Recognition Data: The Key to Workforce Trends and How Work Gets Done

May 13, 2020 Jess Huckins

5-minute read

Jesse Harriott

The data story is one of the most fascinating aspects of being a content producer at Workhuman®. The work of our in-house analytics department, headed up by Global Head of Analytics Dr. Jesse Harriott, gives me access to the latest numbers behind important topics, like how recognition impacts various industries or the sentiments fueling employee engagement. This helps me tell the right stories – and it’s why I was so stoked to tune into Jesse’s chat with Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley during Workhuman® Livestream.

Since COVID-19 forced all of our organizations to reevaluate the future of work as we’re living it, we’re seeing an outpouring of employee recognition among our customers – including several large group awards. These are “a tool for our customers to use when they just need to give thanks to as many people as possible, as fast as possible,” Eric explained. He cited two examples: a packaged goods company that delivered awards to 25,000+ front-line workers, and a global pharmaceutical organization that sent tens of millions of dollars to more than 30,000 employees to thank them for all their hard work in the face of the pandemic.

People are also doubling down on expressing gratitude to their colleagues through peer-to-peer recognition. The best part? All this activity is generating tons of data. According to Jesse, we have a database of 50 million moments of gratitude and recognition, representing a wealth of authentic human interactions.

“We’re mining that data – we’re looking at that information for workforce trends and what it can tell us about how work gets done,” he said. As one example, Jesse’s team has been able to track the relationship between gratitude and retention: “We’ve actually been able to create almost a credit score, or a turnover score, of how likely it is that somebody will leave the organization in the next six months just based on their pattern of gratitude and recognition.”

What else can data tell us?

Recognition data is new to a lot of organizations because it’s nothing like the info HR can obtain from an HRIS or payroll system. It’s an unprecedented source of insights rooted in authentic moments of gratitude between humans collaborating to make magic happen at work despite the world’s current circumstances. 

Jesse shared the example of gender differences. Recognition data shows men are direct and tactical in their wording of awards, while women are supportive and interpersonal. “Women tend to be more central to the way work gets done, more connected across departments – really have more relationships than men do on average,” he said. Women also receive more awards more often, but the value of those awards is often about 12% less than the awards men receive. 

“Looking at the recognition data, you can see that women are almost the social fabric, the backbone, of a lot of companies, and seem to do more quantity of work – but then get paid less for the work. It’s a narrative that we’ve seen before,” Eric said. (And one we’re working to fix.)

Recognition trends right now

In relation to our shared new world of remote working, the recognition data is telling a compelling story from around the globe. As Jesse wrote in a recent blog post, “What’s been fascinating is that as the COVID-19 epidemic expanded into a pandemic, we were able to follow the order of the countries impacted based on the wording in their award messages. We first noticed the shift in China, then in Italy, then into Western Europe and the United States.” 

Recognition messages contain a depth of information about what’s on employees’ minds and can be a powerful barometer for organizations. When the pandemic began, Jesse’s team first saw a lot of words around the response: “continuity,” “steady,” “tireless.” Then they noticed relationships take priority: “friend,” “kindness,” “compassion.” Over the last three to four weeks, there have been fewer words like “anxiety”; rather, phrases related to the new normal have been trending up: “quick response,” “social distancing,” and even “hand sanitizer.”

“It also really started to show us that gratitude is more important than ever as employees are holding each other up, helping each other during these times of stress,” Jesse explained. “One of the things that was a bright spot for me was to see the word ‘thankful’ trending upward more and more every day.”

Data and the post-COVID world 

An organizational network analysis can look at trends beyond gender, race, ethnicity, and other common measures of diversity within an organization, such as productivity, turnover, safety records, manufacturing plant performance, or how employees are responding to an M&A. It can track changes in work groups and unveil whether there’s more stress or resilience in the work environment as a whole. 

The organizations that will win as we all collectively work through this are the ones that enable their employees to lift each other up. Traditional top-down programs are no longer fast or reliable enough. They probably never were, but at least now forward-thinking HR leaders have another, stronger option. At the heart of recognition data is the authentic expression of the goodwill of your people and a commentary about how work gets done. This allows you to cut through systems and processes and get to the opinions that matter: those of your people.

“We’ve seen companies and customers use this more and more throughout this crisis,” Eric said. And you know what that means? There are many more exciting data stories to come, and I can’t wait to help tell them.


Why Recognition Is Your Most Important HR Program Right Now

How We Work Is Changing: Shifting Tones in Global Recognition Moments

Making the Intangible Tangible: Why Your Company Needs a Culture Infrastructure

About the Author

Jess Huckins

Jess Huckins is senior content manager, sales enablement at Workhuman. She enjoys investigative journalism and true crime, fantasy football, outdoor cooking, and adventuring in the wilderness with her three dogs.

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