Two new studies show how the shrewd use of technology can help deliver more meaningful and frequent recognition to employees in ways that help stem resignations, keep remote workers connected to their colleagues and boost performance.
The study findings show that, in a time when organizations are still looking for every edge to retain employees and help hybrid work teams find their footing, investments in technology-facilitated recognition can have an outsized impact on employee well-being, team morale and workers' intentions to stay committed to their employers.
A joint study by Gallup and Workhuman found that when recognition practices hit the mark with employees, 56 percent are less likely to be looking for external job opportunities; 73 percent are less likely to feel burned out on the job and are five times more likely to see a path to grow at their organizations.
A 2022 study by the Achievers Workforce Institute, the research arm of vendor Achievers, found that almost two-thirds of employees said feeling "meaningfully recognized" would reduce their desire to job hunt and 57 percent said feeling recognized would reduce the likelihood they'd take a call from a headhunter.
Both studies found the use of technology not only can help scale recognition practices across organizations, but it also can amplify and extend the positive impacts of recognizing employees for good work, service anniversaries, life events and more.
Ellyn Maese, a senior research consultant at Gallup, said the study found recognition platforms that integrate easily with commonly used systems like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Salesforce also make it easier for employees to recognize others in the flow of work, especially if they're part of geographically dispersed workforces. Having such platforms in place also demonstrates to employees that their organization sees recognition as a worthwhile investment of time and money, the study found.
Technology plays three important roles in enhancing the power of recognition, according to the Gallup study authors. The first is helping to combat inertia around recognition. "The reality is busy people often need to be reminded or nudged to recognize others," said Chris French, executive vice president of customer strategy at Workhuman. "Technology can be used to remind managers to look for opportunities to recognize employees and also to illustrate what effective recognition looks like."
Technology also can be used to "elongate" recognition moments. For example, using a social media wall to post acts of recognition online allows the whole company to get in on the act, generating likes, comments and more from co-workers. "It becomes not just one moment but many moments elongated over time," French said. "Research shows the reminder of the moment triggers the same area of the brain as the actual recognition moment itself."
Lastly, recognition platforms make it easier to collect and analyze data about recognition patterns in organizations. "That data allows you to see any bias in recognition practices, for example, so you can have more-equitable practices going forward," French said. "Being able to view the frequency and type of recognition allows you to see both the bright and dark spots of recognition actions."
Where Companies Go Wrong with Recognition
Despite the advantages of using recognition technologies, only 22 percent of respondents to the Gallup study said their organization uses a digital recognition platform or software for recognition. Those that do use the technology often don't effectively integrate it with systems employees routinely use.
"Integrating recognition into the tools employees use every day is a key component of this," said David Bator, managing director of the Achievers Workforce Institute. "There are a lot of different technologies and point systems employees have to navigate every day at work, so it's essential to make sending and receiving recognition easy for them. That's almost as important as ensuring the frequency or meaningfulness of recognition."
Other key findings from the Gallup and Workhuman study highlight best practices in recognition:
Meaningful recognition trumps all. The work you do to recognize employees goes for naught if workers don't perceive that recognition as meaningful. Only about one-third of employees in the Gallup and Workhuman survey strongly agreed that the recognition they receive is authentic. When asked about the value of meaningfulness versus frequency, two-thirds of employees in the Achievers study said they would choose more-meaningful recognition over receiving recognition more often.
"For example, a simple thank-you didn't have the same power as a specific, detailed personal acknowledgment of good work by an employee," said Bator.
Recognition plays a vital role in helping remote workers feel connected and valued. Only about one-quarter of employees (27 percent) in the Gallup study strongly agreed they have meaningful connections with their co-workers. But the study found giving and receiving recognition is one way to form new relationships; build bridges among teams; and dissolve tensions amid disparate goals, priorities or approaches.
Dave Bendetti, a senior manager of global compensation with NCR Corp., a technology company in Atlanta, uses a recognition platform from Workhuman to help keep his remote workforce connected, feeling appreciated and performing at high levels. Bendetti uses the technology to facilitate peer-to-peer recognition, service milestones, new-hire recognition and recognition of employees who successfully submit patents.
"Over half of our workforce is either remote or in the field," Bendetti said. "Since we launched the recognition program more than a year ago, we have seen about 80,000 recognition moments. The mobile application has been a vital tool with that population, and the program is keeping those workers connected to the NCR culture. In the long run, we're confident that our recognition program will help us boost retention."
Train managers in recognition best practices. The Gallup study found that 73 percent of organizations don't offer managers best-practices training in how to recognize employees. "This is a huge missed opportunity," said Maese of Gallup. "Understanding how to effectively recognize others isn't intuitive to all managers, and when it's simply treated as a check-the-box activity, it loses its impact."
Experts suggest such training be made part of new-manager orientation and incorporated into regular refresher training. Companies can also consider using "nudge-based" technologies that can send managers automatic reminders about the need to recognize employees and demonstrate how to do it effectively.
Personalize your recognition. Too many organizations continue to use one-size-fits-all approaches to recognition, making those acts far less meaningful to workers. Seeking employee input on their recognition preferences is essential but too often overlooked.
"While getting recognition 'right' can seem like a moving target, there is a straightforward way to ensure you hit the bullseye: just ask," wrote authors of the Gallup study. "However, only 10 percent of employees in the study strongly agree they have been asked by someone at their current workplace how they like to be recognized."
Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.