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On Leadership: Is your team engaged? Consider upping your recognition.


Early in my career, I had a job in investment management that I found interesting and rewarding. Unfortunately, the culture of the organization was unsupportive and offered little recognition for the hard work most employees were doing. Even though I had planned to stay at that company, eventually the environment became so unpleasant that I took a recruiting call and accepted another job. That experience was not exactly “quiet quitting,” a term that’s gotten lots of press lately, but it was an example of how over time the organization lost my engagement. 

“Many employees are drifting from their organizations – even when they are not actually leaving,” says a new report from Workhuman and Gallup that surveyed workers in the United States, the U.K. and Ireland. According to that study, only 25% of employees strongly agreed that they feel connected to their culture and only a third strongly agreed that they feel a sense of belonging at their organization. 

Is this happening in your organization? If so, it’s not too late to reengage your team members. The Workhuman and Gallup study asserts that today’s leaders must take a human-centered approach to building and shaping their workforce, saying, “It starts by demonstrating to employees that you value them by recognizing their contributions.” 

The Workhuman and Gallup study asserts that today’s leaders must take a human-centered approach to building and shaping their workforce, saying, “It starts by demonstrating to employees that you value them by recognizing their contributions.” 

Many of us as leaders believe we are recognizing and rewarding our team members adequately. But sometimes we may be looking at the situation through our own lens. Armed with knowledge about why we have made certain decisions about pay or benefits for the good of the enterprise, for example, we may fail to understand how our actions are perceived or experienced by our team members – especially now that so many are virtual or hybrid. As a survey done by Bonusly in conjunction with experience management firm Curiosity at Work indicated that recognition in the workplace varies widely depending on who you ask. That study showed that 89% of executive-level leaders “believe recognition is doled out fairly at their company – but only 62% of people in intermediate positions agree with them.”

The Bonusly study asserts that employers can retain more than half of the employees just by creating a strong culture of recognition. The Gallup research shows that recognition is also strongly correlated with drivers of financial success such as “increased productivity, decreased safety incidents and lower absenteeism.” 

The research is compelling that when organizations recognize employees’ needs and contributions, engagement increases – which helps the bottom line. But anyone who has dug into leadership development knows that not everyone likes to be recognized the same way. Not surprisingly, the Bonusly study showed that over 50% of employees would like to be rewarded financially, but that is not the only driver of engagement and recognition – which is helpful news for leaders who legitimately may not be able to increase compensation and still be good stewards of the organization’s overall financial health. There are other options: Twenty percent of those respondents said visibility to leaders was important and nearly the same percentage indicated they valued awards. Even companies with limited budgets can provide those types of recognition.

But how do you know what kind of recognition your team members want and need? The answer is simple: Ask. At Business Publications Corp., we recently conducted our annual Employee Engagement survey, and – as usual – we came away with additional questions. The way we gain insights when we don’t understand a response is to keep asking until we do have answers that provide us with good direction. (We are journalists, after all.)

Listening is an approach validated by numerous surveys. The Gallup study encourages leaders to survey and meet with employees regularly. The Bonusly study says the respondents indicated the way they most prefer to get feedback is in one-to-one meetings with managers, followed by recognition at team meetings, in annual reviews and public messaging channels. Because each individual likes to be recognized in their own unique way, it’s a good practice to vary the approach.

Becoming human-centered can be challenging when there are so many demands placed on today’s leader. But considering how recognition fits into overall engagement and the difference it makes in your team members’ lives is important. Successful leaders will be glad they asked, and may even get some positive feedback themselves.


Suzanna de Baca

Suzanna de Baca is President and CEO of Business Publications Corp.

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