8 Employee Recognition Survey Questions You Must Ask

Ask these survey questions to improve employee recognition in the workplace

We’ve all heard the stories and read the LinkedIn posts.

“Here’s why I left XYZ company…”

A few lines later, you find out that this acquaintance of yours left what seemed like a nice gig, because they felt overworked and undervalued.

Not because the pay wasn’t high enough.

Not because the perks weren’t cool enough.

Not because the company wasn’t well-known enough.

But because the organization didn’t show them enough recognition.

When you’re staying late, cleaning up a colleague’s mess, or dealing with the ramifications of a product failure that was another team’s error, the amount of appreciation you’re shown can mean the difference between staying for another 10 years and applying for new jobs.

At the same time, keeping tabs on how every single person within your organization feels – and how best to recognize them – is difficult.

An employee recognition survey can help you gather the data you need, so you can connect more deeply with your people.

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is an explicit acknowledgement of your employees’ contributions to your organization.

There are two different kinds of recognition: top-down recognition and peer recognition.

Top down recognition comes from superiors. This kind of recognition is valuable, because it can lead to all kinds of incentives such as promotions or raises. But they are hard to deliver on a consistent basis.

Your employees do valuable things all day long. A supervisor would have to notice, log, and follow up with all of those commendable activities. This isn’t a sustainable approach, and because it isn’t a sustainable approach, they tend to consolidate all of their praise and recognition into one event: annual reviews.

Annual reviews are an efficient way to recognize employees and deliver incentives, but recognition needs to happen on a consistent, ongoing basis.

One way to compensate for this is through peer recognition. This is where employees at the same level notice their colleagues’ contributions and praise them. Peers are in a much better position to recognize an employee's specific contributions and understand the immediate impact those contributions have.

Bottom-up recognition has its own benefits as well. It's important for managers to be appreciated, too! All employees, even senior executives, appreciate recognition. Taking the time to recognize direct supervisors and leaders for their work isn't boot-licking - it's a good way to communicate interpersonally

Why is employee recognition important?

In some organizations the thinking is that an employee’s paycheque is recognition enough.

In reality, that paycheque only guarantees that workers do what they’re contractually obligated to do.

In other words: the bare minimum.

It means that in industries where going above and beyond or being innovative are important, organizations won’t thrive as much as they can.

In some companies, it’s easy to measure productivity. If you’re making cars and machine parts, it’s simple to measure the output.

If you’re in an industry where less tangible outcomes are important, such as influencing others, supporting collaboration, and managing a team, then the bare minimum will negatively impact your ability to be competitive.

The ability to encourage collaboration and influence others is not just an exercise in the warm and fuzzies. It can have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line.

Consider this reflection in Harvard Business Review on influencing and participating in external communities from the former CEO of Red Hat:

“...Building open source software, like we do at Red Hat, involves collaborating with people outside of the company who volunteer their efforts. That means you can’t simply issue orders or direct what work gets done and when. What you can do is build influence and trust with other members of the community. But doing that can involve making contributions that offer no direct output or result. It’s not quid pro quo, and it’s not easy to track and measure.”

This is why employee recognition is important.

A paycheque is not enough to guarantee that an employee will think outside of the box or use all of their capabilities to solve their organization’s problems.

All a paycheque does is keep people accountable to the bare minimum.

On the other hand, if employees see that their efforts are being recognized, they’re more likely to think of ways to help the organization meet its goals, because they feel like they share in the sense of accomplishment.

How can surveys help with employee recognition?

First, it’s important to understand whether you have a recognition culture at your organization.

In a recognition culture, recognition happens frequently and meaningfully. It is not something that is isolated to annual performance reviews.

That said, it can be difficult to track how often your employees are being recognized, especially top-down recognition versus peer recognition.

A survey can help you temperature check your employee recognition culture over time. Once you have a benchmark, you can measure against it.

This helps you evaluate whether your efforts to improve employee recognition are working or need to be reworked.

Employee recognition survey questions

If I do great work, I know that it will be recognized

Employees make microdecisions every day about how to use their energy. Consider the following example.

