The Importance of Employee Recognition

Effective management and leadership have always required solid employee recognition. But today's talent is competitive — and increasingly so — making how you value your employees even more important.

If you don't have an employee recognition program in place, now's the time to create one. If you do already have a method of thanking your employees for their contributions, great! But understand — this isn't a one-and-done kind of thing. It's important to always reevaluate how you're rewarding your employees, how you're meeting the needs of your current ones, and how you can engage prospective talent down the road.

Companies in growth phases have an even tougher challenge, because leadership must constantly rethink how they're adding value to the overall experience of recognition. So, how can you ensure your employees know that you value their input and performance?

Before we get into that, let's take a look at why this is so important.

Why Is Employee Recognition Important

Why Is Employee Recognition Important?

Are you wondering, "Why is employee recognition important?" or how often you should recognize your employees? Well, according to a survey by SIROTA, only 51% of surveyed employees were satisfied with the level of praise received after a well-accomplished task. And the Society for Human Resource Management states that only 57% of employees are satisfied with management's recognition of job performance. Finally, the United States Department of Labor says the No. 1 reason employees leave a position is a lack of feeling appreciated.

Those are some staggering statistics.

Why is employee recognition important? Think about it: From our childhoods, we crave the attention that recognition provides from our parents and teachers, and even our peers. Our desires for positive recognition are so strong — especially in our formative years — that we may have perceived neutral reactions as negative ones. We learned this reaction at such a young age that we may still have this reaction in our relationships today.

Nowhere is this truer than in the workplace. Positive employee recognition can help you:

  • Keep your best employees.
  • Incentivize employees who may just need that extra boost.
  • Increase engagement.
  • Encourage superior performance.

Employees who know how much you value their performance remain engaged and are less likely to look elsewhere for employment.

Do Employee Recognition Programs Really Work?

A vast majority of employees in all professions would not agree that current programs work in the way leadership hopes. Most of today's recognition programs simply don't positively impact employees or office morale. In fact, some employee recognition programs are carried out in a way that's actually generating a negative response from staff.

But why?

Because the methods used by most managers and senior leaders are recognition — not authentic appreciation. Take a look at some of the things we've noticed in our research.


  • Focuses on observing and reinforcing positive behaviors.
  • Primary goal is to improve performance.
  • Comes from the top down.
  • Isn't personalized and feels contrived.

Whereas appreciation:

  • Takes performance into account, but an employee's character and value as well.
  • Looks to improve employee performance while encouraging and supporting the person.
  • Is a genuine, from-the-heart acknowledgement.
  • Isn't just top down — it can be from any employee to any other employee, even to supervisors, management, or upper-level leaders.
  • Isn't based on performance for the company, but rather on the actual relationships between management, peers, and employees.

An employee recognition program works best when it's used for its intended purpose — recognizing and rewarding performance goals and achievements. These programs don't work if the organization tries to take an overview approach — employees don't feel special or individually valued in this respect. This type of approach can feel like sarcasm and lead to resentment.

How Often Should You Recognize Your Employees

How Often Should You Recognize Your Employees?

Fantastic projects, as well as teams and individual employees, should receive some type of recognition about once every month. If it's a simple verbalized recognition, you can praise your employees more often. You should reach out to individuals about every two weeks — this can be something like a short conversation in which you acknowledge and praise your employee's dedication to the company or their recent exceptional progress. How often should you recognize your employees? As often as necessary!

Creating a Culture of Employee Recognition

If the above has served as a wake-up call, maybe it's time to revamp your approach to recognition and appreciation. Here are our tips on creating a culture of employee recognition and appreciation in your organization:

Be Specific

Creating a culture of employee recognition is much more than simply saying thank you. Recognizing your employees means much more when you tie it to specific accomplishments or objectives the employee has met.

Be Timely

Have you noticed an employee recently tackle a difficult project and ace it? Under deadline? Tell the employee right away how much that means to you personally and to the company. If you wait to tell the individual until your annual recognition party, it won't be received as meaningful and the employee may not believe it's an authentic gesture.

Don't Stick to Just One Form of Recognition

While every employee loves a raise or a lucrative bonus, the prospect of cash isn't your employees' only motivation. Creating a culture of employee recognition means getting to know your employees on a much deeper level. Plus, the better you get to know your employees as individuals, the more you'll get to know how best each would like to receive their recognition — everyone is different. Some employees may feel embarrassed by a public proclamation of their great work ethic, while others may feel insulted if you don't make a big public announcement.

It's the Little Things

Of course you must recognize your employees' greatest accomplishments, but a simple "thank you for X" can go far in motivating staff — sometimes even more so. For instance, a nice handwritten thank-you note from a peer can even be greater motivation than one from a manager.

Train Your Leaders on Praise and Recognition

Train Your Leaders on Praise & Recognition

Showing your appreciation for the dedication of your employees helps them see that you value their contribution and how their contribution boosts the entire team's success, and the company's, as well. A Better Leader's training titled, "Praise & Recognition" will teach your leaders the following: 

  • Formal and informal ways leaders can acknowledge excellence on the job
  • Why praise and recognition are important and how they benefit employees on the job
  • Tips to become more praise-proficient in the moment
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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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