The Importance Of Employee Engagement

The Importance of Employee Engagement

Article written by Incentive Services University

Much of the literature today on building a strong corporate culture is centered around the importance of keeping employees positively engaged at work, creating a culture in which each employee feels connected, empowered, and ultimately contributing to the forward momentum of the organization.

One important way that we can impact employee engagement is through recognition – whether it be through verbal praise, monetary rewards, social networks, or service award programs. The impact of recognition on employee engagement can be a significant factor in training – and retaining – quality employees who feel engaged and empowered to make a difference every day. In fact, research by the Aberdeen Group found that “60% of Best-in-Class organizations stated that employee recognition is extremely valuable in driving individual performance” (Driving a Culture of Employee Recognition, 2013). In addition, “ . . . in organizations where recognition occurs, employee engagement, productivity and customer service are about 14 percent better than in those where recognition does not occur” (Bersin & Associates, 2012). Recognized employees are more likely to be engaged employees – interested in and contributing to a positive organizational culture and its growth.

But what are the risks of NOT recognizing employees? Is there any negative impact to the health and well-being of a company and its culture? Research suggests that “[w]ithout a way to engage employees, organizations risk losing top talent and jeopardize organizational growth” (Aberdeen Group, 2013). Disengaged employees are decidedly less productive, contribute less and may, in fact, drive the corporate culture in an apathetic, if not negative direction. Unfortunately, “[o]nly 14% of organizations provide managers with the necessary tools for rewards and recognition” (Aberdeen Group, 2013). Recognition, even in small ways, helps employees to develop a strong sense that they can positively impact the forward-momentum of the organization.

Recognition can take many different forms, both formal and informal. Informal recognition might include anything from off-the-cuff remarks, praise or even monetary incentives based on random criteria left solely to manager discretion. While these are noble efforts, they often have no tracking or accountability either from a performance or financial perspective. In fact, research from the Human Capital Institute suggests that “ . . . sporadic recognition may in some cases be worse than no recognition” (Human Capital Institute, 2009). Left without a structured program, recognition can be inconsistent and results entirely unknown.

Formal recognition programs, however, might be the “best way to implement a recognition program . . . as a rational, carefully formulated program that is based on sound theory and is well integrated with an organization’s business strategy (Human Capital Institute, 2009). Within a formally designed program consistent with company culture and values, these programs can provide thoughtful and meaningful recognition to employees, contributing to an overall culture of both engagement and positive recognition. Furthermore, a properly-managed program with the right software can also provide significant data on use, feedback, results, accounting, and reporting. Tracking this data can pin-point effective recognition strategies, align program goals among managers and comply with financial and accounting regulations. In addition, the use of social technologies linked to a formal program “ . . . allows employees an established way to provide recognition and easily receive specific feedback” (Bersin & Associates, 2012).

Let’s look at two best practice case studies in which a formal, agency-managed program helped to build a culture of recognition and employee engagement.

A leading healthcare services company with over 80 hospitals and 80,000 employees developed a two-phased approach:

  • In Phase 1 – the company wanted to standardize the Service Award Program through the organization creating a consistent look and feel to build a culture of recognition. The program included the use of e-cards and technology alerts to engage both managers and peers.
  • In Phase 2 – the company wanted to better understand all of the recognition methods being used within the organization. To do this, they created a formalized process which included:
  • Budgeting, Tracking, Electronic Recognition Process, Social Technologies, Award Redemption, Tracking of Taxes and Accounting.

This phased approach allowed the company to start creating a consistent culture of recognition, allowing the program to gain a foothold while the second phase was being implemented. Phase 2 brought additional structure and opportunity to the program and allowed the company to see just where recognition was making an impact – and where it could be used to create more significant employee engagement.

A large food service distributor with over 30 distribution centers and 8,000 employees created an employee ‘Loyalty’ Program in which employees can earn points for Safety, Wellness, Above & Beyond Performance and Years of Service. In addition, the individual distribution centers can run ‘contests’ and ‘games’ specific to their location to help drive awareness in particular initiatives. Program technology alerts help to engage managers and peers in the recognition process while data functions track taxes and accounting for financial reporting.

