Companies across the country, including ESOPs, can’t stop talking about retention. Better pay, more flexible hours, and better benefits aren’t the secret sauce alone. At ESOP companies, good compensation and employee ownership must be paired with a robust culture, one where recognition is front and center.

Calling out employees cannot be limited to an occasional gift, award, or bonus. It should be integrated into the fabric of your ownership culture. Recognition is best when it’s aligned with your company values and those employees who represent them are celebrated. A culture of appreciation for employee contributions improves retention and fuels commitment, engagement, and effort to achieve company goals.

The research is clear on recognition

People who feel appreciated at work are less likely to plan to leave before the first six months. One survey done by SurveyMonkey and Bonusly states that 63% of employees who feel recognized at work are unlikely to look for a new job. Eighty-two percent of employees also said they were happier when they were acknowledged at work. While recognition isn’t a guarantee of retention, employees who usually or always are honored for their efforts at work are much more likely to continue working for their current company.

Applauding employees can be a great tool to increase engagement at work. And employees who feel engaged in their work are less likely to look elsewhere.

  • One Harvard Business Review study found that 72% of businesses saw a positive impact of recognition on employee engagement at work.
  • Deloitte found that employee productivity, performance, and engagement are 14% higher in organizations with recognition programs than those without them.
  • Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report found that if companies double the number of employees they recognize every week, there was a 27% reduction in absenteeism and 10% reduction in staff shrinkage.

However, appreciating your employees is not a one-off event or simply a box to check. Gallup’s “Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition” report says that employees who receive recognition only a few times a year are 74% more likely to report that they do not plan to be at their organization in one year.

Initiate and normalize a culture of positive recognition and encouragement

Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, challenge your company to make time to acknowledge good work consistently. This will make employee owners feel respected, appreciated, and confident in their abilities. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but it should occur in a variety of ways to keep employees engaged. Your supervisors and managers are on the frontlines of integrating recognition into your company culture. Beyond monetary rewards, here are some ways your company and leadership can begin or maintain a culture of valuing employees.

1. Utilize digital tools for small wins

It’s easier than ever for company leaders to quickly deliver frequent gratitude to individuals. Managers can use voice mail, slack, email, or texting to periodically reach out and thank their team members for small things like doing their job well, helping on a project, coming into work each day on time and maintaining a good attitude. There are countless things you can thank employees for.

Make sure recognition for work occurs as soon as possible. For example, if someone handled a customer well today, tell them today and not a week from now. When commending a team member, make sure to note a specific way you appreciate their work. This will make recognition meaningful and sincere to the employee receiving it. Building frequent, easy ways to show gratitude to employees into your workplace culture will improve morale and strengthen company values.

2. Get creative with recognition rewards

To celebrate bigger job-level achievements, go beyond digital tools and think creatively. Try a handwritten thank you note left on their desk to read the next morning or sent to their home. What about giving up your parking space to someone or creating an employee of the month parking space in a prime area of the lot? Employees always enjoy thank-you meals during work hours or gift cards to use on their own. Offer a late start day or an extra vacation day; this doesn’t cost the company much and can be tremendously valuable to employees.

There are countless no- and-low-cost things you can do to acknowledge your people for their hard work. Leaders and your HR team should come up with guidelines for an official recognition program to ensure it is given out fairly and often enough.

3. Use one-on-one or small team meetings

According to a survey done by SurveyMonkey and Bonusly, 38% of people preferred to receive positive feedback during one-on-one meetings with their managers. Rather than calling an employee into a one-on-one meeting when you want to applaud them, have regular check-ins that always contain some amount of praise for the work they’ve done lately. These meetings can also be used as a time to give constructive feedback. Consistent feedback feeds into a great recognition culture. People love to know how they are doing and that their work is being noticed. If your company has small team meetings, start them with recent employee or team wins.

4) Empower employees to celebrate each other

Giving recognition is everyone’s job, not just company leaders or the HR department. To go above and beyond in integrating recognition into your company culture, find ways employees can celebrate other employees. Co-workers often see the good work of others when managers are not present. Some companies choose to start small or large team meetings with time for co-worker shoutouts. Don’t want to put people on the spot during meetings? Other companies ask for monthly submissions to be read out loud or put into monthly or quarterly newsletters. Create ways co-workers can nominate each other for employee of the month, year, or other appreciation programs you may have. Some companies allow co-workers to give each other small gift cards to acknowledge a job well done.

5) Mark employee milestones

Valuing employees doesn’t have to be about what they do at work but can commemorate life events. Employees tend to be happier at work when there is a stronger sense of community and connection. Celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and other important events in employees’ lives. Put some money aside for managers to get small gifts for employees, take them out to lunch, or throw a little celebration. Recognition can also mean showing up for employees when they are going through a tough time.

Ask your employees about recognition

Have you ever asked your employees if they feel appreciated at work? It’s common for management to THINK they recognize employees, but that doesn’t mean employees FEEL recognized. A survey of your workforce can be critical to see how your company is performing. The results are an invaluable way to see what you need to improve on.

You should also ask your employees how they would like to be acknowledged for a job well done. Your company may be celebrating them in ways that do not connect. Use employee feedback or create a recognition committee that can continue to support your culture, evaluate it, and make improvements over time.

As an ESOP company, you and your fellow employee owners have an added incentive to care about integrating recognition into your culture to ignite an ownership mindset. If you are struggling with retention at your ESOP company, make sure a culture of honoring your employee owners is part of your strategy. If you want employees to feel and act like owners, recognition may be what you need to make employees feel respected and engaged.

Workplace Development helps companies successfully build ownership cultures and communicate ESOP ownership’s benefit. Learn how we can work together or visit us at