How Employee Recognition Can Fight the Great Resignation


August 10, 2021

Margaux Morgante

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Employee turnover is on every HR leader’s mind these days as people leave their jobs at an unprecedented rate. So, what’s going on? And what can organizations do to curb this costly trend?

Woman getting recognition on Kudos for a job well done. She enjoys the benefits of recognition because it enhances her employee experience.

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Employee turnover is on every HR leader’s mind these days as people leave their jobs at an unprecedented rate. So, what’s going on? And what can organizations do to curb this costly trend?

How Employee Recognition Can Fight the “Great Resignation”

It’s all over the news – employees are leaving their jobs in droves. HR Leaders are struggling with unprecedented rates of turnover and a competitive war for talent.

"This Great Resignation is due to employees rethinking what work means to them in a post-pandemic world."

And it’s true; the numbers are truly staggering. Gallup recently reported that 3.6 million Americans resigned in May 2021 alone, leading to a record-high number of unfilled positions. This was in all job categories across all industries. They’re calling it the Great Resignation. NPR explains that this Great Resignation is due to employees rethinking what work means to them in a post-pandemic world, how they are valued, and how they spend their time.

Some are leaving to avoid returning to the office, having enjoyed the flexibility remote work brought to their lives by eliminating lengthy and stressful commutes. And of course, some turnover can be attributed to people who waited for things in the world to calm down before making a job change.

But HR professionals are witnessing another interesting trend emerge from this wave of departures.

The people who are leaving are disengaged. In fact, Gallup found that 74% of people looking for a new job today, post-pandemic, are disengaged, “It's not an industry, role, or pay issue,” Gallup’s team says, “it's a workplace issue.” Employees are first and foremost now seeking a workplace that meets their needs in terms of flexibility but also one that makes them feel valued and appreciated.

Retention matters

Simply put, when employees leave, it costs a lot.

The actual financial cost of turnover varies by role and industry. Still, the general rule of thumb is that replacing workers requires one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. This includes the cost of time, money, and resources it takes to offboard, recruit, and onboard.

HR professionals and leaders also need to consider the opportunity cost of recruitment, interviews, and onboarding. When employees take time away from their roles to interview, prepare offers, and train, they take efforts away from their jobs and projects and initiatives that could help generate income for the organization.

What’s more, saying goodbye to high-performing long-term employees means letting go of valuable historical knowledge, which often helps with onboarding new employees and providing excellent customer service. By the same token, when employees have long-term relationships with clients, their departure can be disruptive and sometimes jeopardize a client relationship, in some more severe cases.

Finally, turnover can affect morale and culture through resentment of the time spent on recruitment and onboarding, close friends leaving, and a constant inflow of new colleagues. Long-term relationships between colleagues foster trust, respect, and support, which directly impact employee engagement. Research consistently shows that when employees have friends at work, they perform better, and the culture improves.

Does more money and rewards motivate people to stay?

In short, no.

In Gallup’s most recent report on the so-called great resignation, they found that, on average, it takes more than a 20% raise to lure most employees away from a manager they feel engaged with. In contrast, the same study found that it takes next to nothing in terms of salary increase to lure away a disengaged worker. Another staggering study by Deloitte revealed that only 8% of businesses feel their rewards programs are effective at retaining talent.

It’s a job seeker market right now, which means the harsh reality is that most people in your organization could go elsewhere for more money if they wanted to - so what makes them stay?

Why recognition is the answer

“The single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce.”

Recognition leads to happy employees and better business results. Happy employees are more productive, creative, and supportive of their colleagues, but most importantly, they are more likely to stay. As Harvard Business Review (HBR) put it, “the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce.”

Performance-wise, HBR found that more than 40% of employed Americans feel that they would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

In terms of retention, Robert Half found that 66% of employees would quit if they didn’t feel recognized – for millennials, that number jumps to 76%. Similarly, a study by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) found that 79% of millennial and Gen Z survey respondents said an increase in recognition and rewards would make them more loyal to their employer. The study did find that giving financial recognition (in the form of casual rewards) to the two youngest generations at work provides these workers with a greater sense of personal fulfillment and helps boost employee retention.

Gallup also surveyed a similar group and found that Millennials engaged at work are 64% less likely to change jobs in the following 12 months. Given that by 2025 Millennials will make up three-quarters of the workforce, the need for robust employee engagement strategies and management is urgent to fight this unprecedented wave of resignations.

What an effective modern recognition program looks like

According to Josh Bersin, today, most recognition programs out there focus on tenure (over 85%). At first glance, that makes sense - reward people for staying, but it’s not the most effective way to use recognition to improve retention of good employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor’s latest report indicates that the median years of tenure for employees 25 and older is 4.9 years, and 2.8 years for employees aged 25-34. This means that if your recognition program is based on years of service and starts at year 5, around half of your employees (and even more for millennials) will never experience any form of formal recognition.

Instead, your recognition program should be tied to what's important to your organization, your values, and your goals. High-performing employees will not respond to programs based on tenure where “everyone wins.” As Gallup put it, “seeing awards for mediocre work will only signal to your stars that your organization is not for them.” Evidently, the world has changed, and your recognition program needs to evolve too.

But exclusive programs only for high performers aren't the answer either.

That's why Kudos's employee engagement and recognition platform has four distinct levels of recognition built-in, based on both performance and contribution. Employees can be recognized with a “Thank You” for an act of kindness or selflessness, all the way to an “Exceptional” for significant accomplishments and initiatives with a deep impact on the organization. Modern recognition programs provide transparency and are accessible for everyone from day one.

Final Thoughts

The Great Resignation is another unexpected challenge that the 2020 pandemic presented for HR professionals. Not only are HR departments and organizational leaders working on planning what the future of work looks like (back to the office, fully remote, hybrid), but now they are also facing the added challenge of recruiting and retaining talent. Creating a culture around recognition with a partner like Kudos is a simple and highly effective way to give today’s employees what they need to stay.

Given their extensive research in the space, Gallup believes, “reversing the tide in an organization requires managers who care, who engage, and who give workers a sense of purpose, inspiration, and motivation to perform. Such managers give people reason to stay.”

Muni Boga: One of Canada’s Most Admired CEOs

Muni Boga: One of Canada’s Most Admired CEOs

“From day one, we have emphasized that Kudos is a safe and open environment for both our leadership and team. This encourages innovation and client-centric thinking – both key drivers in our success. Not to mention, it‘s the right thing to do.”

Muni Boga
CEO, Kudos

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About Kudos

Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce.

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