Why Recognition Is Your Most Important HR Program Right Now

April 23, 2020 Chris French

4-minute read

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Easter dinner is a big deal in my family. This year, because we were all separated physically, I set up a video conference and put an old monitor from my office at the end of our dining table. While family dinner was a bit different, we were still able to enjoy it together. 

I was struck by the true power of human connection when I returned to the table after refilling my plate to hear hysterical laughter as my brother’s son gave my sister’s son a hard time about his unruly hair. I realized that setting up the video had not only allowed me to visit with my parents, brother, and sister, but it had also enabled the cousins to stay connected, preserving and strengthening the generation-spanning personal bonds that make up a family.

This concept is at the heart of what we here at Workhuman® – and the many forward-thinking leaders we work with at our customers’ organizations – do for employees. My father asked me how it could be that we have customers who are forced to make tough decisions in terms of benefits and people, but still choose to invest in their recognition programs. My answer was this: It’s the only thing for employees to give to each other, maintaining that vital connection, especially now that we’re all working remotely. Everything else comes from the company to the employee. Recruit the crowd to help solve the problem. 

Connected culture in action

As I mentioned, we’ve seen this in action with Workhuman customers. The power of connection is an inherent need, and when communities come together, they can have a massive impact. It starts with lifting each other up with genuine recognition, seeing the good in everyone, and saying thank you. A grateful mindset provides vast emotional, physical, and social benefits, such as being more alert, a stronger immune system, and even helping combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

On a recent SHRM webinar, “Boosting Morale and Community: Merck’s Story,” representatives from Workhuman and our customer Merck shared some statistics:

  • Workers who have been thanked for their work in the past 30 days report experiencing significantly less stress versus their other hardworking peers. 
  • Workers thanked in the last month at companies that have been through stress in the last year are nearly 2x as likely to trust in their company’s leadership team. 
  • Regions of the world especially affected by the novel coronavirus initially saw a small dip in workplace gratitude, but now are experiencing a resurgence. For example, gratitude in Italy is up 20% over historical trends.

Merck also shared that its recognized new hires are more than 5x less likely to leave within the first year. Recognition data unlocks talent insights and provides leaders a window into how work gets done, day in and day out, within and across teams. Merck has had 1 million recognition moments – that adds up to millions of data points that can be analyzed to gain deeper insight into organizational trends that transcend the traditional reporting hierarchy and the human connections that motivate and inspire people, which ultimately drives business forward. In other words, it can tell you how work is getting done. 

With most of us suddenly torn away from routine, family, friends, and the activities we love, it’s no surprise that April research from AEI found that 53% of Americans report having felt lonely or isolated at least once in the past seven days. More than one-third felt that way at least a few times in the past week. People who are still working have had to pivot in more ways than one, and it’s up to us as leaders to provide the connection they need to remain focused, to collaborate, and to do world-changing work for our organizations.

Strong cultures, strong companies

That’s why peer-to-peer employee recognition is so powerful, so cost-efficient, and so needed at this time. Not because the company is recognizing people’s efforts, but because individual employees are taking the time – even amid the whirlwinds of change we’re all facing – to recognize each other. Because company leaders are remaining forward-thinking enough to see that teams need space to bond, especially now. Even when the managers aren’t looking. And because recognition is a cure for isolation, and the positivity it generates can call humans to greatness and realign them to shared purpose.

Like that screen at my dinner table, recognition programs are preserving and strengthening connections every day. This truly is an opportunity to double down on strategies that attract, retain, and inspire your humans – not shy away from them. 


Humanity Loves Company

Why Human Moments That Matter Are So Important ... Right Now

Gratitude: The Ultimate Change Agent

About the Author

Chris French

Chris French is executive vice president, customer strategy, at Workhuman.

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