Employee recognition is a must for businesses to get ahead

employee recognition-450x400px-1

Denise plopped down in her train seat for the commute home. She had planned to finish reading the last chapter of a mystery novel due soon at the library, but she could not concentrate. Instead, she gazed out the window and thought about an event from earlier in the day.

An important client unexpectedly dropped in shortly before lunch wanting to discuss changes to his firm’s new marketing plan. A bunch of team members were already gathering their coats for a run to a nearby hamburger joint. Denise volunteered to talk to the customer and meet the others afterward.

Unfortunately, what she hoped would be a 15-minute conversation turned into an hour and 20 minute session. She kept her cool throughout the meeting despite the client’s aggressive attitude. Slightly frayed but pleased that she handled the situation professionally, Denise closed the door of her office to head to the restaurant — then realized the others had already returned. Hungry but tired, she opted to just grab some chips from the vending machine.

She realized customer service was a part of the job, so it did not bother Denise that such a meeting occurred. What kept going through her mind was that nobody said a word about her actions. The colleagues who went to lunch did not thank her for staying behind. Her boss did not acknowledge her flexibility and patience. Furthermore, she could not remember the last time anyone in management showed employee appreciation.

An incoming text interrupted Denise’s thoughts. Her friend Julia asked if she wanted to join her for a glass of wine at her apartment. Julia had a nice bottle she received today to mark her six-year work anniversary. Denise sighed and thought to herself, “There is no way I can last six years with my employer.” She also made a mental note that the next time a situation required going the extra mile, she would be slow to extend such effort.

HR Memos D


The importance of employee recognition

Positive feedback makes workers feel good. It serves as evidence that others notice what you do and appreciate it. Some in management, however, turn up their nose at the idea of worrying about employee recognition. They reason that workers already receive a paycheck for their efforts, so that should be sufficient. These leaders feel they have “better” things on which to concentrate their time and effort. What they fail to realize, though, is that making acknowledgment and gratitude a regular part of workplace culture can help with many of the issues they consider more deserving of attention.

Some of the benefits of employee recognition efforts include:

Helping to attract top talent

To stay competitive, especially at a time with plentiful job openings, the majority of employers within an industry offer similar salaries. Thus, to figure out where they would like to work, applicants frequently evaluate company culture. The Internet and social media make such information relatively easy to find (or to ask among connections). Hearing about an environment where workers feel appreciated for who they are and what they do can tip the scales in that organization’s favor.

Promoting employee retention

An atmosphere of recognition and gratitude strengthens employee morale, relationships, and connection to the company. People thrive when managers and fellow team members notice their contributions and appreciate what they do. Feeling valued encourages current staff to stay put and lowers rates of employee turnover.

Forging deeper bonds between people

Giving someone a quiet pat on the back or a public shout-out requires thought. The giver looks outside of himself and acknowledges how the other person’s behavior contributes to the greater good or has a personal impact. The action strengthens the interpersonal connection between the two sides. In turn, this bond can lead to things such as greater trust and improved teamwork.

Increasing productivity, employee engagement, and profits

Positive reinforcement inspires going the extra mile. The recognition provides a boost of energy and incentive to repeat the behavior. Results impact the bottom line.

Research bears this out. A study conducted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania divided people making calls to raise money for the university into two groups. The director of annual giving spoke to one of the groups to express gratitude for their efforts. The other group did not receive the pre-work pep talk. Results a week later showed that the group on the receiving end of the director’s appreciative message made 50% more fundraising calls than the one that did not.

Similarly, the human capital management company Workhuman notes that companies that invest 1% of payroll into social recognition programs that allow employees to show their gratitude in the moment show an average increase in employee productivity of $1,737 per employee. That translates into $26 million annually at a 15,000-person organization!

Improving employee well-being.

