The Power of Positive Employee Recognition

How to Provide Effective Employee Recognition

people clapping at work
••• Employee Recognition Helps Engage Your Employees. Michael Blann/Iconica/Getty Images

Provide employee recognition to say thank you and you will encourage a positive, productive, and innovative organizational climate.

People who feel appreciated end up experiencing more self-worth and their ability to contribute to the company. The result is a happier and more productive employee.  Although these beliefs about employee recognition are commonly held by employers, why is it that employee recognition is so closely guarded in many organizations?

Why Is Employee Recognition Scarce?

Employee recognition is scarce because of a combination of several factors. People don't know how to provide employee recognition effectively, so they end up having bad experiences. They also assume that one size fits all when they provide employee recognition.

Additionally, employers think too narrowly about what people will find rewarding and what constitutes true recognition.

Guidelines for Effective Employee Recognition

Here are some guidelines and ideas to help you effectively provide employee recognition and avoid potential problems when you undertake acknowledging your staff.

Decide what you want to achieve through your employee recognition efforts. Many organizations use a scatter approach to employee recognition. They implement a whole bunch of employee recognition and hope that some of it sticks. Or, conversely, they recognize just a few employees, and not very often.

Instead, create goals and action plans for employee recognition. Recognize the actions, behaviors, approaches, and accomplishments that you know will make your organization more productive and efficient.

Fairness, clarity, and consistency are important in employee recognition. People need to see that each person who makes the same or a similar contribution has an equal likelihood of receiving recognition for their efforts.

Ensure that your organization establishes criteria for what makes a person eligible for the employee recognition.

For example, if people are recognized for exceeding a production or sales expectation, everyone who goes over the goal shares in the glory. Recognizing only the highest performer will demoralize all of your other contributors. Make sure the criteria for employee recognition is clearly stated and understood by everyone. 

Set guidelines so leaders acknowledge equivalent and similar contributions. For example, each employee who stays after work to contribute ideas in a departmental improvement brainstorming session gets to have lunch with the department head. Or, recognize each employee who contributes to a customer, even the employee who just answered the phone—their actions set the sale in motion.

Approaches and content must also be inconsistent. You want to offer employee recognition that is consistently fair, but you also want to make sure that your employee recognition efforts do not become expectations or entitlements. 

For example, if employees are invited to lunch with the boss every time they work overtime, the lunch becomes an expectation or entitlement. It is no longer a reward.

Additionally, if a person does not receive the expected reward, it becomes a source of dissatisfaction and negatively impacts the person’s attitude about work.

Be specific about why the individual is receiving the recognition. The purpose of feedback is to reinforce what you’d like to see the employee do more of—the purpose of employee recognition is the same. In fact, employee recognition is one of the most powerful forms of feedback that you can provide.

For example, say something like, “the report had a significant impact on the committee’s decision. You did an excellent job of highlighting the key points and information we needed before making the final decision. Because of your work, we’ll be able to cut 6 percent of our operating budget.”

Offer recognition as close to the event as possible. When a person performs positively, provide recognition immediately.

Because it's likely the employee is already feeling good about his or her performance; your timely recognition of the employee will enhance the positive feelings. This, in turn, positively affects the employee’s confidence in their ability to perform well in their position.

Remember that employee recognition is personal. One person may enjoy public recognition at a staff meeting while another prefers a private note in their personnel file. The best way to determine what an employee finds rewarding is to ask your employees.