What do you think about when you hear the word recognition?

Is your mind plagued with things such as bonuses, extended leave and that wonderful trip to Mauritius?

Organisations often think of recognition and financial reward to be one in the same thing. Does this sound familiar- you have gone above and beyond what is expected of you, so your boss treats you to a gift card, or your team finally secured the one client you have been working all year to secure and the team is rewarded with a party. This form of recognition should be thrown out the window. This type of reward creates the perception that an employee’s efforts are associated with a certain amount of money. People may not believe this phrase, but employees are motivated by more than just money. Humans are creatures that crave positive feedback, recognition for going the extra mile, and acknowledgement from colleagues and leaders- the amazing feeling of being seen, noticed, appreciated, and celebrated for your efforts.

A study conducted by the London School of Economics identified that monetary incentives usually backfire in the search of creating motivation. The research included conducting 51 experiments and these were the results, “these incentives may reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so.”

A social scientist and New York Times bestselling author, Dan Arely’s research suggests that the lack of acknowledgement for a job well done leads to devastating results for an employee’s performance and motivation. His research further emphasised that our willingness to work harder is amplified the more we are acknowledged and our willingness to receive less pay increases. Purely because we feel acknowledged.

The recognition gap exists. The Incentive Research Foundation report created in 2016 stated that top executives, exactly 93% of them, are not only willing to carry out non-monetary rewards and recognition programmes but they are in fact strong supporters of this concept. However, when Gallup aimed to determine employee perceptions of recognition in organisations, they stated the exact opposite. The results summarised that 3 in 10 U.S employees strongly agree that they have not received recognition as well as praise for the work they have completed within the last seven days. Does this not sound concerning? This striking difference in perception should be addressed now otherwise the gap is going to grow as large as a canyon- with the leader on the one side and the employee on the other.

For a moment think about the things that motivate you. Then think about the things that motivate the closest individuals around you. If you think long and hard enough you will come to a common denominator- different things motivate different people. This is the information your leader should be interested in. And if we all feel motivated by different things this means we will not all respond in the same manner to the same recognition tactics. Leaders think about your team. knowing their personalities and the things that motivate them you are sure to find that one team member who relishes in the idea of attending a high-profile award ceremony while another team member may be completely satisfied in receiving a thank you note or a reassuring nod during a presentation. Furthermore, let your employees choose the manner in which they want to receive praise and recognition. This lets your team feel heard- these are two priceless actions that always end in invaluable results.

Let’s look at two different words that are often associated with meaning the same thing- ‘recognition’ and ‘appreciation’. Although these words may be used interchangeably- they could not be anymore different. Recognition refers to providing positive feedback based on a team member results or performance. This can take the form of an award, perhaps a promotion or even a raise. Sometimes it is given through a simple thank you either verbally or non-verbally. These methods can provide meaning and should be done timeously. Appreciation is all about acknowledging an individual’s inherent value. It focuses on appreciating the individual for their work as a team member and as a person.

Understanding the distinction between the two is vitally important. It is important because even when your team is successful, there are going to be bumps in the road along the way, and there may not be any tangible outcomes that a leader can recognise. If you as a leader are solely focused on the positive results, you fail to really connect and provide your team with the support they need- you will never truly appreciate them.

Oprah Winfrey, during her speech at Harvard, so succinctly summarised the importance of appreciation.  “…We want to be validated. We want to be understood…And as soon as the camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: Was it OK?”.

Here are three simple steps you can take to show your team that you appreciate them:

Listen: Take a moment to step back and try remove anything that will distract you. Take the time to listen with intention, and genuinely listen to what your team has to say.

Let your team know what you value about them: This is an action that needs to be taken proactively- not because someone has done something awesome or because you want to ask them to do something for you. This will enhance the culture of appreciation within your team because it lets your team see that you acknowledge them even before they have done something that requires recognition.

Regularly check in: Constantly check with your team. Take the time to have a personal discussion with them one-on-one and ask how they are doing- and genuinely mean it. Ask them what is challenging them, how you can support them. This is a great way to show your team that you care and that you are taking their current circumstances into consideration.

The link between appreciation and recognition is undeniable. They are the ying and yang to mastering the art of employee acknowledgement and the feeling of “hey, my boss sees me”. This strong connection exists because of the way our minds function but recognition should maintain a strong strategic influence. We live in a digital age whether we like it or not and because of this a multitude of business functions need to be re-evaluated with regards to their importance and contribution to the world of work. Should recognition programs be reconfigured to meet the standards Artificial Intelligence (AI) is so effortlessly putting in place? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.


Forbes. (2013). 5 Ways Leaders Rock Employee Recognition. Retrieved from 5 Ways Leaders Rock Employee Recognition (forbes.com)

Forbes. (2018). Recognition In the Workplace: It’s Not What You Think It Is. Retrieved from Council Post: Recognition In The Workplace: It’s Not What You Think It Is (forbes.com)

Forbes. (2020). The Power Of Recognition—And How To Harness It With Digital. Retrieved from Council Post: The Power Of Recognition — And How To Harness It With Digital (forbes.com)

Harvard Business Review. (2019). Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation. Retrieved from Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation (hbr.org)

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