Recognize your employees for great work.

How to recognize your employees for great work

Despite the proven 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. This article clearly explains how to recognize your employees for great work.

What is employee recognition?

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

The quickest, easiest and very effective form of recognition is the proverbial ‘pat on the back’ or words of praise to a staff member. Anyone can do that, not just their manager or supervisor.

Isn’t employee recognition an HR activity? Yes, it is often coordinated by HR, but experts advise not to do this because it tends to become associated too much with work conditions and entitlements. Also, recognition has a massive communication component – which is the role of the professional communicator. Therefore, it is quite appropriate for communicators to explain and organize how to recognize your employees for great work.

Many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of employee recognition. For instance, the Aon 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement survey, conducted in 1,000 companies employing 8 million people globally, showed rewards and recognition as “the strongest driver of engagement,” and that recognition for contributions (apart from pay and benefits) was the key factor in the rewards and recognition component. Employee engagement is strengthened when they are recognized, and greater engagement leads directly to improved productivity, customer loyalty, sales, and profits at the business unit and organizational level. You can read research data about the benefits of employee recognition in my article, “Employee recognition creates better workplace performance: Here’s detailed proof.

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!

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.

Image: OC Tanner.

Here’s the secret to recognize your employees for great work

You can recognize a person for their workplace efforts and achievements. The gesture with the most impact is in-person, but during remote work times, appreciation expressed via their computer is also effective. You can use the same method offline or online, as below. So, here’s how to give employee recognition:

The best formula to recognize your employees for their great work

  1. Thank the person by name.
  2. Specifically state what was done that is being recognized. Being specific is vital because it identifies and reinforces the desired behavior.
  3. Explain how the behavior made you feel (assuming you felt some pride or respect for their accomplishment).
  4. Point out the value added to your team or organization by the behavior.
  5. Thank the person again by name for their contribution.

Example of giving good 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. 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 you could come to some other mutually satisfactory arrangement on how to give employee recognition.

The act of presentation is vital

The actual presentation is a major part of the value of giving recognition. A 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.

Much of the impact of employee recognition lies in the presentation. One executive I knew was away when service awards were presented at the annual Christmas function, so management just sent his 15-year service pin to him in a presentation box in the internal mail. He was so offended he didn’t even open the package for the next 2 years! 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…”

Unintended outcomes

As Gallup consultants observe: “Great managers know that they can never give too much recognition as long as it’s honest and deserved.” And employee recognition has many overwhelmingly positive attributes. Nevertheless, some care needs to be taken about unexpected consequences. Some negative factors may possibly be experienced through the variability of human nature. It is possible that negative impacts like unfairness, favoritism, and bias in giving due recognition to employees may be experienced to some extent in some work environments. These effects can lead to poor performance and reduced employee productivity.

Attitudes from some employees about recognition could be inappropriate because they may be actively seeking to be praised and appreciated, and so they may be working too hard to get their ‘pat on the back’ compared with peers and their normal work rate. Other employees who don’t receive recognition may feel neglected. These inequalities may damage relationships within the workplace.

Another possibility is gender inequality. Women being less recognized in the workplace than men may create feelings of neglect and mistreatment, which could lead to reduced productivity in female employees, lower job satisfaction and therefore lower job performance. All these possibilities should be understood by people giving recognition, and these issues should be raised transparently in regular review-discussions about recognition management with staff. Keep all these factors in mind when you aim to recognize your employees for great work.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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