Works Cited

Aberdeen Group. 2013. Driving a Culture of Employee Recognition,

Bersin & Associates. 2012. Bersin & Associates Unlocks the Secrets of Effective Employee Recognition,

Human Capital Institute. 2009. The Value and ROI in Employee Recognition,

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Learning To Be Comfortable

Learning To Be Comfortable With Discomfort

Article written by Incentive Services University

We can all identify the A players. On sports teams, they are the stellar athletes. They are recruited by top universities and professional teams. They are the standouts. They make multi-million dollar deals with endorsements and commercial contracts. And in business, they are often the dealmakers, the go-getters and the promotion-seekers.

In contrast, you may not notice the B players, in sports teams or in your business. But they are also there – day after day, consistently and conscientiously getting the work done. On a sports team, they are the solid, dependable players who deliver reliable results – game after game. In your business, they always execute.

Every day, companies are focusing more and more on the B players as they realize their untapped potential. As writer Del Jones points out, “the backbone of every company is in the middle where the ether of great thoughts is hammered into reality” (Employers Learning That ‘B’ Players Hold the Cards, 2009). But what drives the B Players may be significantly different than what drives the ‘A’ players. It’s not necessarily the fame, the money or even the position.

According to Jones, “ . . . B players are embedded in both their jobs and in their communities.”

The difference is in temperament. There are many types of B players, but most are loyal (to a point), don’t live and die for the next promotion (but want challenging work), don’t need coddling (but can die of neglect), are honest (if not diplomatic) and are not as driven by power, status and money as are A players, who live for little else.

Companies should be looking for ways to address the needs of B players, says Jones, by recognizing their performance and their longevity. B players might just need different motivational incentives.

In addition, some B players want to be A players but are “risk averse”. They may be caught in the comfort zone (The Comfort Zone, Incentive Services University). The comfort zone is:

. . . that area of thought and action where a person feels uncomfortable. Anything we haven’t done or thought about often enough to feel comfortable doing lies outside the parameters of our comfort zone.

B players don’t necessarily seek out ‘uncomfortable’ situations. But they “ . . . must learn to tolerate discomfort in order to grow, to maximize personal or organizational performance” (The Comfort Zone). Take the time to learn about what motivates your B players. How can you add a bit of discomfort to stretch their responsibilities and their goals? By learning to recognize your B players, you can maximize their potential and identify their drives and incentives for growth and improvement.

B players might just become your A players – if you can help them to expand their comfort zone.

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5 Myths About Service Awards

5 Myths about Service Awards

Article written by Incentive Services University

The truth is the majority of Service Award programs out there are outdated and ineffective. Many programs were designed years ago and based on concepts from decades ago. It’s easy for these programs to get put on auto pilot but if you haven’t evaluated your program, now is the time. This is real money that could be better spent.

Here are 5 common myths about Service Awards and the reality…

Myth #1: Employees only care about the award

Reality: The presentation from the manager is more meaningful to the employee than the actual award. This is why it is extremely important to provide managers with the tools to make an effective presentation.

Myth #2: Employees are overwhelmed by a large selection of awards

Reality: There’s a reason a large percentage of your employees never select an award. Today’s employees want choice. Gone are the days of offering 25-50 “traditional” options. Employees want better brands and more options.

Myth #3: The website has to be boring and only for ordering purposes

Reality: The website should be an extension of your company and a dynamic experience for your employees. Technology allows you to highlight employees and get their peers involved.

Myth #4: You can’t appeal to every generation with the awards catalog

Reality: The truth is you can. The key is to build your awards selection based on your company’s demographics. You should have a blend of traditional awards for the baby boomers and lifestyle awards for the millennials.

Myth #5: Switching providers is difficult

Reality: It’s a lot easier than you think. An experienced provider will have the knowledge and detailed plan to make the transition quick and seamless.

Is it time you re-evaluate your Service Award program?

