Why is employee recognition such a problem?

employee appreciationEmployee recognition. It’s not rocket science. Employees like to, and want to, do a good job. We also know that employees want to receive recognition and be appreciated for doing a good job, or going the extra mile, and most managers know that there are some great businesses benefits in recognising employees.

Yet time and time again, in surveys across the globe, employee recognition rears it’s head as an issue. There seems to be a distinct lack of recognition in the workplace: employees simply aren’t being recognised for their efforts.

In response, management teams often implement formal recognition programmes, and come up with awards such as ‘Employee of the Month’. Whilst these are well meaning, it still doesn’t seem to fix the issue, so what’s the problem?


Where do employers get it wrong?

In my opinion there are two main areas where employers get it wrong, and they are both in the implemention: the recognition is generic and the recognition isn’t timely.

The recognition is generic, in that it usually involves receiving a set reward, at a set point in time. Employees usually receive the same cash reward and the award is usually made in the same way, without any reference to the impact the employee had on their manager or co-workers. This results in recognition that is impersonal, and means little to the employees.

The most common problem is the timing of recognition. Often managers wait until a monthly or a mid-year/end-of-year review, by which time the actions or behaviour that led to the recognition has been forgotten by the employee, and whilst they might appreciate the recognition, its impact is diminished and it doesn’t encourage repeat behaviour.


How do you correct it?

Here’s how you can improve engagement in any formal recognition programme:


1. Make it personal

When it comes to appreciating employees, managers should be specific about what it was that they did. It’s even better if they can also explain the impact it had, for example, “Thanks for staying late last night to finalise those figures for my presentation. Your hard work has meant that the Board has approved the new marketing campaign.”


2showing appreciation. Make it authentic

The appreciation should be authentic; you should be genuine in your appreciation and have no ulterior motives. Managers need to be natural with their employees, and it’s important that they also consider their non-verbal communication.


3. Make it frequent

Don’t wait until a mid-year or end-of-year performance review, or quarterly update to thank employees. Managers need to be looking for opportunities to appreciate and thank employees on a weekly basis. It shouldn’t be so frequent that it loses its meaning, but they shouldn’t wait until specific occasions to say thank you.


4. Make it individual

Managers need to appreciate employees in a way that reflects that individual person. Perhaps some employees would like a celebratory high-five alongside an, “Awesome work on project x Bob!”, whilst others would like a personalised email copied in to senior managers. It’s important that managers know which style will resonate with their individual employees.


5. Make it public

Appreciation should always be public. It’s more powerful when it’s presented in front of the employee’s co-workers, and it has the added benefit of encouraging their co-workers to repeat the behaviour.


Businesses have nothing to lose and everything to gain by implimenting similar small changes to the way they deliver employee recognition. And whilst formal programmes can encourage a culture of appreciation, in the end it comes down to two simple words, “Thank You.”


See how these organisations show their appreciation through peer to peer recognition schemes

Recognition Video Case Studies

Aviva, Virgin Media and Siemens recognition videos 



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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