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7 Min Read

What is Employee Recognition, and How Does it Boost Performance?

Genevieve Michaels

Imagine a friend told you they really went the extra mile for their partner. They cooked dinner, picked up a bouquet of flowers, and spent all day cleaning their home until it sparkled. 

But when their husband or wife came home, they didn’t even seem to notice — let alone say thank you!

You’d probably be worried about your friend, and tell them they deserve to feel valued and appreciated. 

So why should it be any different when we’re talking about paid, professional labor? Our work environments, in person or virtual, are just networks of interconnected relationships. 

Employee recognition is about nurturing those relationships, and showing people their contributions are meaningful, valued, and important. 

In this post, we share an employee recognition definition, and discuss why employee recognition is important. We also cover benefits of employee recognition, and offer some tips on how to realize them. 

What is employee recognition? 

Employee recognition is any act of intentionally acknowledging, praising, or thanking an employee for their work. 

If you think that sounds incredibly broad, you’re right. There are so many different ways to recognize employees and show gratitude for their brilliance, creativity, and dedication.

Employee recognition includes actions like: 

  • Your manager saying ‘thanks’ on Slack, 
  • Formal recognition programs to recognize employees’ years of service 
  • Recognizing team members during meetings 
  • Staff holiday parties
  • Annual bonuses for top performers

Employees may be recognized in public or privately, with words or actions, by their managers or by their peers. 

Businesses might recognize employees’ output, or the key results and goals they’ve achieved through their work. But they might also recognize inputs — that is, employees’ behaviors and actions, like exceptional customer service or a ten-year employment milestone. 

What matters is that recognition feels sincere, personal, and meaningful. 

How does employee recognition boost performance? 

When it’s done right, employee recognition is powerful.

Organizations who build a culture of recognition find that their people are more engaged, more productive, and change jobs less often than their peers who don’t. 

Here are some key statistics: 

  • Employees who do not receive recognition have over double the intention to leave (51%), compared to those who do
  • Organizations with sophisticated recognition programs are 12x more likely to have strong business outcomes.
  • Companies who emphasize employee recognition have 31% lower voluntary turnover than those who don’t
  • 52.5% of employees want more recognition from their immediate manager. 
  • Peer to peer recognition is 37.5% more likely to improve company financial results than being recognized only by managers

These findings matter. They prove that dollars invested into showing workers appreciation is money well spent. But really, they’re just confirming common sense. 

Gratitude and appreciation is key for any relationship. Like we said above, if someone never said ‘thank you’ to their friend or partner, we’d all see that as an issue. 

It’s upsetting and demoralizing when you work hard to show up for someone, and don’t feel that they value or notice your efforts. 

Obviously, recognition looks different in the workplace — obviously, your boss won’t be showing up with roses and chocolates! But recognizing people’s professional contributions and achievements is every bit as important as celebrating them in our personal lives. 

Making employee recognition meaningful 

Not every ‘thanks’ is created equal. 

Employee recognition is surprisingly hard to get right, and the stakes are high, as an insincere gesture can backfire and be worse than none at all.

Sincerity, thoughtfulness, and a personal touch is the name of the game when crafting meaningful employee recognition. Words and gestures must feel appropriate and genuine, both to the situation and the people involved. 

Here are some tips for a recognition that makes a lasting impression. 

  • If you want to recognize employees for a specific task, thank them as soon as possible after it’s completed. That being said, late recognition is still better than none at all. 
  • Don’t go overboard on gratitude. Saying thanks is never a bad idea, but outsized gestures can quickly lose their meaning — or even cause others to question your motives.
  • Make recognition about the other person, not you. Try using statements like “You’re such a great communicator,” not “How you handled that made my day so much easier.” 
  • Make it personal. Everyone is different — a public shout-out might make one person’s day, while someone else would find a one-on-one conversation much more meaningful

Ideas for showing employees your appreciation

The options are nearly limitless when it comes to employee recognition. Your company’s size, internal structure, industry, and whether you work in-person or remotely will all help determine the best way  to say ‘job well done.’

What’s important is finding a strategy that works, and making it an established part of how you do business. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

Make recognition part of your 1-on-1s 

Regular 1-on-1 meetings are an important part of helping managers build strong team relationships. Get even more from these meetings by taking a few minutes to name how employees excelled that week, and thanking them for it — every single time. 

Workplace gratitude journals

Gratitude journals are a helpful practice for anyone, so there’s no reason not to use them in the workplace. Try giving all employees a paper or virtual journal, and encouraging them to write in it one or twice a week. Then, everyone can share a few entries semi-regularly, as part of an all-hands or standup meeting. 

Handwritten thank you notes

If you’re working on-premise, why not resurrect the lost art of the thank-you note? In an era where most workplace communication is digital, a handwritten note is a personal, memorable way to stand out. 

Remote teams could use this technique too, to make special occasions even more memorable. Imagine getting a thoughtful, handwritten holiday card from your manager along with a gift or bonus!

Company-wide shoutouts

Make a habit of publicly recognizing people who go the extra mile. 

Making these shoutouts virtual and routine — such as listing a few in a group email — can make them a little more introvert-friendly, so no one feels pushed into the spotlight. 

Pair rewards with kind words

Employee gifts and rewards are great — but recognition shouldn’t rely on them exclusively. 

On their own, tangible gifts can feel like an impersonal, empty gesture. Instead, combine them with thoughtful messages or helpful touches like a personal card, paid day off or help on a future project.

Make recognition part of your process 

When recognition is part of your company culture, everyone wins. Employees find work more fulfilling and rewarding, and they’ll feel much more inspired and motivated, producing better results. 

That’s why we made showing gratitude such an important part of our human-centric performance management platform. Within 15five, you can celebrate your reports, team members, and external partners with virtual High Fives. This is one of our most popular features because it makes people feel good, brings teams together, and creates a positive feedback loop that improves business results. 

See High Fives, and the other benefits of our platform, in action by booking a 15five demo today.