Woman smiling as group clapsManaging and motivating employees is really hard in many respects, but a research piece from Bersin shows that at least in one respect it is very easy when you know how.

They found that employers who say, “thank you” to their staff using employee recognition initiatives have a massive 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than peers with ineffective recognition programs. Engagement, productivity and customer service are also about 14 percent better too. It’s a pretty robust study that should be taken seriously as as they conducted two online surveys of 834 organizations over 6 months but offered  a strong qualitative element by performing 30 research interviews with HR and talent management professionals.

I guess that most of the industry knows or has a suspicion that saying thanks is a great way to motivate staff, but it seems that this knowledge is not translating into effective action as a mere 17 percent of employees surveyed in their study suggested that their employers strongly supported recognition while around 20 percent of employees don’t even know their employer’s recognition program exists. They also found that recognition was being implemented much less then senior managers thought.

So, it seems that no matter where you are in your understanding of the power of thank you in your organization, the chances are it is not being implemented correctly and you are missing a massive chance to boost productivity levels and lower employee turnover in 2014.

Although the survey found that organizations tend to spend from 1-2 percent of payroll on recognition schemes, it doesn’t have to be expensive as shown by this study from Wharton University of 41 fundraisers. In this study, the director of the organization visited half of the fundraisers and told them, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.” They found that those fundraisers who had received this simple expression of gratitude made 50 percent more calls the following week while those who were not thanked made the same number of calls during the following week. So, recognition can take place, irrespective of your budget.

And, of course, if you are spending 1-2 percent of budget on recognition schemes, it’s your duty to check that they are being deployed effectively. So, what kind of best practices should you be deploying around your employee recognition schemes?

Well, Bersin found that most recognition programs were shackled by legacy and just recognized service and tenure, but the most effective recognition schemes based recognition on demonstrating company values, displaying certain identified behaviors, and achieving company goals. Don’t just say, “thank you;” say, “thank you for doing X, which has helped the company to achieve Y.”

They also found that the best recognition programs were social and had peer-to-peer recognition and there are plenty of tools out there to help you implement social recognition.

Research from Globoforce suggests that the best schemes share the wealth; so, around 80-90 percent of employees should be recognized every year and it should be frequent so it’s not forgotten,  with about 5 percent of employees getting an award every week. Average prize value only needs to be $110, as larger amounts don’t motivate any better.

So, there you have it. If you want a fun and easy way to boost productivity and lower turnover in 2014, start or enhance your employee recognition scheme.

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