Why hourly employees need recognition too

Everyone appreciates being recognized for a job well done. In fact, our brains are hardwired to respond positively to praise.

As workplace performance management strategies have evolved, plenty of employers have renewed their emphasis on calling out salaried, white collar staff for doing good work. But in the service industry, most hourly employees’ efforts still go unnoticed.

More than half of retail managers say that corporate leadership rarely, if ever, recognizes store associates for their hard work, according to new WorkJam research. This separation between head offices and the front lines exacerbates employees’ frustration, a pattern that can lead to customer and business-facing consequences.

When employees aren’t recognized for their work, they’re likely less loyal to their employers – which can rack up serious costs. WorkJam’s study found that 81 per cent of managers believe turnover detracts from their ability to hit their stores’ sales objectives. In the hourly workforce – a demographic already prone to low morale and high turnover rates – meaningful recognition programs can be the difference between engaged, motivated employees and those ready to jump ship.

The difference a shout-out can make

Worker engagement is a persistent challenge for any organization with hourly associates.

According to WorkJam’s study, only 17 per cent of retail managers feel their store’s employees are very motivated and engaged. Unsurprisingly, almost half (43 per cent) see at least five per cent of their staff quit voluntarily in an average three-month period. While this number may sound relatively low at first, it represents a much larger ongoing issue and signals that almost half of all employees are not invested in their employer for the long term. Many different variables contribute to a culture of engagement, but there is a clear correlation between employees who are touted for their hard work and those who aren’t.

The study also found that 79 per cent of retail managers whose associates are very engaged say head office leadership recognizes their staff’s achievements – more than double the 38 per cent whose associates receive little to no acknowledgement.

Most business leaders understand that front-line employees play an invaluable role in ensuring customer satisfaction and serving as brand ambassadors. Unfortunately, this attitude is not always reflected in their day-to-day actions. In too many instances, a metaphorical wall isolates upper management from front-line workers; important information (let alone recognition) trickles down through middle managers, with few opportunities for direct communication or feedback.

Not simply a people issue, but a business issue

If employers expect hourly workers to champion their brands, their current, often nonexistent approach to hourly employee praise needs to change. Recognition should be more than a sporadic effort. It needs to be a formal part of an organization’s culture and management philosophy. While recognition programs have been difficult to implement in the past, technological innovations such as employee engagement suites can make acknowledgement objectives a reality, streamlining communication between management and front-line workers and offering rewards for quality work.

Consistently recognizing hourly employees for fulfilling performance goals or going above and beyond for a customer shows them that they’re more than numbers in a workforce management system. It makes associates feel like an important part of a larger entity, and reinforces how their work impacts the health and future of the company.

From a business perspective, recognition also factors into bottom-line results. Knowing that higher-ups are paying attention naturally motivates us to work harder. Analysis shows that employees who receive regular praise at work are more likely to be productive, stay with the company longer and deliver superior customer service – variables that can enhance a brand’s reputation and profitability.

Establishing a new standard

There is no one-size-fits-all recognition strategy that will fill every organization’s gaps. There are, however, a couple key considerations all HR leaders should make when outlining a new way forward:

  • Remember that recognition comes in many forms. Contrary to what some leaders believe, recognition doesn’t have to be monetary to have a positive effect. Employee engagement platforms allow managers provide customized badges and awards to recognize key metrics such as company loyalty and reliability. These simple shout outs on company-wide communication platforms can go a long way toward motivating high performing employees and their colleagues. Perks like gift cards and cash bonuses are disposable, but a leadership team that identifies and acknowledges employees at all levels sets up organizations for long-term success.
  • Eliminate management’s blind spots. In order to enhance organizational success, employers need to make recognition a ritual for all staff members, not only select groups. It needs to be simple to implement and do, and should take place on an ongoing basis. Encouraging these regular, genuine front-line interactions starts by knocking down existing barriers between hourly staff and internal leadership. The head office needs visibility into hourly employees’ activity in order to identify top performers deserving of praise – something that the right technology and process changes can remedy.

Hourly employee disengagement and attrition are big, complicated obstacles that many employers assume warrant big, complicated solutions. Leading through the front and being intentional about employee recognition and praise, however, is one relatively simple fix that can incite major positive changes

February 2017 / Joshua Ostrega / HR Professional Magazine