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Why, when and how to rethink recognition during these challenging times

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

I’ve been a part of my village’s Facebook group for years. But since it was mostly filled with snarky comments about what so and so did or what so and so said, I hardly ever looked at it. But since the lockdown things have changed dramatically. It’s become a place where my fellow villagers share achievements and share what they’re grateful for. It’s become a place where people go to stay connected and to stay positive. And it’s a place to share and celebrate personal wins and wins of others (e.g. who’s survived the coronavirus even if we don’t know them). It gives us strength, it gives us hope, and it helps us cope!

I’m sharing this story because I believe it’s an important place to start when it comes to talking about recognition, as recognition can and does have similar outcomes to this new Facebook group. It celebrates wins, it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel stronger and more positive. And if there ever was a time for these outcomes, it’s now, in a world where we’re all filled with uncertainty, challenges and a sense of isolation. Recognition, like this Facebook group, can give us strength, can give us hope, and can help us not just cope, but thrive.

“In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.” Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis.

But like my new Facebook group, if you want recognition to be effective in these challenging times, you need to rethink and possibly change your recognition programme. Here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. Why?

The first thing to rethink is the why, so why are you recognising your people? In the past the main objectives have been so that your workforce feels appreciated, valued, and to drive performance. And while these are still important, what may be even more important in the current climate are outcomes mentioned earlier such as feeling connected and more resilient. 

Start by evaluating what your people and your business need, and if your current recognition programme doesn’t support these needs, quickly adapt it. Here are two examples of how companies have done this:

  • At Missguided, a retail organisation, they launched new “Positivity” eCards with the goal of keeping people connected while working from home with their strategic behaviours. “From ‘virtual hugs’ to ‘high fives from home’, we’ve slightly tweaked our already popular eCard scheme to make sure we had designs and messages suited to the way people are currently working. We wanted to give our people another tool to say thank you, keep morale high and just simply let someone know they are thinking of them” said Glenn Grayson, Internal Communications and Engagement Partner. Within the last two weeks over 80 of the new designs have been shared amongst colleagues, with ‘Sending you virtual hugs’ being clearly the most popular sentiment.  And to keep the momentum going and the ideas fresh, they’re introducing new designs each week, the latest design ‘Sending you a virtual brew’ already becoming super popular.

  • At Reward Gateway, an HR technology company, they implemented three new eCards. “We wanted to ensure that employees who were role modelling great work from home practises and supporting others to do so would be recognised for their efforts in making this change an easier one” said Catrin Lewis, Head of Global Engagement and Communications. The first card (You make WFH a better place to work) aligns with their company mission to ‘make the world a better place to work’, showing employees that they're still on a path to deliver on this. This was coupled with two eCards on friendship, enabling employees to bond and build social connections in a digital world while the office is out of reach.

2. When?

The next thing to rethink is the when, considering when you’re recognising your people. In a world that’s changing by the minute, when a day feels like a week or a month, you can’t wait to recognise people monthly, quarterly or annually. It needs to keep up with this new pace, helping your workforce feel connected and appreciated exactly when they need it.

Encourage your managers and your workforce to recognise ‘in the moment’ achievements, recognising those small wins that are helping your people and business survive in these challenging times. And, as mentioned above, adapt your recognition mindset and recognition phrases to reflect and capture these new moments. Consider phrases such as those shared above – ‘sending a virtual hug’, ‘high fiving from home’, ‘you make WFH a better place to work’ – to get the message and feelings across to your workforce. Let them know that every small impact they contribute is making a difference, and that you appreciate them for it.

3. How?

Last but certainly not least, is to take a step back and rethink how you’re recognising your workforce. With people losing jobs and/or being put on furlough, ask yourself if you should be recognising financially or if a simple thank you would be more appropriate? Remember, it’s the thought that counts, especially now.

Three ways you can do this are with eCards, by having a separate recognition instant messaging channel, or by doing shout outs at the end of your virtual team meetings. These all deliver timely and effective recognition with the added bonus of costing absolutely nothing to do.

In ending, let me wish you all the best in using recognition as a tool to help your people and your business connect, stay strong and be their best. Take care and stay safe!


About the author:

Debra Corey is a highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, world-class speaker, three-time author, and was recently named one of the top 101 global employee engagement influencers. She’s had a varied career, working for global companies such as Gap Inc., Honeywell, Merlin Entertainments and Reward Gateway, where she’s developed and delivered HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement. In 2019 Debra founded her own company as Chief Pay It Forward Officer, where she’s inspiring and helping others to bring out their inner rebel and drive business change.

Over the course of her career, Debra has been fuelling the employee engagement rebelution through a variety of ways, including speaking at events and leading workshops around the world, teaching professional courses and writing. 

An accomplished author, Debra has published three books, the first one about employee communication strategy and best practice (“Effective HR Communication: A Framework for Communicating HR Programs with Impact”), the second one which talks about why and how to be an engagement rebel (“Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement”), and her latest book which focuses on company values as a strategic and effective business tool (“Bringing Your Values Out to Play”).


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