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14 Nov 2022
by James Humpoletz

How to ditch recognition baggage and boost engagement

Employees who have had poor recognition experiences in the past will expect the same with their next employer. But there are ways to overcome this pessimism

How to deal with ‘recognition baggage’ and boost engagement.jpg 1


Past experience often colours how we view future events.

In the same way, how previous employers have recognised work well done can significantly shape our perceptions and expectations of future recognition moments. Organisations must understand the power of ‘recognition baggage’ and look to offset or match past employee experiences.

The power of preconception

Research shows that poor recognition experiences don’t fade away easily and can shape or bias how we perceive current and future ones, even when our situations are different.

Of course, when done well, recognition can have many positive effects, including engagement, wellbeing, inclusivity, tenure, ‘great work’ and even revenue. However when staff recognition is not taken seriously and as such, is infrequent, generic and impersonal, the negative impacts can take a long time to reverse.

In fact, employees who had inadequate recognition experiences with previous employers, are more likely to report shortcomings with their current employer. They are 355% more likely to view recognition as being inauthentic , 283% more likely to feel that their leader is not being genuine when giving recognition, and 427% more likely to prefer not to receive recognition (O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report).

Similarly, employees who had positive recognition experiences in a previous job but view recognition in their current job as inadequate will be more pessimistic about aspects of their organisation’s culture.

The O.C. Tanner report highlights that employees that used to work for an employer that had integrated recognition but are now in an organisation with poor recognition are 538% more likely to see recognition given as meaningless and 727% more likely to see it as inauthentic.

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Make integrated recognition standard

Understanding that every employee will arrive at your organisation with preconceptions about recognition - whether positive or negative - is important. And the best way to offset or match these experiences is to focus on integrating recognition into everyday culture, so that everyone, especially leaders, value frequent recognition giving to the point that it becomes the standard response to everyday effort and results. In such a culture, recognition giving happens daily, is sincere and is tailored to the individual.

And with recognition being so well integrated, employees instinctively want to go above and beyond in their day job, not because of what they get in return, but because of how it makes them feel about themselves, their colleagues and the company as a whole.

Watch the scepticism fall away

It’s clear that past recognition experiences, whether positive or negative, amplify the effect of current ones, and the only way to deal with this ‘recognition baggage’, is to ensure that recognition is highly integrated into the company culture.

Once employees become immersed into a recognition culture in which they are regularly recognised for great work, and are encouraged to appreciate their peers, any scepticism they may have held, will start to fall away.

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