The Recognition Science Denier

August 2, 2017 Chris French

Angry Baby

Listen to our WorkHuman Radio interview with Chris French embedded at the top of this post.

Six months ago I sat in a conference room in Dublin, Ireland with the CHRO of a successful Fortune 500 company. She started our meeting by saying, “Of course, I know what recognition is. It’s a soft, feel-good program that employees seem to like and a necessary expense today. I’m worried we’re spending too much on it.”

She was a “Recognition Science Denier.” But by the end of the meeting, our conversation had shifted from recognition as a cost to recognition as an investment – in culture, and employee experience, retention, and engagement.

“We should be investing more,” she said. The data I shared with her from recent customer studies supported the idea that employee recognition is one of the most efficient levers in their total rewards strategy.

Do you work with a Recognition Science Denier? Are you yourself a secret (or not-so-secret) Denier? This is the first in a series of blog posts to share more about our data journey with customers, and hopefully help you turn the Deniers into Believers.

There is plenty of historical evidence that recognition drives results. For Believers, these studies make the benefits of recognition obvious. Deniers will argue that many of these studies are focused on what employees would do if they were recognized as opposed to what they actually do.

Challenge accepted.

At WorkHuman 2016, a group of 30 Globoforce customers corroborated with the WorkHuman Research Institute and Shawn Achor, WorkHuman speaker and Harvard researcher, to examine the impact of their recognition programs on talent outcomes like turnover and performance. The results of these studies are both compelling and consistent.

Our initial focus was on turnover, since it is a relatively easy outcome to measure. Even Deniers can’t ignore that employees either left the company or they didn’t. Figure one shows data from the first customer we examined. Notice that the probability of an employee leaving greatly reduces as the number of recognition moments they receive in the past year increases.

This is one customer’s data and a simple logistic regression. Does this hold true in other organizations with different employees, different employee value propositions, and slightly different recognition program designs and levels of investment? The answer is a resounding yes.

Figure two shows the average of all voluntary turnover studies with participating customers over the past six months, as well as the overall termination data from the 3.4 million employees receiving recognition with Globoforce (users expired from the system because they no longer appear in the data feed as active employees). In all cases, there is clear support for the argument that increased recognition leads to a decrease in turnover.

As you might imagine, this has led to a number of follow-up questions from believers and skeptics alike, including:

  • Does the dollar value of the recognition moment matter? Is it simply that people who are recognized more get more value (i.e., more money)?
  • Do “eThanks,” or recognition without monetary value, work just as well?
  • Does this hold true for even those high performers who already get higher pay, bonuses, access to long-term incentive plans (LTIPs), choice assignments, etc?
  • What about other talent outcomes like increased performance?
  • What are other companies doing with this data? How is it changing their thinking about recognition as part of their total rewards strategy?

Over the subsequent months, we worked with clients to answer these questions and I’ll be highlighting those results in future blog posts.

Customers like LinkedIn and Eaton shared results at WorkHuman 2017 that supported the turnover story above and also included the positive impact of recognition on its engagement survey, new-hire commitment, and employee performance results year over year. We’re actively pursuing additional research on recognition correlated with customer experience scores and examining how recognition data can be used to enhance diversity and inclusion programs.

We have found that each organization has its own unique people strategy and ideal talent outcomes, so there are a variety of studies still to be examined. Which outcomes would you want to research at your organization?


The Recognition Science Denier @shawnachor #workhuman
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