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better employee recognition

How to Make Better, Frequent Employee Recognition a Daily Habit

by | Nov 14, 2022 | By Karin Hurt |

Why Gallup Question 4 Matters: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

When employees come to us venting their frustrations that their boss doesn’t value or appreciate their hard work, it’s usually not about who got the plaque in the end-of-year meeting. Of course, the time you spend on getting your formal employee recognition right matters. But you know what matters much, much more?

Frequency.

More people saying thank you more often.

And it’s not just front-line employees sharing their lack-of-appreciation-induced frustration. In fact, it’s one of the hottest topics in senior-level coaching conversations.

  • “I just wish my boss would say thank you!”
  • “We always talk about where we have to improve, I just wish we could take a breath and look at how far we’ve come.”
  • “I just finished a big project, and my manager didn’t even acknowledge it before she dumped the next one in my lap.”
  • “Arghh, I haven’t even spoken to my boss in a week, I’m not sure they even know what I’m doing.”
  • “Our virtual one-on-ones are always about the work on my plate, never about what I’ve accomplished.”
  • “I’ve worked for this guy for a year, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard what I’m doing well, only what I need to do better.”
  • “My boss does great recognizing employees on the front line, but behind closed doors with his direct report team, it’s a whole other story. I don’t need much. Just a simple thank you would make a difference.”

If you’re familiar with the Gallup organization and its extensive research on employee engagement, you know they focus on a dozen key drivers of employee engagement, known as the Q12 survey.

Question 4 reads, “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Why 7 days?

Because frequency matters.

It’s the cadence of positive reinforcement that creates a consistent dopamine response. People need to feel seen and appreciated regularly to feel valued.

You get more of what you regularly encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

How to Get Better at Consistent Employee Recognition and Appreciation

  1. Schedule time each week (or daily) for informal recognition
  2. Keep track of who you’ve appreciated and how
  3. Encourage others to notice and celebrate what’s working
  4. Vary your celebration and employee recognition methods
  5. Take an extra three seconds in your emails
  6. Ask for feedback on how your appreciation is landing

Informal recognition doesn’t need to take long. Imagine how many people you can appreciate in a block of just ten minutes on your calendar. Here are a few practical habits that can help.

1. Schedule time each week (or daily) for informal recognition

Some leaders I know make this the first task of the day, every day. It becomes automatic. Just like pouring that first cup of coffee.

Of course, when you begin your day with a bit of celebration, you feel better too.

If every day feels overwhelming, start with a slightly longer block one day a week. Schedule the finish by putting it on your calendar, as you would other meetings. If something comes up, don’t cancel it. Commit to rescheduling the time to keep your commitment to employee recognition.

2. Keep track of who you’ve appreciated and how

Giving yourself a micro-goal can make all the difference.

If you have a large, or remote team, you might find it helpful to keep a list of your employees’ names on your desk and record each time you gave them appreciation or recognition that week.  When I’ve done this, I’ve often been surprised at who I’ve overlooked on any given week, and then make a deliberate effort to notice something important.

3. Encourage others to notice and celebrate what’s working

The larger and more disbursed your team is, the more help you’re going to need. Set up systems and people to help you, even with your informal employee recognition. It doesn’t have to be a big formal process.

For example, each week, you might ask your direct reports to give you three people to call and thank them for their work. You don’t even need to know the whole story. You can just ask open-ended questions, such as…

  • “Hey, I heard you did a great job on ______.
  • Can you tell me more?
  • I’d love to hear how you did that.
  • What are you most proud of about this?
  • What are you excited about next?

And of course, you don’t always need to be involved. Carve out time and encourage your team to appreciate and celebrate one another.

4. Vary your celebration and employee recognition methods

When we teach communication, we talk about the importance of 5×5 communication. An important part of capturing people’s attention is mixing up the WAY you celebrate. Sure, thank you emails are always good. And a thank you email every few days certainly can’t hurt. But, imagine the power of mixing in a hand-written note, a video message, a haiku, a cup of coffee, or your manager as a surprise guest popping into your zoom call, just to say thanks.

5. Take an extra three seconds in your emails

Every now and then I have a manager tell me, “yeah, I just tell my employees to not expect too many pleases or thank yous from me.” We’re moving so fast I don’t have time for that.

Okay.  So I just timed it.

Here are appreciation phrases I can type in three seconds or less.
  • Thank you.
  • Great job.
  • Much better.
  • Significant improvement
  • Getting closer.
  • Excellent.
  • Yes!
  • Nice job.
  • Perfect. Game on.
And here are a few that can be done in seven seconds or fewer.
  • I appreciate your time.
  • I know this isn’t easy. Thanks for the extra effort.
  • I really appreciate the work you put into this.
  • I’m impressed by the level of research you put into this.
  • I know there’s a lot going on, thanks for making time for this, this weekend.

6. Ask for feedback on how your appreciation is landing

If you’re not sure how people on your team want to be recognized, ask them. No one will be offended if you set a clear intention to do this better. “It’s really important that you know how much I value you and your important contributions to the team. Beyond the usual that everyone wants (e.g. raises, bonuses etc), what kind of recognition do you find most meaningful?

And don’t be surprised if you hear “gosh, I just really like a sincere thank you.” If you hear that, keep those thank yous flowing.

More Tips to Get Better at Regular Appreciation

 

How to be great at recognition and gratitude for coworkers

Your turn.

What are your best practices for better, frequent employee recognition? How do you ensure your people have felt appreciated and valued every week?

See Also:

How Your Employee Recognition Program Can Destroy Morale

And, How to Help Your Employee’s Performance Stand Out for Better Recognition 

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

2 Comments

  1. Denise Beckles

    Hi Karin,

    I’m grateful for your passion and work in providing information and tools for Leaders to Grow Leaders.
    We are at a pivot point in our industries and employee retention and engagement are front and center. I
    see the human, person-centered approach to developing and leading others emerging. The employee connection
    happens one employee at a time; expressing genuine gratefulness is humbling for the giver, powerful for the receiver and hopefully has a lasting impact on the work relationship.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Karin Hurt

    Denise, Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement! I so agree employee connection happens one employee at a time. Thank you for all the work you are doing to grow leaders and encourage courage.

    Reply

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