After almost 15 years of building high performing, and highly engaged teams, Emily Macinnes decided to open her own company focused on talent development and retention. For Emily, the key to employee retention, great teams, and happy employees lies in recognition and rewards. Emily’s company Mahalo provides software that makes internal employee recognition and reward seamless and effective. Find out how Emily’s strategy to combating employee attrition and low engagement in this episode of the Epic Company Culture podcast. 

Emily Macinnes

Emily Macinnes


HR professionals and executives continually cite employee turnover as a top challenge. So after more than 15 years of building great teams and seeing companies scale, I decided to create a business to help companies retain and nurture talent.

MahaloHR is software that enables employees to easily recognize and reward great work. Recent research cites 31% lower turnover when a recognition program is in place. When employees feel appreciated, they are happier, more engaged, productive and less likely to leave.

MahaloHR integrates seamlessly into the tools businesses already use which means no new tools to learn and no hurdles for employee adoption. Just one easy click away from happier employees and a more productive business.

Mahalo HR

Mahalo HR

Celebrate great work as it happens with MahaloHR. We integrate right into the tools you already use to make employee recognition super easy. Saying thank you has never been so much fun!

We want work to be fun and for all good things to be appreciated. We spend so much of our waking hours working. It’s important to our health and well-being that we connect with our co-workers, recognize their efforts, and feel appreciated ourselves.

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Full Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Josh Sweeney: Hello and welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast. Before I get started, I’d like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcast space. Today’s episode is all about employee engagement, and we’re joined here by Emily Macinnes from Mahalo HR. Emily, thanks for joining us.


Series: Culture Experts

Emily Macinnes: Thanks for having me. 

Josh Sweeney: So tell us a little bit about yourself and Mahalo.


Introducing Emily Macinnes with Mahalo HR

Emily Macinnes: Sure thing. After more than, almost 15 years of building great teams and seeing companies scale, I decided I wanted to kind of go off on my own and really create a business to help companies retain and nurture their talent because it’s so important. 


Employee Engagement and Recognition

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, it’s definitely important too, you know, retain that talent and nurture it. Retention is a big concept, a big thing going around right now with just all the challenges we have in the talent market, right? There’s a huge competition for talent, there’s a huge shortage of talent. And I love the way that you guys are helping with that, with the employee engagement and employee recognition. So could you start off by telling us just a little bit about what the employee engagement and recognition space look like? How do people solve these problems in general? 

Emily Macinnes: Sure, absolutely. I mean, like you said turnover or retaining people is a top issue. HR professionals, site employee turnover is the number one challenge that they’re looking to address. And what Mahalo does is make it really easy to thank and reward great work when it happens, because it’s a fundamental need of people to feel appreciated. And so I think in the space we see a lot of companies trying to make it easier, to make that recognition happen. But what Mahalo does that’s really especially is we integrate into the tools that businesses are already using so that there isn’t another tool to manage or onboard. So we virtually eliminate any hurdle to adoption. We just want to make it really easy to just say thanks and then continue doing what you’re doing. 


Built Into Your Systems

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. That’s one of the things I loved about talking to you and getting the demo of the software was it’s not another application, yet another application that forces me to log into their platform and do things their way. And like, hide, you know, consolidates all my information and forces me into this model. It’s built into Slack, it’s built into Gmail. It’s built into other systems that I use on a daily basis and it’s just integrated into the workflow. I don’t have to go anywhere else. 

Emily Macinnes: Right. 

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: And we think that’s definitely key and we hear from our clients that, that’s key, absolutely.  


Integration Into Software Space

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I feel like that’s a huge thing that people could get on, you know, on board within the software space is like going to the user instead of making them log in to yet another application. Other than Gmail and Slack, are you integrated with any other tools right now? 

Emily Macinnes: We’re also actually integrated with Jira-

Josh Sweeney: Okay. 

Emily Macinnes: Which has been great. Yep. And like you said, people are trying to create that kind of culture of recognition and there are a few things that we’ve realized through research and our clients that really matter about the program. So I’d love to share them with you. 


Easy and Frequent Recognition

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. 

