Healthy Business

      What does recognition at work really mean?

      What does recognition at work really mean?
      Stef Hamerlinck
      Stef HamerlinckBrand builder
      Updated on
      20 February 2024
      Stef Hamerlinck
      Stef HamerlinckBrand builder
      Updated on
      20 February 2024
      Share this article

      Far from being an aspiration reserved for a few privileged social classes, the search for meaning and recognition at work infuses the whole of society. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for many employees to feel "really useful" for their company, and even for society. Whatever their sector of activity, employees want to see their uniqueness and their efforts recognized by their company. 

      However, according to the Alan x Harris Interactive Barometer dedicated to mental well-being in the workplace, 1 out of 2 employees feels that he/she does not receive any recognition for his/her work. How can this be explained? Why is recognition at work so important? How can employers show their recognition (other than by saying "thank you")? What are the best practices to change this situation?

      Causes of the lack of recognition at work 

      The majority of French employees feel that their employer does not sufficiently recognize their work, regardless of their gender or socio-professional category.In contrast, this lack of recognition is significantly more pronounced for :

      • Employees in the healthcare and retail sectors: 6 out of 10 employees say they receive no recognition from their superiors, compared to only one-third of employees in the construction and banking/insurance sectors.

      • Younger generations: 52% of those under 35 feel that they are not recognized in their work, compared to 45% of those over 50.¬†

      Given that the employees who suffer the most from a lack of recognition are also the most poorly paid, one might ask: is recognition at work only financial?The answer is more complex. Indeed, it seems that the problem is particularly present in France. 

      The perception of recognition at work differs by country

      Would employees be more grateful if they were better paid? A study by the Jean Jaurès Foundation proves the contrary: 72% of British employees feel that their work is recognized at its fair value. This figure rises to 75% for German employees. However, the salary scales in these countries are not known to be more advantageous than in France, and the relationship to work is similar in these countries: job satisfaction scores are high and almost identical in all three countries.

      Do French managers have trouble being grateful?

      If this is possible in other countries, why is France so far behind? This can be partly explained by our managerial culture. Indeed, according to a study conducted in 2019 by Ifop, French management does not incorporate enough practices specific to work recognition:  

      • 46% of employees indicated that their company makes an effort to reward their efforts and results.¬†

      • 40% considered the celebration of successes to be frequent.

      • 59% mentioned the existence of managerial initiatives such as the recognition of the right to trial and error.

      • 55% emphasized the presence of incentives for individual or group initiative.

      • 52% indicated that their employer made efforts to share feedback to enhance or develop employees.

      In addition to being a mark of recognition, these practices are for employees marks of respect - a managerial trait universally recognized as the most important.The French managerial framework leaves little room for the expression of emotions in the professional context. For example, few French managers and leaders show vulnerability and talk about their failures, in contrast to Anglo-Saxon countries where mistakes are considered a source of learning.Unlike these countries, France has a very negative relationship with failure. This rejection can be partly explained by an educational system that relies on rigid grading, focusing mainly on mistakes, rather than on positive points and progress. Anglo-Saxon educational models, like those in Northern Europe, tend to value positive developments and encourage students.In the United States, the country of Thanksgiving, the expression of gratitude is even considered indispensable. For Charles Sellen, a Canadian researcher, the expression of gratitude is even deeply inscribed in the American DNA. According to him, the "fundamental psychological traits" of Americans such as "confidence in the future, sincere expression of gratitude for life, belonging to a community" make them champions of gratitude at work.

      Why do employees need recognition?

      65% of employees who do not feel recognized in their work consider resigning from their current job, 20 points more than all French employees! Recognition becomes more than necessary for companies to retain their employees.It is therefore important to look at the roots of this need for recognition. Indeed, it is by understanding the motivations of employees that employers will succeed in implementing truly effective strategies in terms of recognition.  

      To give meaning to their work

      The place of work has changed significantly in recent years. Indeed, in addition to providing a regular income, work has become a source of fulfillment and accomplishment: for 84% of French employees, working gives meaning to life.The employer thus becomes both responsible for their well-being and their search for meaning. However, 44% of employees believe that their company does not put in place any solutions to help them find meaning in their work. Recognizing an employee's efforts gives another dimension to his work: he no longer works only in a "vacuum" since his work is recognized by another employee or his superior. 

      To humanize their tasks

      When a manager expresses recognition to an employee, he values his individuality as a person and not as an employee. He emphasizes his own identity and expertise. The employee's contribution is thus humanized, he no longer feels like a simple cog lost in the middle of a large production machine. They feel that they arecontributing value to their company (and in some cases to society).This recognition is all the more important in a context - that of the enterprise - which can tend to standardize uses and behaviors and in which the idea of replacing humans by machines is frequently invoked.

