Business Leadership Today

How Recognition Affects Employee Motivation


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

Recognition can be an incredibly powerful motivator. Teachers, parents, and coaches have long used recognition of achievements to encourage more of the behaviors that underlie those achievements and spur future achievement. 

Psychology tells us that recognition in the form of praise or recognition is the primary source of positive reinforcement, the process of modifying behavior for a more positive result. 

Business leaders may not realize how important recognition can be for motivating employees, but it really does offer an array of benefits for organizations and their teams when they celebrate success and positively reinforce achievement. 

Whether through words or actions, recognizing employees’ achievements has a profound impact on employee motivation.

Recognition affects employee motivation because acknowledging and celebrating the hard work, achievements, and successes of employees lets them know they are valued and the work they do has an impact. Recognition builds trust, boosts team morale, increases employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance. 

This article will look at some of the ways recognition can positively impact employee motivation and how to best utilize recognition as a motivational tool.

The Role of Motivation in the Workplace

Employee motivation plays a crucial role in performance and goal achievement. Motivated employees are more engaged, productive, and committed to their jobs and experience higher levels of job satisfaction and loyalty.

Motivated employees are also less risk-averse, so they are more likely to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and go the extra mile for customers, making the team better at everything from innovation to customer service.

Their commitment and positive attitude toward their roles can also make them better, more supportive co-workers, which can make the work environment more positive for all team members and even reduce absenteeism.

How Recognition Affects Employee Motivation

According to research, 69% of employees say they’d work harder if their efforts are recognized at their workplace. When employees’ contributions are recognized, they are up to 10 times as likely to strongly agree that they belong with the organization, and 80% of employees report being more productive when recognition and rewards are utilized to motivate them.

Recognition can help employees see the impact of the work they do. It helps them connect the dots between their day-to-day job duties and the larger mission, vision, and goals of the organization and demonstrates to employees that they are essential to the organization’s long-term success. 

Recognition ties an employee’s achievements to the company’s success and creates a ripple effect throughout the organization where employees celebrate their co-workers’ contributions.

We know that success breeds success, and failure breeds failure. Yet, we often perpetuate failure by not celebrating the successes in our organizations. To build on our successes, and create more success, we need to recognize and enjoy the success we achieve before we move on to the next thing

We recently sat down with Robert Hefner, Vice-President of Human Resources at David Weekley Homes, to discuss the importance of celebrating organizational and employee success.

Boosting Motivation with Recognition

There are a variety of ways organizations can recognize their employees for their contributions—a raise, additional PTO, performance-based bonus—but non-monetary forms of acknowledgment can be equally powerful. 

According to Chris Clear at Clear Storage Group, LLC motivation can be simpler than we think:

“I think most people are motivated by incentives, but you need to know what the incentives are for each employee. Some employees want incentives in the form of money, such as a bonus or maybe a higher rate of pay for hitting goals. Other employees may be motivated more by a new title or being trusted with more responsibility. I’ve been surprised by how many employees simply want recognition.” 

Here are a few tips for utilizing recognition effectively to boost employee motivation.

Be Genuine

Authenticity is so important when providing any type of feedback to employees, including recognition. By finding an aspect of the employee’s performance you truly find praiseworthy, your recognition will be genuine and job-related. For example, you can recognize an employee’s ability to remain calm under pressure or handle difficult customers with tact and professionalism.

Authentic compliments are felt more deeply by employees and can motivate them to perform at a high level and even improve in other areas. Lack of authenticity and false praise that is not genuinely felt can demoralize your team and potentially create a toxic work environment.

Keep It Specific

Recognition can be offered in a variety of ways, but it is always more useful for employees when it focuses on a specific action or behavior. Rather than generalizations, like “great job,” find detailed aspects of your employee’s performance to recognize.

Maybe you have an employee who has a knack for client relations, a talent for project management, or the analytical ability for problem-solving. Whatever their area of expertise, it’s so important to learn your team members’ unique qualities and let them know that you recognize and appreciate the skills they bring to the team. 

Providing specific details when recognizing employees demonstrates to them that you are paying attention—and that you value the work they do. This boosts both their motivation and their confidence in their skills, which encourages them to apply the skills in other aspects of their work.

Single Out their Efforts

When an employee achieves something big for the organization it provides a great opportunity to recognize them. However, results-oriented praise, such as “Congratulations on landing that big account!” or recognition that focuses predominantly on profits, can be less effective than praising the efforts your employee made to achieve that outcome.

For example, “Your presentation showed how focused you have been on meeting our client’s needs, and that helped us land the account,” acknowledges the employee’s individual contributions that helped achieve the big result. 

Big results don’t happen magically but are the culmination of smaller efforts and hard work every step of the way. Recognizing these efforts, either of one employee or the collaborative work of a team, helps them know their contributions are valuable and essential to the organization’s success. 

Recognize Employees’ Impact on the Organization—and on Each Other

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.

Encourage Employees to Recognize Each Other’s Achievements

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 recognize their coworkers’ contributions, it builds trust between team members. This can facilitate a positive, harmonious work environment, improve collaboration, reinforce core values, and ensure cultural alignment. 

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.

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