Image: PixabayYou may have already heard the recent news that, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Study, 62 percent of employees are “not engaged” at work. These individuals aren’t outwardly hostile, disruptive or unproductive like their “actively disengaged” peers. They usually show up and do what they’re told. Yet, while their managers and co-workers may like them, they probably don’t trust them to go the extra mile. To have the emotional commitment and self-motivation to move from competent to excellent. And that lack of trust can keep your organization from achieving its fullest potential.

How do you change this paradigm? Most business leaders agree that employee recognition is a key factor to increasing engagement. Recent studies conducted by the human resources organization WorldatWork found that 88 percent of organizations have employee recognition programs in place, and spend up to 1 percent of payroll on these initiatives.

But are these programs actually increasing engagement?

All people – and, first and foremost, employees are people – want to be seen as the sum of their parts. Not just as a job function, but as unique individuals. However, many recognition programs are designed to reward “generic” milestones rather than behaviors. For example, service- or tenure-related programs (e.g., plaques and certificates presented at the holiday party) are still the most common type of recognition, used by 84 percent of companies.

While it’s certainly nice to publicly acknowledging years of service or other significant milestones, we believe a more progressive, holistic recognition approach is required to truly improve engagement. And it starts with direct supervisors.

Research shows that the number-one reason people are disengaged at work is because of their immediate manager. In fact, almost half of all respondents cited their direct manager as a primary cause for dissatisfaction, and 12 percent cited lack of recognition from this person as the most significant factor in their disengagement.

However, only 12 percent of companies with an established recognition program also had a written policy behind it that holds managers accountable. And of those, just one in 10 offered related training for their managers. Both gaps lead to big inconsistencies in how managers treat their direct reports.

Direct managers must know how to relate with employees on a personal and emotionally connective level. Equally important, they must know when and how to meaningfully recognize them. Otherwise, employees don’t feel as good as they could at work, and may even feel neutral or bad.

Individuals feeling good about the environment in which they work drives up engagement. Conversely, employees feeling under appreciated by or even disconnected with their direct boss can be a killer of engagement – one person or team at a time.

We encourage you to take a close look at how, when, and why your organization recognizes employees. Do you have a program that goes beyond the “once-a-year awards ceremony” and is supported by a written policy? Are you recognizing behaviors – perhaps those aligned with your organization’s core values? Is both public and one-on-one acknowledgement happening consistently? Do your managers know why, when, and how to recognize their team members? Have you thought of going beyond the gift certificate and offering more personal and meaningful forms of recognition? Can you track and measure what’s working and what isn’t?

At Harmony Crew, we believe that effective and authentic recognition can help fuel a culture of mutual respect, appreciation, and trust. It can create the right environment for employee engagement to flourish. But it can’t be a pre-packaged program or an HR-only initiative. Rather, to build and sustain engagement, it must be understood, embraced, and implemented by everyone who has one or more people reporting to them. (Yes, even your boss should be getting recognition from her/his boss.) When this happens, everyone benefits.