'Go beyond HR paperwork': The role of early recognition in long-term retention

Best Buy Canada's CHRO and O.C. Tanner discuss the role of rewards in employee tenure

'Go beyond HR paperwork': The role of early recognition in long-term retention

With layoffs on the rise and, paradoxically, employers still looking for top-tier talent, the importance of recognition in the employee experience really can’t be overstated.

According to O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report, after the protracted era of isolation following the pandemic, employees everywhere are craving a strong workplace community of belonging and purpose. Speaking to HRD, Meghan Stettler, director of the O.C Tanner Institute, underscores the impact a simple ‘thank you’ can have on morale.

“When recognition is integrated into the everyday employee experience, the odds of having a strong workplace community increases by 208%,” she explains. “Integrated recognition ensures that employees are intentionally recognized early and often, including during onboarding, the 30-60-90 day marks, and one year milestone."

Recognition in the onboarding process

And there’s no time limit on when that rewarding should begin. In fact, Stettler is a big believer in supercharging the onboarding experiencing from the start.

“This is your opportunity to go beyond the standard HR paperwork to welcome new hires into your unique and thriving workplace community of recognition,” she says. “For instance, an ideal onboarding experience that includes recognition elements such as notes and cards from peers and leaders, assorted company swag, a personalized or symbolic award marking the beginning of their journey, and time to socialize with others increases the odds of inclusion by 89% and great work by 114% right.”

Speaking to HRD, Chris Taylor, chief human resources officer at Best Buy Canada, agrees – adding that introducing early and consistent recognition helps create a sense of belonging with a company.

“We’re able to validate this from our engagement scores, where belongingness and overall engagement regularly score high for those new to the company. Beyond that, we leverage our regular talent reviews to understand how our employees like to be recognized so we can celebrate them in a way that makes them feel comfortable.”

Built-in platforms recognize top-performing employees

Best Buy Canada has several ways to show thanks to top-performing employees, he says. And it all begins with their in-built platforms.

“We have a variety of formal and informal employee recognition programs including our myMilestones program where we provide a cash reward based on service milestones,” he says. “We also have several monthly recognition programs to recognize employees who exemplify our values when going above and beyond their daily duties. These include our ‘Associate of the Month’ program at our corporate headquarters and distribution centres, and ‘Best in Uniform’ at our stores. Through these programs, we encourage peer and leader nominations and provide cash or gift cards to the winning employees.

On top of that, Best Buy’s HRIS system enables team members to send virtual badges to recognize their peers for a variety of reasons, Taylor says.

“These badges are tied to the employee’s profile and stay with them throughout their employment with us.”

And it’s clear to see that these reward tactics do work. According to data from Apollo, 91% of HR leaders believe that reward and recognition are key to retention – with an employee who has been recently rewarded 63% more likely to stay with their current employer for the next six months.

Avoiding mistakes with employee recognition

But it’s not all plain sailing – and even in recognition there’s certain mistakes that employers often make. The main one, according to Stettler, is a reluctance to embed rewards into your overarching company culture.

“HR should seek to integrate recognition into their organization’s culture, so it no longer becomes something that happens once or twice a year but reflects who they are,” she tells HRD. “One of the common pitfalls in achieving high ‘RI’ is the lack of frequency – people simply aren’t being appreciated enough. This year’s Global Culture Report set out to uncover just how many times people need to be recognized to achieve a high ‘RI’ culture.”

Taylor agrees, adding that only focusing on event- or milestone-based recognition is a major pitfall.

“Encouraging a constant flow of feedback by tying recognition to formal programs as well as encouraging regular informal peer recognition will help to create a more organic program,” he explains.

“We do this through our Team Assist program where our employees can send virtual badges to colleagues through our HRIS system. They can recognize anyone in the company, at any time, for any reason. Although these badges can be seen by all employees, we also encourage our teams to share recent Team Assists during their regular meetings for a little extra appreciation.”

Frequent recognition makes a difference

What O.C. Tanner’s research uncovered is that employees need to be recognized 35 times per year across formal, informal, and companywide celebrations. And while that seems like a lot, when you break it down, it’s about saying ‘thank you’ three times a month across a range of small and large touch points.

“Having a recognition program that blends the best of technology with human touch allows organizations to deliver consistent, memorable, and meaningful recognition experiences at scale,” says Stettler. “Technology has ensured that just because people are no longer in the same location, recognition doesn’t fall to the wayside — a deep sense of community can still be created and strengthened with every genuine expression of gratitude.”

The best organizations deliver frequent and personalized recognition experiences by focusing on three primary areas that propel meaningful outcomes:

  • Everyday efforts — appreciating little victories builds confidence and lets employees know they are on the right track.
  • Rewarding results — recognizing how someone has made a measurable impact or exceeded an expectation validates worth and affirms their potential.
  • Career celebrations — honoring contributions over time builds connections and strengthens loyalty.

“Each approach above differs in frequency, visibility, and awards given, but each contributes distinct benefits that when combined, provide a critical mass where employees are giving, receiving, and observing recognition regularly — creating thriving communities of integrated recognition,” adds Stettler.

If you want to glean more strategies on how to embed early recognition into your culture, register for O.C. Tanner’s Influence Greatness 2023 Conference from September 12–14, 2023, in Snowbird, UT, or the IG23 virtual conference, airing on October 5, 2023 with on-demand content.