Weekly pat on the back beats payrise

Recognition beats rewards when it comes to worker contentment

By Henry Budd

When trying to retain staff it is often assumed that only money talks. But according to a UK survey, a few simple words can be just as effective. A survey of 1000 workers by UK consulting firm White Water Strategies found that saying "thank you" often has the same impact on job satisfaction as a modest pay raise.

The survey showed a third of employees were not thanked at all when they did well, while a further third said they were not thanked enough. According to the firm, praising staff had the same motivational kick as a 1 per cent pay rise.

The survey also revealed that those in blue-collar jobs were less likely to be given any recognition for a job well done.

Human resources consultancy Hewitt Associates managing director David Brown was not surprised by the survey’s results.

Brown says research by Hewitt Associates also shows a direct correlation between levels of employee recognition and productivity.

The Hewitt Associates 2007 Best Employers survey of 221 Australian businesses showed that in the businesses considered best employers, 65 per cent of staff said they received adequate recognition for their contribution, against only 42 per cent in other organisations.

Best employers also showed higher productivity, which eventually affected their bottom line. With frequent recognition for their contribution, employees are more likely to speak positively about their employers, work harder and stick with the company, Brown says. And while companies often offer bigger pay cheques as a reward for work well done, increasing employees’ salaries isn’t always the best way to engage staff, he says.

"Our experience is that when we look at all of the drivers of engagement, pay is usually fairly low on the list of drivers," Brown says.

"People will be more engaged by a great leader or by career opportunities than they will be by the level of pay."

While saying "thank you" might sound like the cornerstone of politeness, Brown says many managers still forget to say it.

"You would be amazed at how often leaders are not getting the basics right," he says. "It’s not rocket science."

It also appears as though employers can’t be too polite either.

"We see a 20 per cent drop in engagement if recognition is happening every month, compared to weekly, and a 35 per cent drop when compared to daily recognition," he says.

Brown says many managers are now conducting meetings in team-based settings at the expense of one-to-one integration.
"If you are not having the direct interaction and are doing things more on a team level, you will not see the same levels of engagement," he says.

While recognition and praise is important in increasing motivation and productivity, it needs to be balanced with other drivers of engagement, such as career opportunities and strong leadership, Brown says. "You can never replace lousy leadership with massages on a Friday," he says. "It’s about the right balance and not trying to give one thing more weight than another. It’s a combination of things working together."

Seeking recognition
The quickest way to find out if employees feel they are receiving enough recognition is to ask them.

The problem is the response will likely be no, says Hewitt Associates managing director David Brown.

"It’s like asking about pay," Brown says. "If you ask your people if they think they are being paid enough they are going to say no."

While a straw poll can be useful to unearth major grievances, organisations need to undertake qualitative research, such as conducted in the Best Employer survey, to find out how they compare to other organisations.

The Daily Telegraph

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