Appreciation and gratefulness affect the brain in wonderful ways. The feelings activate brain regions associated with the pleasant neurotransmitter dopamine and also promote higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. Results can include better sleep, increased metabolism, less stress, less depression, fewer aches and pains, and improved overall wellness. Employees who feel good take fewer sick days and come to work better prepared to perform at full capacity.

Things that merit recognition

employee recognition-450x400px-2A successful employee recognition program is not a one-and-done endeavor. Rather, it involves a thoughtful recognition strategy that builds a whole culture of recognition. Expressing thanks and appreciation becomes part of the fabric of day-to-day operations.

Think your efforts are already sufficient? More than likely, room exists for improvement. A study commissioned by OGO showed 82% of employed Americans don’t feel supervisors recognize them or their contributions enough.

Every organization has its own actions, behaviors, and occasions deemed worthy of informal or formal recognition. Here are some you may wish to consider for your work environment:


Years of service matter! Recognizing work anniversaries shows the organization values loyalty, commitment, and contribution. Personal events, such as birthdays or a new baby, also merit attention. Doing so conveys the message that the company values employees not only as workers but as special individuals who deserve to have life events noticed.


Showing appreciation in one form or another should be standard all year long. By nature, though, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years provide especially good opportunities for employers to thank team members for their hard work.

Acts that demonstrate company values

Make the organization’s mission statement come to life by rewarding the behaviors you wish to see. If teamwork is a central concept, recognize instances of it. If the company prides itself on outstanding customer service, acknowledge when it happens. You’ll promote the core values you believe in, provide positive reinforcement to those who do what you want, and offer concrete examples for other employees to emulate.


Children appreciate gold stars on their papers for mastering long division or trophies for winning their Little League division. While they might not want stickers, adults crave recognition for their accomplishments, too. Find ways to celebrate or reward occasions such as landing a new client or meeting an important deadline.

Exceptional effort

When an individual or team goes above and beyond expectations or takes on tasks not explicitly in their job descriptions, let them know your eyes notice. You will generate goodwill and increase the odds of them staying late again or lending an extra hand.

“Thankless” tasks

Many workers operate outside of the usual spotlight but contribute to the company’s overall success. Recognize consistent performance of behind-the-scenes or “unglamorous” work. Thanking people for these tasks gives these jobs validation and meaning.

Employee recognition ideas

The type of recognition your company provides can and should vary. A mixture contributes to the vibe of being a culture of appreciation. You want to show that recognition is not a mindless obligation but rather an ever-evolving privilege that’s central to the organization’s modus operandi.

Individual and team, low-cost and more expensive, one-on-one and public, written and oral — all sorts of recognition deserve a place in your repertoire. Here are some possibilities:

Social recognition programs

One of today’s hottest trends is “in the moment” shout-outs. This type of employee recognition platform allows anyone within the organization to commend or thank someone else immediately when they notice great work or positive behavior.

On a rudimentary level, the company can supply people with pads of sticky notes. Then, encourage everyone to use them whenever they see fit to tell a fellow worker thanks or that she did a good job.

More tech-savvy companies may run a Slack channel devoted to leaving kudos. They also may invest in recognition software. A user-friendly, centralized system allows managers and team members at any location to note the contributions of others. This availability allows remote team members to get in on the recognition process. Peer-to-peer recognition also provides a sense of empowerment and fairness as everyone has a voice in what behavior gets recognized. People are less likely to feel that company recognition comes from favoritism or from only performing actions that please the boss.

Recognition software often gets set up to award points to honorees. People can use their accumulated credits to choose a prize through a digital reward catalog. Workers benefit because the arrangement gives employees the power to pick what they want. The human resources department benefits because it does not have to do things such as buy prizes, print certificates, or sift through nominations to determine who gets employee rewards.

Tokens of appreciation

General rewards come in all shapes and sizes. Some managers may hand out gift cards, monetary bonuses, “get out of work an hour early” passes, or even prime parking spaces. Organizations oftentimes bestow physical mementos to mark milestones. Plaques, pens, clocks, and similar objects serve as permanent symbols of achievement and appreciation.

