions produce which benefits. It can produce ‘aha moments’ for HR and other leaders.” 

The authors go on to point out that, in its purest form, social recognition delivers profound and enduring benefits. Among the reasons they cite:  

  • It’s democratic. Because everyone can and does participate, it promotes a sense of belonging and cohesion at all levels across the organization. 

  • It becomes a “steady habit” with clear structure and guidelines. As such, it’s woven into the company culture, and can be measured and connected to outcomes. 

  • It connects behavior to company purpose and values. When you connect recognition to company values, it builds a positive employee brand, reinforces business goals, boosts engagement and productivity, and delivers powerful ROI. 

  • It comes with a tangible, meaningful reward. Real value demonstrates the organization is truly invested in the employee, and a meaningful award makes a poignant difference in their life. 

Recognition and results 

According to an annual survey Workhuman® conducts in collaboration with SHRM, HR practitioners say their employee recognition program helps with organizational culture (85%), engagement (84%), employee experience (89%), employee relationships (86%), and organizational values (83%).  

There are other benefits social recognition can have on an organization, including:  

  • Makes managing easier: “Recognition provides you with information to make the job of managing easier,” note the authors. “Each recognition moment adds to a broader picture of strengths and weaknesses.” 

  • Taps into the power of peer-to-peer: Because social recognition is democratic, it provides a strong “countermeasure” to the bureaucratic idea that only managers are entitled to evaluate performance, and it encourages everyone to reinforce organizational values.  

  • Has a positive impact on key business metrics: An effective employee recognition program is proven to drive excellence, boost engagement, reinforce company values, nurture trust, and deliver a trove of vital data. 

Recognition and employee engagement 

As the chapter points out, employee engagement has been an increasingly hot topic for more than a decade, and its importance as a key HR metric is sure to grow. It’s easy to understand why: “A meta-analysis of 263 research studies found that organizations with the most engaged employees outperformed those with the least engaged employees along many dimensions.” These include improvements in profitability, productivity, retention, and customer ratings, and fewer safety incidents and theft. 

According to “The Employee Experience Index,” a landmark report from IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman, the impact of recognition on employee experience is significant: 83% of employees who receive recognition on their performance and 80% of those receiving feedback report a positive experience compared with 38% and 41%, respectively, of employees who don’t. 

The power of peer-to-peer 

Peer-to-peer interaction is most impactful because peers are significantly more trusted than executives,” note the authors. “Community flourishes when people recognize others with whom they work and spend their time.” 

As Eric and Derek see it, it’s all about building a “community story” of how recognition connects employees and helps them work toward common goals. In their view, “Peer-to-peer interactions in an organization are where culture really exists, not in words on a mission statement but in the reality of daily life, where expectations of behavior arise.” 

The authors go on to remind us that when it comes to recognition, timing is everything: “When peers recognize each other quickly and frequently, all the positive effects of a culture of appreciation are magnified.” 

Recognition and retention 

No discussion of social recognition would be complete without acknowledging its profound and proven impact on retention. Given the cost of turnover – $600 billion in 2018, according to The Work Institute – the importance of an effective recognition program in retaining valuable employees cannot be overstated. 

But recognition doesn’t just reduce turnover. It also serves as an “early warning system” to alert management that an employee may in danger of leaving. That’s particularly significant because, according to the Work Institute, “more than three in four employees, 77 percent, who quit could have been retained by employers.” 

In the end, the connection between recognition and retention comes down to this simple truth: “Without a culture of goodwill and gratitude, one that ties recognition to performance, a company is depriving itself of both insights about why people leave and the chance to prevent attrition. And a company will end up losing more good people to its competitors.”  

Seeing the unseen 

“Natural language processing, advanced data analysis, and artificial intelligence are game changers for leading and managing organizations,” note the authors. “Now we can map recognition activity against many important outcomes for an evidence-based understanding of how recognition affects engagement, retention, participation in an employee referral program, or the relative importance of company values.” 

Drawing on network maps, Eric and Derek illuminate how organizations can gain insights into the ties between teams, identify “super-connectors,” hidden influencers, and more. Through natural language processing, we can gain “an uncanny depth to network analysis.” For instance, people receiving recognition containing certain keywords tend to be high performers. 

The issue of data privacy 

While acknowledging that the issue of privacy could itself fill an entire book, the authors remind us that “those who adopt the benefits of social recognition are obligated to adopt principled and transparent privacy standards. Data analysis at a macro level must done so that individuals aren’t compromised.”  



Making Work Human: Human Moments That Matter

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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