Emily Macinnes: As companies are looking to create a recognition program, whether, with us or whatever, it’s important that recognition be really timely. So sometimes organizations will say, “Oh, I’m going to do, you know, a quarterly award or an annual reward,” or something like that. But what we’ve found is that it’s really important that you’re saying that’s a great job for doing that presentation just now. So really at the moment and also encouraging recognition to be amongst colleagues, so not necessarily top down but also peer-to-peer really matters, then it’s public. So we don’t want it to just be in a hidden little note that we give to somebody. We want to make sure that, you know, everyone knows that Emily is saying thank you to Josh for this. 

We also want to make sure that it can happen really easily, but also frequently. So, the more that we can say thank you, the better. And then a big one that’s very much on the scene right now is tying it to company values and goals, so that’s very key. We just want to bring it full circle, right? And it helps organizations really drive home what’s most important to them by saying, by recognizing the work that’s in line with those goals. Makes sense?


Great Platform for Recognition

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I mean, I know I’ve been at companies myself where you were recognized for a certain value, right? They had a certain value, and you exhibited that value, but it was only in the quarterly meeting, so it wasn’t called out in a very timely manner. And then because it’s in a quarterly meeting, they feel like they have to call everybody out. Like everybody kind of gets a trophy, and we go around and talk about all the good things each person did. And you know, then you’ve got logistics around, well what if we don’t have one for the person over there, you know, one person on the team, they feel left out. You know, there are all kinds of challenges with just doing it quarterly, whereas this is on the spot and it’s from anybody on the team. 

Emily Macinnes: It’s kind of like, I mean, I make it akin to like saying happy birthday after the fact. It’s like when you tell somebody happy birthday a week later, like, “Oh, it’s nice,” but kind of like the moment’s passed, you know? 

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, that’s a great analogy. Like, “It was good, I wish you would’ve been at the party too, but you missed it.” Awesome.

Emily Macinnes: Exactly. 


Culture of Work

Josh Sweeney: So what are some other trends that are happening or that you’re seeing in like the engagement and recognition space outside of software? What are some other things that are just catching hold? 

Emily Macinnes: I think it’s all about just a bigger focus on company culture and making people want to go to work. And it’s not about trends in the past where it’s like, you know, having air hockey tables or ping pong tables or where other distractions that help people not work, but it’s actually making people enjoy the work that they’re doing more. 

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Emily Macinnes: In the moment.


Start Being Nice

Josh Sweeney: Well, I know like I love playing with it and using it because I’m terrible at recognition. I mean, that’s just the reality of I’m not good at recognizing it right there and putting that kind word in. It’s something, it’s more of a skill that I have to remember and hone over time. But like with software that helps you with recognition, you get reminders, which is really cool. It’s like, “Hey, you haven’t said any kind words in over a month, by the way.” Or, “It’s halfway through the month and you’ve said nothing to anybody,” right? 

Emily Macinnes: Start being nice.


Second Nature. Be Nice!

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, start being nicer, you know? And it’s just one of those things like I find, you know, we do a lot of personality analytics and know that there are just people that are really good at it naturally. And there are other people that it’s not that they don’t want to say something nice, it’s just that they don’t think about it as often, or you know, they didn’t grow up doing it. There are all kinds of scenarios why that happens, but having technology that comes in and helps you with the culture and reminds you every 15 days that like, “Hey, here’s an easy way to do this. You haven’t sent anything.” It makes you want to make sure that that happens. 

Emily Macinnes: Yep. And it does become second nature. So after you get reminded a few times you remember to do it and then it’s just, it becomes automatic, right?



Josh Sweeney: Yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: And it’s kind of like, I don’t know if you’ve ever been told to smile more and you’ll just become happier.

Josh Sweeney: Oh yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: It’s kind of the same thing, right? 

Josh Sweeney: Oh yeah. I had to practice smiling just for this podcast actually. 

Emily Macinnes: And are you happier? 


