HR Director focus: what are the expectations around workplace recognition and engagement?

news article

Aug 19 2019

Recognition and engagement have long been ‘buzzwords’ within the workplace when referring to people management and workforce planning. However, in today’s fast-paced and increasingly pressurised business environment, how do busy HR professionals harness such concepts and strive to really make a difference within their organisations?

We interviewed Helen Stead, HR Director at our parent company IRIS, to find out more:

During your career in HR, how do you believe that employee engagement and recognition has changed?

I’ve worked in HR for a number of years, and within that time I’ve experienced HR in various sectors, such as retail, finance, and now technology. In that time, I don’t think recognition has changed that much. It’s generally acknowledged that it is important to build a culture of recognition to improve employee engagement which will have a positive impact on the business. To do this it’s important to understand the motivations of your workforce and this is where there has been some change.

I would say that there is an increased desire to work flexibly through reduced hours or varying work patterns and also a desire to continuously improve on work life balance. The new generations are not necessarily looking for a ‘job for life’ but something that will support their lifestyle choices. As a result engagement and recognition programmes need to fit around these considerations.

Why do you think engagement and recognition are important?

Employee engagement as a term has been around for a long time, but I think in recent years, this has transitioned towards a more all-encompassing focus on Talent Management. Employee engagement is still hugely important and fundamental to a business being successful, but it needs to be part of a wider strategy on how to engage and retain talent.

For example, by understanding the motivations of your teams it’s possible to put in place suitable schemes that recognise their efforts and meet their lifestyle needs. It’s important that support is available through extensive well-being polices, for example mental health awareness is massively important and so providing tools for each person to be aware and be able to manage their own mental health.  It’s also important to recognise the part that businesses can play in social responsibility in their local areas and the part that their employees chose to contribute their time towards them. This could be through charity work or giving a little time back to help a local group out

Ultimately, employees want to have a sense of belonging and being part of a team can support this and how a business builds its Talent strategy can help with this too. By successfully engaging employees they will also be more engaged in what you’re trying to achieve as a business.

What are your feelings on group vs individual recognition? 

I think that both options have their place within business and are not without value, ultimately though, we must recognise that people are individuals. It is important to understand each employees’ motivations, and to personalise the recognition where possible.

Personal profiles within different business areas should also be a consideration; for example, employees can be individually incentivised with financial recognition and reward, whilst others may value enrolment onto specific training and development schemes. Promotion and long-term career progression plans are also hugely important in engagement and recognising achievements.

When considering group recognition, full engagement in the scheme from across the company is critical to ensure that those recognised have a sense of pride in the recognition and an understanding that the scheme is highly valued across the company.

What’s your biggest employee engagement challenge within Cascade/IRIS?

The biggest challenge we face each month is related to our new acquisitions and specifically how we fold them into the IRIS culture because this can impact their engagement and motivation to come to work. It can be a very exciting time and we work carefully to ensure we retain differences that that make the product successful. As you can imagine this can also be a challenge because every company’s culture is different and it can be a highly emotional time for everyone involved. It is important to us that we quickly make each person feel part of the team and help them to understand the part that they will play in supporting the success of the company.

What recognition methods do you feel work best for you?

For me personally, different rewards can work well for different projects. Of course, I believe in fair treatment and remuneration for a job well done, but I also get a lot of out building strong relationships at work. I think team values are very important, and I love to see people progressing through promotions and working towards new goals. That for me is a great reward.

What has Cascade/IRIS implemented to help improve engagement or recognise employees?

Over the last six to eight months, we’ve focused on a lot of initiatives that relate to our overall ‘people plan,’ alongside providing support and aiming to bring fun back into the work place! Some of these initiatives include:

  • Site leaders – By nominating people across our sites, they have become responsible for making sure the overall communications and company messaging are consistent. This is important for employee motivation and engagement across all our sites.
  • Social committee – We run a social committee in each location, with budgets to create events and energy, and support people in adding fun to each individual office.
  • Company Value – We launched new company values at the start of this year which will help everyone to understand what is at the heart of the business and how they can positivity contribute through their day to day behaviours.
  • Impact awards – These are based around our company values and we feel that the awards will help us drive individual recognition on quarterly basis. The awards are based on quarterly nominations from colleagues and we hope that they will help to promote the feeling of inclusivity.

How could we improve engagement and recognition of our employees further? What future plans do we have?

Excitingly, we have recently recruited a Learning and Development Director to help us with launching a brand-new training programme. We have never before had a dedicated L&D resource, and look forward to launching this soon. Training is extremely important, and also fundamental to recognition, as it can help to support peoples career progression and encourages a growth mindset.

Are there any tools that you wish would have been available earlier in your career?

Well, working within a tech business, you have to say technology don’t you! In all seriousness though, the technology we have available at the touch of a button including apps and engagement tools, is second to none, and something that would have seemed inconceivable even ten years ago. It really supports us in the ways we can gather employee data and information, and also interpreting that to understand how people are feeling, what frustrations they have and the general mood across the business.

Technology has really transformed how we can approach two-way communication; with 1500 employees, it has really heightened how and where we can communicate with all staff, and as a result of more frequent conversations and feedback, it is really driving a change


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Cascade HR is a well-established, award-winning provider of fully-integrated HR and payroll software. The company is renowned as much for its quality of project management and ongoing customer service levels, as it is its dynamic technology. Over 


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