Rewards & Recognition | July 11, 2019

Don’t Wait to Appreciate Employees

Timing, as they say, is everything, and nothing could be truer when talking about employee recognition. We often get asked about how soon one should give employee appreciation, so here’s the long and short of it (pun intended).

One Rule

For any recognition program to be successful it must predicated on the idea that employee appreciation isn’t a rote process; it’s about making meaningful connections. You want to connect not only on a personal level, but also connect the reward to the action being recognized, and the action to the overall goals of the organization. An act of recognition is much more impactful when everything is still fresh on everyone’s minds.

There’s really only one rule to this – don’t wait to appreciate. Do it as soon as humanly possible. The equation is simple: the more time that passes between great performance and recognition, the lower the impact of that recognition.

The Forgetting Curve

One of the questions in Gallup’s Q12 Engagement Survey asks of employees is if they have received recognition or praise in the last seven days. As it turns out there is some science behind that seven-day window. In the 1850s German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus published a landmark book on memory, wherein he described what he cheekily calls the “forgetting curve”.

Consider all the information the average person processes in a day. We can’t retain it all, so the human brain has to prioritize which experiences to store in long-term memory. Through careful memorization experiments over five years, Ebbinghaus found that if no conscious effort was made to retain specific information, we typically halve our memory of new information every several days to a week. So if an employee doesn’t receive recognition for excellent performance within seven days, there is a risk of that experience fading away into obscurity or even being supplanted by the experience of getting ignored.

Gallup may have not based their question on an obscure observation from a 19th Century German psychologist, but perhaps it’s just a common thing we all feel in the gut – after about seven days, the magic is gone. Weekends have a way of erasing memories and every new week is a kind of mental reset for everyone.

The Time is Now

That is why with recognition, the time is always now. A culture of recognition is one where as soon as something happens that the company recognizes as great, supportive colleagues are quickly communicating the value of that great thing and energetic managers are immediately giving just rewards. At their core, employee recognition programs simply provide a platform to make these types of interactions easier and more enriching.

Modern recognition technology makes it easier than ever for anyone to give praise instantly, and there are also spot recognition options to recognize “offline” employees or on-your-feet workforces. When you have the right recognition strategy and system in place, there really are no excuses.

Proactively recognizing great work has always been a good thing. Recognizing great work too far after the fact almost defeats the purpose of having a recognition program. Many organizations ask “when should we recognize employees?” The better question might be when shouldn’t we?

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