HR & Management

The power of employee recognition on your business’s bottom line

5 min read

16 November 2015

Are your people engaged in building a masterpiece every day at work, or are they putting in just enough hours to earn a pay check?

Sir Christopher Wren was one of the finest architects and most celebrated geniuses in British History, famed for the design of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

I once heard a story that, during the building of St Paul’s, Sir Christopher took a walk around the site and stopped to ask a workman what he was doing: “I’m cutting a piece of stone, sir,” came the reply.

Walking on, Wren asked another man the same question: “I’m earning five shillings a day,” the workman mumbled.

Finally, Wren stopped to as the same question of a third man: “I’m helping Christopher Wren build a masterpiece,” he said.

Are your people engaged in building a masterpiece every day at work, or are they putting in just enough hours to earn a pay check? 

In workplaces around the world, we have found employees everywhere have an innate desire to make a difference. They want to be seen as contributing value. People every day are capable of extraordinary things. All one has to do is look at the creativity, passion and hard work that gets poured into volunteering or other hobbies outside of work.

But, how do we as leaders tap into this power inside all our people to produce great work – at work – and make a difference? The difference between an employee just answering a phone call (because it’s their job) or wowing an existing client by the way they handled and resolved their issue.

We wanted to understand motivates employees to do great work and make a difference, so we asked the following open ended question in a global survey: “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does (or could do) that would cause you to produce Great Work?”

The single strongest factor to cause employees to do great work (three times more powerful than any other factor) is to recognise the great work of employees every day.

Here are some of the verbatim answers from the survey:

  • “I really appreciate sincere appreciation and recognition. I am paid to do a job – I agreed to the job for my salary. Salary doesn’t drive my motivation. I appreciate it and like it, but it doesn’t make me perform any better.”
  • “When someone recognises you for something you did or gives you appreciation, I feel that it hits the heart more than anything. Sure you can get a financial gain or perk, but if someone actually comes to you and recognises you for what you do, that stands out more than anything. It is more personal.”

Salary and bonus will only work to a certain extent – they can never give employees this sense of deeper meaning and purpose. If a leader within an organisation sincerely appreciates someone it sends the message: “You do matter, you are important and I value the great work you do.” 

As mentioned earlier, people donate their talents and great work to many causes outside of work. If you ask them why, they never say for the pay. The answers most often given reflect that powerful human desire to make a difference, to feel valued and to do something that transcends a pay cheque.

A successful recognition strategy is based on so much more than moving up “best companies to work for” rankings, or having increasing scores on an annual engagement survey. It should be at the very core of business strategy and all HR initiatives should be linked to the impact on overall engagement.

Engagement and recognition are critical business success factors. Put in place, with proper rigour and measures, recognition, leads to engagement which in turn generates more commitment, creativity, great work and motivation. This is the font of productivity and tangible business results.

Imagine if every employee in your work environment saw themselves as a cathedral masterpiece builders instead of hourly-paid brick layers. What would that do your business bottom line?

John McVeigh is president of O.C. Tanner International.