I'm fascinated by the concept of working more human--the idea that, when you bring more humanity, love, and social connection to the employee experience, it adds immense value to business outcomes and the workplace culture.

A growing body of research seems to agree--even with the "love" part. But what exactly do we mean when we say "working more human?"

In their search for cool new perks like "bring your pet to work" and ideas around hip office design, most companies are ignoring one of the most easily executed strategies. It comes down to two words: employee recognition.

Several studies (some of them cited below) give us a clear snapshot of the impact of human-centered workplaces. As employees increasingly look for meaning and purpose in their work, the need for more recognition has come up time and time again as a strong indicator of employee engagement.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, once said, "I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish when they are praised."

The evidence

The "WorkHuman Research Institute: 2017 Survey Report" published by Globoforce revealed that people do, indeed, need frequent validation and recognition that what they do day-to-day matters in the context of the greater goals of the organization.

When asked, "When was the last time you were recognized for your contributions at work?" 45 percent of full-time employees surveyed stated they haven't been recognized in six months or more. Another 16 percent have never been recognized at work.

According to Gallup's own studies, only one in three workers in the U.S. "strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days." When workers are ignored, they are twice as likely to say they'll quit in the next year.

TINYpulse, a leader in employee engagement and feedback software, surveyed over 13,000 employees around the world and recently published the results in their "2018 Employee Recognition and Appreciation Report." Their study uncovered four noteworthy trends:

  • A strong relationship between recognition and the likelihood that an employee will remain at the job.
  • A positive link between recognition and an employee's perception of the workplace.
  • Recognition improves peer-to-peer relationships. Basically, when a co-worker feels appreciated and valued, they're more likely to rate their colleague with a higher score.
  • Recognition improves employee-supervisor relationships. Employees want to work for someone who appreciates their contributions to the organization.

A few ways to recognize employees the right way

I've been studying useful recognition approaches of forward-thinking companies that are too numerous to share in one post. Here are four that recently captured my attention.

At SnackNation, an award-winning healthy snack delivery service, they hold a " Crush It Call" every Friday. CEO Sean Kelly explains: "Our entire team gathers around in a circle and we go around the room calling out someone whose work we want to recognize -- someone who 'crushed it' that week."

Bonusly is an engaging recognition and rewards platform that employees can use to send small bonuses to each other to recognize their everyday wins and successes. Team members who receive bonus points from their peers can redeem their rewards with big brands like Uber, Nike, Starbucks, Steam, and many more. Even better? Employees get to choose their own rewards and find something that they'll actually like.

Omelet, a boutique ad agency based in Los Angeles, gets right down to the heart to recognize their people. Similar to Google's 80/20 policy of yesteryear, Omelet's 60/60 Program rewards top performers with two hours per week to work on a side project, hobby, or other interest--something they're passionate about, and it doesn't ?even have to relate to their work. Case in point, the program has led Omelet to create Save the Drop, a nonprofit water conservation campaign to address Los Angeles's ongoing, historic drought.

Tata takes a different approach. While most companies may recognize their employees' hard work and accomplishments, Tata's employees are celebrated for what the world would view as "failures"--the bold ideas and experiments that didn't quite come to fruition, but which foster the entrepreneurial spirit that pushes employees to take risks and be innovative.

Caring comes before recognizing

In closing, I can't emphasize enough that the process of recognition, before it is thoughtfully expressed or delivered, has to have an important human prerequisite, especially for managers.

You have to let your employees know that you truly care about them as people, that you value their work and their successes. Otherwise, the very act of recognizing someone becomes disingenuous platitudes, to which people will have an adverse reaction.

So what does that look like? Simple. Managers who stay involved with what employees are doing (without micromanaging), keeping track of their wins and supporting them along their career path, give employees a high awareness of their place within the company and the value of their successes. This is when recognition is most effective and wins the hearts of employees.