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Three Ways To Ritualize Recognition Programs To Boost Employee Morale And Engagement


Valerie Hayman Sklar, president of Detroit-based Corporate Specialties, helps B2B companies enhance their marketing with branded products.

In 2021, record numbers of Americans quit their jobs. While there are numerous reasons for the Great Resignation, a lack of proper employee recognition is certainly a factor.

When employees feel appreciated, they’re more engaged with their jobs — in fact, they are up to 2.7 times more likely to be highly engaged according to research from Quantum Workplace. Furthermore, they found, “Organizations with formal recognition programs have 31% less voluntary turnover than organizations that don’t have any programs at all. And they’re 12x more likely to have strong business outcomes.” How recognition is bestowed matters.

Elevate your recognition routines into rituals.

There are differences between rituals and routines — and it comes down to your intentions. Think about how you celebrate employee birthdays, for example. Maybe you order the same cake at the local bakery and take a quick break in the afternoon for everyone to grab a slice. It’s an identical process, with no personalization that makes it special for the person of honor. That’s a routine.

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Routines are full of to-do list items to be completed; in this case, buying birthday cakes and sending emails for everyone to meet in the conference room at 3 p.m. for the celebratory snack. Some may view it as simply going through the motions. Coworkers pick up on that vibe, and pretty soon fewer and fewer people attend, or they make the requisite appearance and vanish back to their desks with cake in hand. Even the person celebrating the birthday can’t wait for the awkwardness to be over.

Contrast this experience with one that incorporates more meaningful practices that have a sense of purpose. Candace Coleman writes that rituals are meaningful practices with a real sense of purpose. “When people participate in rituals, they’re engaged with the experience of the task rather than just completing it,” she says. “A ritual carries more weight because it feels relevant; it’s not just an action to cross off a list.”

Now think about how creating rituals around birthday celebrations can transform the entire experience. Maybe you decorate with balloons in the employee’s favorite color and play their favorite music during the afternoon cake party. Several peers could share how the birthday person has positively contributed to the team. The celebration becomes personal — special. Employees feel good being recognized and recognizing others. I’ve found these positive emotions are critical to employee morale and engagement.

With only 36% of U.S. employees engaged in their work and workplace, according to Gallup, there’s clearly lots of work to be done. While creating an engaged workforce is a complex task that can’t be solved with only recognition programs, appropriate appreciation is often overlooked as a key piece of the puzzle.

Three Ways To Build Rituals Into Recognition Programs

Are you intrigued with how you can build rituals around recognition programs? Here are three ways companies of any size can ritualize recognition to boost employee morale and engagement.

1. Onboarding And Inboarding

How you welcome new hires to the team sets the stage for how company culture is introduced. Schedule a 15-minute chat with someone in senior leadership to personally welcome new hires and talk about culture and vision. An onboarding buddy (a peer at the same level) is a great resource beyond a new hire’s immediate supervisor to answer questions and make introductions.

Inboarding can be handled similarly, with a buddy pairing in the new department plus a leadership meeting to congratulate the promotion and discuss how the person’s new role strategically fits into the company’s success.

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As your team expands and changes, don’t keep it a secret! Publish a blog post or email profile that introduces the new person or talks about the accolades of the person being promoted to keep all team members up-to-date.

2. Service Anniversaries

When employees hit five years, 10 years, 25 years (yes, it still happens!) of service to your organization, celebrate these milestones. In addition to traditional annual banquets or casual lunches, perhaps the CEO sends a hand-written congratulatory note, or senior leadership records a video message to impart a personal message of gratitude for their contributions.

You may also consider incorporating branded merchandise. (Disclosure: My company provides branded merchandise.) Service anniversaries offer an opportunity for luxe gifts — just be sure to use subtle decoration that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the item given.

3. Employee Appreciation Celebrations

Whether you are hosting an annual event or a thank-you celebration after a big initiative, employee appreciation celebrations are ideal ways to bring team members together in a fun, casual environment.

Maybe you go for a traditional company picnic where team members can bring their families, or tap into the charcuterie trend by hosting an elegant charcuterie party at a swanky speakeasy. You could even treat employees to an afternoon of go-kart racing, laser tag or axe throwing for a unique experience. Themed employee appreciation celebrations are perfect for extending fond memories of the day. For example, branded aprons or custom-labeled barbecue sauce can commemorate a backyard BBQ after the event is over.

Takeaway: Ritualize to create a culture of recognition.

Being intentional about the recognition process allows you to build programs that are special, easy to implement and stay on budget.

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In addition to the ideas above, look for ways to incorporate rituals into training/education initiatives, team-building events, peer-to-peer thank-you gifts or community outreach programs. These are just a few of the robust opportunities to praise employees throughout the year, creating a true culture of recognition.


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