Business Leadership Today

How To Make Recognition Meaningful (5 Tips)


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

It’s a known fact that success fosters more success, while failure leads to more failure. However, we often inadvertently encourage failure by not taking the time to appreciate and celebrate our organization’s successes. 

Research indicates that 69% of employees would exert more effort if their workplace acknowledged their contributions. When recognition is given for their work, employees are ten times more likely to strongly affirm their sense of belonging to the organization, and 80% of employees claim increased productivity when recognition and rewards are used as motivation.

Recognition allows employees to understand the significance of their work. It enables them to link their daily tasks with the broader mission, vision, and objectives of the organization, reinforcing their crucial role in the organization’s long-term prosperity. It also connects an employee’s accomplishments to the company’s triumphs and initiates a chain reaction across the organization where employees applaud their colleagues’ contributions.

To capitalize on our victories and generate more success, we need to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements in meaningful ways before progressing to the next task. 

To make recognition meaningful, there are five rules of thumb to follow:

  1. Specificity Is Key
  2. Individual Efforts Make an Impact
  3. Sincerity Is Crucial
  4. Inclusivity Is the Best Policy
  5. Impact Is a Cause for Celebration

This article will explore the top strategies for making recognition meaningful.

What Are the Benefits of Recognition?

Recognition meets a core need for employees—the need to experience acknowledgment or gratitude for their efforts. 

Meeting this need is a key aspect of a strong company culture because it increases employee motivation and employee engagement, reduces turnover and absenteeism, attracts talented employees, helps employees and leaders find meaning, and reinforces values.

Recognition Keeps Employees Motivated

Recognition, used by teachers, parents, and coaches to encourage desirable behaviors, is a potent motivator and a primary source of positive reinforcement that can be highly effective.

Motivation plays a pivotal role in employee engagement, and recognition is a key motivator in the workplace. Whether verbally or through actions, recognition profoundly impacts employee motivation. 

Despite its importance, business leaders often overlook the power of recognition in motivating employees, but celebrating success and reinforcing achievements can yield significant benefits for organizations and their teams. 

When employees are acknowledged for their contributions, they feel a sense of ownership and are likely to maintain high performance levels, fostering trust within teams. 

Recognition Boosts Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a hot topic in the business world, with leaders striving to increase it in an effort to boost performance, reduce turnover, and increase profits. Recognition is a powerful tool for employee engagement, as it enhances self-esteem and personal competency. 

Employee engagement is an increasingly complex issue to address. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report revealed a global decrease in employee engagement from 22% in 2019 to 20% in 2020. This decline, though seemingly small, is significant given the already low engagement levels that have plagued both the private and public sectors for decades. 

This troubling statistic should encourage leaders to reassess their strategies for employee engagement and explore better approaches to creating a happy, productive workplace where high engagement is standard and team members’ contributions are acknowledged.

Recognition Lowers Turnover

Employee recognition is strongly linked to employee retention. Regrettably, employees often feel their greatest achievements are overlooked. 

Companies that acknowledge employee accomplishments experience lower turnover rates than those that don’t incorporate recognition into their culture. As per Gallup, employees lacking adequate recognition are twice as likely to consider resigning within a year. 

Recognition imparts a sense of achievement and makes employees feel valued, thereby increasing engagement, productivity, company loyalty, and, ultimately, retention.

Recognition Reduces Absenteeism

Employee appreciation and recognition lead to greater job satisfaction, more personal happiness, and reduced absenteeism. This is crucial for leaders, especially in small businesses, as absenteeism can negatively impact productivity and profits. 

Absenteeism can also negatively affect employees, causing loss of pay or increased workload for others, which can eventually cause them to disengage and even leave the organization. 

As per Quantum Workplace, recognition reassures employees of their good work and its importance to the organization’s health. This boosts engagement and makes employees realize their absence significantly affects the organization’s success.

Recognition Attracts Talented Employees

While it’s crucial to engage and retain talented, highly-skilled employees, it’s equally vital to consistently draw top-tier talent who are excited to work for your organization. 

Talented candidates seek organizations that value their skills, appreciate their accomplishments, and support their professional and personal growth. A consistent employee recognition program can be a powerful recruitment tool, as it goes beyond just offering competitive salaries and benefits. 

Another way recognition can impact recruitment efforts is by making your current employees brand ambassadors. When you recognize your employees’ achievements, they will have a stronger connection to the organization and more loyalty. When they sing your organization’s praises on Glassdoor, potential recruits will take notice. 

Recognition Helps Employees Find Meaning

Recognition plays a major role in helping employees find meaning. It allows them to connect the dots between their day-to-day activities and the bigger mission of the company and how they are a part of achieving a vision.

This can be particularly important as an organization evolves or when it experiences growth or change. Having employees who don’t lose sight of the purpose that connects them to the organization and their teammates can make the transition smoother.

According to Great Place to Work, recognizing employees on a regular basis will motivate them to perform at their best, and make a greater impact in the process. This can help them develop a sense of security in the value they bring to the organization and make their work more meaningful. 

Recognizing Employees Helps Leaders Find Meaning

While Millennials may have initiated the trend of seeking more recognition at work (and Gen Z has accelerated the trend), they aren’t the only members of the workforce looking for more acknowledgment. A significant portion of the workforce, spanning generations, is now in search of organizational cultures that offer them recognition.

