Andy Nolan: How positive recognition programmes can help retain employees

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Everyone likes to be appreciated. Those of us that say other people’s opinions don’t matter, and that achievement is its own reward – we still like the occasional pat on the back. Whether it’s at home, amongst friends or in the workplace, small gestures of recognition can make a big difference.

For businesses, in particular, the implementation of recognition programmes can be the key to retaining their top talent. The competition to attract the brightest minds is fierce. Companies can offer big salaries and benefits to recruit people initially, but once settled in, employees need structures in place to let them know their hard work is appreciated. High staff turnover is not only bad for morale, it’s also bad for the bottom line, as the cost of constant recruitment and training can be galling. But are organisations doing enough to show staff their appreciation?

According to WorldatWork, a non-profit human resources company, nine out of ten organisations have some form of recognition programme in place, with 64 per cent of people polled saying these programmes boosted overall job satisfaction, and 58 per cent saying they led to better motivation. It might then come as a surprise that just one in three respondents said they believed their organisation’s programme had a positive impact on retention. So we have a situation where programmes are helping with motivation and job satisfaction, but falling short when it comes to the ultimate goal of staff retention.

A word of praise

In many cases, verbal encouragement is what passes for employee recognition; workers who really go above and beyond might even be praised in front of their fellow team members. The problem with this is that it’s just too small-scale.  A handshake and a back slap are fine for the small day-to-day things employees do to make a positive difference in the business, but bigger accomplishments call for bigger acknowledgements.

With global, widely dispersed workforces the norm for many organisations today, video conferencing technology provides a way to put an employee and his or her work in the spotlight on a bigger scale. When someone has really achieved something remarkable at work, sharing that achievement using video is a great way to not only commend the individual, but to foster a sense of culture between employees in disparate departments. Many organisations now use tools, which enable the video to be captured, edited and embedded in an email newsletter or portal and distributed to colleagues in offices around the world.

Video is also a personal way to show appreciation for staff without engaging in a ‘gifting’ arms race. In years gone by, some companies would feel obliged to lavish employees with expensive gifts such as watches, or holidays. While perks like this can no doubt help with staff retention, for many organisations the costs involved with these types of programmes can be prohibitive.

Showcasing exceptional staff via video is a low-cost alternative, and one that can have a far-reaching impact. Aside from sharing it internally via a newsletter or on Yammer, it can also be promoted through company Youtube and Twitter accounts, with staff members sharing via their own social channels, or direct with friends and family. Not only is this good for staff morale, it can also help to build your brand online and highlight to clients the outstanding work being done in your organisation.

It’s the thought that counts

The old adage, ‘It’s the thought that counts’, also comes into play. Bonuses may well keep employees happy in the short term, but genuine appreciation can’t be conveyed with gifts alone. An executive taking the time to shoot a short video with a standout employee can be more meaningful than receiving a cheque from a faceless accounting department. That may sound trite, but it’s something that the large tech companies, for example, have to deal with all the time. Despite very competitive pay, along with all the bells and whistles people have come to expect from companies like Google and Facebook, many Silicon Valley organisations still struggle to retain staff. Monetary remuneration only goes so far, and when competitors can match or exceed what’s on offer, it’s the little things that end up making the difference.

A recent example from the Premier League helps to illustrate this point. Though footballers clearly live in an entirely different universe from the rest of us, the same core principles apply. Yaya Toure, one of the highest paid players in the league, fell out with his club, Manchester City, after they failed to wish him happy birthday and provide him with a cake. It escalated into a full-scale row between the player and the club, with Toure’s agent at one point claiming the midfielder was prepared to leave, as he felt under-appreciated. Of course, football agents don’t always speak the truth, and a rumoured move to a rival club may have been the real underlying issue. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that small gestures can have big meaning, and that footballers can be delicate souls.

Giving a birthday cake to every player in a football team isn’t very practical; let alone a multinational organisation with thousands of employees. But the small gestures do matter, and they needn’t cost the world. Promoting exceptional work via the medium of video is an inexpensive and effective way to show staff they matter, and that they are appreciated. That’s something I think we’d all like a slice of.

Andy Nolan, VP UK, Ireland and Northern Europe, Lifesize

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