How Proper Recognition Is a Sustainable Initiative for Companies

Human Resources teams can provide employees the trust, cohesion, and purpose they're looking for with proper recognition initiatives.

employee recognition

The emergency light has been on for the better part of the year as companies across every industry scrambled to provide for their employees’ safety, stability, and security needs during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the most important resources they’ve been able to provide are policy adjustments, health coverage, and valuable professional development opportunities. And it’s a sign of a job well done that the focus is now shifting away from the employee needs and toward employee support; a re-imagination of team morale and employee fulfillment in the new corporate normal.

As human resources (HR) professionals and People and Culture experts (P&C) navigate their way forward, a few fundamentals have become clear. A study conducted by McKinsey & Co surveyed upwards of 800 American employees regarding their employee experience. They found that in addition to the basic safety needs, there were three important pillars shaping every employee’s satisfaction: trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual purpose. Through every stage of the corporate experience, from onboarding new hires to providing training and reskilling opportunities, to celebrating senior-level executives, employees are looking for trust, cohesion, and purpose; below are a few important ways that HR teams and P&C professionals can help them find it.

Recognition: The New Language of Trust

In the same McKinsey & Co study, employees ranked the need to be recognized for their work among the top ten experience factors contributing to their sense of well-being and engagement. A major determiner of their relationship with their team leaders and the company at large, the study found that proper recognition could increase employee engagement by 55 percent, well-being by 49 percent, and work effectiveness by a full 20 percent.

Maybe, more importantly, the survey results show that non-financial compensation is more than sufficient to see these kinds of results. Companies might be struggling to show their appreciation through compensation adjustments or employee bonuses, but McKinsey’s findings show that recognition comes in many shapes, sizes, and price points—employees need to understand that their hard work has an impact more than they need to see that impact reflected in their take-home pay.

Recognition Initiatives for the Post-COVID Era

Remote work has changed the requirements for successful recognition in two important ways. First, employee recognition as a whole has become more important and more challenging. Since the inception of the work-from-home movement, 64 percent of remote employees have said a demonstration of appreciation is more important to them when working from home. Without head nods in the hallway and organic interactions during in-person meetings, the need for positive re-enforcement is tangible, but only 26 percent of those remote employees have seen an effort from their company to implement new reward strategies.

The second important change regards the new employee standards for sustainable practices toward both people and the planet. Since stay-at-home orders resulted in some much-needed environmental reprieve, 70 percent of people have become more environmentally aware, and 95 percent are keenly aware of the ecological impact of their actions.

It’s never been more important for employees to see those values reflected in their company culture. Employees want to know that their work is having an impact. They want the opportunity to celebrate their coworkers, and to see their peers properly recognized for their important work. Most importantly, they want their corporate lives to reflect their personal commitment to reducing their ecological impact. HR teams and P&C professionals who can offer them that experience will see their efforts pay dividends in terms of employee satisfaction, fulfillment, and long-term commitment.

Sustainable Gifting—For Any Occasion

Whether it’s celebrating a senior executive or welcoming a new hire with branded company gear, it’s important for HR professionals to provide the kinds of ethical gifts that employees can feel good about receiving. But sustainable gifting isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Any company can throw a Corporate Sustainable Responsibility badge on their website, but that doesn’t always mean that the products are made in a sustainable way.

B-Corp certifications, on the other hand, prove that a vendor has been through an extensive audit, with every part of their process—from sourcing to delivery—approved at the highest national standard. B-Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions, not only as they relate to the environment but also as they relate to their workers, customers, suppliers, and communities at large. Purchasing from a B-Corp ensures that the products are made and transported using sustainable practices and that every hand is paid adequate wages insufficient working conditions along the way.

Purpose-Driven Company Events—For A Memorable Impact

As much as employees want to be recognized for their work, they also want to be recognized for their values and intentions. Chief among those values is the drive to give back to their surrounding communities and support an equitable recovery. To that end, HR and P&C professionals who are able to engage employees in close-to-home social responsibility initiatives are seeing a significant return as far as engagement and fulfillment.

These kinds of programs can come in many forms. For companies that have the financial ability, offering matching gift programs can be particularly impactful; increasing donation multipliers and offering a range of COVID-specific nonprofits to support can help employees feel like they’re making a tangible difference. Safe, in-person volunteer events can also be offered for a similar effect—an innovative way to provide a much-needed break from day-to-day work while also offering an opt-in opportunity for employees to engage with their local communities in meaningful ways.

HR professionals and P&C teams have done an incredible job of providing their teams with safety, stability, and a sense of security during a global crisis. With months of COVID-management under their belt, it’s become clear that thoughtful recognition is a top priority as teams continue to move forward. Non-financial recognition strategies are as effective as any compensation-based reward could be, and initiatives that reflect an employee’s social ideas—sustainable practices, community impact—will have the greatest effect on team morale. With those fundamentals, HR and P&C professionals can move from the task of survival toward the task of an equitable and fulfilling recovery.

Tara Milburn
Tara Milburn is the Founder and CEO of Ethical Swag, a sustainable branding company that makes it easy for HR professionals to offer personalized promotional products that they can stand behind. One of only four B-Corporations in North America, Ethical Swag has been audited to the highest global standard for sustainability.