The Power of Employee Recognition, with Sophie Hughes

Company culture matters
Company culture matters
The Power of Employee Recognition, with Sophie Hughes

Why should we work on employee recognition? What is the relationship it has with satisfaction at work, productivity and talent retention?

In this episode, our host at Company culture matters, Laura Hernández, talks with Sophie Hughes, HR business Manager at Rentals United. Sophie shared with us her best practices on how to effectively work on employee recognition and how to maintain this habit over time in any company.

Episode transcript | Employee recognition

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Hi there! Welcome, I’m Laura Hernandez and this is company culture matters by Nailted. 

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: In this episode, we will talk about the power of employee recognition with Sophie Hughes, HR business manager at Rentals United.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Giving recognition is more powerful than ever to encourage team members to feel more empowered, to feel more appreciated for the work that they do. This only will encourage them to be more eager in the future to contribute to company-wide initiatives, team projects, or even cross-department projects as well. It’s giving that motivation there.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: People love to be recognized for their work, but apparently they aren’t recognized enough.  A recent Gallup analysis states that 65% of employees haven’t received any kind of recognition in the last year. Employee recognition is the act of acknowledging the hard work and achievements of individuals within a company. And as this Gallup survey demonstrated, money is not the top form of recognition employees prefer.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: The main goal of this episode is employee recognition. This is what we will focus on in company culture matters. With Sophie, we will understand why we should work on employee recognition and the relationship it has with satisfaction at work, productivity and talent retention. We will also learn how to effectively work on it and how to maintain this habit over time in any company. 

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Sophie Hughes, HR business manager. Welcome and thank you for joining us in this conversation.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Thank you Laura. I’m really happy to form part of this, and especially, speaking about a topic that is very very important to me too. So I’m very happy to be here.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Sophie, a first and mandatory question for you. Why should we work on employee recognition? 

SOPHIE HUGHES: For me, this is, as I mentioned, this is a topic that’s really really important to me. Even amongst friends, it’s a funny joke they say that I’m a natural cheerleader, but without the gymnastics abilities. I do find it really important to encourage people and make sure they are feeling motivated and I think recognition does really come, forms part of that. It’s a huge tool there. In all seriousness, I am a really strong believer in giving recognition when it’s due. However, I do sometimes believe that the importance of showing gratitude can sometimes be overlooked. We always want some recognition for what we’re doing in our day to day. But it’s also remembering, how can I show gratitude as well from my part. So this is really interesting and actually where Nailted has helped us here within a team. So I’ll talk about that a bit more.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Now more than ever 2020 this year has been very strange for everybody. It’s provided a lot of instability for people, both in work and everyday life. Our worklife has had to adapt, but all are working remotely and it has been a challenge for team members that are not so familiar with the set-up. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: It was something we had in place already before this pandemic. Where once or twice a week you could work from home and have this balance. Now more than ever, we’ve had to adapt across our whole company, as we’re in different locations well, in Barcelona, in Warshaw and other parts of Spain. We’ve had to really adapt the way in which we communicate and interact with each other, and it has been a challenge in every part of life, not just in our work life. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: So we were looking at, especially, communication and how we might want to make our team feel part of this community. Of course, recognition, gratitude, and work-life balance in a sense, are all linked to strengthening that as well.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Because it’s a fact that good vibes in general, mixed with recognition, in the work from our team, from our managers, because it’s where we spend most of our time. These good vibes and this recognition is a great feeling we got of serotonin of someone saying thanks and recognizing what we do. Then this transfers into the whole. This is a fact before this whole pandemic. So this more than ever is needed to help create this happier and more peaceful home life let’s say, it’s working hand in hand.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Sophie it’s been demonstrated that employee recognition is important towards increasing productivity. And there’s a stat from, from a Social Cast research that in my opinion illustrates this fact very well. It shows that 69% of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.  If they felt their job was recognized, they will feel more satisfied. So, I’m wondering to what extent is simply recognition related to productivity and satisfaction at work?

SOPHIE HUGHES: For sure. I think, I 100% agree with this. I know that productivity and satisfaction work hand in hand in a work environment. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: A simple “you’re doing great” is kind of this more recognition and more of a supportive sense. We always just encourage team members to complete their tasks. I mean, on the day to day. So, for example, in a team environment, giving recognition is more powerful than ever to encourage team members to feel more empowered, to feel more appreciated for the work that they do. Which only will encourage them to be more eager in the future to contribute to company-wide initiatives, team projects or even cross-department projects as well. It’s giving that motivation there.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Especially at rentals United, we’re a Saas company, tech, as we know, there’s constant changes, updates and daily developments that occur. So that recognition in the sense of a supportive recognition will only motivate employees and team members to be more proactive. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: We have to look at the idea of, this annual review that we would have in place, which is kind of the thing of the past, waiting until the end of the year to receive some good news, no. With how the company works, especially in tech and how fast-paced it is, we do also need to adapt to how we approach employees in that sense. We need to approach it in a way of, okay, we need these changes where we’re moving really fast, but we also need to be on top of Hey, you’re doing great. Let’s do this together. Let’s motivate our team together, being consistent in that sense as well. 

