Workplace recognition—whether low- or no-cost acknowledgements, informal expressions of gratitude or more traditional performance and service awards—are having a positive impact among employees. That’s what an on-site survey found last month at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2016 Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

“The biggest takeaway is that HR understands the value of daily and on-going recognition,” says Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications of Michael C. Fina Recognition, which conducted the survey. “This is very important, and HR professionals are looking for tools to help them achieve this.”

The survey queried more than 300 HR professionals, nearly three quarters of whom said they plan to expand their recognition programs over the next year. When asked which recognition initiative has the biggest impact on employee engagement, 33% cited above and beyond performance awards, 20% chose service anniversary awards, and 10% cited personal notes or eCards.

Most of the HR professionals who participated in the survey said their organizations have multiple recognition initiatives in place, with just 12% of the respondents indicating they had none.

Low-cost thank yous
But employers are keeping a close eye on the budgets for these acknowledgements, even as they recognize shifting employee behaviors, especially on the part of millennials. To that end, companies are increasingly considering no- and low-cost ways of recognizing employees, such as eCards or digital notes. They are also adopting one and three-year service awards, as opposed to longer terms of service.

“With millennials, five years seems to be a really long time to wait for your work birthday, as we like to call it,” says Himelstein. “And thank you really does go a long way, but you shouldn’t have to pay to say thanks.”

The overwhelming majority, or 94% of the HR professionals surveyed this year, said they were either very interested, interested, or somewhat interested in a no- or low-cost recognition solution. These were deemed appealing because they encourage daily recognition among peers (35%), are easy to manage (22%) and help build company esprit de corps (18%).

Despite their widespread appeal, over a third (35%) of the employers represented in the survey don’t bother to evaluate the impact of their recognition initiatives. A slightly larger group (39%) said they use employee surveys to evaluate their programs, and the remainder determine the success of their efforts based on participation rates, customer surveys, employee productivity and turnover.

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