Compliments: They Can Lead to More Engaged Employees

Time and again when we hear or read about employee engagement, it comes down to employees wanting their supervisors, colleagues, and clients/customers to value and recognize their contributions. One of the easiest ways to have a disengaged work team is to fail to recognize their efforts and results. This recognition comes in a mix of forms – compensation, annual bonuses, spot bonuses, perks, and the simple “thank you”.

Brandon Hall Group research shows that engagement pays off and directly impacts the bottom line. Our Engagement Study from November 2014 shows that 80% of companies that prioritize engagement have reduced their turnover rates year over year. With the cost of recruiting replacement employees so high, the ability to retain good employees becomes critical. In addition, according to Harvard, revenue growth in organizations with engaged employees outpaced their disengaged peers by at least 8% and increased their market share by more than 10% over those disengaged organizations.

With all the clear benefits of focusing on improved engagement, I thought I’d explore how the least expensive form of recognition can help improve the bottom line. I conducted an informal little social survey on Facebook last month. I decided to specifically measure compliments at work to see if they have a perceived impact on engagement. The survey, which 23 people responded to, consisted of four questions:

  • How often are you complimented at work?
  • What are you complimented about?
  • Who gives you compliments at work?
  • Do you feel that receiving compliments at work leads to higher engagement?

From a frequency perspective, 12 of the 23 respondents said they are complimented weekly at work, while 10 said they are complimented monthly. There was one response that indicated daily compliments, and no one said they were never complimented, which is good news!

87% of respondents – or 20 of the 23 – reported that they are only complimented about work-related things. The other common compliment received is classified as “personal things that are appropriate” for the workplace. 3 people – or 13% – said that is the type of compliment they receive. Interestingly, no one said that they are complimented about personal things that are not appropriate for work.

I wondered what the breakdown would be on who gives compliments. I had my suspicion that most would come from colleagues or peers. The former HR leader in me has seen that leaders always need more encouragement on complimenting their team members. This survey backed that up that suspicion. While respondents could choose more than one answer, the breakdown was:

One way to add an interesting twist is to give subordinates encouragement to give upward feedback to their supervisor. This can also open the door for the supervisor to pay more compliments to the employee. The effect is a strengthening of the overall relationship, with both parties feeling heard and valued.

For the final question, 21 of the 23 surveyed said they believe that receiving compliments at work directly and positively impacts employee engagement. So, while my little survey is not scientific, at least with this group it appears that compliments are effective. So start the new year out right by giving more compliments and encourage your colleagues to do the same. It’s effective, and it’s free!

Trish McFarlane, VP and Principal Analyst
for Human Resources, Brandon Hall Group


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