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Talking about employee retention, yet 2% of companies struggle to retain top talent. Forbes points out that 36% of employees say lack of recognition is the top reason to leave their job. And it’s quite fascinating to appreciate that some people leave jobs, not because they don’t like what they do, but because they feel their work is not being recognized. Sophie, how does employee recognition help towards talent retention?

SOPHIE HUGHES: Employee retention for us at rentals United and, especially for our HR department, was one of our main OKR of 2019, really understanding and investigating, different ways in which we can improve employee retention. Of course, we always want to improve it. Whether it’s looking at benefits, whether it was looking at different salaries or what was the main point. It was amazing to see that actually employee recognition, all employees are appreciated at work, it was almost a top number one. Whist in the States, for example, that was the piece top number one for people wanting to leave their jobs. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: It’s really interesting and I kind of understand because more than ever currently, especially, the millennial generation, we are ones… I form part of it… are holding the job positions at the moment and we are the generation that, let’s call it struggle, let’s be real about, and searching for our purpose. So, It’s kind of, you look at, even if you compare recruitment statistics over the past decade, it’s amazing to see the difference where it’s so much less likely now to see an employee with a 10-year service to their previous company on their curriculum. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: We’re always looking to move, we’re looking to, see what, “what is the right job for me” “What fits me” and finding that purpose. So feeling appreciated in the tasks, projects or involvement in general will only provide individuals, so our employees, with a sense of belonging giving that with recognition. Not only letting them feel recognized and appreciated for what they do, but it’s also giving them this connection and all around that feeling of purpose in, in the day to day, in the job.

SOPHIE HUGHES: So, we look at, if your work is appreciated, you, therefore, feel more motivated, plus you see more opportunities and therefore you want to grow inside the company. So then, that’s why we see numbers of retention going higher. We look at our employees that are involved in more projects, that are very proactive. These are the ones that have been with us longer. So it’s kind of motivation, for our team members to grow. It’s just like, it’s creating that ecosystem that is only going to keep the ball rolling to protect not only the company growth, but also for individual growth as well. It’s all very connected.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: As you pointed out in your speech Sophie, employee recognition helps to retain talent. But it is also a great way to enhance employee-manager relationships. 80% of employees believe that being recognized by their managers improves the relationship between them. However, tthe Society for Human Resources Management stated that peer to peer recognition is a more authentic approach because it not only motivates employees but it also builds a culture of support, collaboration and achievement. Sophie, how could we work on employee recognition and motivate our employees to recognize each other’s work?

SOPHIE HUGHES: I couldn’t agree more with the Society for Human Resource Management when it comes down to peer to peer recognition being extremely important.  Almost more important than managerial recognition when it comes down to building culture, building support, building that team environment.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Actually, this is where Nailted has really come in and helped us. In internal communication, not only in internal communication across the whole team when encouraging recognition, but also my favorite is showing gratitude. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: As I mentioned, I really believe that giving recognition is not all on the shoulders of the manager or management. But of course, constructive feedback is extremely important from the manager, highlighting team members in our monthly company meeting is extremely important and a great source of recognition for individuals. However, in our day to day, we are not just working to provide results for our manager directly, we’re working within a team. So, if someone, regardless of their position in the company, helps you out, shares ideas, it’s genuinely kind and uplifting in the team atmosphere across the whole company. These are exactly the people that you want to hear from and give thanks to. So, it’s this idea again, it’s this idea of having a healthy recognition ecosystem within the team. Obviously, this provides all-around appreciations, extremely powerful for team culture and community.

SOPHIE HUGHES: For us at Rentals United, Nailted’s tool on the fact of sending the claps, has been amazing. I mean, it’s so simple. Basically, it’s giving that simple reminder to reach out to your teammates on a weekly basis, you may not need to do it every day, but it’s giving that highlighted reminder of “Hey, reach out”.  The tool of sending the claps also gives the opportunity to our team members that are not so outspoken, so they might be they’re shy, maybe they don’t want to, they couldn’t, they would never gone up to a person in person, a team member in person to say: “Oh, this is great.” So, it’s giving them the opportunity as well to share their feelings and give their thanks. As human beings, as much as some people say that they don’t love receiving recognition, I think we all do.

SOPHIE HUGHES: It obviously creates really good feelings inside, when we receive recognition. But more importantly, and regarding gratitude, is by showing gratitude enhances empathy, increases mental strength, it improves self-esteem, it improves psychological and physical health and the list goes on there. So this tool on Nailted, has been definitely a winner for me. It goes both ways, where it’s really encouraging showiing recognition and also showing gratitude as well, within our teams, who would turn down feeling awesome, right? 

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: I believe that that to create and maintain a community of employees, who support and recognize each other’s work, timing, as well as other organizational aspects, must be taken into account. Sophie, will you give us any guidelines to maintain and improve this habit over time? 

