Employee Recognition: Why It Matters And How To Do It

6 min read
Dec 8, 2014

iStock_000005256950_SmallIt’s a fact we shouldn’t have to share. In a perfect world, we could find comfort in and rely on our idealistic assumption that the value of recognizing employees for their hard work is glaringly obvious.

It’s not.

In fact, the reality is, well, bleak. We've said it before: one of the key ways to raise a staffer’s excitement level about his post is to let him know he’s valued. But our TINYpulse data has shown us some sobering stats on recognition and gratitude in the workplace:

  • In the past two weeks, just 30% of employees received any kind of recognition from their bosses.
  • A mere 21% of employees feel strongly valued in their workplace. 
  • Just 1 out of 4 employees feel fully recognized for doing great work.
  • All of these facts have been found to materially impact employee happiness.

When you pit that against these stats from Globoforce, the picture gets markedly worse:

  • 55% of workers say they would leave their current jobs for a company that clearly recognizes its employee efforts and contributions.
  • 47% of employees cite a lack of recognition or a negative company culture as a reason for leaving their last employer.

During our careers, we’ve all seen evidence of this failure of common sense. We’ve all endured long stretches of never hearing "thank you." Not one acknowledgement that what we have doone has been noticed by the people who have benefitted from it. How is it that those of us who have risen to the heads of our companies now find trouble remembering those dark times when our own valiant efforts went ignored?

It doesn’t look like we’re doing it on purpose. According to WorldatWork’s report, over 80% of the companies surveyed have had some type of recognition plan in place since at least 2002. 

How do we explain the disconnect between the prevalence of these programs and their apparent general failure to affect the employees they exist to benefit? The answer may lie in the program priorities.

One of the top five goals of these recognition programs is “years of service.” That's right. Not exceptional service. Just years of service. Other program priorities include promoting high performance and desired behviors. Not bad. But these are all about the company. What about the employee? 

Recognition that fais to focus on the employee isn't doing your business any good. Consider these stats, also from Globoforce, on employees who said they were recognized within the last three months:

  • 89% feel effectively appreciated by their supervisors
  • 83% feel their level of recognition is satisfactory
  • 90% feel that their managers effectively acknowledge and appreciate them
  • 76% love their jobs

That's right. More frequent recognition = more employee happiness. 

However, we’d like to also point out that how you recognize your employees can matter as much as doing it in the first place. Recognition encourages people to repeat whatever behavior it was that earned it, so it’s important to consider which behaviors you applaud.

Focus on things that are uniquely valuable about a person, such as his cunning ability to see twelve steps ahead and anticipate problems. Another good candidate is any behavior relevant to the company’s organizational values. Any time someone really lives your company values, give them a high five. And of course, anything that helps the team and its customers — whether internal or external — get where they need to go is a great thing to encourage.


So how do you know when you’re succeeding at this employee recognition stuff? It’s not as if someone will walk into your office and hand you a bonus check for doing such a bang-up job on the recognition program.

One way to find out: pulsing employee engagement surveysWithout getting bogged down in the administration of a massive surveying effort, these small surveys are a great way to get real-time feedback on what is affecting your employees’ well-being and satisfaction in their workplaces. They’re quick, easy to analyze, and easy to act on later.

The key is to keep the questions simple and straightforward. This makes it easy for employees to respond. It also makes the surveys easy to create, which means you can send them out more frequently. There are several go-to questions that any pulsing survey should turn to. When it comes to employee recognition, consider:

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you recognized when you do great work?
  • “Has a supervisor given you any recognition in the past two weeks?”
  • "On a sacle fo 1 to 10, how valued do you feel at work?"

Very often, you don’t know you have an employee recognition issue until you start asking about it and measuring the feedback. Sending these tiny surveys can make all the difference.

One final piece of advice on this subject: whatever feedback you get, don’t let it collect dust in your proverbial filing cabinet. Take the time to process the information, form a plan to act on anything that needs to be dealt with, and get to work. Nothing’s more of a put-off to disengaged staffers than a survey with no outcome.


In the past, employee recognition was the exclusive purview of managers. This approach isn’t wrong, necessarily — manager recognition matters — but it is somewhat outdated. In today’s workplace, we come in contact with many different types of people, all of whom are in a position to recognize a good effort and speak up about it. 

This is why empowering peers to give recognition makes a ton of sense. Through this approach, employees can get recognized for good work even when a manager isn’t able to see it.

Try a peer-to-peer reconition tool, something that lets one employee give another a virtual high-five. When you offer these types of tools, 44% will give feedback on an ongoing basis.

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This has upsides beyond mere employee recognition, such as tracking. When you can see into the kudos people are giving each other, you give yourself the chance to be surprised by who’s getting them, and why. There could be a stellar staffer lurking just under your nose who is otherwise going unnoticed as a result of your distraction-filled day.

These tools don't do away with the need for a face-to-face "thank you." Instead, they help supplement it. 

More remarkable, the happier the employee, the more recognition he or she has given out: 


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Happy employee give more recognition. And more recognition makes employees happier. By creating this cycle of positive reinforcement, you enable and support a culture of mutual respect.


Even in light of the new norm for cross-disciplinary and international workplaces, there’s a lot to be said for the old fashioned way of having a manager serve up the congratulations and thanks. Here are a few standards no one should forget.

  • Take ‘em to lunch: Your employees love and hate sushi just like you. They go on long runs over the weekend. They watch their kids go through hundreds of hours of t-ball on the weekends. Getting to know these things about them shows you care about each employee as a person.
  • Offer new professional opportunities: The second-most signifiant driver of employee engagement is the opportunity to advance. Show you have faith by giving employees new responsibilities and projects. Give them clear objectives, and then support them as they reach for these goals.
  • Flexible work schedule and location: Show your employees you trust them. Let them adjust their hours as they need to take the kids to school and drop the dog off at doggie daycare. It shows you trust them to get the job done, even if it’s not 9 to 5. Telecommuting is another great option.
  • Bring food for company meetings: It’s hard to get anything done when you’re hangry. Bringing treats to company meetings gives employees a little something to look forward to. It’s a nice extra effort that makes team gatherings pleasant and shows you care about shared time.
  • Say something nice — in public: Public recognition brings an employee’s performance front and center. Don’t be afraid to tell other colleagues about the great work he or she has done.

And now for the most obvious, and possibly the most important:

For cryin’ out loud, just say “Thank you” once in a while. And mean it when you do. Recognition is really just another word for appreciation. Remember the fact that all these people working under you and alongside you have chosen to be here just like you have. They’re all facing the same issues and challenges, at home and at work. When they do something that helps, say thanks.

Just say thanks.

Do it enough and it becomes a habit. And when that becomes a habit, we can all go back to relying on our idealistic assumption that appropriate and encouraging employee recognition is just common sense.

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