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Want to Reduce Turnover? Try Recognizing & Rewarding Employees

Written by Rob Catalano, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at WorkTango

When every departing employee costs a company up to six figures in lost productivity and employee replacement costs, heightened employee turnover isn’t just an HR problem anymore. It’s a serious business problem.

Fortunately, a key factor driving nearly 80% of employees to quit their job is totally fixable. Yep, that’s right — 4 out of 5 departing employees cite a lack of appreciation as a factor in their decision.

When employees feel recognized and appreciated for their contributions, they’re happier, more productive, and highly unlikely to look for a new job. But when they don’t feel recognized, they often feel apathetic and disconnected — leaving the door wide open for companies who do have a reputation of recognition to win them over.

So, how can you become one of those companies?


The impact of effective employee recognition

The numbers don’t lie — recognition is the employee engagement power tool. As such, recognition has an undeniable effect on a business’s performance, profitability and employee retention.

A few stats that prove it:

  • The #1 reason people leave jobs is limited recognition and praise.

  • 50% of employees said they’d stay at their job if they felt appreciated.

  • 81% of employees say they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation.

  • Companies with effective recognition programs see 31% lower turnover.

  • 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition reported seeing increases in customer satisfaction.

How to structure an effective employee recognition program

Recognition isn’t rocket science. However, most organizations just aren’t getting it right. Showing the type of gratitude that binds teams together, improves retention and boosts business should be social, timely, specific, and tied to something concrete.

1. Make employee recognition peer-to-peer

We often think of recognition in terms of top-down (meaning, manager-to-worker) — and plenty of research confirms that employees do value that.

But a multitude of studies also reveal that employees equally appreciate, or even prefer, recognition from their teammates. Why? Colleagues see a higher volume of each other’s daily contributions, giving them more opportunities to get a pat on the back from someone who truly understands their work. So recognition from peers can feel more authentic than top-down recognition, which sometimes comes across as obligatory.

What’s more, having the ability to give and receive peer-to-peer recognition conveys to each and every person within an organization that they have a voice. And don’t we all want that?

2. Give employee recognition in real time

When extending those kudos, high-fives, or metaphorical gold stars, the sooner the better.

Feedback in general is better given while the subject is still fresh—and recognition is no different. Giving timely recognition ensures:

a) Appreciation happens rather than getting lost on a to-do list or forgotten, and

b) Makes a clear connection in the recipient’s mind between the outcome and their behavior.

3. Make employee recognition clear & specific

A Deloitte study revealed that people most appreciate being recognized in four overarching categories: success, knowledge or expertise, effort, and living core values.

But to have the highest impact, narrow recognition to the exact behavior where someone excelled. If their content knowledge led to a quality decision in a meeting, cheer for that! If they’ve lived out the values of the company in an interaction with a customer, let them know you noticed.

Try this formula: “When you contributed X, it enabled us to achieve Y.”

By tying praise to specific actions, it becomes more meaningful and longer lasting.


How to create a culture of recognition

Recognition creates an environment where people consistently know their work matters — that they matter. Here are some tips for getting started:

Make recognition easy to give and share with technology

So why aren’t we already sharing more recognition? One reason often cited by managers is that it takes too much time. By making the process of giving recognition intuitive, accessible, and systematized through the use of a digital software platform, you can change the game for a whole company. Making it visually engaging, seamless to use, and easily accessible in mobile format is even more powerful.

Make recognition a year-round practice, not a quarterly or annual event

A simple, sincere “thank you” is the single thing employees crave most (beyond even gifts or celebrations). They just want to be acknowledged for their contributions on a daily basis.

Saying “thank you,” frequently builds a strong culture of gratitude, where workers know their efforts are seen and appreciated. Once you’ve built that foundation, big celebrations can feel even more meaningful.

Share recognitions publicly across the company

Many employees thrive when their accolades are shared publicly on a shared company recognition feed. But whether you’re building a culture of recognition from scratch, or trying to change existing patterns, it can take some momentum to get started.

It’s important to get managers and senior leaders involved early. Establish a norm of public praise and recognition early on during a new implementation of an employee Recognition & Rewards platform. Once a precedent is set of the CEO congratulating an intern on work well done or of Engineering thanking Customer Success for insightful customer feedback, public thank you’s will spread like wildfire.

Attach recognition to meaningful rewards

Recognition alone is a game-changer. But paired with meaningful employee rewards adds a dynamic dimension.

When you layer rewards on top of recognition, you pack a one-two punch when it comes to reinforcing core company values, and incentivizing participation in company-wide initiatives. Some companies allow workers to order company branded clothing, others fund lunch with colleagues of the employee’s choice, others offer access to leadership—like a day golfing with the CEO.

When you let technology do the heavy lifting, recognition is a joy to give and receive. Having a one-stop solution that pulls all the pieces together can make the difference between “Nice idea — I’ll get to it later.” And “Where has this been all my life?”


Make recognition easy with WorkTango

We hope this article helped you understand the link between employee recognition and retention and turnover, and also gave you some great insight into how to build an effective culture of recognition. It’s one of our specialties. And if you like what you’ve read, we’d love to connect.

At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only Employee Experience Platform that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, supports alignment through goal setting and feedback, and offers actionable insights through employee surveys.

WorkTango is built for the workplace we all want to be a part of – where priorities become clear, achievements are celebrated, and employees have a voice. So if you’re ready to improve (work) lives, schedule a demo today.

About the author:

Rob is WorkTango's co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer and has spent the last 18 years building HR Technology and advisory companies. Rob was on the founding team at Achievers, where he spent 10+ years growing the organization and his passion for improving the employee experience led him to co-founding WorkTango in 2015 to help companies collect and act on authentic employee feedback. He was named one of the 100 Top Global Employee Engagement Influencers each year between 2017 and 2020 and has had the privilege of speaking to HR leaders in over 40 cities. He is an avid hockey and volleyball player, traveler, used to play guitar in a metal band, and in his own terms a ‘pointaholic’ – he collects loyalty points for everything and anything! You can reach him at or @RobCatalano on twitter.


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