Is recognition contagious?

By Jeremy Salter, Employee Engagement Lead

I recently had a meeting at a new client’s offices. Signed in and received a sticky name tag to affix to my jacket. I have to admit, sticky name tags normally end up crumpled in my pocket.

On this occasion I dutifully stuck in on my jacket. Why? Because I noticed every other visitor and employee was dutifully wearing theirs.

Their behaviour influenced by own. Wearing your ID tag/sticker was obviously the norm. I did not want to be the odd one out. I conformed.

Some might describe this influence as social or behavioural contagion. ‘The spread of ideas, attitudes, or behaviour patterns in a group through imitation and conformity.’

This experience example made me ponder how other behaviours could spread through an organisation. In particular, the behaviour of recognition.

The success of the programs we design is dependent upon the behaviour of employees. My conversations with clients therefore often focus on ways to ways to increase levels of employee recognition.

Luckily we deliver a lot of employee recognition programs. These programs generate a lot of data. Recently we gave this data to our data analytics team to see if they could help us answer our client’s question.

The data set included over 700,000 recognitions generated by multiple programs. Our analytics team cut it up in multiple ways to better understand what makes someone recognise someone else.

Surprisingly a person’s willingness to recognise was not significantly influenced by their age, gender, tenure, role or location or employer.

The single most significant thing that influenced their willingness to recognise another was whether they had been recognised themselves.

Like my badge wearing experience, it appears an effective way to change someone’s behaviour is to expose them to the way you want them to behave.

This may sound overly simplistic but it gets more interesting. Further analysis revealed more that the type of recognition a person received determined the type of recognition they gave.

The most significant thing that influenced a manager’s willingness to recognise a member of their team was if they had been recognised by their manager.

The same was true for peer recognition as the most significant thing that influenced a person’s willingness to recognise a peer was whether they had been recognised by a peer.

Our analysis revealed employee recognition was contagious and its spread more likely if transmitted by peers. Thinking about recognition as a contagious behaviour is helpful.

It encourages you to think about ways you can expose people to the behaviour you are wanting to spread. Social technologies can help the spread.

They make recognition activity easier and more visible.

To find out more about Employee Recognition Programs, you can email Jeremy Salter.

This article was first seen on Grass Roots Australia blog

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