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What we learned about employee motivation during a very challenging year

Written by
Maja Orsic
Maja Orsic

In 2020, Bonusly users cheered each other on, banded together to keep businesses going, and paid it forward in record-breaking numbers. During a very challenging year, we learned a lot about the positive impact that fun and easy employee recognition can have on employee motivation and team morale. Without further ado, hereโ€™s our year in review! โœจ


87% of all Bonusly users gave and/or received recognition every month in 2020

In 2020, 87% of all Bonusly users gave and/or received recognition every single month. Every ๐Ÿ‘ single ๐Ÿ‘ month! ๐Ÿ‘

Monthly participation (both giving and receiving) was highest in March, when COVID-19 shutdowns were first rolling out and many of us were transitioning to remote work. You know that saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"? We like to say, "When the going gets tough, the tough get giving."

Bonusly's high and sustained levels of user participation are the result of several factors, which we'll explore in the sections that follow:

Peer-to-peer recognition boosts employee morale 

86.57% of all employee recognition given by Bonusly users in 2020 was peer-to-peer recognition. Peer-to-peer recognition has always been our bread and butter; it's the core of what makes Bonusly effective for all kinds of companies. As SHRM reports, validation from our colleagues "builds a culture of support, collaboration, and achievement" and is more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. (Check out these employee recognition statistics to dive deeper into the research!)

"Peer-to-peer recognition has been essential to building a sense of unity in the face of adversity,โ€ says Jennifer Schwartz, PHR, Director of Human Resources at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV). In 2020, Bonusly became "an essential tool for celebrating [HSBV's] daily accomplishments and keeping our employees tied to our mission and our values."

Pie chart showing that 86.57% of recognition in 2020 was peer-to-peer, 7.91% was top-down, 5.52% was direct-report-to-manager, and 26% of all recognition posts included add-ons

Top-down recognition (given by managers to their direct reports) and direct-report-to-manager recognition shared a larger piece of the recognition pie in 2020 than in years past. ๐Ÿฅง We first noticed that trend back in September when we compared Bonusly data from March through July 2020 to the same period in 2019. It makes sense, no? With more people working remotely, we generally had less visibility into the work our peers were doing at any given time. 

But that didn't stop Bonusly users from hyping each other up! Recognition post add-ons increased by 55% in 2020, meaning one in four recognition posts prompted additional users to chime in and recognize their colleagues!

Bonusly users recognized each other 5,369,549 times in 2020. That's a 34% increase over 2019!

Overall, Bonusly users recognized each other 5,369,549 times in 2020, 34% more than in 2019. This figure includes recognition add-ons, group recognition, and recognition given via Automated, Claimable, and Manual Awards.

Bonusly's usability improves the admin experience and the user experience

Instead of buying physical greeting cards and gift cards and then braving crowded post offices, Bonusly admins used Automated Awards to great effect in 2020. Bonusly customers recognized about 70% more birthdays and work anniversaries in 2020 than they did the year before.

Bonusly users recognized 70% more birthdays and work anniversaries in 2020 than in 2019

With remote work in full swing, Bonusly users celebrated over 80,000 birthdays and work anniversaries on the same platform where their companies' day-to-day celebrations took place. Feel-good moments all around. โ˜บ๏ธ We absolutely love to see it!

Bonusly users also showed our Slack and Microsoft Teams integrations some love. In 2020, overall average monthly participation was 5% higher for customers using the Bonusly Slack integration and monthly giving participation was 9% higher! During a year of incredible user growth for the Microsoft Teams platform, use of our Microsoft Teams integration increased by 133%. 

On Bonusly in 2020, there was a 133% increase in recognition given on Microsoft Teams and a 15% increase in recognition given via Bonusly's mobile app

By integrating Bonusly with the tools their HR teams and employees already use, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, Bonusly admins streamline everyone's workflows, including their own!

SurveyMonkey employees have used Bonusly for more than five years. As Chief People Officer Becky Cantieri explains, Bonusly helped the organization maintain alignment throughout 2020: "Bonusly helped SurveyMonkey employees stay connected and motivated during an exceptionally challenging year. The platform made it easy for us to warmly welcome new hires, reinforce our company values, and celebrate wins together despite the sudden shift to remote work."

Psst! Are you in the market for new tech tooling? It's an HR trend we expect to continue in 2021!

Company-wide visibility of values in action connects people to purpose

โ€œBonuslyโ€™s Company Value Hashtags are by far the best way to get a sense of what our company culture is and how it's evolving,โ€ Nicolรฒ Valsasina, People Experience Specialist at Badi, told us when we launched Company Value Hashtag Descriptions in July. Badi is a Barcelona-based tech company with about 100 employees in Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. "The intuitiveness and simplicity of the platform made it easy for everyone to start giving thanks and recognizing other team members."

To get a broad sense of how our customers' company cultures evolved in 2020, we compared the most popular Company Value Hashtags set by Bonusly admins to the hashtags that users added most often to recognition posts. 

