Earlier this month, we launched a three-part series on Employee Engagement. In our first article, we talked about how two-way communications can build trust. Today, we’re tackling other aspects of leadership and communications that can help drive—or deter—employee engagement. As we’ve said before, one of the many roles of a leader is to inspire and engage teams to do their best. But you shouldn’t stop there. Another key step is to demonstrate the value of an employee through employee recognition and acknowledgement. Employee recognition further builds trust among people and boosts staff engagement in general. In this second article in the series, let’s explore where employee recognition fits in your world.

The value of effective employee recognition

Psychologists have determined that threats and losses have more impact on the human psyche than wins and gains. This underscores the importance of making sure positive feedback outweighs any criticisms. Workplace research has shown that employees report having more respect for supervisors who consistently provide positive feedback throughout the day. Along with this respect comes motivation. Employees are more likely to work harder, go out of their way to assist co-workers and to take action that supports the needs of the organization.

A vote of confidence, a written note or even a simple thank you are all small ways of recognizing people that can make a big difference. Studies by Willis Towers Watson show employee recognition by managers can improve employee engagement by as much as 50 percent. 50 percent! And companies with highly engaged employees beat their competitors in their same industry or market.

Why people seek employee recognition and reward

Why people seek recognition really depends on who you’re asking. According to executive coach Victor Lipman in an article in Psychology Today, recognition is an emotional difference maker. The vast majority of employees are hungry for recognition and value it when they receive it. And when they don’t get it, they wonder: Am I really doing a good job? I guess I’m not…

For Jane, it might be that she wants her manager to simply thank her so she feels valued at work. For Chris, he might want more public recognition that a project or task was done well and on time. Ashish might want private recognition in the form of money or the chance to attend a conference. Regardless of the reason, people just want to be acknowledged. And how we recognize people—private or more publicly or with money or with simply a verbal thanks—reflects how well we know our employees. Ashish might be horrified if he’s recognized in front of a large group of people, while Jane relishes it. Publicly recognize someone who hates being in the spotlight, and you set up a situation where that person might hided his or her contributions in the future.

Your role in employee recognition

As a leader, employee recognition is one of the most powerful tools you can use to keep your staff focused on strategic priorities. Consistent recognition reinforces behaviors that lead to success. And study after study says that employees prefer to receive feedback and key company information from their direct supervisors. As such, the most meaningful recognition usually comes from these same people. Effective employee recognition includes the following key elements:

Inclusiveness and Equality: This includes frequently recognizing good performance, ensuring recognition opportunities are available to all employees and making recognition and/or rewards criteria clear, fair and equally applied.

Communication: This includes laying out expectations, explaining what recognition and rewards will look like, drawing a clear connection between expected performance and reward, and being sincere in giving recognition.

Trust: Effective recognition is difficult to achieve without trust. You can increase trust by talking with your teams about performance, discussing goals and success requirements, and listening to and addressing others’ opinions and concerns. In some ways, employee recognition is a gift that keeps on giving: by offering genuine, authentic gratitude over time, you build more trust with employees.

Getting started

To have lasting impact, put recognition on the top of your to-do list. Take every opportunity you can to show your team the results of its work.

For example, do you really know your team? What’s important to them? What motivates them? Do you know how they measure success? Is it a pat on the back or a bonus? And, getting back to Ashish and Jane. Do they want this recognition made public, or private? The only way you can learn this is to get out of your office and talk with and observe your staff.

Also, do you have space in your schedule to be timely with your recognition? This is key to letting an employee know you noticed an action directly or heard about it from a peer. Delayed recognition is simply not as meaningful and, in fact, is often received negatively by the employee.

If making “people time” doesn’t come naturally to you, scheduling a reminder to yourself will help make it a habit and, over time, it’ll become second nature. This tip may seem silly. Yet, it’s common for some people to be natural at recognition, while others are not. Everyone has different strengths.

Creating links between actions and reward

Whether giving individual praise in a one-on-one environment or providing public praise to a large group, it’s always important to clearly show the link between a specific performance or accomplishment and the recognition.

When providing recognition to a large group, acknowledge individual audiences and their specific contributions whenever possible. And be sure not to leave anyone out.

Instead of saying: “Thanks for a job well done, everyone!”

Consider saying: “You all played a crucial job in our successful completion of Project X. Thanks to Cole and the Operations team for providing the Y solution we needed to move forward. In addition, we couldn’t have achieved this success without the help of Tamika for contributing her efforts to XYZ.

Employee recognition strategies and tactics

Recognition should be genuine and personal, a communication from a manager to his or her employee. And it doesn’t have to be expensive!

There are so many ways to recognize others. Be creative! Mix and match different tactics that work best for your team. Beyond financial incentives tied to performance reviews, think of ways you can create a recognition experience. And keep it simple. Think of this: If you’re on the road a lot, when was the last time you got a call from your boss saying what a fantastic job you did on a specific project? The answer is probably never. Here are some quick and easy ideas:

  • 1:1 thank you
  • Thank-you note or call
  • Spot bonus
  • Movie tickets
  • Gift card that fits the person—if he likes baseball, send him to a game!
  • A half- or full-day off
  • Tickets to a museum


There’s no one right way to recognize your employees. The important thing is to make a habit of doing it, because employee recognition and acknowledgement are so important to creating and sustaining goodwill and engagement within any organization. Have a creative way you’ve recognized or acknowledged staff in the past? We’d love to hear about it! And don’t forget to check out our third and final article in our Employee Engagement series on how authentic communications help drive trust and engagement.