Today, employees are burned out, unengaged, and eager to explore new opportunities. To retain staff amid this era of record turnover, companies are offering significant salary bumps, generous vacation time, and unique benefits.

While at one point in time these perks may have swayed employees to stay on the payroll, it just isn't enough anymore. So, how can HR and business leaders keep their team engaged and retained amid "the Great Reshuffle"? 

Employee Recognition

To answer this increasingly Googled question, Achievers Workforce Institute surveyed more than 4,200 employees and 1,600 HR leaders across the globe in February. After digging through the diversified data set, AWI's team of behavioral research scientists found the key to engagement and retention in the workforce came down to two words: employee recognition. And now we enter, "the Great Recognition."  

According to the survey results published in Achievers' 2022 State of Recognition Report

1. A simple "thank you" isn't cutting it 

Better engagement, higher retention, and increased productivity are all byproducts of employee recognition. In fact, employees who are regularly recognized have a higher level of job commitment, with two-thirds (65 percent) admitting that feeling recognized would reduce their desire to job hunt.  

"While recognition comes in many forms, a simple 'thank you' for a job well done does not elicit a meaningful reaction from employees," says Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers and director of the Achievers Workforce Institute. "Employees want to hear how they specifically moved the needle on a project or why they powerfully made a difference in a co-worker's life. While a warm 'nice work' is always welcomed, employees really want to hear personal and impact-oriented words of praise." 

When employees were asked if they'd like more frequent or more meaningful recognition, over half (64 percent) claimed they prefer to be meaningfully recognized. So, next time your team member runs a meeting with contagious energy or dazzles a PowerPoint with a mimic-worthy creative flair, an appreciative email -- with explicit details -- will go a long way. 

2. It's about camaraderie, not compensation 

Let's face it: Getting a raise is always going to evoke some joy from an employee. It's exhilarating and reassuring (and sometimes even anxiety-reducing), but in the modern workforce, a raise isn't moving the needle quite as much as employee recognition. The data highlights that recognition actually outweighs the perception of a fair salary as a driver of employee advocacy, job commitment, and productivity.  

Today, 52 percent of employees say feeling recognized for their work would reduce the negative impact of a salary freeze. To be competitive in a candidate's market, it's paramount to look beyond salary as a recruitment and retention tool. For today's job seekers, meeting table stakes is no longer enough to get them in the door and keep them in their seats.          

3. Most managers aren't trained to recognize top talent 

Research by Harvard, MIT, and other schools discovered that soft skills training in topics such as problem-solving and communication improved productivity and retention by 12 percent, with a 250 percent ROI in under a year. As managers are leading teams from various ZIP codes, it's vital they acquire the soft skills to properly recognize employees in the remote era.  

While 90 percent of HR leaders say they offer recognition training, only 41 percent of employees say they've received it, and only one-third of those trained were instructed on how to send a meaningful recognition. This data raises a red flag for HR departments, showing the disconnect and immense need for regular training on recognition best practices.  

Some work aspects that managers need to keep top of mind are the frequency and timing of recognition along with ensuring it is value-based and specific. Each of these pillars plays a critical role in meaningful recognition -- in which employees feel truly seen and appreciated for their contributions and understand how they tie back to their organization and the impact being made. 

"Managers are the cornerstone of workplace culture," said Baumgartner. "We found that those who are frequently recognized by their managers in a way that makes them feel valued are more likely to recognize their co-workers. Recognition is proven to start a chain reaction, so giving managers the tools and encouragement to do it right will result in a winning culture." 

Forty-eight percent of employees say culture has deteriorated during the pandemic, placing blame on a lack of communication, employee input, and meaningful connection. HR leaders should spend their time and resources building a recognition training program, leaning into how and why to properly send a meaningful recognition. By doing so, it will ignite a positive, retention-worthy culture and a brand that is attractive to new talent.

To say goodbye to the Great Reshuffle, leaders must say hello to the Great Recognition. For some, that may be building an employee recognition program from the ground up, and for others, that may be refining the programs in place to ensure they're up to par. No matter the route taken, ensuring employee recognition is a core part of your company DNA will improve your retention statistics -- and uplevel your employees' happiness along the way.