      To find one's place in society

      Even if it is deeply questioned, work remains structuring for the life of French employees. Indeed, according to the latest Alan x Harris Interactive Barometer dedicated to mental well-being in the workplace, 81% of employees consider work to be important. The importance of work is particularly noticeable among those under 35: 85% of them feel that work is an important part of their lives, compared to 75% of those over 50. It is worth noting that employees under 35 years of age are also those who ask for more recognition from their superiors. We can see that employees are still attached to their jobs, butthey no longer want to do work without recognition and meaning. Nearly 2 out of 3 employees are now willing to earn less money to do a more meaningful job.

      Recognition at work: good practices 

      For many employers and managers, recognition at work is limited to a public expression of thanks or the distribution of a bonus. But this is too simplistic! Indeed, there are many ways for the employer to show its appreciation. 

      Recognition is not only financial

      First thing to understand: money is not the universal language of gratitude. Sandra Ottavi, HR Director at Courir, sums it up well: "Recognition can be financial, but it would be very simplistic to reduce it to that. A manager can, for example, show his gratitude to his employees by giving them more responsibilities, by offering them training to progress, by organizing more events for team cohesion..."Indeed, contrary to what Don Draper thinks, financial schemes are not enough. They are not sustainable and do not improve working conditions in the long term, even if they can be motivating and rewarding at the time. According to Zwi Segal, a doctor in work psychology, the effects of a raise on motivation are limited: "It is a mistake to believe that a raise will motivate an employee in the long term. The effect of a salary increase on motivation only lasts two to three weeks". 

      The right to make mistakes, autonomy and feedback are also forms of recognition

      Beyond public acknowledgements and congratulations, recognizing the right to make mistakes and encouraging initiative as an employer allows employees to feel recognized for their work. Indeed, these structural practices send several messages: 

      • "Experiment": innovation does not happen without experimentation and trial and error. Mistakes are no longer perceived as a risk for the company, but as an opportunity.

      • "I trust you": the employer shows that he trusts the employees, he knows that they will take their responsibilities.¬†

      These practices help to create a climate of psychological safety for employees. However, for them to be truly effective, the employer must redouble its efforts in terms of communication. Sharing regular and constructive feedback should be part of the daily routine of employees to learn from their mistakes and bounce back. In the end, employees are more productive and can carry out projects from start to finish.Enzo Colucci, creator of the podcast Phénix (dedicated to the rebound of entrepreneurs after a failure), underlines the importance of feedback in a framework where the right to make mistakes is recognized: "The perfect counterbalance to failure is the setting in motion and the sharing. Failure often makes us want to curl up in a ball all by ourselves. By sharing perspectives with others, we will be able to overcome failure and move forward."

      Understand that people have different recognition needs

      You can experience it around you: no one defines recognition in the same way. It takes different forms for each individual depending on their experience and personality. Recognition can be collective or individual:

      • When it is collective, the employer recognizes the efforts of an entire team. It thus promotes the group effect and the feeling of belonging.

      • When it is individual, the employer highlights the specific work of an employee.¬†

      Employees are not equally sensitive to these two types of recognition. Some need to experience a strong sense of belonging and will value public recognition. Others prefer more "privileged" gestures because they need to be recognized in their individuality.  Employers must therefore constantly find the right balance between the individual and the collective. Collective recognition is not more important than individual recognition (and vice versa), they are complementary!

      Do not leave the manager alone

      Since the COVID-19 crisis, the role of the manager has become much more complex. He has to organize the telework, to set the objectives of his team, to motivate them, to build their career plans, to check the deliverability of the work provided, to collect the requests... On top of all this, he has to congratulate his collaborators and to give them enough recognition. However, for employees to feel truly recognized, the manager is not the only one responsible. Indeed, the role of the organization as a whole is often ignored. However, it is up to management to create an adequate corporate culture and conditions conducive to the development of good working conditions. Without this organizational support, managers have little room to maneuver. For example, a manager can congratulate his employees individually and collectively, but his recognition will be minimized if the work environment is stressful, rigid and not very conducive to employee fulfillment.

      A long-term approach

      In addition to regular feedback on the work accomplished, recognition at work allows employees to project themselves over time within the company. Indeed, by allowing the expression of expectations, recognition marks give employees the opportunity to understand what their company expects from them. With more confidence, they can also better project themselves into the next stage of their career. 

      Discover all the analysis and key figures on mental well-being in the workplace inthe second edition of the Alan x Harris Interactive Barometer!

      Article written by Marion Bernes.

      Published on 28/02/2023

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