Apr 21 2021

Emergence of Digital Employee Recognition in the New Normal

“With a strong understanding of what employees want, designing your own Rewards and Recognition program isn’t too hard. ”

by   Chaitanya Peddi, Co-founder and Product Head at Darwinbox, Darwinbox

Rewards and Recognition have emerged in recent years as far more than just another corporate buzzword. In fact, it can be a real gamechanger, affecting the organisation at multiple levels.

Image Attribution: Freepik

How so?

The last decade, capped by the eventful year of 2020, has seen a slew of paradigm shifts in all areas of society, led by technology and globalisation. And the decade ahead doesn’t show any signs of slowing down:

  • Rising need for employee retention: The global pandemic has created a deficit of talent in many places. The need for employee retention has never been greater for major organisations to stay on top of business.
  • Challenge of employee engagement: Technology has transformed the way the world does business. It was the main reason many companies were able to continue business even as much of the world shifted to remote work operations. But with this shift came the challenge of keeping employees motivated and engaged when teams are physically distributed.
  • Changing workplace expectations: Millennials and Gen Z are now the largest employed age group across industries and will be for the next twenty years or so. It is well documented that they value non-monetary benefits as much as, if not more than, financial perks.


This is where a strong Rewards and Recognition program can help. Properly designed, it can motivate individuals, enhance cross-department collaboration, and create cohesion among teams. But why is it that they can have such a powerful effect?

Reward and Recognition taps into basic human psychology

Rewards work because of simple brain chemistry. Any behaviour with a positive outcome causes the brain to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone, which when reinforced helps in cementing that behaviour. Reception of gratitude in any situation, not only the workplace, is associated with a release of dopamine creating a desire to repeat the recognized behaviour. 

Multiple research reports back the claim that Rewards and Recognition benefit the organisation in many ways. We’ll highlight just a few here.

  • Individual motivation: Research from University of Quebec and Harvard Business School uses self-determination theory as a model to show that workplace recognition reinforces and satisfies the basic and universal psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness (to a group, in this case the organisation).
  • Team cohesion: Gratitude engenders good feelings, cheerful memories, better self-esteem, and more optimism, all of which work towards creating a “we’re in this together” mentality in the workplace.
  • Recognition culture: Wong and Brown (2017) showed that practicing showing gratitude through recognition trains the brain to be more in tune with experiencing gratitude. That means that employees will be more willing to recognise each other and hence spread the positive feelings associated with it. This was seen in Singapore-based payments company, Fave, where 3000+ recognitions were shared within 2 weeks of launching such a program.
  • Engaged employees: People who are having their work recognised by superiors and peers are bound to be more engaged in their work. And Gallup has found that higher employee engagement leads to higher customer ratings, more profitability and productivity, lower turnover, and fewer safety incidents.

How to operationalise this knowledge?

What can we learn from all this, and how can we make it work for us? 

  • Only monetary rewards won’t cut it: From a psychological perspective, money addresses our basic needs of comfort and safety. But career growth and recognition take us closer to self-actualisation. Total Rewards are a blend of monetary and nonmonetary rewards that focus on as well as other personal and professional objectives.
  • There is no one-size fits all approach: Generic rewards can be viewed with disdain. You need to get to the root of what your employees really want. The self-determination model provides a good way to determine if the rewards you want to offer will really satisfy your employees’ psychological needs.
  • Personalised rewards are the way: They not only prove that you know your employees, but also shows that you are willing to truly appreciate each one of them for the job they are doing right.
  • Make employee recognition easy: An easy mechanism for recognition enables and encourages employees to recognise their colleagues more often, thus contributing to the propagation of a recognition culture. The right platform to deliver your Reward and Recognition program is key to making this happen. Going mobile makes it even easier for recognitions to flow.

Planning your own R&R Program

Just words of approval, at the end of the day are rather fleeting. To be honest, without the right kind of strategy in place, it isn’t particularly easy to motivate or even retain some of the best employees.

With a little knowledge of human psychology and brain chemistry, and a strong understanding of what your people want, designing your own Rewards and Recognition program isn’t too hard. In fact, on Darwinbox, the Indian manufacturer Aarti Industries implemented a Rewards and Recognition program in just 2 days.

Darwinbox has developed a Starter Kit that is meant to help organisations get a head start on launching their own Rewards and Recognition program, which can be downloaded here.


Image Attribution: Darwinbox

We leave you with some final advice to help you set up the perfect Rewards and Recognition program for your employees.

  • Invest in the cloud platform for Recognition: The most powerful thing one can do for running a rewards and recognition platform in 2021 and beyond is to invest in an appropriate cloud platform.
  • Know the importance of going mobile: With apps making life simpler everywhere, there’s no reason for you to shy away from them. This will make your program agile and scalable.
  • Go Social with your Recognition: Social recognition is important. It puts your employees in the spotlight and makes a statement that your workplace puts people first.
  • Gamification for the win: If your strategy is in place, you’ll see that one person’s success encourages others to try their best as well.
  • Communication bridges gaps: Engage in a dialogue with your employees to understand what they really want and to refine your R&R program, with the aim to create one that is personalised and truly thoughtful.
  • Promote mental and physical wellness: Promoting mental and physical wellness ensures a healthy organisation with better-informed employees, especially in times like these.
  • Facilitate employee development: Encourage the upskilling your employees crave with a free learning coupon. This is also a great point for HR to draft the case for reward and recognition culture at work.

Chaitanya Peddi, a true subject matter expert of both HR and Technology, heads product & engineering at Darwinbox. His years of experience as an HR consultant has empowered him to understand the specific needs of the HR Tech market and build a world-class product that can not only optimally automate and simplify HR processes for enterprises enables HR to be a game-changing strategic function. 

An XLRI alumnus, prior to Darwinbox, Chaitanya worked as an HR consultant with Ernst & Young and consulted global firms on organization design and performance management. Having worked in product development at Verizon and combined with his consulting experience, Chaitanya commands a rare vantage point in the HR tech space. Linkedin

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