How recognition schemes support positive mental health08.10.21
Director of Employee Wellbeing
When I look at our recognition product through the lens of psychology, I see quite clearly that above all, recognition is a wellbeing product.
When we get recognised by a colleague for something we’ve done, it shows us we are valued, and we are seen. As children, we need to feel valued so that we develop our sense of self. As adults, we still thrive on this kind of feedback. This reinforcement of positive self-worth and the validation we get from positive mirroring helps us to feel good about ourselves, but recognition also gives us a deep sense of meaning in our lives. When we have meaning in our lives, we flourish. When we don’t have meaning, we flounder, and that makes recognition a large contributor to positive mental health.
There is a neuroscientific link between gratitude and life satisfaction
As well as the mental health benefits of being recognised, there’s a lot of research showing that recognising others and showing appreciation for the people we work with helps to minimise negative habits in our lives and can even diminish negative self-talk.
Psychologists have found that when we express gratitude, it gives us the ability to override negative thoughts and wash away our concerns and stress. A recent Korean study found that appreciation and positive mental health correlate. Appreciation is a key component of our overall wellbeing.
We know that our lives need a lot more positive interactions than negative to counter the negative ones. When we take time to consider the help other people give us and recognise and appreciate them, the evidence shows that we ourselves start to benefit. Our joy increases, our life satisfaction improves. Not only do those who regularly appreciate others display more positive behaviours, empathy and generosity, but they also feel happier themselves.
Recognition works both ways
Traditionally seen as a top-down process, we’ve previously discussed how democratising the recognition process through peer-to-peer recognition creates an amazing impact on engagement and happiness. But what about recognition from the ground up; team members to their manager? Research has found that feeling appreciated at work correlates with managers’ positive personal and work-related outcomes. When managers are recognised and thanked by their teams, this positively influences their life satisfaction, general optimism, job satisfaction and helping behaviour. Recognising our bosses for their efforts in being a good boss creates a cycle of them becoming a better boss. The impact something as simple as recognition has on individuals, teams, leaders and organisations is fascinating.
Recognition for mental health is evidence-based
I believe that recognition should be invested in as part of a wellbeing strategy. The evidence for the effectiveness of many wellbeing products – such as mental health apps – is limited, where recognition evidence isn’t. Reviewing almost 6,000 mental health apps, researchers said using these apps (as standalone interventions) cannot be recommended based on the existing levels of evidence. Meanwhile, the evidence of how recognition, appreciation and gratitude can positively influence mental health is vast, compelling, and most importantly, well-established.
Expressing gratitude and feeling appreciated are both incredibly important parts of our mental health. They underpin our social self-perceptions, our self-actualisation and our value as humans and the work we do. It also reinforces our self-belief and our feelings of competence, which is why it’s not surprising to see that recognition enhances productivity and performance.
A YouGov study looking at the appreciation key workers felt from their employers before and during the Covid-19 pandemic shows us the impact recognition can have. Before the pandemic, just 29% of logistic and retail workers said they were appreciated, alongside 44% of healthcare workers. However, during the pandemic these figures almost doubled. Because of the additional appreciation the pandemic brought upon these workers, between 36% and 50% say they feel their organisations have changed for the better in the long-term.
I’ve written a lot about what impact the long-lasting effects the pandemic will have on the mental health of employees, and how lack of investment in supporting employee wellbeing – over the next 5 years especially – will cause huge problems for organisations. Whatever your reason for implementing or considering a recognition scheme, I urge all employers to double down on their recognition efforts during this time. It’s been an incredibly challenging and taxing time for your people, and they need to know they are appreciated and valued now, more than any point in their careers.
Gethin is a psychology graduate who has been helping some of the world’s largest organisations to improve their employee experience and wellbeing for almost two decades. The last 9 years have been spent working as part of the senior leadership team here at Benefex. As a frequent writer and keynote speaker on employee experience and employee wellbeing, Gethin has been featured in The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The Financial Times as well as major HR, Reward and Pensions publications. Gethin is also a founding member of the Engage for Success Wellbeing Thought Action Group, is listed on the Employee Engagement Powerlist and is one of the world’s Top 1010 Employee Engagement Influencers.
In 2018, Gethin published his first book – the award winning HR bestseller ‘A World of Good: Lessons From Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience’, which has gone on to inspire HR and Reward teams at some of the world’s best-known brands.