Practice Recognition

Josh Sweeney: I’m much happier. I’m happier when I’m here. So yeah, I mean, I think the first one I delivered my first video when we first started doing videos and everything, and Christian with M-tech who helps us with that was like, “Hey, Josh, let me play this back to you.” You know, “Let me show you what this looks like.” I’m like, “Wow, that’s pretty horrible. You know, you’re not smiling.” So yeah, it’s practice, just like recognition.

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. 


What Happens? Connected and Better Understanding

Josh Sweeney: So employee recognition, engagement, what are some other, what are some things that Mahalo helps with? So I’m able to not only recognize them and call it out like right in Slack, everybody can see it but then what happens? 

Emily Macinnes: I mean, what happens within the organization is you have just a better company culture. I think people feel more connected to one another and then also have a better understanding of how their work contributes to the overall company goals. So I think, you know, that happens. 

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: Which is great.


Mahalo Points

Josh Sweeney: Well I was leading into like Mahalo’s, Mahalo’s happens. So like I send the recognition and what else is part of that recognition? 

Emily Macinnes: Oh, absolutely. So, you send a thank you to a colleague, either through whatever platform you’re using and then they’ll get notified and everybody else in the organization will see it as well. And then they accumulate Mahalo’s or whatever points you decide to, whatever currency you decided to use. But they accumulate those points over the course of time and then they can use them to actually buy things in the company store. And what’s great about Mahalo is we’re super flexible, so you can really create a reward store that will resonate with your employees, with the people in your organization. So as you know, VIP parking is going to get them excited, give them VIP parking. If a gift card will get them excited, do that. We also, you need to Mahalo is the ability to offer raffles, which our clients really love, because it’s a way to let your kind of rewards store dollar go even further, and it kind of steers up excitement twice, right?


Reward System

Once when the person’s ability to buy a raffle ticket and then also when the raffle drawing happens and winners are announced. And that’s a great way to do really big ticket items, maybe it’s a round trip vacation for two to Hawaii or something like that. And you don’t want to do those every day, that will get expensive, but you could offer those you know, annually or quarterly in line with the big event. So yup, people use the points that they accrue to buy things in the store and then they feel again, great again once they get that reward.


Raffle System

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I love the idea around the raffle system because when we were looking at, you know, the different software that’s out there, some of its very corporate software. Like you feel like you have to have $100,000 budget to launch this incentive management and recognition platform, and then you have to have a big budget to load it with all of the gift cards and everything that you can buy from the store. And it just, it looks a little bit daunting. 

Emily Macinnes: Right. 

Josh Sweeney: But one of the features Mahalo has the raffle system, I didn’t see in, as far as I know I didn’t see it in any other system where, you know, I can have this one gift card and people can put in points and kind of raffle it off and you know, they all go in and that’s really economical for everybody.

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. 


Recognition Program: Cultural Perks Over Money

Josh Sweeney: You know, it’s economical for the company and it’s a chance to win. Like you said, get excited about the raffle, you pull it out, you can name somebody. There are different ways to give it away to really promote the raffle that’s happening. 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. It’s not about how much money you spend. I mean, you can have a really effective recognition program and spend effectively nothing. You could have all of your rewards be cultural perks. You know, maybe you get to name a conference room or have that VIP parking spot right in front of the building or you know, things along those lines. It’s really about what is going to resonate with your employees and that’s not necessarily money. We actually saw that recognition has a greater effect on the kind of employee engagement than a salary boost alone. So it really is a great return on investment. 


Demystifying Human Behavior

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I know when we’re doing, you know, I do a presentation called demystifying human behavior. And in part of it, we talk about work motivation, what motivates people, and we have these 20 ways that have been discovered by behavior psychologist and all of them, all 19 out of, 19 out of 20 are other than currency, other than money. 

Emily Macinnes: Right. 

Josh Sweeney: And we talk about, you know, you got to change the currency from thinking you need to give somebody money to something that really resonates with them. And this is a way to do it because I can look at those and I can actually align those 20 ways that we change the currency from money to their motivators and build it into Mahalo so that I’m meeting them where they need to be met. 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. 


60Days Free Trial

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So what else would you like to share about Mahalo?

