by Cord Himelstein | March 15, 2019
Engagement is largely an indicator of how motivated employees are to do their jobs, and it manifests in their behavior. Gallup defines engagement as employees having basic psychological needs met that are required for performance. Some needs are more straightforward, such as knowing what's expected in the job and having the materials or equipment to do it properly.

Other needs are emotional or social and not always so straightforward. In his widely referenced TED Talk on motivation, expert Dan Pink examined what keeps people engaged with their jobs and proposed that in the business world, the desire to do more for personal reasons -- "intrinsic motivators," which he called important drivers. Pink outlined such drivers as the autonomy to direct our own lives; mastery and the urge to become better at something or the desire to develop skills; and purpose, or the need to do what we do for reasons bigger than ourselves.

In addition to intrinsic motivators, people also thrive on extrinsic motivators, those that originate outside the individual. In a business setting, these take the form of rewards from the organization, such as money, praise and positive feedback. Formalized employee reward and recognition programs offer extrinsic motivation for people to do a good job. The entire gamut of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is what adds up to the employee experience.

When Gallup examined the difference between engagement and experience, they found an employee's complete experience in the workplace moves through seven stages:

• Attract
• Hire
• Onboard
• Engage
• Perform
• Develop
• Depart

Several other aspects of their workplace also influence it, such as:

• Manager
• Role
• Team
• Workspace
• Well being
• Purpose
• Brand and culture

Employees spend the majority of their time in three of the seven employee experience stages: engagement, performance and development, where building strength and purpose, driving expectations, and career growth present the best opportunities for companies to make a lasting impression on them. Recognition programs at these stages can have a significant effect on the overall employee experience.

1. Recognition that boosts engagement

Employees value knowing that their work is appreciated and that their contributions have been noticed. Whether it's verbal praise, public recognition or a premium parking spot, reward programs provide positive reinforcement for a job well done. The Cheesecake Factory recognizes its frontline workforce through an initiative called "Wow Stories," a collection of stories that share associates' outstanding service across the organization. Reinforcing and praising positive behaviors -- like putting in extra hours or finding a unique solution to a problem -- keeps employees motivated and coming into work with vigor and enthusiasm, because it helps them realize that what they are doing matters.

2. Recognition that enhances performance

One of the best ways to encourage future performance is to offer incentives or rewards for achieving individual, departmental and organizational objectives. It's important to keep in mind that incentives need to be tied to measurable goals that can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time, such as a month or a quarter. We often think of incentives as associated with meeting sales goals, but organizations are increasingly using cash and noncash incentives to drive particular behaviors and meet other kinds of performance objectives, like reducing safety incidents.

3. Recognition through training and development

Most people want to learn and are motivated by the chance to enhance their proficiencies or gain new skills. Employer-provided training, attendance at conferences and workshops are all good ways to recognize and retain employees. Supermarket chain Wegmans invested $50 million in employee training in 2017, which included programs to help workers gain specific skills or move into management positions. Professional-development opportunities are a clear demonstration that the company values the individual by investing in their future. Once employees have attained a particular level of professional development, they should be recognized for that accomplishment. 

Organizations can structure employee-recognition programs in many ways, but with the increased focus on the employee experience, it is important to evaluate whether the program is providing adequate opportunities for recognition across these three important stages. Viewing a rewards and recognition program through this lens helps maintain organizational focus on a positive, end-to-end employee experience.

This article originally appeared on Workspan. Cord Himelstein is the vice president of marketing and communications at HALO Recognition, who helps workforces realize limitless potential by communicating engagement fundamentals and emphasizing human interactions, inspiring them to do great things.