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How to Boost Employee Retention with Recognition

An issue on the mind of leaders from the CEO to the front line supervisor is employee retention. Many different factors contribute to increased employee turnover and today's skilled workforce shortage. Employee retention directly impacts customer engagement, sales, company culture, and operating efficiency. Employee turnover is on the rise. More American employees are quitting their jobs than ever since data began being tracked by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A survey of 2000 employees in the US and Canada found that 52% of employees have one foot already out the door. It may seem overwhelming knowing where to begin. There is something you can start doing today that will have an immediate positive impact on employee retention. Employee recognition can be a relatively quick, low-cost, and high-impact place for you to start. When starting with recognition, you will also discover many fringe benefits beyond retaining top talent.

Why should you start with employee recognition?

We all have a fundamental need to want to know when we have done a task right. Today, many employees are knowledge workers and do not receive immediate feedback on how they performed after completing a task. Also, let's be honest; no news is not necessarily good news in today's world. Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers and discovered that recognition is essential to having a great workplace and better retention rates. One of the most significant benefits of starting with employee recognition in addition to improved retention is improved employee productivity. Studies have shown that positive recognition generates discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is when an employee willingly gives more than what is asked or expected. Additional benefits you can expect from implementing employee recognition include improved teamwork, reduced stress, and absenteeism.

4 Essential Employee Recognition Tips

The following tips will help you get off to a great start with recognition and avoid costly mistakes:

1. Don't believe that any recognition is better than no recognition.

Effective recognition is positive, immediately connected to profitable behaviors, and specific about what is praised. Don't recognize the ordinary, so when you appreciate the excellent, it is more meaningful. Match the recognition type with the individual and the situation. Keep in mind there are many ways to provide recognition, such as saying, "good job" or "thank you," as well as lunch, coffee, a new computer, money, time off from work, and other desired items. Get creative and use variety, so the recognition does not feel hollow. Also, variety helps you avoid the conversion of recognition into an expectation.

2. Know what motivates your employees.

Figuring out what motivates your employees, so you can effectively recognize them is crucial. In other words, gold stars may not be the best form of reinforcement for your adult employee. The golden rule does not apply, so instead, consider the platinum rule: do unto others as they would want to be done unto them. An excellent way to get to know what someone feels recognition is to listen and observe what they like doing with their time away from work.

3. Don't reward the wrong behavior.

Rewarding the wrong behavior can have unintended consequences. For example, a distribution company rewarded employees for on-time performance and inadvertently encouraged risk-taking and unsafe practices. The leadership of an organization was pleased that the number of employees with active development plans had increased until an audit revealed that only 20% were well-written plans. Knowing the right behavior may sound like a simple step but take some time to give this more thought to avoid a pitfall.

4. Make recognition a daily activity.

Great managers daily look for opportunities to recognize excellent performance. In addition to direct observation, consider soliciting feedback from customers or team members. When seeking feedback on an employee's performance, most people do not want to be sent another survey to complete; so, keep it simple and personal for the best feedback. Start each day by focusing on an area of your business. Keep a list of when you find excellent performance and recognize an employee to track your progress. Consider texts and voicemail as options for recognition but do not forget the value of a handwritten note.

Effectively using employee recognition brings out the best in employees and boosts retention. If you don’t already have comprehensive employee retention and recognition programs, we’re ready to partner with you to craft a solution for your organization’s specific context and challenges. If you do, make sure they align with your organization’s culture to get the best outcomes—and possibly a significant competitive advantage.


Baumgartner, N. (2021). Achievers 2021 Engagement and Retention Report. Achievers.

Daniels, A. C. (2000). Bringing out the best in people: How to apply the astonishing power of positive reinforcement (New & updated.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Daniels, A. C., & Daniels, J. E. (2004). Performance management: Changing behavior that drives organizational effectiveness (4th ed). Atlanta, GA: Performance Management Publications.

Harter, J. (2018, August 26). Employee engagement on the rise in the U.S.

Workplace (1999, April 12). Item 4: Recognition or praise.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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