From cash rewards to gamifying recognition: the top five HR myths

Many businesses pay lip service to HR without understanding it or using it effectively: so how can even the most nascent or companies sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of people issues?

There is no doubt that an important key to business success is ensuring that staff are engaged and motivated at all times, and the best way of doing this is through social recognition.

However, there is a wealth of misinformation about how businesses should treat and recognise their employees. Not only can these myths destroy attempts to build a solid corporate culture, but it can have a significant impact on a company’s growth prospects. To avoid this, businesses need to dispel the following misconceptions:

Engaged employees are long-term employees

It’s a management truism that engaged employees are the greatest competitive advantage. While there’s no disputing it’s important to have an engaged workforce, research has shown that employees are often ready and willing to jump ship at some point in their career. A big problem is that while businesses understand that recognising their employees has a big impact on engagement levels, many overestimate how long the impact a single recognition moment can last. Like any relationship, feeling engaged requires continued effort.

In order to maintain a lasting relationship with their employees, businesses need to implement a long-term engagement strategy, and this includes putting into practice a strong organisational culture. By promoting a winning spirit of optimism and energy, organisations can bond a workforce of individuals into a common cause, language and set of values. Ultimately, this helps employees feel consistently secure, supported and engaged, which only has a positive impact on their productivity levels.

Cash rewards are king

When rewarding employees, too many organisations rely on what is considered to be the easiest and most effective form of recognition – cash. However, while it’s highly unlikely an employee will refuse extra money in their pay cheque; in reality, this often holds very little meaning to an employee. It’s not uncommon for bonuses to be swept up within the employee’s standard pay packet and spent on day-to-day outgoings – such as bills, fuel, or a grocery shop.  The motivational effect of the reward is therefore lost as it has no memorable or meaningful connection. 

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In order to successfully inspire and motivate a workforce, a recognition strategy must be designed to gratify an employee using rewards that offer them true value.  Indeed, as each employee makes a unique contribution, it’s only fitting that rewards given reflect this and acknowledge the individual in a way that only they would appreciate.

Gamification complements employee recognition

The concept of ‘gamifying’ roles within businesses has gained traction within recent years.  As the line between corporate and consumer becomes increasingly blurred, many organisations are looking at such practices to increase engagement within their workforce – using leaderboards and badges to encourage achievement.  While the practice can provide some benefits, businesses need to be very careful about how they implement such schemes – particularly in relation to recognition.  Incorrectly done, gamification can actually do more harm than good and, rather than being voluntary and co-operative, becomes mandated and competitive.

In order to apply elements of gamification to a recognition programme it needs to be done in a thoughtful way – such as gamifying the completion of a profile or uploading a photo, but not the actual act of recognising a colleague.  Gamification in recognition must also answer the specific tenets of recognition, such as tying behaviour to company values, expressing authentic appreciation, and conferring appropriate awards.

Only managers should provide feedback

Managers matter. Indeed, managers noticing and appreciating the work of their team members is necessary and important to employee engagement. We all need to know that our manager sees our good work, our successes, and our daily victories. However, even the very best managers cannot see all the good that is happening around them every day.

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Instead, organisations need to implement social recognition, which empowers employees to recognise their own peers. When an employee can see they are adding value to their organisation and they are regularly communicating with both their peers and managers, their productivity levels will grow.  

Employee recognition data isn’t valuable

Traditional recognition programmes that involve only the feedback of line managers don’t generate a lot of useful data – mainly because it’s only coming from one source.  However, this isn’t the case for social recognition. Indeed, with so much data generated from different sources, it can be of great value to a company and have a significant impact on improving business processes that maximise productivity in the workplace.

Today, sophisticated data analytics are bringing employee management into a new age. The data supplied by social recognition creates a rich, real-time narrative of company life. By capturing and analysing individual acts of recognition, a social recognition practice can determine who the hidden influencers are, who has strong potential and who isn’t pulling their weight. Because social recognition uncovers which values-based behaviours are lacking and which are abundant, you might think of it as a ‘brain scan’ of company culture.

Derek Irvine is VP of client consulting and strategy at Globoforce

Further reading on HR: Top 5 recruitment mistakes and how to avoid them

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.