A year ago, employee engagement was considered the top challenge by the largest group of employers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce. Today it’s employee retention and turnover. The key to confronting both, a new SHRM survey concludes, is employee recognition programs that reflect the cultural values of the organization.

Everen Esen, who directs SHRM’s survey programs, asserts that a company’s culture and values are “a competitive differentiator” –  presumably assuming they are attractive to employees. After reviewing the latest “Employee Recognition Programs” survey, Esen concluded that “we now know that companies that not only have a recognition program in place, but one that incorporates its core values, are more likely to report greater benefits overall.”

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Even if a company’s values – e.g., collaboration, having a passion for one’s work, superlative customer service – are posted around the workplace, employees will take them a lot more seriously if they can be rewarded for exhibiting the behaviors enshrined in those values.

Process vs. results

Values-based recognition focuses more on process than results. The assumption is that honoring the company’s core values will lead to the achievement of desired results. Also, values-based recognition differs from typical “employee of the month” programs that often become routine and lose their luster.

The proportion of surveyed employers with an employee recognition program “that is tied to our organization’s values” has risen to 58%, up from 50% two years ago. Also, in the 2015 survey, 5% reported they plan to link their recognition program to organizational values.

Also see: 12 ways to increase employee engagement

Overall, 80% of the 823 survey respondents reported having some kind of employee recognition program. All employers in the survey have at least 500 employees.

Greater impact

In its assessment of particular outcomes of recognition programs, SHRM distinguished between employers with values-based recognition programs and those without:

  • Positive impact on employee engagement: 90% values-based, 67% nonvalues-based;
  • Increased employee happiness: 86% vs. 70%;
  • “Added humanity” to the workplace:  85% vs. 70%;
  • Improved employee relationships: 84% vs. 66%; and
  • Helped the organization instill and reinforce corporate values in its employees: 88% vs. 42%.

At 74% of the respondent companies, any staff member can nominate or recognize a colleague, and that 90% celebrate an employee’s fifth year with a service award, whereas only 28% celebrate employees’ first anniversary at the organization.
Additional survey highlights:

  • 32% give employees merchandise from a catalog/website for their service award;
  • 21% have an in-person event or award presentation;
  • 17% percent give out pins, plaques or company logo items;
  • 35% of respondents believe their service anniversary programs could be improved by providing a more inspiring experience; and
  • 22% predicted that their program would be more effective with greater participation from senior leaders.

Richard Stolz is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Maryland.

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