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Circles Of Influence

Circles of Influence and Social Recognition

Article written by Incentive Services University

World class athletes understand that no matter how hard they train, it’s impossible to maximize performance unless they compete. They can’t be at their best unless they measure themselves against the best. Competition, visibility and recognition fuel performance. – Incentive Services University

As organizational leaders, we know that employee recognition is crucial to maintaining motivation among quality employees. We all want to be recognized for our achievements, appreciated for our efforts and commended for our contributions. A hand-written thank you note, a tasty treat, or even an extra day of vacation can all be a grateful gesture for a job well-done.

More often, though, we are influenced by something greater than internal motivation or a private gesture of thanks. Our “circles of influence” and our levels of visibility extend to our colleagues, our leaders and even our social circles. We refer to this as social recognition. Social recognition isn’t a very complex concept. If you sum it up as the public acknowledgement of merit, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. So when a manager praises an employee during a private discussion, that is not social recognition. But if that same manager honors the employee in a weekly team meeting, it is social recognition. – “4 Tips for Starting a Social Recognition Program”, TribeHR Staff, January 16, 2013

While social recognition may not fit in all situations, research shows that more and more employees want to connect with their workplace community – and with one another – through technology. Use of a corporate intranet for social recognition can help employees to feel appreciated, connected and can set a standard for employee culture and expectations.

For example, you might include a “Thank You” Wall where employees are recognized for their contributions or hard work. Perhaps employee anniversaries are acknowledged on an electronic Anniversary website. Or you might create a peer-to-peer site where employees are able to virtually “recognize” one another.

“Recognition that is timely, values-driven, and open to all employees builds a more connected and fully-engaged workforce” (“The Social Workplace”, Lupfer, 2011). By acknowledging employee value and accomplishments not only privately, but publicly, you create a larger circle of influence for each and every member of your organization.

When performance becomes visible in our circles of influence, we will do almost anything to succeed. – Incentive Services University.

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The Need To Be Noticed

The Need to be Noticed

Article written by Incentive Services University

Call it whatever you want: recognition, honor, pride, self-esteem . . . it’s very basic – the inner desire to have one’s achievements noticed. In some cases, a pat on the back will do the job. In others, it is tangible recognition. Whatever it is, it represents that you are important and your efforts are appreciated – you’re a winner, a performer.

~ Joe Cronin, President, Incentive Services

Every employee has an innate desire for recognition – recognition for hard work, for dedication, for accomplishments and contributions to the organization. Every employer wants their employees to be fully engaged – engaged in work, in corporate values and in organizational objectives. It is the intersection of these two desires that leads to the growth and success of both the employee and the company. In fact, it is the sincere recognition of employee accomplishments which contribute to engaged, excited employees who are ready to contribute to the organization each day.

According to a study by The Kenexa High Performance Institute (KHPI), “ . . . employees are engaged by managers who recognize employees and mobilize their teams for Peak Performance” (2009). In addition, studies by Towers Watson have shown that “ . . . employees who receive recognition in the workplace feel more valued and more committed, plus they can deliver 57 percent more effort than employees that feel underappreciated” (Cordray, 2013). Highly-satisfied, engaged employees deliver substantial, quantitative and qualitative results within the organization.

At a basic level, employee engagement starts with every employee’s need to be noticed and recognized for a job well-done. In many instances, this acknowledgment might be words of praise or thanks for extra time or dedication. Perhaps it is “ . . . the kind words of encouragement, the handshakes, the smiles and pats on the back – given sincerely and frequently” (Cordray, 2013). Do not, however, underestimate the importance of tangible recognition. When “given sincerely and with genuine thought”, tangible rewards can show employees that they are a valuable and recognized part of the organization.

No matter the reward – tangible or intangible, large or small, public or private – every company has the ability to demonstrate to its employees that they are noticed for their efforts and that they are recognized, valued, and appreciated.

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The 15-70-15 Rule

The 15-70-15 Rule

Article written by Incentive Services University
“Take aim at the heart of your workforce.”

In order to maximize performance, it’s important to understand the cross-section of a typical work force. It’s common for a normal group to have 15% of its employees in a top, elite group. On the other hand, 15% may be disengaged or problem employees. This leaves the bulk of your work force, 70%, in the middle.

