Employee engagement Culture

The Impact of Employee Recognition at Work

by Nicholas Edwards on February 15, 2019

Could there be a more instantly effective motivational tool than recognition? That feeling when someone taps you on the back and says ‘great job!’ is universal, no matter how confident and self-assured you may be. You could even say recognition is a fundamental human need.

But as well as feeling good, recognition brings tangible benefits to the workplace. According to a report by the O.C. Tanner Institute, performance recognition significantly impacts employee engagement – 78% of employees who receive strong recognition are highly engaged, compared with only 34% of employees who receive weak recognition. The same report found that employees who receive strong recognition are 33% more likely to be innovative, generating twice as many ideas per month as those who aren’t recognised well.  

Knowing that your hard work is noticed and appreciated can add real value to your experience of work, and the self-confidence and motivation you need to realise your potential. Conversely, if you give everything each day and receive no recognition in return, it’s likely you’ll become demotivated and unproductive. You’ll think: what’s the point if nobody notices anyway?

Managers to employees – getting the balance right

Recognition has traditionally been the domain of managers and forms a key part of the feedback process. Whether as a passing comment, during appraisals, or through official channels, praise from a manager can send a powerful message to the employee.

Despite this, a survey by Harvard Business Review found that managers see themselves as more effective when they give negative or corrective feedback (73%), rather than positive feedback (41%). It would seem that the majority of managers are motivated to interact with employees only when things are going badly, but not when things are going well. Some managers naturally see themselves as problem solvers, rather than praise givers, but this approach can be hugely demotivating for employees.

On the other hand, heaping constant praise on individuals simply to motivate them will end up devaluing genuine recognition. The key is to find the right balance: recognition should feel like something timely and well earnt.

Managers must also bear in mind the individual aspect of recognition. Those lacking in self-belief may benefit more from others’ approval than those bursting with confidence. Likewise, to avoid a sense of favouritism, it is important that recognition be given not only to a handful of high achievers or high-profile figures, but to anyone who deserves it. Generally speaking, people should be praised for effort rather than raw ability.

Peer-to-peer recognition

The giving of recognition need not only be restricted to managers. When employees step up and recognise the good work of their peers, they take ownership of the feedback process themselves.

This is an excellent way to build strong bonds between individuals, and raise moral throughout teams, which ultimately leads to business. Recognition from peers can be even more powerful than from managers. Given that feedback is not part of your colleagues’ remit, their positive comments can have an air of authenticity that can be truly humbling.

Recognition through technology

A few years ago, the only way to give recognition was either in an informal, spontaneous manner, or as part of a highly organised, company-wide activity, such as ‘employee of the month’ schemes or award ceremonies. The formal nature of these awards meant that recognition naturally focussed on high-profile successes and those towards the top of the business hierarchy, meaning the average employee was rarely recognised.

With the rise of next-generation HR tech and social collaboration tools, it has never been easier to give and receive recognition both instantly and publicly. By providing a forum for giving and receiving recognition, and commenting on others’ achievements, modern HR platforms allow everyone to be recognised, no matter their job title or pay grade, by people who have seen first-hand the difference they have made.

This give employees greater insights into the work going on across different teams and departments, which helps to create a culture of connectivity and openness. And by democratising the feedback process, everyone is empowered to express their appreciation and gratitude for others’ hard work and help.

Get involved!

When was the last time you praised someone for a job well done? Recognition is such a powerful motivational tool that we should all consider it a part of our duty to tell others when we are grateful for their help, appreciative of their efforts, or proud of their development.

Saying ‘great job’ is such a simple thing to do, whether in passing or via an HR platform that allows everyone to see the good work people are doing. It costs nothing, and requires no effort or planning, but has the power to engage, enthuse and motivate. A small gesture like this can make all that hard work seem worthwhile.

At People First, we understand the motivational power that positive feedback can have. That’s why we’ve built peer-to-peer recognition into our ground-breaking HR platform. Each user has access to a social feed, where they can give and receive recognitions, view and post content, and get instant feedback via comments and likes.

All recognitions are saved and recorded and go towards building a personal portfolio of activity on their timeline. Once a user is recognised five times for a particular skill or trait, that element is added to their personal profile for all to see.

For more information about recognition in People First, check out our Guide to Social Engagement.


Nicholas Edwards

Nicholas Edwards -

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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