How to build a thriving workplace culture by integrating recognition and leveraging the power of symbols


The past three years have prompted us to re-evaluate our lives in very meaningful ways – finding fulfilment in what we do or seeking more opportunities to connect with each other. As workplaces continue to evolve, we are seeing the impact of these changes in HR & workplace strategies first-hand across many organisations.

In an exclusive interaction with Zubin Zack, Managing Director, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, O.C. Tanner, we discovered some promising ways to build a culture where employees can thrive.

Making recognition a part of our everyday life

Can you share your thoughts on this statement & how you preach this within your organisation?

Recognition is the most underleveraged leadership tool. It is not only cost-effective but also can bring about the most significant organisational changes. When a recognition moment happens, the receiver, giver and audience feel the impact. They all feel valued and a part of the workplace community. Therefore, in my opinion, it is common sense to incorporate recognition as a part of everyday life. On the contrary generic recognition, or when it is impersonal, can have the opposite impact.

We have seen organisations across the globe, for years, put more effort and resources into improving recognition, but regrettably the numbers are far lower than expected.

Also, according to 2023 Global Culture Report, “Only 21% of workplaces worldwide have highly integrated recognition”. This brings me to integrating recognition into the organisation’s DNA. The new age task is integrating recognition in a frequent and consistent way.

To have highly integrated recognition incorporated in one’s company culture involves more than just plugging recognition tools into existing technology. Incorporating tools is just the first step in weaving this intricate fabric. What is truly essential is ensuring recognition is incorporated as a part of each employee’s everyday experience. From our past experiences, we know that tailored recognition moments, spread throughout the year, have a more significant, more lasting impact on workplace culture than singular company-wide, all-employee events, no matter how much organisations spend.

How can we improve these numbers?

The answer isn’t as simple as improving recognition programs or tools. Our O.C. Tanner Institute, through years of research, has developed eight specific measurements to determine the level of integrated recognition. This can help one align and prioritise activities which are most impactful.

But the journey doesn’t end at that, and there are underlying discoveries which will make it challenging for any organisation to achieve a high level of integrated recognition culture, especially memories of recognition experiences from prior workplaces as they have a profound and enduring influence.

Do you believe that past recognition experience amplifies the current ones?

Of course! Any experience becomes the foundation on which the next experience or the perception of the new experience gets built. You begin by setting the example one at a time. One person watches the experience and builds on it, and then the second duplicates the recognition moment, starting a wave which is hard to stop. Eventually, it becomes a way of living and gets incorporated into life. The ripple effect is higher when leaders do it and do it right. Hence I can safely call recognition a ‘people see, people do’ scenario.

Please share your thoughts on power & impact of symbols

By representing stories of achievement in tangible form, symbols help enhance recognition experiences. The best example is what medals do when you win something. It is not the monetary value of the medal but the meaning and what it stands for. There is a message behind that medal. Same with any symbol. It tells you a story, in addition to telling you about the effort and learnings. It takes you back to memories of the process in which you earned the symbol. All symbols tell stories and the more unique, the better.

So yes, symbols are impactful. Symbolism has the power to build connections. When a career recognition experience includes a symbolic award, it increases the employee’s connection with their team, leader, and organisation. Our research says that employees are three times more likely to remember a recognition experience when it includes a symbolic award. Conversely, when a career recognition experience omits a symbolic award, the probability of connection to each decreases.

Read O.C. Tanner’s Global Culture Report 2023 to get more insights on the eight key measurements for achieving a high level of integrated recognition and a quick guide for creating an appreciation culture where employees can thrives.

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