A company where teams operate in isolation is a company heading for a crisis. With employees primarily interacting with other team members and teams operating in silos, keeping the lines of communication open can be a challenge.
Now the hybrid workplace adds another layer of complexity. Going hybrid affects every aspect of work — especially interactions between employees, their colleagues and managers. To foster engagement with their work and with each other, HR leaders must build an intentional infrastructure for employee recognition.
But how do you operationalize that in a hybrid workplace? Think ahead to what your hybrid work model should be in practice. What existing behaviors do you want to nurture and reward? What new behaviors do you want to drive? Will employees see each other in person, and what will those interactions be like? If you can determine a realistic hybrid work model, you can begin to design and implement recognition programs supporting your end goals.
Effective recognition is essential to employee engagement, especially in a hybrid workplace. Develop infrastructure for aligning performance expectations with company goals. Link them to specific rewards to drive home the value of each employee’s work.
Implement recognition programs customized to each employee’s personal preferences. How does each employee like receiving recognition (and, for that matter, general feedback)? Managers should probe this with their direct reports. Are their employees motivated by formal or informal recognition? Do they prefer group recognition in an all-hands meeting or one-on-one recognition from their manager or a company leader?
If you can’t recognize employees in their own language of appreciation, you risk their disengagement, demotivation or even resignation. Think of it from their perspective. For instance, “rewarding” an employee by going with them to dinner at a restaurant near the office is nice for a local. However, it tells a remote worker that you favor those in the physical facility and consider their unique needs. It’s like inviting local employees to a festive annual holiday party and sending remote employees a paltry gift card to recognize that you excluded them.
In addition to customizing how recognition is delivered, offer a variety of reward options that are accessible to all employees. This allows employees to choose the reward most meaningful to them and helps keep employees invested in achieving their goals.
Health and Happiness Come First
Recognition can (and should) support employee health and well-being. But a distinction needs to be drawn between PTO as a reward and PTO as an essential strategic benefit. Employers need to encourage employees to self-regulate. Designated PTO for mental health is vital to building a healthy hybrid workforce. Give employees options to take additional time off, but don’t withhold PTO if they haven’t “earned” it.
Rewards can play an important role in incentivizing well-being. Utilizing gamification is an intriguing option. Even if employees aren’t physically in the same space, they can connect and bond by competing to earn points in company wellness challenges. This is especially important for employees who are fully remote. Ideally, offer participants some choice in their activities. Not everyone can run five miles a week, for instance. So, include options across activity levels.
Rewards can also support happiness and experiential connections outside of work, such as cooking, pottery or other types of classes or a year’s admission to a museum. Hybrid work is much more integrated with employees’ personal lives than strictly in-person employment. Signal to employees you’re invested in rewarding them as whole people, not just within the context of their jobs.
Rethinking Recognition for Inclusion
Without careful consideration, hybrid work arrangements can easily lead to bias. We have to redefine what “peak performance” means and develop a new benchmark for measuring it.
Traditionally, managers rewarded performance based on what they could personally observe. Employees who came in early and worked late often received more recognition simply because they were there — even if their output was the same as peers working regular hours. Hybrid work must reward completed outcomes over physical presence in the office.
Similarly, we must be aware that managers tend to give preference to employees they work side-by-side with, as opposed to the ones they know through a computer. It isn’t surprising that we form stronger bonds with people we see more frequently. But we can’t let that become the basis for reward. Employees need to be evaluated equally, whatever their location.
Recognition shouldn’t just be performance-based. Rewarding employees for living your values acknowledge them while fostering behaviors you want to see. Honoring values also allows everyone to participate, from the interns to the CEO, either by nominating others or being nominated themselves.
Encourage employees to be alert to when their colleagues are living company values and to nominate each other for recognition. This may be the chance for an employee that managers and colleagues don’t see in person every day to get some deserved attention. It builds connections and strengthens the company culture, which can get lost in hybrid work. When someone earns recognition, give managers a budget to celebrate with their team. Reinforce the praise in companywide media and digital forums.
By designing an intentional recognition culture, it’s possible to fuel the performance and behaviors you desire in your hybrid workplace. Hybrid work models are evolving, but your commitment to employee recognition should remain constant.
About the Author
Amy Schabacker Dufrane, Ed.D., SPHR, CAE, is the CEO of HR Certification Institute.