The social recognition route to employee wellbeing

Advice and top tips

The social recognition route to employee wellbeing

Helping improve the emotional and mental health of a workforce need not be a complex, costly or time-consuming undertaking. Here we explain how social recognition can be an effective way of boosting positivity in the workplace by acknowledging – and appreciating – the individual merits of employees.

In these unsettled times, when more employee are working remotely, it is easy to understand why publicly acknowledging a job well done is not always possible.

No-one likes being taken for granted – especially during the dispiriting climate of Covid 19 – and, naturally, feeling appreciated is a major motivator, which is why social recognition is becoming an increasingly important tool in developing a culture of positivity and social wellbeing in the workplace.

Benefitting business and the individual

Social recognition is not a conventional nicety, delivered with the vague intention of politeness. Primarily – but not exclusively – it is a valuable and incentivising peer-to-peer show of gratitude or appreciation for the efforts and achievements of a colleague.

There is a strong likelihood that many employees are already using social recognition, but to ensure that it becomes a corporate habit, HR managers need to promote social recognition as an explicit organisational practice.

As the name implies, social recognition is at its most effective when it is used in front of witnesses. The positive impact it has on the recipient is magnified when co-workers are there to share the moment.

Currently, it is of most value to employees working at home; those who are susceptible to feelings of isolation and the negative effects that can cause. This sense of disconnection can impact on their emotional wellbeing leading to poor mental health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, approximately 70 million workdays are lost in the UK each year due to mental health problems, costing employers around £2.4 billion annually.

In light of this, any proven strategies that can prevent such a damaging descent and improve the wellbeing of employees should become part of a company’s infrastructure.

A cultural shift

Social recognition is one such approach. Its function is not to meet the demands of ‘needy’ employees, nor should it be regarded as a temporary aid to tackle the negative side effects of these extraordinary times. It is a philosophy that needs to be put into action to cause a permanent shift in workplace culture.

The psychological impact of social recognition on employees is far-reaching.

Having their value recognised boosts confidence, which in turn is a key driver for motivation and engagement. Being acknowledged as an individual further enhances self-worth and removes negative feelings of being little more than an anonymous drone. It also boosts confidence, which, in turn, encourages a ‘can do’ culture within a workforce where no contribution goes unrecognised.

A motivated, psychologically supported workforce results in improved levels of workforce wellbeing and, in turn, greater levels of commitment, engagement and productivity.

The hierarchy-crossing nature of social recognition creates stronger working relationships between departments, and a greater awareness and understanding of the wider workforce. Performed properly, it allows employees to more easily think of themselves as a significant element of a corporate ‘whole’.

With the benefits it brings, social recognition should become a standard operating practice within organisations, and be visible and audible, both literally and figuratively. The more presence it has, the more familiar it becomes, and employees can adopt the template in their interactions with others.

Deep and long-term attention and commitment to social recognition is important if it is to thrive and become part of a company’s DNA. It is not simply a new ‘buzz’ term to be adopted then quickly discarded when the next trend comes along. HR managers need to embed it within the very roots of their organisation and actively promote it so that it is recognised as an essential part a company’s framework.

Implementing strategies

Although acts of social recognition may already be occurring within a workplace, it is the responsibility of HR managers to raise awareness and help employees become familiar with effective procedures.

There are numerous ways in which social recognition can be given, the most obvious and direct being through the spoken word.

The effect of a simple “well done” or “thank you”, either in person, by phone or through video, should not be underestimated and employees are encouraged to express such thoughts in everyday discourse.

As anyone working from home will happily admit, a phone call can make all the difference in a day of solitary – and often silent – industry.

The boost that a ‘live connection’ to the outside world provides can be psychologically invigorating, and when the caller has made contact to give praise or express gratitude, then the positive impact is even greater. Such interactions not only benefit the recipient but also the colleague making the call, as research shows that being kind and thoughtful towards others improves one’s own emotional wellbeing.

It is important that HR managers disseminate an understanding that it is not only those occasions when a colleague goes ‘above and beyond’ the normal expectations that warrant social recognition.

Voicing acknowledgement and appreciation of employees who consistently demonstrate reliability and good working methods – of just quietly ‘getting on with it’ and meeting their full potential – can have a powerful effect and prevent them from feeling overlooked.

The role of tech

In-house social technology can be utilised, with company e-newsletters, including pages where employees are recognised and celebrated. Contributors can share in detail why a colleague merits recognition and, in doing so, inspire others to come forward and make nominations. Ensuring contributions come from all strata of a company, rather than just management, will strengthen inclusivity.

Technology platforms can also be used to recognise ‘life’ events, such as birthdays, marriages and births. This offers employees the opportunity of demonstrating that there is so much more to them than their work persona.

A meeting, be it virtual or actual, is an ideal arena for giving social recognition. The presence of an audience to witness an employee’s ‘reward’ adds to their sense of achievement and pride.

Alternatively, an element of fun could be added by allocating time each week for a light-hearted ‘ceremony’ celebrating those who deserve merit for their efforts or achievements.

No employee should feel that their absence would not be noticed in the workplace. Practising social recognition is an easy and effective way to remind colleagues that they are valued and appreciated, and that others are aware of the worthwhile contributions they make. Such assurance and acknowledgement cannot fail to have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health.

Practised effectively, social recognition can even become ‘contagious’. Knowing the boost a well-judged comment brings, recipients are often keen to let others experience it, and before long social recognition becomes the new normal.