By Eric Mosley, CEO, Globoforce

It took extraordinary efforts during the past few years for companies to survive the economic downturn, as “Do more with less” became the mantra. For some companies, those efforts included cuts in employee recognition efforts, with many companies reducing or even eliminating monetary recognition programmes. However, those cuts provided valuable lessons for many companies on how to manage a workforce during a downturn and engage and motivate employees during any type of economy.

Recognition and the recession

In a 2010 Globoforce survey of HR and business leaders, companies that decreased spending on their programmes saw significant negative impacts from their actions, including decreased employee engagement (59 percent). After experiencing such impacts, 42 percent of organisations that cut spending during the downturn said they planned to increase spending in the coming year.

Not every business cut programmes, though, as nearly 12 percent of respondents indicated that their organisations had increased spending on rewards and recognition. Not surprisingly, respondents from those same companies were far more likely to report increases in employee engagement than companies that cut spending.

Many respondents indicated values-based recognition would become a clear priority. The idea behind values-based recognition is ensuring that employees display the right behaviours in achieving company goals. Reinforcing an organisation’s beliefs will also help businesses reinforce their employer brand, which will benefit them as they work to retain employees and attract new talent.

Recognition and the recovery, existing programmes

Before diving headfirst into a recognition effort during the recovery, companies with existing recognition programmes must re-examine the programmes in relation to their strategic business plans and values. The recession led many companies to re-evaluate their market positions, customers, expansion opportunities and company strategy/vision/mission — so the existing recognition effort may no longer support a company’s overall goals.

In light of this, it is essential for businesses to create a more strategic programme that promises to enhance recognition and appreciation and put talent back on track to higher productivity. Recognition programmes should be evaluated and designed to map to new objectives and goals so that each employee is rewarded for the behaviour that is the foundation for short-term and long-term company success.

Recognition and the recovery, all programmes

Whether your organisation invested in recognition during the downturn or is considering starting a programme for the first time, an opportunity exists to come on strong during the recovery. These five recommendations are designed to help properly calibrate employee recognition programmes during a strong or weak economic climate:

1)Give employees plenty of culturally relevant options

Recognition should be culturally relevant, locally available and highly valued. When companies offer the power of choice, it’s easier to manage what motivates an employee in Beijing or an employee in London by giving them the opportunity to redeem awards for things that are most valuable to them. They can do this by eliminating the guessing game and letting employees choose how they’d like to redeem their award themselves.

2)Use recognition to reinforce company values

Executives can proactively manage company culture to become the organisation they want to be by first identifying values that will drive company success, then communicating, recognizing, and rewarding behaviours that align with those values.

3)Make recognition mobile

Mobile technology applications like those for smartphone continue to offer workforces an easy way to stay connected to customers — and to the company. When it comes to employee recognition, mobility can be a benefit to the employee and the company. The ready availability, total access, and immediacy of recognition will encourage employees to share on-the-spot acts of recognition across the company.

4)Implement better dashboards to help understand the ROI

Dashboards can be used to track employee understanding and demonstration of company values; employee contributions to strategic objectives; and the impact of all of these on standard HR data within the organisation.

5)Remember, it isn’t all about the money

Don’t forget the simple power of a thank you. Employees may appreciate a voucher, but ultimately they value the simple acknowledgment that their hard work during the downturn has positioned the organisation for success today. For employees who are trying to decide whether to stay or go, this recognition can be a powerful retention driver.

Long term plan

As tempting as it may be to drag out the same pre-recession game plan for the recovery, both business and recognition practices have changed in the wake of our generation’s most challenging business downturn. Unlike previous recessions, business will be anything but usual. Senior management needs to be proactive about recognising and engaging the workforce for not just the months ahead, but for the long term.