The group at the top consists of self-motivated, talented employees. Most of these people are experienced and take it upon themselves to do their jobs in the best way possible. This elite group produces outstanding results whatever the motivational factors may be.

On the reverse side, the bottom 15% is generally unmotivated and disengaged. This bottom percentile does not have experience and most likely will never obtain it as they bounce from one job to the next. These people more than likely will not be with you in the future.

The group that makes up the major portion of your work force is the middle 70%. The results, records, and bottom line of your organization are dependent on whether this middle percentile can be motivated and trained to improve. The individuals within this middle group must feel they have an attainable goal and will be recognized for improving their personal performance. It is unrealistic in their minds to strive to be better than the elite employees.

When structuring a performance recognition strategy, it’s important to focus on this middle 70%. Programs that only highlight the top 15% spend money on people who will probably accomplish similar results independently. The focus should be on the portion of the work force that will bring the biggest return. Every employee in the middle 70% should feel they have the ability and opportunity to achieve pre-set goals.

In many situations, we have found that incentive dollars and manager time are directed incorrectly. Most of the time and resources are spent with the low achievers who will not be with the organization in the future, while most of the incentive budget is spent on the high achievers who would have accomplished similar results independently. Focus on motivating and engaging the middle 70% and watch your performance improve.

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Recognize And Retain Employees

Recognize and Retain your Best Assets

“The engaged stay for what they can give, the disengaged stay for what they can get.”
Article prepared by Incentive Services University

What sets your organization apart from the competition? What makes your customers keep coming back to you – and not to another company? What is it that defines your company, your brand, your business?

In today’s competitive market, the answers to these questions revolve around the most important assets that drive your business – your people. It’s your employees who bring the commitment, the drive and the message that you deliver to your customers every day. “People are, have always been and always will be the Number One differentiator” (R. Vaden, Employees Set Business Apart from Competitors, 2013). Your people set you apart.

At the same time, it is also your people who can make or break your business. Who are your high performers? What do they bring to your organization every day? Are they delivering the right message, a consistent message, to your customers with every encounter? It isn’t enough to talk the talk, if your employees can’t walk the walk.

According to Vaden, ” . . . companies that develop their people develop their profits. The companies that overlook their people undermine their profits.” How do you engage your employees? How to you retain your high-performers who deliver your message every day? Marketing expert Yvette Wikstrom suggests that every company must ” . . . improve employees’ willingness to stay employed . . . and the extent to which employees communicate positively/negatively about the brand/employer to colleagues, friends, family and other contacts” (Market Probe Blog, 2013). Give your employees reasons to stay – and to stay engaged: the right training, the rights tools, leadership and value. Recognize and appreciate contributions both big and small. Thanking employees, whether through an Integrated Rewards Platform, Recognition Dinners or a simple Thank You Note, goes a long way toward telling your best assets that they are appreciated and valued.

Remember that your employees confirm and deliver your organization’s message every day with their commitment, their performance and their interaction with your clients. “The future . . . will belong to the companies that create the best lifestyles for the ones who give life to the company itself – its people. . . . Your people are your Number One asset. Love them. Reward them. Train them. Teach them.” (Vaden, 2013) Make sure that your employees know that they are your first – and best – investment.

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Rethinking Engagement

Rethinking Employee Engagement

“The engaged stay for what they can give, the disengaged stay for what they can get.” Prepared by Incentive Services University.

Article written by Incentive Services University

Engaged or disengaged? Quit or Stay? As leaders in our organization, we all wonder which terms apply to our employees. How do we keep them “engaged” in their role, actively participating, and contributing to the company’s goals and strategic direction? A 2012 study indicated that 29% of employees “ . . . who are fully engaged do more in less time than their colleagues” and yet “ . . . 75% of organizations have no engagement plan or strategy” (Dale Carnegie Training).

The level of our employees’ engagement may be more than just black and white, engaged or disengaged. According to a recent Employee Engagement update, there are actually five levels of employee engagement ranging from those who are fully engaged to those who are fully disengaged by ranking employees based upon their levels of both contribution and satisfaction. (BlessingWhite Research Update, 2013).

