Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | January 24, 2010

Give Employees Recognition To Avoid a Turnover Tsunami

By Mike Byam
The Terryberry Company

We shouldn’t be surprised, but some of us will be caught off guard.
Over the last 18 months, businesses and their leaders have fought gallantly through the roughest economic environment most of us have ever encountered.  Perseverance has paid off, and now hopeful business results are beginning to emerge.  One might think there is finally an opportunity for organizations to exhale and catch our collective breath.

Unfortunately, there is another storm brewing that is arguably a direct result of how businesses handled the most recent downturn.  Many organizations were forced to downsize and eliminate positions in order to remain solvent, keeping only their top level talent.  For a period of time, employees felt relieved just to have a job.   If they were not going to see a pay increase it was good news since others were getting pay cuts.  These same team members often accepted additional work in light of the challenging times, doing what’s necessary to keep the organization afloat.   Companies (and their workforces) recognized that there were not many other job opportunities for employees to consider.

But people have reached a breaking point.  Job satisfaction rates are at their lowest level since the Conference Board by TNS began measuring them in 1987. The global market research company indicated that today only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work.

As a result, employees are looking for greener pastures.  A recent Right Management survey found that 60% of employees report they intend to pursue new jobs as the economy improves in 2010.  In the same study, another 21% noted that they may leave their current position and were presently networking in that regard.  The simple math tells the story that more than 4 out of every 5 workers are looking to leave their current employer.

This is a staggering situation, and it comes at a time when many organizations are still forced to be very fiscally conservative due to the economic conditions we are in the midst of overcoming.  Lavish benefits and significant pay raises are not currently in the cards for most businesses.  What options does a business leader, Human Resource Manager, or front line supervisor have to combat the pending turnover tsunami?

People can better understand the sacrifices and cutbacks if they feel valued by their employer.   One of the best and most cost-effective options to stave off a mass exodus is to crank up the recognition dial for those individuals who have poured out so much of their blood, sweat, and tears when the cards have been stacked against them.

For years effective employee recognition has been a tool in business leaders’ toolkit to help engage employees and reduce turnover.  In the coming months, successful leaders will need to find new and creative ways to engage people through recognition.

Here are five quick, low-cost ways to ramp up recognition for your team members today:

  • Power of the Pen – Find opportunities to send hand-written notes to staff members who are displaying your organization’s Mission, Vision, and Values.  Set a goal for yourself of 10 notes each week or 50 a month.  Keep track of it, and you’ll be surprised how people will keep and display this important acknowledgment.

After you have a month or two under your belt, challenge fellow business leaders to do the same.  They’ll benefit from the experience, and you’ll see in impact on the culture of your people.

  • Create a Club – People love to be members of an exclusive group.  Create a President’s Club that quarterly recognizes those individuals who consistently go above and beyond what is required of them in order to help the business flourish.  Celebrate these people publically in your business and use it as an opportunity to encourage similar behaviors in others.
  • Explore Peer to Peer Recognition – Peer-to-Peer recognition programs are one of the fastest growing segments of the employee recognition marketplace today.  The reason: an effective peer-to-peer program creates visibility and group participation in all aspects of recognition including nominating, receiving, and applauding.

New technological tools available in the marketplace have helped to pump new life into these programs with the use of online recognition boards and increased visibility.  These types of programs are embraced by Gen Y employees as well as other generations for their transparency, interactivity, and instantaneous feedback.

  • Review Your Existing Programs – The New Year is a great time to review your existing employee recognition strategy to ensure that the objectives of these programs are in line with the ABCs (attitudes, behaviors, and contributions) your organization values most.  If the programs don’t support those important fundamentals, now is the time adjust.
  • Celebrate Milestones – Many organizations have felt they have had little to formally celebrate during the last year.   While times have changed, the need for positivity in the workplace has not.  Look for opportunities to celebrate the small stuff.  Here’s one simple way: employees are reaching service award milestones everyday.  Successful enterprises make a point to acknowledge and communicate every anniversary date that happens within their employee base.  Using the myriad of communication tools at our disposal today, it’s easy to set up systems to publicize every year milestone an employee reaches within your business starting at year one.  Best practices call for a little more formality at traditional major anniversaries; 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, etc.  However, the “off” years like 4 and 6 can be communicated through online postings, the company newsletter and a round of applause at company meetings.  By doing this you’ll find opportunities for levity throughout the year and the major milestones will be that much better received.

The great thing about employee recognition is that no matter what you’ve done in the past, you can always improve upon it in the future.  As leaders, they more you can show the people around you that they are appreciated for their contributions, the more they’ll want to continue contributing to the forward direction of your organization.   Don’t miss these opportunities to celebrate terrific contributions, or your best employees will seek out an organization that will.

Mike Byam is the Managing Partner of the Terryberry Company and author of The WOW! Workplace.  The Terryberry Company is a leading provider of effective employee recognition and incentive programs for 25,000 organizations worldwide.  For more information, contact Terryberry at 800-253-0882 or



  1. Nice post. Employees are smart. They understand the need to cut back on expenses (of various kinds) in a recession. What they don’t understand and will run from is a company culture that does not communicate truth, recognize and encourage effort, and appreciate staff for the extra load so many have taken on in these last many frightening and confusing months.

    Especially good point on peer-to-peer recognition. There is great value in empowering any employee to notice, pause and formally recognize their peers for behaviors that reflect the company values and help achieve strategic objectives.

    This lets employees notice those (and other) positive behaviors in their colleagues. If you want to bring your company values to life, then you better make the demonstration, appreciation and recognition of those values real at every level.

    Just last week I also wrote on the importance of peer-to-peer recognition here:

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