2020's most popular values by Bonusly hashtag. Set by companies: teamwork, leadership, problem solving, innovation, customer service, vision, integrity, collaboration, passion, excellence. Recognized by users: teamwork, collaboration, thank you or thanks, leadership, problem solving, execution, excellence, passion, integrity, customer serviceWhile #teamwork ranked first among both Bonusly customers and users in 2020, #collaboration ranked eighth among our customers but second among our users. #collaboration also doubled in use in recognition posts from 2019 to 2020, whereas #teamwork stayed about the same. Did Bonusly users collaborate more out of necessity in 2020, or did they simply recognize it more often because it happened virtually? We love this trend but we're not sure what to make of it. Do you have any guesses? ๐Ÿค”

Perhaps it doesn't make sense to have #thank-you or #thanks as a company value, the third most popular hashtags among Bonusly users, but the broad use of this hashtag does underline a basic tenet of employee recognition: there's no substitute for expressing gratitude! ๐Ÿคฉ

#customer-service broke into the top ten among Bonusly users in 2020, no doubt because customer retention was exceptionally important to businesses' survival in 2020. It's pretty cool to see that 2020 trend reflected in Bonusly data and corroborated by our own experience: #delight-the-customer was our fourth most popular Company Value Hashtag in 2020!

What do company values and visible recognition have to do with employee motivation? People are motivated by knowing how their work helps others; employee recognition that's visible and connected to a company's values plays a key role in that feedback loop.

Visible recognition also helps establish quality standards and social norms to ensure that participation stays meaningful. In 2020, Bonusly users gave 91% of all recognition posts on the platform (Automated, Claimable, and Manual Awards accounted for the balance). Only 0.02% of the recognition posts given by users were flagged by users or the Bonusly Quality Bot. Thatโ€™s 1,502 posts out of nearly 5 million, or one in 3,575. There's no collusion here!

Bonusly's wide selection of rewards and donations offers something for everyone

When it comes to employee reward options, Bonusly users can choose digital gift cards from over 1,200 international brands. We know that gift cards make the best employee rewards, especially when the recipients can choose from options that are personally meaningful and motivating to them. Amidst the chaos of an exceptionally stressful year, Bonusly users donated $506,535 to charity, a 450% increase over 2019! 

Total money donated through Bonusly reward redemptions: $91,797 in 2019, $506,535 in 2020. #GreatWorkSupportsGreatWork

Bonusly users donated over $370,000 to five charities whose work was especially vital in 2020: the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, Red Cross Australia Bushfire Relief, and the Lebanese Red Cross. In total, donations to charity accounted for 5.41% of all Bonusly reward redemptions, compared to 1.41% in 2019. Check out our dynamic Donations page to see the current donation totals and #GreatWorkSupportsGreatWork on Twitter to see Bonusly users tweeting about the causes they love to support! 

It's worth mentioning here that Bonusly customers pay face value for employee rewards, so every dollar a company spends on Bonusly reward redemptions goes in full directly to their employees. This is true for all reward options offered in the Bonusly Reward Catalog.

In 2020, we introduced over 200 additional brands to our international digital Reward Catalog, bringing the total number of brand and nonprofit options to over 1,200 across 122 countries. Bonusly users redeemed rewards from 463 different brands but their five favorite brands remained unchanged from 2019: Amazon, Allowance Boosts, PayPal, Walmart, and Starbucks. Allowance Boosts, which Bonusly users can choose if they've run out their monthly recognition allowance, were the second most popular reward option in 2020. Their popularity both contributes to and is a result of Bonusly's high monthly participation rates!

Of course, as opportunities for travel and experiences diminished, the demand for food delivery and virtual experiences shot up. Some of our newest reward options came in handy: Bonusly users enjoyed 2,700 meals and experiences with rewards from Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Airbnb.

Bonusly users just want to have fun ๐Ÿ’š

GIFs and emoji have been part of the recognition giving experience on Bonusly for years. By personalizing recognition posts with a GIF of Gritty or a tada emoji ๐ŸŽ‰, users can communicate nuance and emotion beyond words. The element of fun that GIFs and emoji bring to Bonusly is integral to our high and sustained participation rates. (Just check out our reviews!)

We overhauled our emoji feature in 2020, making it easier to add emoji to recognition posts and enabling users to pick the skin tone that best represents them. These changes made a serious impact: emoji use in recognition posts increased by a whopping 149.34% in 2020! ๐Ÿ“ˆ ๐Ÿฅณ 

2020-emoji-gifsUsers added more than 1.6 million GIFs to recognition posts in 2020, increasing the percentage of posts with GIFs from 25% up to 31%. We can attribute part of that increase to the Slack integration update we released in April, but we also know from experience that the 30 seconds or 3 minutes it takes to find that *perfect* GIF simply makes giving recognition a lot more fun!

What we're bringing into 2021

As we move into 2021, employee motivation and morale are still our primary focus. How can Bonusly help more teams feel connected to their work and their colleagues in meaningful ways? 

For all you New Year resolution types, check out 6 Shifts Leaders Need to Make in 2021 for some inspiration.

If you want take the next step to find out what it would cost to launch Bonusly at your organization this year, check out our Pricing page and then request a demo. ๐Ÿ’š

Originally published on January 15, 2021 โ†’ Last updated January 22, 2021

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Maja Orsic

Maja's background in writing, fine art photography, and visual design informs her work for Bonusly. She's motivated to create welcoming digital spaces and make work better for everyone.

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Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards platform that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. โœจ Learn more about us.