How recognition bolsters engagement and shields employees from burnout

Research offers practical steps organizations can take to improve culture through the power of recognition

How recognition bolsters engagement and shields employees from burnout
KeyAnna Schmiedl, Chief Human Experience Officer at Workhuman

Recognition in the workplace is both a foundational element and a catalyst for organizational culture, and can lead to more engagement among employees, says a report from Workhuman and Gallup. ‘Empowering Workplace Culture Through Recognition’ shows employees who strongly agree that recognition is an important part of their organization’s culture are 3.7 times as likely to be engaged, 3.8 times as likely to feel connected to their culture, and half as likely to experience frequent burnout as those who do not.

In the wake of pandemic-era workplace shifts and the Great Resignation, and amidst recent mass layoffs, the research highlights crucial considerations for leadership in reinforcing strong organizational cultures.

The research shows that employees who strongly agree they are connected to their organization’s culture are over three times as likely to be engaged at work. They are also over five times as likely to strongly agree they would recommend their organization as a great place to work and 55 percent less likely to be actively or passively seeking new job opportunities.

“This new research serves to illustrate the choice that lies ahead for company leaders: to either invest in culture and define it for themselves or risk it being defined for them,” says KeyAnna Schmiedl, chief human experience officer at Workhuman. “Our analysis found that when engaged employees describe their company’s culture, they are using words such as caring, innovative, and inclusive. Meanwhile, actively disengaged employees are more likely to use words such as toxic, disorganized, and chaotic. It’s up to leaders to decide which of those cultures they want associated with their companies. They should keep in mind this isn’t just about their employee satisfaction scores or the tone of the office, it’s a choice that determines if their business is futureproof or not.”

Recognition programs need alignment

Only 34 percent of employees say their employer has a recognition program in place. And, of those who have one, just 13 percent of employees rate it as excellent. The report suggests employers are missing out on a simple way to reinforce the other cultural elements that an organization views as important. Employees who say their recognition program is aligned with the values of their organization are 4.9 times as likely to strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work compared with employees who indicate their recognition program is not aligned with the values of their organization.

“Giving great recognition is an effective way for leaders to communicate the values and behaviours they most want to see from their employees,” says Ed O’Boyle, global practice leader at Gallup. “It also sets the example for establishing a culture of recognition and inspires employees at all levels to receive and give recognition that is authentic and meaningful, and to do so often.”

Workhuman and Gallup have identified several steps to create or improve a recognition program. The first step is to establish workplace culture goals and values in alignment with the business strategy. This includes defining the values, behaviours, rituals, and routines that will best support the business strategy so it is clear where to aim recognition.

Organizations should use the recognition program to reflect the workplace culture goals and values identified. The report suggests to strategically recognize employees who exemplify these culture goals and values. This promotes employee understanding and connectedness.

It is important to evaluate and refine the recognition strategy frequently so it accurately promotes the workplace culture that was set out and any evolving changes.

Once in place, the report recommends promoting quality recognition across the organization so the culture can flourish. It is important that recognition is frequent, consistent, and genuine, and that it is embraced by employees across all levels of the organization for all accomplishments.

Employee engagement is critical to the productivity, morale, development, and retention of every organization’s workforce. Engaged employees are invested in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace and consistently outperform and stay longer than less-engaged employees. With the economic challenges people are facing and a growing decline in mental health, workplace productivity has been a major hurdle to profitability and growth for many organizations in 2023. The good news is that the research paints a clear path forward – reinvigorating company culture with a focus on employee recognition can have a positive impact on today’s disrupted workplaces.