Why is employee recognition such a big problem?

congratulationsIt comes up time and time again in employee satisfaction surveys: employees don’t get enough recognition.

It’s a major pain point for HR professionals, or at least it should be. Why? Because most managers recognise the value of employee recognition, they understand the business benefits and they know, in theory, how to recognise employees. Yet, in survey after survey, employees tell their employers that they simply don’t feel appreciated.

So what is the cause? Is it a mismatch between employee and manager expectations? Is it that managers aren’t doing it because they don’t feel it’s a priority? Is it just a management problem – what about peer-to-peer recognition?

I believe a lot of the issues stem from, but are not limited to, managers. Here are some thoughts on why getting employee recognition right can be such a big problem.


Job descriptions

Perhaps the main issue is that ‘giving employee praise’ isn’t actually written in a managers’ job description. Add in time pressures, and the fact they are probably concentrating on doing the tasks their own managers have told them to concentrate on, and employee recognition can quickly drop down the list of priorities. It requires both time and effort from managers to know what their employees are doing, and all too often managers don’t necessarily have the luxury of time, and their effort is spent elsewhere.

This isn’t necessarily the managers fault though. This can be a result of working in an environment where the focus is on the actual outputs and completed tasks, rather than the ‘soft skills’ side of managing.



Another problem is that often employee recognition programmes are implemented without adequate communication. HR teams and senior management have decided on the programme given their budget constraints, and then it is simply launched. There is no thought given to updating both managers and employees on the scheme, enabling managers to discuss the programme in team meetings or keeping the scheme, and therefore the need to thank employees, front of mind.

Communication needs to be consistent and on-going, and that means it needs to be a critical part of the business’ annual strategic planning, rather than just an afterthought.


Formal employee recognition schemes

well doneAre ‘formalised’ employee recognition schemes themselves actually part of the problem? Employee of the month awards and points-based reward schemes, amongst other ideas, are usually positive and can help encourage employee engagement and productivity. But, they can absolve managers of responsibility when it comes to recognising their team members: managers don’t have to think about what to say or do, they just click a few buttons on-line, or fill in a form, and it’s done. A few days, or weeks, later the employee receives a gift, or something in the post.

Employees need personal recognition that goes into detail, preferably linking what they have done to a desired behaviour or company value. Nothing fancy, nothing that takes a committee to decide: just appreciation of their efforts delivered in personal, immedaite and sincere way.


In the end, perhaps it all boils down to the organisational culture: often the individual culture of an organisation doesn’t empower managers to recognise the valuable contributions their team members make. And until organisations start addressing the culture of the business and make personal, sincere recognition part of the every day activities for a manager, then there will always be a problem.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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