Employee Recognition: How to Build a Meaningful Culture

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It is important to instill a sense of purpose in the work of your employees.

Employee recognition and meaning in the workplace can be a critical contributor to long-term satisfaction and workforce happiness. According to the ADP Research Institute® (ADP RI) report, Evolution of Work 2.0: The Me vs. We Mindset, 82 percent of employees worldwide want to play a meaningful role in their organization.

As the Society for Human Resource Management notes, the meaningfulness of an employee's job is a top contributor to employee engagement. Businesses must strike a balance between ensuring critical tasks get done and providing employees with purpose, meaning and connection to the deeper mission. What steps can HR leaders take to foster employee recognition?

Understand the Dynamics of Employee Recognition, Engagement and Connection

The ADP RI report notes that a number of different factors contribute to how connected employees feel, including:

  • Their relationship to peers
  • Their relationship to direct supervisors and management
  • Whether their feedback is solicited and taken seriously

Still, the report revealed there's often a gap between how meaningful employees feel their work is and how employers view it.

1. Measure Purpose and Performance

HR leaders should consider conducting a survey or using another engagement measurement diagnostic to measure performance. Collecting data can provide an objective look at how you're performing and create a road map for improvement.

2. Hone in on What Makes Work Meaningful

As MIT Sloan Management Review notes, a variety of factors can make work meaningful. While scientists might define meaning in the workplace as discovering cures for diseases or pushing innovation forward in their field, employee recognition and growth could look very different in another field. A salesperson might feel purpose comes from generating long-term customer relationships and revenue that keep a business afloat. An administrative assistant might feel valued when they help customers, make executives more efficient or use strategic purchasing to save money that can be reinvested.

Determine what makes work meaningful for your firm, and more specifically, for different employees — or types of employees — and find ways to incorporate that information into job descriptions, duties and review processes.

3. Find Meaning Across the Organization

As Harvard Business Review notes, meaningful work shouldn't be a privilege of the elite. For example, within a social work organization, the social workers might get most of the obvious thanks and recognition. Yet without bus drivers, the resident children couldn't get to appointments and without facilities managers, the organization couldn't provide safe and clean spaces for them. Find and highlight the value that's created by every position.

4. Articulate Your Mission and Tie Specific Roles to It

One of the easiest ways to foster a sense of meaning in the workplace is to clearly define how your organization creates value. How do you help your customers? Do your solutions, products or services make the world a better place? Take the time to define why each role is important. Tie the outcomes of a specific job back to the broader mission, even if the impact is smaller than your team's starting players — and ensure that every employee understands how their contribution makes an important difference.

5. Build a Culture of Employee Recognition

Ongoing recognition starts with a culture that acknowledges contributions. Start with your approach to management. Encourage managers to spend time during one-on-one meetings finding things to praise their employees about. During staff meetings, recognize big wins, projects completed or employees who go above and beyond. Brief your leadership on your team's contributions and have them personally thank staff. Implement programs such as bonus programs, service recognition programs and inviting staff to share suggestions to ensure that your team feels heard and knows they're making a valuable contribution.

When your employees feel recognized and that their work is meaningful, they believe they're making a difference and taking part in something larger than themselves. This can lead to deeper satisfaction, higher levels of engagement and a sense of purpose that can improve performance. Fostering employee recognition is the result of deliberate strategy and action for HR and business leaders.

Want to learn more? Download the ADP report: Keeping Pace with the Evolution of Work: Creating a New Employee Experience

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