SOPHIE HUGHES: At Rentals United even a few months ago, we have had a pretty average low score for recognition across the whole company and using Nailted and using the platform and being able to look even deeper into the metric itself, we saw that frequency of recognition was a point that was highlighted. So, personally, I don’t believe that we should overdo highlighting every single task completed because I don’t think it would be so productive.

SOPHIE HUGHES: A simple thumbs-up when projects and tasks are going to plan is great just “keep going you can do it!” It’s a kind of this thought of imagine every single time a sale has been made in our sales team and there’s like a mariachi band playing, how quickly that would become too much, it would be probably become quite annoying and it wouldn’t be seen as a real statement of recognition. So, however, we do and we have been working on different ways in which employees can shine, in their work and their own way and celebrate this together regarding timing, frequency of how recognition is given, and also using it in a different way.

SOPHIE HUGHES: So we’ve put some projects in place. So for example, from our HR department, we send out, I try to do a weekly newsletter. So it’s purely focused on community and culture. This is where we introduce new employees, but we do it with fun games to encourage interaction with other team members. We have our recommended by segment so for music, movies, trips and books. This is a great opportunity for team members to connect as well and say: “Ah, great. I love that movie. Thanks for sharing.” It’s giving this kind of idea of recognition on a social interaction level as well, which is really nice. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: Finally, in our newsletter, we have our who’s who. This is actually an interview, it’s a really informal, funny interview with a really nice vibe with a team member every month. So, they get to share a little bit more about themselves, their interests or maybe a funny story, and then, of course, they share a little bit about their history. So, who they work most closely with, what projects they’ve worked on in the past, who they’ve worked with. It’s allowing these employees to actually give thanks but in a different kind of way. It’s giving them a little bit of a spotlight, but then again, encouraging them to show gratitude to their direct workmates. So, it’s providing that all-around opportunity for our team and our community to grow even stronger together.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Then we also have put in place with our marketing team, they’ve actually just launched this idea of it’s almost as if it’s the fist behind the email. So it’s spotlighting colleagues as ambassadors of rentals United, where we are publishing them on LinkedIn. So it’s not only to share team members internally, which is obviously very important, but we also want to show from the company, Show who our employees are and show our clients who’s behind the scenes doing such a great job and providing fantastic service, especially more than ever during these tough times. 

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: I can see there are great ideas coming out from the HR department at Rentals United. Sophie, will you give us any conclusive advice or tip to make the most out of the power of employee recognition?

SOPHIE HUGHES: I think looking at our current situation of working remotely and that possible feeling of being a bit more invisible to some degree, because we’re not physically at the office, where it was easy to be reminded of who sits opposite me, who’s doing what project, who’s doing this, who’s doing that. It’s easy to just say, “Oh, Hey yeah, huge. You’re doing that great job.” Because we’re not physically there and we’re not having these inputs, it is difficult, I think, for those interactions and those, just that sharing of gratitude and showing that recognition is quite difficult. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: What we really want to do, of course, is to make these interactions and behaviors continue as we did have in the office beforehand, online. This is something we were working from directly at the moment, as soon as we got put into lockdown here in Barcelona, and we realized we learned something very strong from this, which was because we do have teams separated in Barcelona, in Warshaw, in different parts of Spain, in the UK and the US. We realized, we really were grateful that we were put into the situation to try and create this environment for our Barcelona team because it’s only spread across all of our company, which is amazing. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: So for example, we’re now working on unique structures for each team when it comes down to recognition and interaction on that as well. So for example, with our sales team, we have that instant message from our CRM system to our internal communication platform, our Slack channel, highlighting a sale that’s being done. This is not only bringing transparency from the sales being made, but it’s also allowing the team from every single department to congratulate our team members: “yeah, great job. You’re doing well!” whether it’s responding with an emoji or in a thread or sending a funny GIF is kind of bringing light to these mini celebrations that we have. 

SOPHIE HUGHES: I think that really really important for the culture and the community of everybody coming together. Of course, not all teams work this way, with quick turnovers and projects. But what we are planning to do is to work individually with each team to brainstorm ideas and get them involved in sharing how they would like to be recognized. I think this is really important as well, because for one who said, putting a big band of well done is amazing, and for some others, it would be the most embarrassing thing ever. So it’s really understanding on an individual level as well how team members would like to be recognized at the moment.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Sophie Hughes, HR business partner at Rentals United. Thank you so much for discussing with us the benefits and impact of employee recognition at work.

SOPHIE HUGHES: Thank you so much Laura, it’s been a pleasure.

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: And that’s a wrap for this episode on employee recognition of company culture matters by Nailted. Special thanks to Sophie Hughes for joining us and sharing her best practices. If you want to know more about her, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Also, if you want to keep learning from experts on topics regarding company culture, check them out in

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: Rentals United uses Nailted to develop and maintain their culture of employee recognition. Nailted is the employee engagement platform for people and HR teams who want to deliver the best employee experience. If you want to know how Nailted can help your company improve their company culture, check out

LAURA HERNÁNDEZ: I’m Laura Hernández, your host at company culture matters by Nailted. 

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