Five Levels of Employee Engagement

The Engaged: High contribution and high satisfaction. Those employees who have the greatest personal and organizational interests.

Almost Engaged: Medium to high contribution and satisfaction. Among the high performers and “reasonably satisfied with their job”, these employees deserve our investment as they have the “shortest distance” to travel to become fully engaged.

Honeymooners & Hamsters: High satisfaction but low contribution. Honeymooners are new to the organization or role and “happy to be there.” Hamsters are working hard, but are “spinning their wheels” and contributing little to the organization.

Crash & Burners: High contribution but low satisfaction. Top producers who are “disillusioned and potentially exhausted.”

The Disengaged: Low contribution and low satisfaction. Disconnected, skeptical and negative, they often feel underutilized at work.

By focusing our attention on those employees who have the potential to make a contribution to the organization, we can help more individuals to achieve full engagement. This includes not only the Engaged, but those who are Almost Engaged and the Honeymooners & Hamsters.

Creating Engagement

So how can we reach employees who are just below the apex of contribution and satisfaction? And, perhaps just as importantly, how do we measure their intention to stay and to contribute? Surveys are a great start, but “ . . . engagement surveys do no good if they only result in a list of actions that managers are ill-prepared to undertake.” Three key elements are critical to a fully-developed employee engagement strategy:

1. How an employee relates to his or her job and employer

2. How managers work with individual employees to address individual engagement drivers and faster positive team dynamics

3. How executives create an inspiring vision for the future and foster a purposeful culture that makes engagement a core driver of business results.

Engaging employees must be a shared responsibility in every organization – shared by employees, managers and organizational leaders. Managers and leaders need to take the time to identify where each and every employee lies on the axis of satisfaction and contribution. Are their roles and their goals aligned with the direction of the organization? Are they engaged or almost engaged? Can you reinforce and realign the honeymooners and hamsters? Or have they crashed and burned? Almost “ . . . 61% of employees who say they are satisfied with the amount of input they have in decisions affecting their work are engaged” (Dale Carnegie Training, 2012).

Recognition and Reward

Finally, how are you effectively recognizing the contributions of your employees? Reinforce the need to challenge, stretch and coach employees to their full potential and to “ . . . recognize attitude, effort and results” (BlessingWhite). There are so many ways to recognize employees for successful contributions to the organization, including:

  • Everyday behaviors
  • Innovation
  • Sales results
  • Living company values
  • Wellness & Community
  • Personal wins
  • Cost saving
  • Teamwork
  • Recruiting
  • Going above and beyond
  • Hitting goals
  • Safety Achievement

Think beyond the general strategies of yearly bonuses and occasional promotions. Rewards should be “meaningful . . . Benefits and incentives can be customized to appeal to different segments of the workforce” (Dale Carnegie Training, 2012). Recognition of employee accomplishments can – and should – be a significant motivator towards employee engagement.


Challenge, stretch and recognize your employees to maintain their full engagement – every day. Employee engagement needs to be a shared responsibility and a “top-down” commitment. Building a fully engaged workforce must be part and parcel of your daily culture and built from the top-down – to give your organization that competitive advantage.

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The Economics Of Engagement

Economics of Engagement

Article written by Incentive Services University

According to a recent study by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training, “employee engagement is important because ‘engaged employees’ are more committed and productive”. Unfortunately, the study also concluded that “. . . only 29% of employees are fully engaged while 26% are disengaged” (Victor Lipman, Forbes website, 12/14/12). But what is employee engagement? Fineman & Carter (2007) define employee engagement as “the willingness of employees to invest discretionary effort on the job”. Vazirani suggests that engagement is “. . . the level of commitment and involvement an employee has towards their organization and its values”. An employee’s level of engagement in an organization can make or break their feelings about work and eventually influence performance.

Engaged employees tend to be more satisfied with both job and company. They have a positive attitude, greater productivity and are less likely to leave their position. Conversely, disengaged employees tend to be dissatisfied with both job and company. They have a negative attitude, higher rates of job turnover and often adopt a “quit and stay” attitude about their job and their company. But employee engagement can mean much more to an organization than just attitude and productivity. Levels of employee engagement can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.

