By Louise Raeside, Engagement Lead at DRIVE Engagement
There are so many facets to employee recognition, from rewards and incentives to wellbeing and benefits (and so much more). But one area that is often overlooked is employee recognition through human acknowledgement.
Not only do I believe that this area often neglected, but I would also go so far to say that the pandemic has actually hindered leadership teams and team members from being able to leverage this form of recognition. And of course, you can understand why. We are all juggling more than ever before; with team leaders having to manage their teams remotely, employees trying to work in collaboration with team members in different places or when socially distanced, and of course we are all balancing work, home-schooling and caring for others. Add to this the increased anxiety and stress we are all feeling, and you can see why this personal, yet powerful approach to motivating and engaging our teams, is being forgotten.
It is my belief however, that it is truly the little things (the more human things) that can go a long way to help connect, motivate and engage our teams, especially when times are hard. And whilst a focus on personal recognition and acknowledgment can often slip down the 'to do' list (perhaps because some see it as slightly 'fluffy' or because they are simply too time poor), I want to contend that now is the perfect time to reprioritise and give it a go. As such here are four easy ways we can acknowledge and personally recognise others to humanise the workplace and help drive engagement:
1. Verbal and non-verbal gestures of acknowledgement
Certainly, this is more complex when working remotely, but if you are currently in your workplace (or once we all get back to some form of normality) take time to look-up, observe and make eye contact with others. Where possible smile, wave or give the thumbs-up. It sounds so obvious, but it's surprising how easy it is to forget these little things, especially in our 'busy' culture. Taking the time to verbally acknowledge colleagues takes on even greater meaning at the receiving end than a gesture alone. And if you're the one being acknowledged, do make sure you return the gesture and 'pay it forward'.
If you are working remotely right now, then celebrate your colleagues good work on video calls, cheerlead their success in team meetings and call them out in a good way. Likewise, be sure to thank them for their good work personally on your catch up calls too.
Being human is one hundred percent free – and when the purse strings are perhaps tight and engagement levels seemingly low, little acknowledgements and gestures can form the basis of an easy, yet effective way of connecting and recognising colleagues and great teamwork.
2. Make time to 'really see' people
When people acknowledge us, we feel a connection with them. Taking the time to really 'see' people by acknowledging and listening to them is so important to well-being, motivation and a healthy work culture. In her book 'Business is Personal' Penny Power concurs that "the greatest gift you can give in business is to notice someone, to see the individual and to show that they matter."
Certainly, this can be harder to achieve if working remotely, but even so – a check in call or a personalised email to a team member (recognising how they've gone above and beyond during these difficult times and saying thank you for their commitment), can be a great way to show genuine interest in an individual. In my opinion, it's these unexpected and seemingly little human acknowledgements that can really make a difference to how we feel about work and who we work for.
As a leader, do make a habit of checking in on your business area(s) during the course of each day and make time to observe and have a personal chat with your team members, to listen. Not only will this give you opportunity to 'really see' your team(s), but it's also great for leaders to 'be seen' too. Also, you – as the leader – will be considered more accessible, more 'human' and people will be influenced by your role-modelling of the behaviours you expect of others. This will all help foster connections and a culture of wellbeing, togetherness and recognition.
3. Peer to peer recognition
Teamwork and fostering a culture where colleagues and team mates are inspired to acknowledge and recognise one another for their contributions, will encourage greater connectivity and team morale. It will also improve co-operation and increase motivation and productivity. Collaborative or networking tools like Slack, Trello, Monday and so forth can really assist with building a culture of peer to peer recognition, acknowledgement and 'paying it forward' (boosting a cycle of motivation) due to their immediate reach and propensity to be seen by more people. In fact, it is especially useful right now when many of us are working remotely.
Whatever form it takes, I think organisations would be wise to ensure they have a mechanism in place for employees to formally recognise each other's contributions. Leaders should make sure they are genuinely involved too, so that employees feel 'seen' and it shows that the business cares. Simple gestures, such as giving them a handshake and dropping them a note as soon as you can is the obvious way to provide authentic and personal acknowledgement. Because ultimately, meaningful recognition doesn't need have to have a material value.
4. Provide opportunity for employees to 'be seen'
Ensure there are programmes of opportunity in your business that enable all employees to voice their ideas and then empower them to implement their changes and ideas. Give employees the chance to visibly demonstrate these achievements to peers and leadership and let them know how they have made a difference to organisational goals and objectives. This takes acknowledgement (and recognition) to a more elevated and formal level.
At the recognition events we arrange for clients at the end of each Programme cycle, participants regularly tell us that what they enjoyed most about taking part was having their ideas listened to; the opportunity to mix and chat with senior leaders; and to feel 'seen' -because leaders acknowledged who they were and recognised their achievements and capability. It always demonstrates to us how powerful personal acknowledgement, recognition and feeling a human connection with leadership can be and what a huge difference it can make to employee motivation levels and engagement with their work.
It is therefore key for leaders to create and sustain little, but daily opportunities, to connect with and support their team(s) on a more human level by truly listening and acknowledging them in a timely and meaningful way, not just at recognition events or similar, but taking the time to really see them in the here and now.
In summary, it is the small, authentic and human gestures of acknowledgement, plus the consistent giving of one's time to listen and personally recognise others that leaders (and of course team mates) can commit that will help establish a work culture that motivates and ultimately engages employees. Simon Sinek couldn't have put it better in his Valentine's Day LinkedIn vlog, where he used an analogy for helping employees engage ('fall in love') with the business. He posted that "Love doesn't happen overnight… It's the small, seemingly insignificant actions that add up over time, until one day we wake up and say, "I love you."
After all, the effort required to acknowledge and personally recognise others is minimal, yet the benefits that an organisation can realise through a connected, motivated and engaged workforce makes the time invested more than worthwhile.