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Why Employee Recognition Works

Recognizing your employees more often can lead to higher engagement levels and greater productivity. But have you ever wondered why? Employee recognition is based in human psychology, and understanding these factors can help you create and implement more effective programs for showing appreciation.

The proven power of employee recognition

Before diving into the psychology behind employee recognition, it helps to understand the proven benefits of employee awards for your workers.

To start, 85 percent of companies that spend just 1 percent or more of their payrolls on employee recognition see a positive impact on engagement levels. Organizations that have robust recognition programs have seen employee engagement jump by almost 60 percent. And praise from managers even surpassed financial rewards as the No. 1 motivator for performance, according to a McKinsey study.

In addition to greater engagement, recognition increases retention. Gallup research found that a lack of appreciation is the top reason that most Americans quit their jobs. Companies that had strong recognition programs saw a 23.4 percent drop in employee turnover compared to companies that had no such programs.

Recognition also helps your company's bottom line - businesses that valued recognition are 12 times more likely to see strong business results. The benefits of recognizing employees are clear - but why does showing appreciation work? By understanding the reasons, employers can craft an effective recognition strategy.

The psychological reasons why employee recognition works

Below is an overview of some of the major psychological concepts that help explain why employee recognition is so effective:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs maintains that there are five types of human needs, and that individuals must fulfill certain needs before moving on to others. At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs like food and rest, followed by safety. Then the needs become belonging and love, esteem, and, at the top, self-actualization.

Maslow's pyramid is a motivational theory. Humans' first need is for physical security and welfare, and once these are accomplished, they feel motivated to fulfill the next needs of belonging and purpose.

The hierarchy relates to workplace recognition because once individuals have a job and income, they are naturally going to want to feel a sense of belonging and esteem from their career, which recognition can provide.

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs To The Workplace

1. Physiological Needs

Abraham Maslow realized that people need to deal with the survival needs before they move on to any other level of needs. If they do not have the necessary food, clothing, water, shelter — or comparable elements to survive — they are not likely to be concerned about learning new skills to qualify them for future jobs. In the workplace, simple things like snacks, clean water (such as that from the watercooler) and coffee will go a long way in meeting your employees’ basic physiological needs.

2. Safety Needs

To address this level of the hierarchy, you must consider physical as well as psychological safety and security. As a supervisor you can do common sense things like make sure that the environment contains no safety hazards. You can also provide mental security by explaining how to become ore effective and efficient in the workplace, helping them feel safer in their position with the company.

3. Social Needs

This level of Maslow’s theory deals with love, acceptance, friendship, and companionship. As a supervisor, you can address the need that many people have to socialize and feel part of a group by creating a work environment that harbors opportunities for participation and interaction with others. Start networking sessions before or after work. Happy hour can be a fun networking time — and it doesn’t need to be at a bar. Additionally, celebrate birthdays and employee anniversaries which will allow the team to interact and build comradery.

4. Esteem Needs

At this point of Maslow’s hierarchy, the focus shifts to the personal ego; self-respect, achievement and receiving recognition for efforts given. Employees want to be respected and appreciated by their coworkers and their bosses. In a learning environment, you can address this need by deferring to someone’s expertise or knowledge, recognizing accomplishments, and otherwise providing an environment where learners can feel the satisfaction of having others applaud accomplishments. You can also build in little accolades during training in which participants cheer or applaud the efforts of someone who accomplishes something, offers a solution, or otherwise does something worthy or group recognition. A simple round of applause for a good response might be appropriate from time-to-time to meet this need. Formal employee awards on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis will create goal a oriented organization.

5. Self-Actualization

Think of the Army slogan of “Be all you can be”. The premise was “Join us and we will provide you with the tools and support you need to reach your maximum potential.” To this effect, as a supervisor, it’s important that you identify where your employees hope to go as it relates to the level of achievement in your company and help them get there. Employee gifts andfun motivational items for the their desk will be constant reminders of your message.

The key to successfully applying Maslow’s theory in the workplace is to remember that what motivates one employee does not necessarily motivate another, but motivation is key to retaining employees and achieving business go

As Barbara Fredrickson, senior scientist at The Gallup Organization, said in an interview: “When people feel like they're being recognized as a human being on the other side of a transaction, as opposed to being the transaction, then they have a more positive response. And by showing employees appreciation, you recognize them for their value.

