The relationship between employee recognition and productivity

Alex Franquelli   12 March, 2019
Employee Engagement reward and recognition

Once, not too long ago, an esteemed professor told me that we could, and should, live without delving ‘in the recesses of esteem: a legacy of our past, brutish self’. ‘We are’, he added, ‘to let go of other people's recognition and approval, as our own ego is good enough in mediating with reality.’ As he gracefully tasted his wine in small sips, his left hand was tormenting a state-of-the-art mobile phone. By the time I reached for the savoury pie, my academic conversationalist was proudly showing a group of bystanders how many people had recently started following his Twitter account.

Unsurprised by this apparently incoherent behaviour, I wondered whether or not wanting or expecting recognition is a dispensable form of gratitude; one we could happily live without. Plain and simple. Why do we look not only for quantified, monetised compensation, but also for recognition and gratitude? Do employee perks and employee benefits truly contribute to an employee's esteem, let alone his performance? The answer was, and still is: yes.

Investing in recognising a team's or an individual's work is definitely something worth spending (time and money) on. If you have ever had a chance to see what is known as “Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs”, you know full well that once our physiological needs (food, water and shelter) at the base of an imaginary pyramid are satisfied, we, as humans, feel compelled to go to the next level and make sure that our safety can endure the test of time (are we financially secure? Is our future relatively safe?). This is why a good retirement plan is nowadays more sought after than it has ever been.

At the next level of the pyramid we find “love and belonging”, and these are satisfied in a scenario of social inclusion – be it in a familial, political or work context. At the top of the hierarchy we find self-actualisation or, as Maslow explained “What a man can be, he must be”: in other words, once an individual has become highly skilled in their field, they feel the need to invent new avenues to innovate. But in order to achieve this position, one has to go through the stage which is right between the search for social achievement and self-actualisation: “esteem”. One satisfies this specific need by being respected within a group of people or society altogether. If we restrict our focus to the work context, we see that a well-designed reward system, by means of employee recognition and benefits, can help us reach the top layer of the pyramid.

One very common mistake made by those who tend to underplay the importance of employee benefits and rewards, is to confuse the terms “productivity” and “effectiveness”. These two words are not synonymous and are not transposable. Whereas the former defines the amount of work that is completed, the latter refers to the amount of effort the employee puts in. Some employees can be very productive but not very effective, whereas some employees can be effective without being very productive. If we take another look at our pyramid, we realise that an employee who can focus on their job having satisfied his or her needs for safety, stability and belonging, is usually eager to aspire to achieve a higher level of enthusiasm in their job.

As counter intuitive as it sounds, the financial value of employee recognition is not always directly proportional to the effect it has on motivation and work rate. For instance, a £2,500 a year raise may motivate an employee just as much as a £250 end-of-year bonus. What is important is to regularly reward employees for their work, not just at the end of calendar or fiscal year. Access to discounts and an effective reward process goes a long way to make sure that both “productivity” and 'effectiveness” abound.

As much as my esteemed professor might have thought that external factors do not have a significant positive impact on an individual, the value of a financial return investment is doubled when combined with a work environment that is both focused and generally satisfied. Someone once said that ‘success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.’ Employee recognition and rewards can help scale the pyramid: the summit is there for the taking.

Staff Treats is a provider of Employee Recognition programmes. We understand the importance of recognising your team’s hard efforts and how crucial this is for performance and productivity. If you’d like to find out more about Employee Recognition for the modern workforce, get in touch.

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