When employees are recognized for their contributions, they experience greater job satisfaction, are more motivated, feel more competent and have a sense that their work is meaningful. Employees who receive appropriate recognition also have higher self-esteem, enjoy their work more and are less prone to mental illness.

Organizations also benefit from having a culture of recognition, as it positions them as an employer of choice and helps them attract, motivate and retain employees who will work to achieve company objectives.

A culture of recognition helps maintain and improve organizational performance and efficiency. Most importantly, it helps create a workplace where good interpersonal relationships prevail.

What's the difference between recognition and appreciation?

Recognition is the acknowledgement of an individual or team's behaviour, efforts and accomplishments that support the organization's goals and values. It may be symbolic or it may be in the form of a reward, monetary or otherwise.

Appreciation highlights an employee's value as a person. Employees need to experience it daily and see it as meaningful for it to have a positive impact. In a way, it is a sort of return on investment for employees; proof that their personalities and efforts contribute to the company's success.

Forms of employee recognition

There are four forms of recognition:

Existential recognition

  • This is the same as appreciation
  • Can be expressed by saying hello or thank you, or showing interest in a person and their life (see the forms of employee appreciation below)

Recognition of results

  • The most popular and common
  • Often takes the form of awards, bonuses or financial perks to reward employees for achieving objectives
  • It's important, but it's not enough

Recognition of work practices

  • Is expressed through compliments on workers' know-how, professional qualifications, skills and continuously improving work methods

Recognition of dedication to work

  • Highlights employees' efforts, independent of results
  • It may take the form of a bonus or positive feedback from superiors or coworkers

Some authors divide employee recognition into eight subcategories:

  • formal or informal
  • monetary or non-monetary
  • public or private
  • individual or collective

But we've observed that a combination of informal and individual recognition has the greatest impact on motivation. For example, a word of thanks, a conversation, a testimonial or another form of feedback given directly in a casual context is more effective than any other single form of recognition or appreciation.

Recognition by peers also has a notable impact and helps create a positive workplace culture. Peer recognition programs can give employees a different perspective on quality, customer service and achieving objectives. Good peer recognition programs can have a ripple effect on motivation.

Forms of employee appreciation

Employee appreciation is generally informal, taking the form of praise for good behaviour, expressions of thanks and positive, constructive feedback on an employee's personality. For example, quality time and attention can make employees feel important to the team or organization. For managers, this means focusing on the discussion at hand, refusing interruptions, maintaining eye contact and remaining attentive to employees' feelings, statements and body language--in short, giving the person they're talking to their undivided attention.

Notifying employees of upcoming changes is another way to show them they are trusted and seen as important enough to be kept informed of decisions or issues facing the company.

Appreciation and recognition quality criteria

While recognition is key for most of us, it may be perceived as impersonal feedback coming from higher up. Researchers have found that attempts to convey recognition globally are not very effective. To hit the mark, recognition must be genuine, personal, immediate and given directly to the person concerned.

How to express employee recognition1

  • Give examples of the work or behaviours that reflect an employee's excellent performance.
  • Thank employees for consistent good performance. It is key for managers to use sincere and genuine words: "Good job," "Well done," "Thanks" or "I appreciate that."
  • Write a congratulatory or thank-you note and leave it on the employee's desk.
  • Acknowledge the employee's assistance or accomplishments when communicating with senior management, for example by adding a slide with acknowledgements at the end of a presentation the employee contributed to. Employees like being recognized by their supervisor's boss; recognition from higher up has a big impact on individuals and teams.
  • Some employees indicate in their learning plans that they wish to acquire particular work experience or job-related knowledge. Where possible, providing such opportunities is a way to recognize those employees.
  • Make recognition the first item on your agenda at meetings.
  • Send a thank-you email to an individual or team for their good work.
  • Ask employees what motivates them and take time to listen. Knowing their interests and passions will help you find the most meaningful way to show your appreciation.

This list is clearly not exhaustive. Each manager is free to find their own ways of genuinely recognizing their employees' contributions.

1 Excerpts from the page on recognition on the website of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (web page archived)

References:
UNIVERSITÉ LAVAL. Employee recognition. Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management. [Online] http://www.cgsst.com/eng/definition/employee-recognition.asp/

CHAPMAN, Gary, and Paul WHITE. The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Northfield Publishing, 2011.