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How to give recognition to an employee for work well done

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of


Appreciation is a fundamental human need. Employees respond to appreciation expressed through recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued. When employees and their work are valued, their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve their good work. What’s more, employee recognition is free or low cost!

Employee recognition is the timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behavior, effort or business result that supports the organization’s goals and values, and which has clearly been beyond normal expectations.

Recognition is also a powerful means of communication; it sends extremely positive signals to the recipient and others who are aware of the recognition act. Employee recognition is therefore a communication technique to be encouraged by public relations practitioners, who can play a key role in influencing management to use recognition as a performance enhancer in the workplace.

Despite the unquestioned benefits arising from employee recognition, one of the mysteries of the workplace is that recognition invariably is done badly, if done at all. Few organizations have well-established and accepted formal or informal employee programs in place. Therefore, employee recognition remains an undervalued management technique.

What’s the best way to recognize an employee for work well done? The best formula for recognizing an individual for their efforts is:

  • Thank the person by name.

  • Specifically state what was done that is being recognized. Being specific is vital because it identifies and reinforces the desired behavior.

  • Explain how the behavior made you feel (assuming you felt some pride or respect for their accomplishment).

  • Point out the value added to your team or organization by the behavior.

  • Wherever possible, also point out the way in which the behavior supports an organisational goal or objective. This shows a direct connection between their work and your organizational goals and objectives - a strategic reinforcement.

  • Thank the person again by name for their contribution.

Example of giving suitable recognition to an individual


Thank you for staying back over the past few days to process those extra customer invoices. I know this involved working longer hours than normal, and I’m very grateful for your effort.
Your contribution will ensure we exceed our quota of …for the month and this means that everyone will get a bonus. Your efforts support our organisation's goal of improving the efficiency of our financial processing. Again, Sue, thank you for all your hard work”

If the workflow has eased since, you could negotiate with Sue for her to take some time off to make up for the extra hours she worked, or they could come to some other mutually satisfactory arrangement.

The act of presentation is vital

The actual presentation is a major part of the value of giving recognition. A 1998 survey of 33,774 US and Canadian award recipients revealed that the presentation of an award affects employees’ perception of the entire recognition program and even their perception of their organization as a whole:

  • 97% of employees felt their “contribution was acknowledged” after an “excellent” award presentation.

  • Only 39% of employees felt their “contribution was acknowledged” after a “poor” award presentation.

  • 93% of employees felt an “excellent” award presentation “built commitment”

  • Only 41% of employees felt stronger commitment to their organization after a “poor” award presentation. 1

Much of the impact of employee recognition lies in the presentation. If an employee receives an award in the mail or somebody flings it on the desk, the award will have little meaning. A good presentation makes a lasting impact. It demonstrates to the recipient and to other employees: “Thanks. Here’s how you’ve done a great job…”


  1. O.C. Tanner. “Employee recognition survey”, 1998. Quoted in Managing with carrots by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton from the O.C. Tanner recognition company. Layton, Ohio: Gibbs Smith, 2001, p. 37.


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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