For most companies, payroll is the largest expense. Happy, productive, and highly engaged employees decrease the high cost of turnover, training and even recruiting. “In the aggregate, employee disengagement is estimated to cost the US economy as much as 350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity, accidents, theft and turnover” (Schweyer, 2009, The Economics of Engagement, Human Capital Institute). Companies need to recognize that better talent management can lead to better employee engagement. Highly engaged employees believe they can positively impact the quality of company’s products, positively affect customer services and positively impact costs (2005 Towers Perrin study). Disengaged employees cost organizations money. And the greatest factor is productivity. But what about the “non-engaged employees”?

Non-engaged employees tend to occupy the “middle ground” and are normally the majority in most organizations (Schweyer, 2009, The Economics of Engagement, Human Capital Institute). These employees may feel that their contributions are being ignored and that their potential is being overlooked. These employees may not be disengaged, but neither are they fully engaged in either their position or organization. They are not contributing to their full potential. These employees shouldn’t be ignored by management and organizational leadership.

So how can you positively impact engagement and minimize the economic impact of disengaged or non-engaged employees? One way to directly increase employee engagement is to create a culture of recognition and appreciation. This means recognizing both the “middle” employees and the high-performers to ensure that every employee feels that his or her contributions are recognized and appreciated by management and leadership. Recognition can be a motivating factor in improving employee performance, creating a higher-level of engagement and satisfaction with the company. “Recognition is one of the most powerful, least used management tools” (John J. Oliver, The Rewards of Recognition). Recognition can create a more engaged, committed and productive workforce.

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The Importance Of Recognition

The Importance of Recognition

Article written by Incentive Services University

“Thank you.” “Great job.” “Congratulations!” Whether adults or children, we all like to receive validation for our efforts, achievements and success. Employers often spend a great deal of time, money and energy recruiting and hiring new employees, optimizing employee performance, and ensuring the retention of talent. But many organizations forget the basic tenet that employees are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay with a company when they feel valued and appreciated for their time and efforts. It all starts with the importance of recognition.

What do we mean by recognition? According to Kim Harrison, “Employee recognition is the timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behavior, effort or business result that supports the organization’s goals and values, and which has clearly been beyond normal expectations” (Why Employee Recognition is So Important). In fact, we all have a fundamental human need to be recognized, noticed and appreciated. But according to John J. Oliver, ” Recognition is one of the most powerful, least used management tools. . . It’s not about favoritism, but about recognizing and rewarding all employees who meet well-defined and stated criteria” (The Rewards of Recognition). Recognition in the workplace may be formal or informal, but – when sincere – it is always appreciated.

Informal recognition of employees can be as simple as a verbal “thank you” for a late night at the office or a well-timed email of congratulations on a successful project. Some companies even have websites that make sending a quick note of recognition as easy as clicking a link. More formal recognition programs might include Service Awards to recognize employees for their years of dedicated service or Spot Awards offering spontaneous gifts, cards or points with a monetary value to recognize employees “in the moment.” Helping your managers to understand the value of recognition, and then harnessing that positive power, can lead to significant benefits for your employees and for your entire organization.

In his article, Employers Learning That ‘B’ Players Hold the Cards, author Del Jones points out that ” . . . failure and success [in an organization] might not lie among the weakest and strongest links, but in the solid middle, . . . the 75% of workers who have been all but ignored.” These are the employees who will stick around long after the “A players” have run because the ” . . . opportunities for riches and promotions dry up. . . . loyal B players, still retain the organizational memory to help their companies survive and . . . move forward.” This makes recognizing your “B players” for their efforts that much more important. Spread the recognition across the whole organization.

Recognition, whether formal or informal, can benefit your entire organization. When leveraged properly, it can create higher levels of engagement and satisfaction for your employees and can be a motivating factor in their day-to-day performance. Higher employee engagement can also lead to a more positive, productive and stable organization. And it all starts with a simple “Thank You.”

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