When a leader selects a personalized gift — such as sports memorabilia from a favorite team or tickets to a concert — workers take notice. Such a thoughtful action demonstrates not only that you want to show your appreciation, but also that you take the time to get to know team members as individuals. The recipient feels visible and valued. Just stay away from anything too intimate. Such items could cause an awkward situation or be misinterpreted.

Shared experiences

A Friday pizza party, an afternoon of video games, on-site massages, a group wine-tasting outing — options abound to recognize an entire group for good work. Such rewards provide the added benefit of team members sharing positive experiences together, which enhances company culture. Schedule these events during regular work hours so they feel like a prize, not an obligation.

Public recognition

End each staff meeting by acknowledging someone who did great work over the past week. Mention your team’s achievements in the company newsletter. Do a social media shout-out on each individual’s work anniversary. Give everyone on staff a bio on the organization’s website to demonstrate their importance to operations. Sing someone’s praises to a new customer. (“Patrick here has been with our company for 10 years and is known for his outstanding attention to detail.”) It feels good to be noticed and bragged about by others.


When asked the question “How do you prefer to be recognized for a significant accomplishment?” nearly half (47%) of respondents in a Deloitte study said “new growth opportunity.” This answer beat out “salary increase” (23%), “high-performance rating” (21%), and “bonus” (10%).

Reward a top performer for his hard work by designating him the company representative at an industry conference. Pay for professional development seminars and classes. Give your best employee first dib on a choice assignment, or allow her to spend Tuesday afternoons on a pet project.

Being told thank you

That same Deloitte study asked participants how they prefer to be recognized for day-to-day accomplishments. Their number one answer was “a verbal thank you” (54%) followed by “a written thank you” (31%). “A celebration” and “a gift” each only received preference from 7%.

Say it often. Write it in a text, email, or penned note. Concentrate on substance over length. Avoid generic language in favor of conveying appreciation for specific actions. Such focus encourages repeat behavior and shows you are truly paying attention, not just sending out mass-produced thank-you notes. Receivers will take the thanks to heart when they know your words come from thoughtful observation and reflection.

Ways to increase the positive impact of employee appreciation efforts

As you strive to create a company-wide culture of appreciation, think about ways to improve and expand the employee experience. Here are three possibilities:

Consider the person

As you ponder recognition and appreciation choices, always keep the receiver in mind. Let the individual’s personality and preferences dictate.

For instance, some workers love public recognition. They beam at being singled out at a meeting or seeing their face displayed on an office bulletin board. Others cringe in the spotlight. They would prefer a more private, one-on-one expression of appreciation. For the record, about half of the participants in the Deloitte survey preferred public but narrow recognition (shared with a few), about a third liked private recognition, and 18 percent favored public and broad recognition (shared with many).

Similarly, some workers love gift cards as a token of appreciation. Others would rather you foot the bill for an online class in which they want to enroll.

Figure out how individuals wish to be recognized. Doing so will give your gesture greater impact and sincerity. To discover where to target praise and other appreciation efforts, ask each staff member about his most valuable or unique contribution to the team. Then, make sure to note when this action or behavior occurs. An editor who prides herself on catching errors will grin ear-to-ear when commended for her eagle-eyed proofreading. Or, a salesman who thrives on being a “people person” will love hearing how his interpersonal skills won over a tough client.

Get upper management in on the action

Kudos from one’s immediate supervisor is awesome. Kudos from that supervisor’s boss is really awesome. A personal letter from that person is bound to make an impression. And, such an act further promotes the idea that employee recognition is a core value throughout the organization.

Keep it fresh

Finally, don’t be afraid to mix and match recognition efforts. Diversity and spontaneity increase employee engagement. Through employee surveys, gather opinions about the current state of recognition platforms and gain input on how to improve going forward. You will reinforce the message that recognizing great work and showing appreciation is not just a business initiative but rather a way of life.