Progressive leaders will view their employees’ need for recognition as an additional opportunity to support their staff and champion their growth and success. Moreover, being capable of providing something so crucial to your employees’ success and happiness can aid you in discovering your own deeper purpose as a leader.

By affirming the importance of your employees’ work through recognition, you are also validating the significance of your role in assisting them in finding purpose in their jobs. This, consequently, enhances the meaningfulness of your work by enabling you to witness the positive influences you’re contributing to your team members’ lives.

Recognition Reinforces Values

Recognition reinforces what we want to see more of, thereby enabling us to witness more quality work and superior performance in our organizations.

Those yearly formal employee reviews that provide employees with the insight they need to advance or develop the skills needed to move up can be incredibly beneficial for their professional growth, but it’s the daily “micro messages and nudges” that leaders offer to employees that exert the most significant influence on employee performance and promote more positive attitudes and behaviors.

When you recognize employees for doing a good job, it shows them you are paying attention and invested in them as people. This will motivate them to exert more effort for the benefit of the organization, not merely for their personal gain or incentives. Recognition, whether it’s in the guise of an award, a bonus, a promotion, a raise, or a simple “thank you,” will convey to your employees that you care, particularly if it’s done genuinely and consistently. The key is to make the recognition we give our team members meaningful.

How Do You Make Recognition Meaningful?

In recognizing team members, it’s important to keep in mind that every acknowledgment should not only strengthen the relationship between the recognizer and the person being recognized but should also let them know what they did to earn the praise. 

This approach can, in turn, inspire similar achievements in the future and strengthen the bond we have with team members, reminding them of their past praiseworthy contributions and encouraging continued high performance.

Here are five tips for giving meaningful recognition that will resonate with employees. 

1. Specificity Is Key

Ensure that recognition is connected to a particular behavior or accomplishment, highlighting its significance and impact.

Recognition can be expressed in many ways, but it’s always more beneficial for employees when it zeroes in on a particular action or behavior. Instead of vague praises like “good job,” pinpoint specific elements of your employee’s performance to commend.

Perhaps you have a team member who excels in customer relations, has a flair for project coordination, or possesses the analytical prowess for problem-solving. Regardless of their specialty, it’s crucial to understand your team members’ distinct attributes and show appreciation for their contributions to the team effort.

When you provide specifics in acknowledging employees, it shows them that the work they do is seen and valued. This not only increases their motivation but also bolsters their confidence in their abilities, inspiring them to utilize these skills in other areas of their job.

2. Individual Efforts Make an Impact

One of the most important components of meaningful recognition is that the recognition is tailored to suit the individual employee, considering their unique contributions, so that you are singling out their efforts. 

When an employee lands a big client or makes a big sale, it presents an excellent chance to acknowledge them. However, praise that is solely results-oriented, such as “Congrats on securing that major account!” or recognition that primarily emphasizes profits, may not be as impactful as commending the endeavors your employee undertook to reach that result.

For instance, “Your presentation demonstrated your dedication to satisfying our client’s needs, and that played a key role in us securing the account,” recognizes the employee’s individual efforts that contributed to the significant achievement.

Major accomplishments don’t occur spontaneously but are the result of smaller efforts and consistent hard work at every stage. Acknowledging these efforts, whether it’s from a single employee or a collective team effort, reassures them that their contributions are invaluable and crucial to the company’s success.

3. Sincerity Is Crucial

Sincerity is crucial when offering any form of feedback to employees, including recognition.

By identifying a facet of the employee’s performance that you genuinely admire, your recognition will be sincere and related to their job. For instance, you can commend an employee’s ability to stay composed in stressful situations or deal with challenging customers with tact and professionalism.

Genuine praises resonate more profoundly with employees and can inspire them to maintain high performance and even improve in other areas. Inauthentic praise that is not sincerely felt can hurt morale and cause distrust. 

4. Inclusivity Is the Best Policy

Recognition should be an organization-wide effort, with involvement from all team members.

While research clearly shows a link between recognition from top leadership and improved job performance and loyalty, encouraging employees to compliment and recognize the achievements of their co-workers helps reinforce the organization’s strategy and inspires commitment, helping employees to feel good about the work they are doing. 

When team members acknowledge their peers’ contributions, it cultivates trust among the team. This can foster a positive, harmonious work atmosphere, boost collaboration, strengthen core values, and guarantee cultural cohesion.

5. Impact Is a Cause for Celebration

Another way to offer much-deserved recognition to employees is to tell them about how their work has impacted you, the team, or the organization.

Maybe you’ve got an employee who steps up to cover for a co-worker who has a family emergency or who goes above and beyond to meet a deadline for a client. These actions can have a tremendous impact on their co-worker’s well-being and on the company’s bottom line and reputation. 

Even if you just notice that an employee consistently models the organization’s core values, that’s an impactful behavior deserving of recognition. Acknowledging the impact of an employee’s actions can make them more aware of how their efforts can affect others positively. This can motivate them to remain engaged and mindful of their actions and behaviors. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

Others Recent Articles and Podcast Episodes

Would you like to dramatically improve employee engagement?

Get a free training video that will show you how to double the number of engaged, motivated employees in just a few months.