The Great Resignation has caused a tremendous shift in employees' priorities and needs in the workplace -- a shift that centers on the individual human, and recognizes and celebrates people for their achievements both inside and outside of work. 

New research put out by Workhuman and Gallup, which surveyed 7,636 U.S. employees, sheds light on these workplace shifts, revealing a number of benefits for leaders who incorporate recognition into their workplace culture.

According to the "Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition" report, 77 percent of workers shared that loyalty to their company remains high when their recognition needs are fulfilled.

The research found that effective recognition programs can save businesses with around 10,000 employees up to $16.1 million in turnover each year. Despite having access to information that proves the value of employee recognition programs, many are still not fulfilling this workplace need within their own organization. Given this room for improvement across a number of companies, there are enormous opportunities for businesses to incorporate more recognition into their workplace to get ahead in the war for talent.

Here are three key takeaways from the Workhuman and Gallup study:

1. Employee recognition increases retention and engagement

Recognition has a big impact on both work performance and employees' perception of their company. For example, employees who receive the level of recognition that matches their needs and expectations are: 

  • 4x as likely to be engaged

  • 4x as likely to strongly agree they would recommend their organization as a great place to work

  • 4x as likely to feel that they belong at their organization

  • 5x as likely to see a path to grow at their organization

Significantly, 56 percent are also less likely to be looking for new job opportunities. The business case is there. By implementing and nurturing a strong and strategic recognition program, many problems organizations face can be overcome. Recognition is no longer a nice-to-have program, but rather a business imperative.

2. Employee recognition is not a business priority

Given the significant benefits of employee recognition programs, another surprise from the report is how few businesses have adopted them. According to the research, 81 percent of managers and leaders say recognition is not a major strategic priority at their organization. 

To the leaders who equate recognition to "participation trophies," I urge you to shift your mindset. Why? Employees who don't get the right amount of recognition for the work they do are eight times as likely to be actively disengaged and four times as likely to be looking for another job.  

The solution must start at the top. Seventy-three percent of senior leaders in the report shared that their organization does not offer managers or leaders best practices training for employee recognition. Leaders set the standard and are the first to help build organizations' cultures. Now is the time to shift to a culture of connection, and that direction should come from the top. 

3. Employee recognition must be frequent, authentic, and equitable 

While it's clear that everyone needs and appreciates being recognized in their workplace, it's critical to understand that recognition is not a one-size-fits-all program. Recognition has the most impact when it's personalized, but only 10 percent of employees reported being asked about their preferences for receiving workplace recognition. 

Leaders must consider the individual, context, and environment when giving recognition. Employees who receive the majority of their recognition publicly report having a strong culture of recognition (37 percent), and only 11 percent who receive recognition mostly in private strongly agree their organization has a culture of recognition. Beyond the setting, employees agree that recognition is most impactful when authentic; however, only one-third agree that their recognition is delivered authentically.

Another major call-out, and arguably one of the most important to take note of, is how equitable recognition is across today's workplaces. The report shows that only 19 percent of Black employees and 21 percent of Hispanic employees strongly agree they receive a similar amount of recognition as other team members, compared with 28 percent of White employees. They are also less likely to strongly agree that the recognition they get is authentic. As with any decision or action you make in the workplace, take the time to pay attention to all employees, to ensure you're building a workplace that remains resilient and equitable. 

Today's competitive edge 

People are critical to the success of any company, and their needs must be made a top priority. The aftermath of working and living through the pandemic has left us with the opportunity to evolve the way we work, connect, and support one another in the workplace. As businesses continue to rebuild the workforce and recruit and retain talent, the competitive edge will be rooted in how they make their people feel at work. For any business looking to build resilience into their workforce for the long term, employee recognition should be a top priority.