Breaking-down the recognition barriers

By Robert Ordever, Executive Director, O.C. Tanner Europe

When was the last time you recognised a colleague’s great work? Was it today? Yesterday? Last week or was it such a long time ago you can’t remember? If you haven’t openly appreciated a co-worker for some time you aren’t alone. Research from the O.C. Tanner Institute* highlights that 29 per cent of employees surveyed had last given recognition over a month ago. But why should this matter?

The answer lies in the impact of recognition, not only in relation to the ‘receiver’, but also the ‘giver’.

The O.C. Tanner Institute has proven that ‘recognition givers’ in a workplace benefit from the very act of being appreciative of others. In fact, the research results have uncovered some transformational benefits to both the ‘giver’ and the business as a whole, highlighting the importance of promoting ‘recognition giving’ at all levels of an organisation.


The importance of debunking the ‘top-down’ recognition model

Outside of work, it’s considered normal to show an appreciation of parents, children and friends, demonstrating that ‘down-to-top’ and ‘sideways’ recognition work just as effectively as ‘top-down’. However, in a work setting, it’s all too common for people to think that the act of giving recognition is the responsibility of managers and leaders.

By opening-up the ‘recognition giving’ channels throughout an organisation and encouraging the giving of appreciation at all levels, the benefits can be significant. For instance, the O.C. Tanner Institute found that UK employees who ‘always’ give recognition are 27 per cent more engaged and 48 per cent more innovative than those who ‘never/rarely’ give recognition. They are also better workers, delivering 22 per cent better work results than employees who ‘never/rarely’ give recognition.

In addition, those workers who appreciate their colleagues on a regular basis are more holistically well with nearly 1 in 4 UK employees who ‘always’ give recognition having excellent wellbeing. This decreases to under 1 in 10 when the employee ‘never/rarely’ gives recognition.

The evidence is compelling, so why are so many employees still failing to give recognition to their co-workers on a regular basis?


The barriers to ‘recognition giving’

The O.C. Tanner Institute has identified a number of barriers preventing ‘down-to-top’ and ‘sideways’ recognition giving. 17 per cent of employees don’t feel like it is their responsibility to give recognition at work with the highest percentage being among frontline employees (23 per cent). On top of this, 1 in 5 don’t feel empowered to give recognition.

Other reasons given by employees for not giving recognition more often include:

  • “My organisation doesn’t have an official programme to give recognition” (cited by 21 per cent of employees);
  • “I’m saving recognition for only the best work”; and
  • “I have budget concerns”.


Breaking-down the barriers

The O.C. Tanner Institute’s research has revealed a whole new level of insight that businesses cannot ignore, so how can organisations overcome the recognition barriers to promote the giving of appreciation at all levels?

Fundamentally, the act of recognition giving needs to be championed by the organisation. Employees must be encouraged to actively appreciate others on a regular basis – from the CEO to the office cleaner, and while frontline employees may feel like it’s not their place to provide recognition, it’s in an organisation’s best interests to do what it can to dispel this perception.

So, promote and inspire cross-company recognition in regular communications from ‘onboarding’ presentations through to staff newsletters. Simple emails to staff can also produce great results, for instance, 75 per cent of employees surveyed by The O.C. Tanner Institute said they wished their organisation used email to encourage giving recognition. 13 per cent wanted daily emails about the importance of giving recognition, 29 per cent requested weekly emails and 31 per cent preferred email reminders on a monthly basis. And of course, appreciating others doesn’t require large expenditure. After all, telling someone that the work they’ve done has been recognised and appreciated is cost-free!

And as well as communicating the importance of recognition, it HAS to be demonstrated. Staff need to witness workers recognising their managers and co-workers in addition to managers providing ‘top down’ recognition. Only once an organisation is living and breathing a culture of recognition will positive change happen.


Influencing change

‘Giving recognition’ is a universal action unrestricted to just top managers; all employees should feel like they can and should provide regular recognition to their co-workers. It’s therefore up to the organisation to reinforce a culture of recognition that enables appreciation giving without barriers. This will not only encourage a more engaged, innovative and productive workforce, but will give staff a greater sense of wellbeing, helping to attract and retain talent. And so, with such a lot to gain, surely now’s the time to break down those recognition barriers once and for all?

*The O.C. Tanner Institute’s ‘Recognition Giver’ study involved a quantitative study of 3,496 employees from countries in four continents.

Author: Editorial Team

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