All about dopamine

Employee recognition is powerful in a very biological way, too. When employees receive recognition for their work, dopamine is released in their brains, similar to how people feel a sense of happiness when they are engaging in a favorite activity, spending time with a loved one or receiving a gift. To put it simply, when something pleasurable happens, dopamine neurons light up, and as a result people feel good.

Being applauded for a job well done activates these neurons. Feelings of recognition can be very powerful - in fact, the Japanese National Institute for Psychological Sciences found that being paid a compliment activates the same part of your brain as receiving money.

But it's not just about feeling good - it's also about feeling like you're being treated fairly. If people believe they are being treated fairly, their dopamine neurons are activated and they are more interested in collaborating with others and embracing new ideas, a Maritz Institute paper explained. So not only does recognition help your employees feel good, but it also helps create a more connected and creative workplace overall.

Intrinsic/extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is that which comes from within - it is displayed when people do things to better themselves. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources, and is seen when employees work extra hard to hit a quota, for example. Employee recognition is effective because it responds to both of these motivators. Showing appreciation for employees' work is a testament to their value and affirms that they are talented, successful individuals (intrinsic motivation) while the praise also has the effect of being an award earned and given by a manager, an outside source (extrinsic).

The perception of fairness also comes into play again here. Research shows that workplaces that prioritize treating employees fairly are more likely to promote intrinsic motivation, as The Maritz Institute noted. Higher feelings of intrinsic motivation in turn lead to better performance and job satisfaction.

Positive reinforcement

When people receive praise for something, they are more likely to do that something again, and that's another key factor driving the effectiveness of employee recognition.

Positive reinforcement isn't just about giving a reward when someone accomplishes something great - it's also about building positive relationships. Every time you recognize an employee, you're strengthening both your emotional connection with them and the emotional connection the employee feels with the company. Showing gratitude builds feelings of loyalty, as Fredrickson noted in her interview with Gallup.

"Theorists talk about how one way of repaying gratitude is with loyalty," she said. "And if you can harness that and find ways to make people feel grateful for what you've done for them, they're more likely to repay you with loyalty."

Supports a sense of pride and purpose

Having a sense of purpose in their work is tantamount to both employees' well-being and a business' bottom line. "Active disengagement" at work causes companies in the U.S. to lose $450 billion to $550 billion each year, according to a study by Gallup. And the majority of American workers aren't finding motivational meaning in their current work, with 70 percent saying they're either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in their work.

Employee recognition acts as that missing piece that can help provide this sense of purpose. Being shown appreciation for their work creates a greater sense of self-esteem and accomplishment for employees, which then fuels a deeper sense of pride in their job, as a paper from The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace explained.

Employee recognition works because it responds to a range of innate psychological needs and desires. With this knowledge, your company can create successful recognition programs that have lasting results. Successories is your one-stop shop for recognition tools and rewards that will help your company see results while fitting your budget.

Customer Favorite Employee Gifts

Updated Friday 06-14-2024
The Joe Straw - Thanks for All You Do 20oz. Stainless Steel Tumbler
from Deborah Richendollar of NEW PORT RICHEY, FL

The Joe Straw - Thanks for All You Do 20oz. Stainless Steel Tumbler

I would definitely buy again and/or recommend
These were gifts for my team and they loved them

It Takes Teamwork Value Eco Travel Set
from Leader1 of Fort Lauderdale, FL

It Takes Teamwork Value Eco Travel Set

Great Quality & Value!
I used these for a recent team building event and stuffed them with goodies and food! The team loves them and they use the tumbler throughout the day when refilling it with water. I've had other members of the management team ask where they were ordered from. I highly recommend this product.

The Joe - Thanks for Being Awesome 20oz. Stainless Steel Tumbler
from Patty of St. Louis, MO

The Joe - Thanks for Being Awesome 20oz. Stainless Steel Tumbler

I would buy this product again!
I was very impressed and liked it even more when I received it. My employees enjoyed the gift.

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