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Lift Off: JetBlue Increases Recognition Satisfaction by 88 Percent



A recent Gallup report on the state of the American workplace found the vast majority of Americans are disengaged at work: almost 70 percent are not reaching their full potential. So how can companies re-engage these employees?

One way employees become disengaged is when they feel their hard work is going unnoticed. According to a Workforce Mood Tracker Survey conducted by social recognition software vendor Globoforce, 55 percent of employees who aren’t being formally recognized at work would leave their company for one that does have a formal recognition program. On the other hand, 80 percent of employees who have received recognition say they will stay with their company.


American airline JetBlue saw employee recognition as a potential solution to the disengagement problem. In 2012, the company launched its online social recognition rewards program, called “Lift.” The results were undeniable. After implementing the program, JetBlue saw a dramatic increase in recognition satisfaction: 88 percent in just four months.

I sat down with Mike Elliott, JetBlue’s VP of crew relations, to see how the company has used social recognition to reinforce great behavior, improve employees’ job satisfaction and identify (and learn from) top performers. Here’s what I found.

How Does JetBlue’s Social Recognition Program Work?

What differentiates social recognition from other types of rewards programs? Two things: rewards take place in real-time, and those rewards are viewable by all employees who are active on the system.

Globoforce delivers the software that powers the Lift program, and they customized the interface specifically for JetBlue. The Lift social recognition program is an online application in which employees and managers can send and receive congratulations, thank-yous and gift card awards for outstanding performance.

According to Globoforce’s Chief Marketing Officer, Charlie Ungashick, this type of social praise is a great way for “all employees to see and share in recognition…as it happens across the company.” At JetBlue, instead of relying on annual employee reviews, employees can be recognized at any time via web interface or mobile—as well as within the Lift interface itself—for a job well done.


Mobile and Desktop Interfaces for JetBlue’s Lift Program

Use Social Recognition to Reinforce Great Behavior

Through social recognition, JetBlue has been able to build and maintain a culture of high performance by reinforcing great behavior and incentivizing other employees to emulate that behavior.

When one of JetBlue’s employees—or as JetBlue calls them, “crewmembers”—receives recognition from a peer or crew leader, other people in their workgroup can see that recognition and add their own comments and congratulations.

As Elliott says, “That’s where it can get a little viral—in a positive way. It’s kind of like putting that ‘A’ on your refrigerator. Everybody in the family can see it.”

And because the whole JetBlue family can see that ‘A,’ it kicks off some healthy competition. Other crewmembers know what behaviors will result in a similar reward, and strive to do their best so that they, too, can be recognized.

It’s a win-win. Because employees know that they will be recognized for their efforts—and know what type of behavior merits recognition—they’re inspired to do their best. As a result, JetBlue has been able to maintain a culture of high performance, even while adding new members to its team. In fact, JetBlue won the J.D. Power award for customer satisfaction for the eighth year in a row after implementing the Lift program.

Make Your Program Easily Accessible to Boost Participation and Job Satisfaction

According to Elliott, the best way to make sure employees actually use the Lift program is to make it easily accessible.

In the airline business, that means going mobile. At JetBlue, Elliott notes, crewmembers must be able to receive recognition, redeem monetary rewards (in the form of gift cards) and nominate peers via mobile devices, whether they are on the ground or in the air. Thus, the social recognition program is accessible via smartphones, tablets and computers. Globoforce even designed a Lift mobile app that employees can download onto all their devices.

This type of access is critical to ensuring that employees are recognized on a regular basis. While Elliott insists that JetBlue hasn’t uncovered the magic number where “a bright glow emits from someone because they’ve been recognized the right amount of times,” the company has noticed a significant trend.

When the data collected from the Lift program was compared to JetBlue’s annual “Speak Up” survey—which measures things like job satisfaction, retention and employee engagement—employees who had received six to seven recognitions in a year tended to rate their job satisfaction higher than those who had been recognized fewer times.

Since repeated recognition helps improve and maintain crewmembers’ job satisfaction, keeping employees connected to the Lift program is vital. After all, if they don’t have an opportunity to use the software, how can they congratulate fellow crewmembers for their good work?

Use Your Rewards Program to Identify Influencers

While the goal of JetBlue’s rewards program is to improve employee morale and engagement, any rewards program should also serve to improve a business’s bottom line. To do this, companies need metrics to strive for.

The Lift program provides those metrics. Through its social recognition software, JetBlue can record and track data for metrics that were previously difficult to quantify, such as stellar employee performance. Before the company implemented the Lift program, employees were recognized with handwritten thank-you notes: an analog method that was extremely hard to track.

But when JetBlue started recognizing people through its Lift program, it became much easier to determine which individuals were being recognized, and how often. Now JetBlue is able to continuously collect a pool of valuable behavioral data that gives its leaders insight into who their top performers are.

These top performers, known as “Influencers,” are outstanding crewmembers who deliver service above and beyond expectations every day. According to Elliott, many of these employees have been with the company for over a decade, despite the fact that the airline industry can be particularly challenging to work in. Uncovering how Influencers are able to deliver such high-quality service over time is crucial to improving JetBlue’s operations.

“To overlook those gems and not try to replicate them would be a major sin on our part,” Elliott notes. “We’ll bring [the Influencers] in and use them as a pulse check to find out how we could do things better.”

Every quarter, the company holds “Lift Lunches” at the corporate office, where they bring in crewmembers from a cross-sampling of JetBlue’s work groups. In these meetings, executives ask questions like, “How have you been able to maintain this type of service for so many years?” and “What are things we need to do better?”

As a result of these meetings, JetBlue has been able to hone its recruiting techniques to seek out people with traits similar to the Influencers, as well as improve their training based on their suggestions.

A rewards program based on social recognition has helped JetBlue build and maintain a culture of high performance, increase employee engagement, boost job satisfaction and hone recruiting and training techniques to work towards even better performance in the future. By implementing a social recognition program and following these best practices, your company can achieve similar results.

Banner image, “8F” by Marc Levin Used under CC BY / Resized

Thumbnail image,”Airplane Flight Wing Flying to Travel on Vacation” by Used under CC BY / Resized

Other images provided by JetBlue.

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About the Author

Erin Osterhaus joined Software Advice in 2012 after earning an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques.

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