Margaret is a customer support representative. She’s talking to Mo, a customer who’s having trouble integrating the company’s application with another tool his team uses.

Margaret knows that the problem could be solved by liaising with another department. In fact, this issue comes up often. So Margaret has two options:

  • She can simply send an email to the other department and say it takes a few business days, further frustrating the customer.
  • She can pick up the phone, find a solution to the problem as quickly as possible, and then take the added step of building a relationship with that department, coming up with a system that prevents that particular issue, and make the integration between those two applications more seamless.

Now, suppose this employee always chooses option two. They go the extra mile and wind up staying late, because they have more work on their plate. And they do this despite receiving no extra pay.

Meanwhile, their colleagues routinely choose option one, leave at a reasonable hour, and receive the same pay.

Add lack of recognition on top of this and that employee will make the rational decision not to bother with option two anymore. It isn’t their company after all.

When employees know that doing great work leads to recognition, it creates a co-owner mindset.

Employees stop viewing their job as something they clock in and out of and start viewing their job as something they are a part owner in.

I am happy with how frequently I am recognized

Workplace challenges and stress don’t arise once a year. So it’s important that employee recognition and appreciation doesn’t happen once a year either.

Many of the employee recognition ideas mentioned above have frequency built into them.

For instance, weekly shoutouts are regular opportunities for people to be recognized for their contributions, big and small.

Other employee recognition ideas, like birthday shoutouts, also provide this sense of frequency even if it isn’t frequent for each individual employee. For example, an employee sees the gifts or packages given to an employee and knows that one will be coming to them later in the year.

Ensuring regular bursts of employee morale isn’t the only reason to make employee recognition frequent.

There’s also the opportunity to align employee incentives and recognition to business goals or team goals.

For instance, if your business realizes that increasing customer satisfaction is an important goal, you might want to start shouting out team members who go above and beyond when it comes to customer satisfaction.

There may be a team member who worked hard to solve a customer problem or stayed late to fix an issue.

Another internal goal may be to put more processes in place and eliminate bottlenecks.

Aligning your employee recognition to shout out employees who have gone out of their way to put processes in place gives others motivation to do the same.

I feel that our organization celebrates our accomplishments and successes

Picture this. You and your colleagues bend over backward to finish a stressful project.

There have been numerous changes and last minute requests from the project sponsors.

You and your colleagues have stayed late almost every day for the past month.

Some have even missed family events or special occasions.

When the project finally comes to an end, you feel a sense of relief, pride, and accomplishment, but when you come into work the next day, there is no acknowledgement of the work you’ve just done. Your boss simply tells your team what the next task is going to be.

This creates an environment where employee contributions are not recognized and where extremely stressful work weeks and disorganized projects feel like the status quo.

Whenever your employees have to deal with an unusual situation, take the time to recognize their efforts and the sacrifices they may have made to get things done.

Similarly, take the time to recognize that this isn’t the norm, that there is going to be time taken to figure out what went wrong, and that an active effort will be made to avoid it in the future through better processes.

I am recognized for going above and beyond

This question helps you identify two important elements:

  • Whether superstars believe they’re being recognized for going above and beyond
  • Whether your employees’ idea of going above and beyond is the same as your idea of going above and beyond

The first is straightforward.

If you have an impressive team, and you love the work they’re doing, you want to know if they feel underappreciated.

This is because employee recognition and appreciation is tied to employee engagement, and employees who feel disengaged are more likely to look for another job.

The last thing you want is for your superstar employees to think their greatest chances for advancement and recognition are at another company.

Secondly, you want to identify whether there’s a disconnect between your idea of going above and beyond and your employees’ idea of going above and beyond.

Consider the following scenario: You think your organization is performing below its potential and can do more. Meanwhile, your employees feel like they are putting in extra hours, putting out fires, and exceeding expectations.

This is a tragic gap.

Asking this question on your survey may reveal that your employees are putting in extraordinary effort for things that don’t really matter.

Or it may reveal that there are issues with your existing processes and you could save your employees a lot of unnecessary stress by putting better systems in place.

