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5 ways to eliminate your appreciation gap

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Over the years, employee recognition has moved from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘have to have,’ with 87 percent of organisations now having some form of recognition programme. This is because they’ve seen or heard of its power. Studies show the positive impact appreciation can have on revenue (two times higher with recognition), employee engagement (14 percent higher with recognition) and employee burnout (43 percent lower with recognition).

Employees want to be recognised for their efforts. Over 90 percent say that recognition is important to them, and 37 percent say that it’s more important to them than pay, training or getting a promotion. When asked, 82 percent of employees have said that recognition is a leading factor in helping them improve their performance, with 79 percent using recognition to make them work harder.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see why recognition and appreciation is something businesses need to utilise with their workforce.

Unfortunately, recognition is under-valued and under-utilised in many businesses today, causing an ‘appreciation gap’. An appreciation gap is the difference between what employees are saying they want (recognition) and what they’re getting.

  • Almost 7 out of 10 employees (66 percent) say they don’t feel recognised by their

  • Almost 7 out of 10 employees (65 percent) say that they haven’t been recognised in the last year.

The main reason for the appreciation gap is because many companies use recognition programs that are stuck in the past, grounded in older strategies and methodologies. One survey found that almost nine out of 10 (87 percent) employees feel their recognition program is “stale, outdated, or used as disguised compensation.”

In my latest book Appreciate it! The Playbook for Employee Recognition, I share strategies, tips and examples to help drive new ways of thinking about and designing recognition programs to eliminate or reduce the gap. Here are just five of them to help and inspire you:

1 – Move to a more inclusive approach to recognition

Organizations and HR leaders must ensure that everyone is involved and treated as individuals, helping to drive a sense of belonging through appreciation.

For example, HomeServe has 11 categories for their Shining Star Awards. The goal is to give as many employees as possible the opportunity to be recognised. They include ones for each of their company values, plus additional ones such as “HomeServe Hero,” “CEO Choice Award,” “Community Contributor” and “Career Developer.”

2 – Recognize the small inputs and contributions

These smaller contributions can help lead and add up to the ultimate outcome, keeping employees and work on track and in focus.

Another way to look at this is that by only recognizing the ultimate outcome, you’re recognizing the outcome and not the process and steps you’ve taken to get to the win. It would be like training for a marathon and not acknowledging all of the steps and individual goals you’ve achieved to get you there.

Ben Davies, a fitness consultant in the UK, breaks it down into “non-scale victories” (NSV) – those small but important inputs, contributions and achievements. For example, that first run, the run you do on a rainy day so that you hit your mile goal for the week, and so on. “If you don’t acknowledge and celebrate these NSVs you lose motivation, focus, and often, give up on the goal entirely,” says Davies.

3 – Make a shift in how we think of and act on appreciation

By changing the mentality around appreciation, we ultimately give recognition the starring role and rewards the supporting one.

For example, NAHL Group plc has ‘Teamie of the Month’ recognition plan, which at most companies would come with some type of reward. Instead, the ‘reward’ is the honour of being recognized, which is done during their monthly team calls.

Another example relates to their annual awards, with the reward being money to spend on their own development, along with the responsibility of representing their division in their annual employee survey by presenting it to their team and then gathering feedback on specific actions.

4 – Remove the constraints and guard rails

We’ve built into our recognition programs constraints that are no longer needed. We must remove them to give people more freedom and autonomy to give and receive recognition in ways that work for them.

For example, Reward Gateway has ‘You Rock’ awards that employees can give to one another at any time. There are no approvals required, with employees having the freedom and autonomy to decide who and when to give them out. This puts the decision-making in their hands, and at the same time, ensures that recognition can be given in the moment, not having to wait for unnecessary approvals.

5 – Remove the “winner versus loser” mentality

We need to remove the “winner versus loser” mentality that is ingrained into so many recognition programmes, using recognition as a motivator and not as a demotivator.

For example, Chelsea Football Club has a quarterly ‘Pride of Chelsea’ award. There is no set number of winners, something common in many recognition programmes. Instead, it’s flexible based on the achievements which have been put forward.

“We didn’t want to force fit it, as this just doesn’t work. We wanted to retain as much flexibility where one quarter we might have a number of really great submissions we want to recognise versus another quarter where there is one stand out winner,” says Sara Matthews, former Director of Human Resources at Chelsea FC.

Let me end by encouraging you to challenge yourself to see if/how you can move to these approaches and mindsets to ensure you have no appreciation gap at your company. By doing this, your company will reap the benefits and your employees will feel appreciated and be set up and supported to be and do their best work.


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