Emily Macinnes: I mean, it’s a great way to easily make sure that you’re giving recognition where it’s due. And you know, there’s a 60-day free trial. It integrates automatically with the tools that you’re using, so there’s really no reason not to try it. To just see how good it feels to say thank you. 


Reward: Budget

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, and I found that it looked like most of the software solutions out there for this, including Mahalo, were very cost effective. You know, again, it wasn’t this big hundred thousand dollar thing. It was their per-user licenses, they’re built into the tool, and the per-user amount is very cost effective. 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. Yep. And then in terms of our rewards to our budget, I mean, you don’t even need anything more than say $5 a person per month to really get things going. So it’s definitely within reach at any organization and it’s great to build it into your company culture at the onset. So a lot of companies are ahead of the game, but some, you know, come to us later in life and it’s harder to retrofit, right? But when you really ingrain appreciation and at the beginning it just, it makes scaling out a lot easier. 


Ways to Recognize People

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. And you mentioned earlier recognition based on values. What are some ways that people recognize, what are some ways that people exhibit values and what are the ways that they’re recognized? How does that normally work? I know in my experience as I mentioned, you know, I exhibited some value that the company had with a client. They, you know, the company found out through an email or whatever it might’ve been, and then I was recognized for that. What are some other ways that you see that that come into play? 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. I mean, I think a lot of organizations say that they have this kind of core tenants that they like to live by, and they want all employees to follow accordingly. But there isn’t any way to really keep tabs on how that’s going. I mean, some companies have, as part of their annual review process, you know, how well does this person, you know, play on teams for collaboration. Maybe that’s a core tenant or drive results or something like that. But it’s really hard after the fact at the end of the year to look back over the last 12 months and say, “Oh, I remember back in September, you know, they were doing this.” And it just makes everything a lot more top of mind both to think about how people are performing, but also for the person at the moment to say, “Hey, I saw Josh was just recognized for being a great team player. I should keep that more top of mind because I know that’s really important to the organization.” So it kind of keeps things, yes, very top of mind, I think is the best way of putting it. 


Recognition Tally

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think that’s a really good opportunity to say like at the end of the year, you know, the Christmas party, the holiday party, whatever it might be, you know, you can go pull that report, and you can say, “Who did all the recognizing?” Like, “Who was our number one person at recognizing others?” Right? Because that’s a good skill and trait to have. And then who was the most recognized, you know, what were some unique recognition points. So I like the idea of being able to go back to that at the end of the year because, without software to do it, you’re right. I have to think back to what we did in January, who we recognized, who did something really good and yeah, that’s just not going to happen. I can’t remember-

Emily Macinnes: Yeah, you’re not going to remember. 



Josh Sweeney: What I had on Monday for lunch, like it’s not going to happen. So yeah, I think that’s a really good way to like get that roll up and you know, have the drawing at the end of the year, have the awards, whatever it might be for that year-end party. 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. You can really have fun with it. We also have built into the system a leaderboard that a lot of clients will put on a big screen in a prominent location so you can even keep tabs on what’s going on and who’s being very active at any given point. So, that’s also a good kind of visual way.


Data of Performance Board

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. And it seems like you could cross that leaderboard with also, you know, who hasn’t done any recognition or recognized others. Right? Who hasn’t been recognized, you know, what’s falling down there? Why is that happening? So I mean, I think that leads into other company culture type initiatives where you can really identify a struggle of, “Hey, we have a culture of people that don’t recognize each other.” Or maybe you do and it’s just not, they’re not used to using a software yet. You know, I think there are lots of ways that you can analyze that information and make some positive changes. 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. We have a very rich data set that clients have been using, not only, like you said, to recognize those who are performing well but also to identify those that are maybe falling through the cracks a little bit. We don’t put them on the leaderboard face-


Culture Experience

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: For public shaming, but you know, that data set is available for administrators too, you know, address any problems before they become big issues. 

Josh Sweeney: Awesome. So let’s go back a little bit before Mahalo. Well, what was one of the best cultural experiences you had in your career? 