Once you’ve alleviated your employees’ stress, you can then re-allocate their energy to tasks that are important to your business goals.

You can also start to reward them for their efforts, especially when those efforts are going towards goals that matter.

I feel that the recognition I received is meaningful

What type of recognition do you value most?

When you’re designing your employee recognition programs, remember that it’s important to consider how your employees want to be recognized – not how you think they want to be recognized.

In order for recognition to be valuable, it has to be given in a way that’s meaningful to the recipient. Consider these tips on how to deliver recognition that’s more meaningful to employees:

Ask them what they want

If you’re a team lead, you can ask your employees what they individually want in recognition of their hard work.

Some of them may want the ability to leave early. Others may just want a free lunch.

If you’re in charge of people and culture for a large organization, this may be a bit more challenging.

This is where an employee recognition survey is helpful.

While it’ll be impossible to deliver a personalized recognition experience when you have a massive workforce, you can figure out what the majority of your employees want.

Make your recognition timely

Recognize your employees for their efforts as close to the positive event as possible. For example, if an employee stayed late every night for a week to fix a technical problem in time for an important deadline, show your appreciation – either by giving them a bonus day off or taking them out for lunch – as soon after the deadline as possible.

This way, they feel like their efforts were noticed and there’s no time for negative feelings to develop and fester.

Make it personalized

If you’re a team lead, this could be as simple as tying the recognition to something your employee cares about, like a day off to spend with their kid or a meal kit subscription because they like to cook.

If you’re the people and culture leader in charge of a large organization, this could be as simple as making sure the employee’s name is included with the gift and even asking their direct manager to include a handwritten note.

Make the connection to and impact on business goals clear

Recognition should be tied to business goals. This demonstrates to everyone within the organization what kinds of behaviour will be incentivized.

It also shows the employee receiving the recognition that this reward is not just for show – it demonstrates that they’ve actually contributed something to the business.

Make it all about the person

This is not the time to highlight how awesome you are as a team lead or how great your organization is. This is the time to put the spotlight on your employees and to share how they’ve been a rockstar contributor.

I feel valued in our organization

To be valued means to be considered useful, important, and worthy. Do your employees feel this way at your organization?

Asking your employees if they feel valued is a simple but powerful question. And it has huge implications on:

  • How much effort employees choose to put into their day-to-day work
  • How long employees think they are going to stay at your organization
  • How many people they refer to your organization
  • How they talk about your organization to others in their network

I know which behaviors receive recognition

Another important data point to gather in your employee recognition survey is whether or not your employees feel like they know what behaviour gets rewarded.

In some organizations, the behaviour that’s encouraged is not the behaviour that’s rewarded.

For instance, a company may preach collaboration and communication when in reality the behaviour that’s rewarded is competitiveness, aggression, and secretiveness.

 This isn’t about finding a right or wrong answer. It’s about making sure that employees understand your organization’s culture and what’s expected.

I frequently give others recognition

Do your employees recognize each other?

If they already recognize their colleagues, then there’s an opportunity to capitalize on this. Your employees may already be giving their colleagues informal shoutouts.

This is the perfect environment for an employee recognition platform where employees can log in and give their co-workers points whenever they do something outstanding.

These points can add up to awards at the end of the quarter or at the end of the year.

If your survey finds that people don’t recognize each other, this reveals something deeper about your organization. It could be that:

  • Your culture isn’t conducive to recognition, collaboration, or appreciation
  • Your employees don’t feel like it’s appropriate or needed to shout out their colleagues
  • Your employees want to shout out their colleagues, but feel like there isn’t an appropriate forum in which to do so

Use this question as a way to temperature check your organization’s recognition culture.

Employee recognition can have a tenfold impact on employee engagement, retention, and morale

Investing in employee recognition can have an outsized impact on how your employees feel, and in turn, how they work.

But understanding whether your employees feel valued and how they wish to be recognized can be difficult to do at scale.

This is where technology can help bridge the people gap.

Sparkbay offers an employee engagement platform that simplifies the process of connecting with your employees. Click here for a demo