There is no denying that there is currently a massive shift occurring that is rapidly altering the workplace as we have known it.


Many of the factors contributing to this shift come as no surprise: changes in the dynamics of the modern workforce, the ever-increasing impacts of technology on how we operate, and the challenges of finding quality people in a low-unemployment market.


What is surprising, however, is how slow so many organizations are to adopt a plan and be strategic about transforming their culture to be built for success in the 21st century. Even a casual glance at recent history will show you a graveyard of companies that failed to evolve to face the current needs of business. Or ask your younger employees if they’ve ever heard of AOL, Blockbuster or Xerox.


There are plenty of pieces hanging from the tree of opportunity when it comes to building an action plan for your company. And one of the most overlooked pieces of low-hanging fruit in almost any organization is leveraging the power of recognition.


What is it Costing You?


Given that work takes up by far the most of our waking hours, it’s amazing that so little intentional attention is given to the nuanced actions that help improve the culture within our work spaces.


With the average working professional spending in the neighborhood of 50-75% of their waking hours at work, getting ready for work, commuting to and from work, thinking or talking about work, or simply decompressing from work, it is impossible to say both “I don’t like my job” AND “I love my life”.  And while there are many contributing factors to job enjoyment, feeling valued and appreciated—bolstered by a strong recognition program—is a core piece of it.


Study after study shows that between 60-75% of the worldwide workforce is either unengaged or actively disengaged. So what is this workforce epidemic estimated to be costing organizations? According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. When that translates into dollars, you’re looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make. You do the math.


What is not Addressing It Saying about You?


One core issue that leads to disengagement in the workplace is stress. Stress has risen by 20% in the last 3 decades, causing negative impacts to our personal relationships, our sleep and even leading many to quit their jobs.


Your most important job as a leader is to drive culture and ensure the success of your people. At the core of that relationship, you must care for those you lead—in all aspects of their lives. Knowing that the majority of our waking hours revolve around work, if we’re not intentionally addressing the factors that contribute to the creation of stress-filled environments, can we say we genuinely care about those under our care?


While creating a culture of recognition is not the only solution needed, it becomes a sound starting point to acknowledge the hard work of those you lead and encourage their success. So why aren’t more people and businesses doing more to improve employee recognition?


Three Fallacies of Recognition


Three of the most common reasons attributed to the lack of recognition in the workplace  are:

  • The fallacy of “it’s what they’re paid to do”.
  • The fallacy of “one size fits all.”
  • The fallacy of a lack of demand. “No one wants or asks for it.”


The first fallacy, the mindset that people should want to be better because they should just be doing their job, is a primary driver for why overall employee engagement is so low. Countless statistics are available which highlight just how important it is for employees to feel recognized and engaged at work.


Circling back to the enormous impact work has on the overall health and well-being to the rest of our lives, the presence or absence of recognition at work can either become a pillar to build us up or a contributor to dissatisfaction.


Then there’s the second fallacy. Some feel they do not need recognition, and assume others do not as well. For others, there has been a widespread adoption in the belief that recognition is unneeded. To this, I would challenge the root of this sentiment.


Any of us can recognize the importance of praise and recognition in the lives of our children. Thus for those who feel they don’t need it, the key question becomes, “where did we learn it from?”


For some, it was something they adopted because we aren’t wired to continually expect or look for things we’re not likely to receive. For others, it may stem from the old-world business mentality that wanting recognition makes us look insecure, weak or needy. Whatever the source of this sentiment, all of us benefit from genuine and authentic praise or recognition, even though the preference on the delivery and type may vary.


Lastly, the third fallacy. If your employees never bring up recognition, they must not need it, right? Not so fast. Some may be hesitant to broach the topic, perhaps for one or more of the reasons listed above. Others may be too unassuming, or lack the self-esteem to believe they deserve it. Or perhaps worst of all, maybe they have just stopped expecting better. All of these can so often be overlooked or oversimplified as “that’s just the way they are”.


To be effective leaders we have to go first, and that means not expecting our employees to ask us to lead. The reality is that we have all gotten to where we are today with the assistance and contributions of others, and we should recognize them for helping us and our organization succeed. We should always be helping to lead, guide and inspire those we interact with to higher levels of their potential.


How to Leverage and Engage Recognition as an Agent of Positive Growth


Every business or relationship has its own unique factors, so it becomes impossible for anyone to give you a simple 1-2-3 approach to positive growth. However, every single person or organization can take the same action to start: simply by putting forth the effort.


Take the time to customize a plan of action with 1-3 things you can do—and will commit to—in putting forth effort to build a culture of recognition.


Recognize that praise is far from one-sided. When we give someone genuine recognition, we too will see reciprocal benefits from positively impacting someone else. For some this may take work because it’s not what you’re accustomed to or how you’ve led previously, but anyone can decide to redefine who they are and the daily actions they CHOOSE to engage in.


Be aware that not everyone will welcome your attempts of driving recognition. Do not be dismayed by this or let it deter you! As with most new things, some people can be apprehensive about it at first. Stay true and consistent to the process and be determined that it is worth it.


Decide to be proactive about engaging in the act of recognizing others. Once you have thought through the who, what and how, create a plan of action that simply needs a “yes” to execute.


My two favorite questions in this world are Why not? and What if? There simply aren’t any legitimate reasons not to look for ways to improve our level of engagement in recognition. There are just excuses.


So what if we truly went all-in on recognition, and took continual steps to improve this impactful area of our work spaces and our lives? Take a few moments to think about how others could benefit from an authentic Culture of Recognition.


The bottom line should be this: if all recognition did was give you a little energy back from making someone’s day and at the same time gave them a slight uptick in their mood and attitude, wouldn’t that by itself be worth it?


A culture will emerge—whether intended or not. But if it is not one that you invest in, it will certainly be one that you pay for. Make the decision to invest in recognition within your culture.