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How are employers recognising employees’ efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Tuesday December 15, 2020

Need to know: 

  • Continual employee recognition, during a time of crisis such as the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, has been crucial to support employees’ engagement and motivation.
  • Employers that have suffered financially from the crisis can still find ways to motivate and recognise staff that do not bust budgets.
  • Organisations must find strategies that appreciate and recognise all staff during uncertain times in order not to ostracise employees.

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has had a significant impact on how employees work; dealing with working from home can create feelings of isolation and anxiety, while those that are in a physical workplace may be worried about their health.

Consequently, there is a need for enhanced employee motivation and recognition initiatives: OC Tanner’s 2021 Global culture report, published in September 2020, found that 45% of UK employees view their recognition programmes as tired and detached from what is important to the organisation. The research found that organisations with integrated recognition were four times more likely to have highly engaged employees. This then creates a need for employers to find better improved ways of recognising employees’ efforts. 

Andrew Drake, client development director at Buck, says: “One of the reasons why staff may be struggling is because there is a lack of physical and social connection. Recognition is proving to be a great way to rebuild that connection that has been impacted by the pandemic. Building peer-to-peer recognition is effective as employees want to know if they are performing well for the amount of work that they put in.”

Recognition schemes for remote employees 

Many employees have been forced to work in under significantly different conditions during the pandemic, which has presented employers with challenges around how to recognise and reward their efforts. Personal Group has attempted to make things feel as normal as possible for employees working remotely, says Rebekah Tapping, group HR director: “We introduced initiatives such as company fun days and virtual peer-to-peer recognition so managers and employees could recognise everyone.” 

Over-communication, and finding ways to collaborate have been organisations’ biggest assets when looking to motivate and recognise remote employees. “Constantly calling out people and rewarding them for exceptional things that they have done on catch-ups has really accelerated during the pandemic,” says Tapping.

Although many employers have traditionally used cash awards to recognise employees for their hard work, this is often not the most effective way, says Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health and Protection. “Employees can feel isolated and detached, particularly if people are working longer hours than usual,” he explains. “What is incredibly important is verbal recognition to give employees the opportunity to shout out a fellow employee. These can be performed through weekly staff briefings, internal intranets that allow people to publish comments about employees, or even using Linkedin to perform public shoutouts.” 

Public praise resonates more with employees remotely working, as they do not have the option to informally praise colleagues for their work, adds Hill. Some organisations have gone the extra mile in recognition by holding annual awards online, giving prizes such as discount tickets or hampers through the post.  

But regardless of whether the majority of staff are working remotely or not, trust has to be the biggest aspect of a recognition programme. Vicky Pritchard, co-founder at brand and culture agency MuddyWellies, says: “Employees need to know that they can trust in their organisation; they need to be aware of the strategy and how they are being treated. Hosting virtual events such as cocktail or dinner evenings can motivate and recognise staff in an informal way, and give them the boost they need to be engaged during uncertain times.” 

A large number of organisations have employees that are unable to work remotely: factory staff, utility and retail workers, and healthcare professionals, for example, have continually worked in their workplace and faced increased risk to their health. Therefore, it is important for employers to understand the additional pressures they have faced while doing their day job. Some have rewarded employees with bonuses or additional days’ leave. “Many large organisations that have displayed a strong financial performance during the pandemic have rewarded their employees accordingly;, these incentives that we have seen can massively improve staff morale and increase engagement within an organisation,” says Drake. 

Recognition for this group of employees is imperative to ensure that they feel fully supported by their employer. Although they are working differently to home workers, they are still lacking usual social interactions. “They are still missing out on benefits due to Coronavirus restrictions, so it is important for organisations to still offer virtual recognition packages such as appreciation gift cards or virtual messages as health risks may restrict their interaction with others,” says Hill

Employers that have staff working in different scenarios will need to ensure their recognition package is as consistent as possible, says Iain Thomson, director incentive and recognition at Sodexo: “It is important for employers to make recognition incentives relevant to everybody, [organisations] have come a long way this year in benefits so they should have no issues in creating a recognition strategy that suits all.

Non-cash recognition tactics may be better received than cash incentives, says Thomson. “Cash can be absorbed for daily needs and is more suited to commission-based targets,” he adds. “There has been a huge shift to delivery such as vouchers and hampers, which is a reflection of the time we are in.”

Recognition on a shoestring

Rewarding staff while an organisation is dealing with financial pressures is itself a challenge, however, dealing with low motivation and engagement levels is critical to business success. “Some organisations are in a position where they simply can not reward the efforts of staff, says Hill. “Something small but unexpected can have a far greater impact than offering a cash bonus. Although these are small and modest, these can be greatly appreciated as they are usually unplanned. 

“Employees who have been working hard when an organisation is struggling financially are not doing it for extra financial reward, they are doing it because their fellow peers and customers are relying on them during staff shortages.”

A positive workplace culture that recognises when people go out of their way to do something extra for others can have huge benefits, Hill adds. Rewards such as shopping vouchers or gift cards can recognise employees and help them to feel valued during a difficult time. 

Employers have had to streamline processes and lose talented people in worst-case scenarios. Employees that are left behind often feel guilty that they were not affected by cuts or redundancies, says Thomson. “This is where leadership and communication are really important in being clear and positive regarding the future financial positioning on the organisation,” he explains. 

“It has been really key to continue recognising employees whatever financial situation [employers] are in. Recognition does not have to be expensive; simply appreciating employees through internal channels, or on social media can make employees feel motivated. Creating a hall of fame celebrating a list of exceptional employees, and displaying the reasons why they have performed so well is easy to do and can create an effective strategy not just now, but for the foreseeable future.” 

Despite facing some of the most challenging times many employers may ever have to face, recognising the efforts that employees have put in to ensure the organisation continues to operate, will improve engagement, retention and, ultimately, business performance.

Article published in Employee Benefits on 15th December 2020

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