Emily Macinnes: Hmm, that’s a tough one. Well, I have to think back. I don’t have the data set saved. I think, you know, I was lucky in that early in my career I was with a company that was very focused on creating a positive culture, and I was with them before they scaled to be a really large organization. So I was with them for that whole ride and I saw that they kind of had those core values at the beginning and really nurtured them and kept them are top of mind. And one of the coolest perks of working there was actually after every five years of being there they wanted you to take a break and really set the reset button, and you know, follow a passion outside of work and then come back recharged. They called it the vista break, so it was actually a month-long sabbatical that you had to take as one big chunk.


Sabbatical Leave

Josh Sweeney: Nice. 

Emily Macinnes: And I know they have that all over Europe, but I haven’t heard of any companies in the US doing that. And I know that that’s not possible for many companies in the US but, you know, they really, they pushed it and people looked forward to it, and I think it really solidified the fact that they were focused on their people. They wanted to make sure their people were refreshed and ready to go.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, that’s an awesome perk.

Emily Macinnes: Yes. 

Josh Sweeney: I think, I feel like I talked to one entrepreneur who does something with a sabbatical, maybe one or two actually, that is something with sabbaticals after a certain period of time and they even pay for some of it may be. But yeah, it’s not something I’ve heard very commonly. 

Emily Macinnes: Yes. Well, that’s my fondest memory. 

The Genesis of Mahalo

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So you don’t have to name any names, but worst memory. You know what, let’s not do worst memory. Let’s do what really got you to want to build Mahalo. Like, was there a pivotal moment where you were like, at a company that just was terrible at recognition, you’re like, I can solve this problem or, you know, what was the genesis of it? 

Emily Macinnes: Sure. So I had, I was fortunate enough to work for many great organizations and consult for some great organizations. And then I also was fortunate enough to see some organizations that were really struggling, and it wasn’t because they had a bad idea or you know, a bad business model or anything like that. It was really just that people were struggling to come together and work effectively like the culture was lacking. And yeah, so I think from there I wanted to make a difference so that you could have a great idea and easier way to create the culture to go with it. So-


Data Bridging the Gap

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. 

Emily Macinnes: Hence, Mahalo was born-

Josh Sweeney: And then-

Emily Macinnes: And then one of my favorite things to do is come up with company names. 

Josh Sweeney: Okay.

Emily Macinnes: So, and Mahalo was available. So we liked the vibe of it, right? 

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. That’s pretty good, because I know I’ve come up with- 

Emily Macinnes: It’s just a brand of just being easy and fun and you know, like a vacation. 

Josh Sweeney: How do you bridge that gap of like an easy, fun, vacation, to serious, a leader that needs to write a check for employee recognition on the software? Like what’s some of the ways that you bridge that gap? 

Emily Macinnes: I think that it’s the data, I mean the data speaks for itself, the return on investment is there. And so, I think most of our clients actually come to us knowing that, and then they embrace the vacation easy breezy fun because that’s something that you want to use ongoing, right? You don’t want to use something that’s so complicated and stuffy. But yeah, I think, you know, my selling job is easy in that, yeah, the data speaks for itself. Like when companies implement these recognition programs, they see results. They see, you know, 31% lower turnover rate. They see, you know, upwards of 60% increase in engagement. It’s just, it doesn’t lie. It’s the most effective, one of the most effective ways to really get a return on your investment in terms of your people. 


Connect with Emily

Josh Sweeney: I love it. Well, if people want to reach out to you or get in touch, what’s the best way to do that? 

Emily Macinnes: Absolutely. They can email me directly at @mahalohr.com. So it’s emacinnes, not messiness, @mahalohr.com. And/or you could just visit the website and email support and that will get routed to me eventually. 



Josh Sweeney: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you being on the podcast and sharing all about recognition and engagement and Mahalo. 

Emily Macinnes: Thank you so much for having me. 

Josh Sweeney: Thank you. Have a great day. 

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoyed this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit EpicCulture.co. If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us at EpicCulture1 or email at podcast@EpicCulture.co.

Podcast Highlights and Resources


  • It’s a fundamental need of people to feel appreciated.
  • It’s important that recognition be really timely.

Entrepreneur Organization

Company Culture Entrepreneurs Organization

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