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Build a Culture of Recognition to Avoid Employing “Prisoners”

Posted on April 10, 2015 by Don MacPherson.

Does your company have a culture of recognition? Companies that do not are at greater risk of having disengaged employees. Some disengaged employees may turn into “prisoners” — those who have little incentive to improve their performance and are not interested in finding other work.

To boost engagement among these employees, consider your company culture. When organizations put together recognition programs, they are often set up as “one and done,” says Paul White, of Appreciation at Work. This results in a “flavor-of-the-month” approach that does not establish a true culture of recognition.

“They say, ‘We’re going to pursue this,’ and maybe they do for a while, but it really just creates a lack of trust,” he says. When employees see that the company is not committed to change and there is no real follow-through, people will be reluctant to try new things.

Deciding on a language of appreciation is an important part of putting together a successful program, White says. Employees may value different types of recognition, and personalizing it reinforces that value. “Not everyone feels appreciated the same way, and not everyone feels valued in the way that you do. If everyone gets the same kind of recognition, that leads to sarcasm and lack of trust.”

Making recognition mandatory also leads to cynicism, White says. “If you’re supposed to write three thank-you notes a week to your direct reports, they’ll know you’re just doing it because you’re supposed to,” he says.

When companies say in their core values or mission statement that their employees are their most important asset, that is effective only if they walk the walk, says Ray Gagnon, of Gagnon Associates.

Leaders can play key roles in establishing an authentic culture of recognition. “As above, so below,” says Brian Bedford, of MillerBedford Executive Solutions. “Employees look up to leaders, and that’s how they model their behaviors.”

Learn more ways to re-engage employees. Download our new white paper, Dealing With “Prisoners” in the Workplace.

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