Nov 17, 2023
Investing in workplace recognition is rewarding for employers

Workplace recognition is vital to the productivity and happiness of employees. There is also a good business case for recognition. Research shows that companies that invest in and implement effective employee recognition programs could save millions annually in turnover costs.

But what does an effective recognition program look like? We sat down with Esther Vegas-Eddings, managing director of compensation at The Cigna Group, to find out. She talked us through the importance of employee recognition, shared some of her top learnings and best practices for success, and highlighted some of the ways The Cigna Group recognizes its employees – including our “Season of Gratitude” campaign to encourage appreciation among our colleagues and communities through words and actions.

Why is employee recognition important?

Employee recognition is an important part of a company's culture. When done right, recognition drives employee engagement, increases retention of quality employees, decreases stress, and encourages high performance. And when employees feel appreciated, they feel more connected. In a world where employees are working in all different locations – in the office, at home or a mix of both – this “connectedness” piece is especially important. Showing appreciation benefits both the giver and the receiver, building an environment where recognizing each other becomes a natural behavior.

What are the benefits of employee recognition programs for employers?

For employers, having an effective employee recognition program makes good business sense. Retaining top talent, keeping employees engaged, productive, and connected through recognition is a smart strategy that can drive and enable overall success. When employees feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions, they also feel more connected to the work and values of the organization. At The Cigna Group, the work our employees do drives us forward, accelerates our ability to achieve our goals and helps us deliver on our mission to improve the health and vitality of those we serve. Employees work hard to make a difference for our customers and communities – and we’re committed to recognizing their efforts, contributions and performance. Whether it’s a simple message of appreciation or a robust campaign, prioritizing recognition can make a big impact on inspiring people and delivering results.

What does employee recognition look like at The Cigna Group?

Employee recognition is part of our Total Rewards strategy. We’ve invested in our recognition program to strategically build and drive a global culture of recognition linked to our organization's core values. Our global Standout program allows us to celebrate our employees’ moments that matter – both big and small. Our Standout platform, a web-based tool that every employee has access to, allows employees to quickly and easily recognize one another for professional contributions and successes as well as personal milestones or life events. They can also reward each other with award points – which are redeemable for merchandise, travel, experiences and charitable donations through a dedicated rewards catalog.

We also have our prestigious Quarterly Standouts program, which is designed to recognize and reward individuals or teams for exceptional, “best of the best” contributions or performance that have made a significant, positive impact on patients, customers, or coworkers. Quarterly Standout winners receive a cash award, award points, and an invitation to the Annual CEO Standout Awards gala.

We also host recognition campaigns throughout the year including our new celebration, “Season of Gratitude.” For the last eight weeks of the year, we’re encouraging our employees to share gratitude with our colleagues and communities through our words and actions. And, in return for their participation, employees can win award points and more – which helps drive engagement throughout the duration of the campaign.

How do you measure the success of the program?

A big part of being able to drive a culture of recognition falls square into how we can effectively communicate it and demonstrate its value.

Not only do we work hard to infuse employee recognition into the everyday life of our business, we also dedicate a lot of time to understanding how effective the Standout program is. In fact, we've been able to partner with our analytics team to show that employees who are recognized under the program are more engaged, and they stay with the company for longer. We also educate our managers on the success of the program and how recognizing their teams, colleagues, and peers has a significant impact on their ability to engage their teams and keep them connected.

In the four years since we launched Standout, employees have given more than 3 million recognitions and 117+ million award points. The vast majority – 95% – of our managers have logged in to the platform and used it at least once. That is something we're proud of because we work hard to show and communicate how important recognition is.

What are some best practices or learnings for other businesses in terms of creating successful employee recognition programs?

The first is that people who are recognized recognize others. Think about that trickle-down effect as your starting place. The more we recognize others, the more they will in turn do the same.  Another learning is that whatever you decide to do for recognition, it needs to be simple and easy to use for everyone. With our platform, the user experience is simple – it takes just a few minutes to show someone gratitude or appreciation, but it has results that are far reaching.

Last, and most importantly, it’s key to make recognition a part of your culture and infuse it into everyday life at your organization. We do this in many ways – such as “Thank You Thursdays” – to keep recognition front and center and top of mind. And, there are many other moments throughout the year that give us great opportunities to encourage and remind our colleagues to show their appreciation for one another.  

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