Top 3 Barriers to Creating a Culture of Recognition and Engagement

While developing a culture of recognition and engagement should always be top of mind in an organization, it is increasingly important in today’s world where the state of our nation is a significant source of stress for many people. In fact, 72% of Americans say this is “the lowest point in history they can remember.” The pandemic, hostile political landscape, and civil tensions are all contributing to employees’ inability to show up fully engaged at work each day. 

Of course, employee recognition has always been a cornerstone for engaging employees, but despite many business leaders knowing it’s the No. 1 driver of building an invested workforce, a lack of recognition remains one of the top reasons employees would consider leaving their company. This begs the question: If companies know what they need to create a culture of recognition and engagement, why are they still having trouble implementing it?

1. Lack of Buy-In from Senior Leadership

One of the biggest roadblocks to creating an engaged workforce is lack of buy-in from senior leadership. A major challenge HR leaders must overcome when seeking to create an environment where employees feel engaged is convincing leadership to invest necessary time and resources. 

But even when leadership invests resources in engagement initiatives, if they themselves are not modeling recognition best practices, such efforts are likely to fail. 

Most importantly, a lack of buy-in from senior leadership does not go unnoticed by employees — 33% of employees say that leadership is “minimally” committed to improving company culture. Because leadership often sets the tone and models company culture from the top, if employees do not see senior people actively caring about creating a positive culture, they are likely to believe the leadership is not committed to creating one. 

Senior leadership’s cultural absenteeism is a massive threat to employee engagement, and leaders must play a larger role in building company culture if they want the perception of their efforts — and thus employee engagement — to improve. 

2. Lack of Access to Recognition Tools 

Employee recognition helps to boost engagement, but the lack of access employees and managers have to recognition tools greatly inhibits businesses from making any real progress in developing a rewarding culture. Businesses must provide managers with easy-to-use tools to combat employees from feeling what we’ve found to be the second-highest barrier to engagement — feeling undervalued and underappreciated.

Most employees require frequent feedback and recognition to counter feeling undervalued, and consistent recognition has an immense impact on employee morale and happiness. That’s why it’s critical for managers to have tools to help them recognize and reward employees regularly. In fact, 40% of Americans say that if they were recognized more frequently at work, they’d put more energy into their jobs. 

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Recognition tools vary, but most have the same goal of making employees feel valued and appreciated. HR managers should therefore consider numerous solutions, particularly ones that help personalize recognition on an ongoing basis. Because if the yearly review is the only time an employee is receiving feedback from their manager, the organization is not doing enough. 

3. Lack of Alignment With Core Values

There is a common misconception that recognition simply means to reward a job well-done. This kind of general recognition does have positive benefits, but to truly instill a culture of recognition, organizations need to weave together values and recognition. 

One way to do this is to align core values to more unconventional recognition practices. For example, perhaps a core value of an organization is to be an employer that proudly cares about its workforce. In this case, recognition can take the form of acknowledging how difficult the past few months have been for employees and therefore offering a more flexible work environment by allowing employees to shift their hours or work based on when they feel they are most productive. 

That said, businesses will continue to question why their efforts to foster an engaged workforce are unsuccessful, but unless they address key roadblocks, they likely won’t find success. By tackling these challenges head on —getting buy in from senior leadership, implementing recognition tools, and aligning actions with the company’s core values — employers can increase recognition and thus engagement in their workforce.

Natalie Baumgartner, Ph.D. is the Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, an employee engagement platform specifically designed to align everyone with business objectives and company values, driven by recognizing shared victories every day. She has spent her career translating engagement and culture research into technology that improves the lives of every employee.

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