Workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for their work. Recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention .

What is Recognition?: Tools for Leaders to Effectively Recognize and Appreciate Team Members​

Definition: Appreciation or acclaim for an achievement, service, or ability.

As a leader, you should routinely ask yourself:

  • Do I regularly praise my team members for their efforts?
  • Have I created an environment in which my team members are encouraged to recognize one another for doing good work?
  • Do I know how each team member likes to receive recognition? Given this knowledge, do I then individualize my approach to providing that recognition?
  • How often do I celebrate my team's success? Do I make it a priority?

Department of Medicine Employee Recognition

Four elements of effective recognition: 

  • Authentic
  • Meaningful
  • Personalized
  • Frequent & Timely

Why practice recognition?

1. Workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for their work. Recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.
  • When team members feel their recognition needs are being fulfilled, they are 56% less likely to be looking or passively watching for other job opportunities.
  • Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they'll quit in the next year.
2. Beyond communicating appreciation and providing motivation to the recognized employee, the act of recognition also sends messages to other employees about what success looks like. In this way, recognition is both a tool for personal reward and an opportunity to reinforce the desired culture of the organization to other employees.

3. Employees rely on praise and recognition to better understand their manager’s expectations and values. Praise and recognition are tools that managers can use to communicate what is important and help an employee see their value.

  • Gallup’s research shows that managers who do not use the power of recognition hamper their own managerial effectiveness and diminish the power of their employees and teams.

Recognition is not “One Size Fits All”

1. Who you’re recognizing matters. The organization’s culture and values matter too. Consider the following:

  • Career Stage
  • Industry
  • Cultural Background
  • Age
  • Expertise

2. Additional factors specific to your team?

3. What is meaningful recognition to one person may be less valuable to the next. Asking your employees the following questions can help you identify what motivates them:

  • How do you like to receive recognition?
  • What is the best recognition you have ever received? What is the best recognition you have received in the past six months?
  • What type of recognition do you prefer? What are you most comfortable with?
  • From whom would you like to receive recognition?
  • Think of three colleagues who help you the most in your job. How have you thanked them or recognized them for their help?
  • Who are your biggest cheerleaders at work? Who helps you believe in your success?
  • How can we build a culture that encourages and values recognition and praise as a team?

Best Practices of Employee Recognition

  1. The most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized. Acknowledging employees' best work can be a low-cost endeavor -- it can be as small as a personal note or a thank-you card. But the key is to know what makes it meaningful and memorable for the employee, and whois doing the recognizing.
  2. The criteria for recognition should align with the purpose, brand and culture of the organization and should reflect its aspirational identity to inspire others. Rewarding employees who are not top performers could adversely affect high performers' motivation. As such, organizations need to state specific standards for awards to avoid any backlash.
  3. Employee recognition should be frequent. Gallup recommends every seven days -- and timely to ensure that the employee knows the significance of the recent achievement and to reinforce company values.
  4. The most effective managers promote a recognition-rich environment with praise coming from every direction and with everyone knowing how others like to receive recognition. They do this by incorporating the following behaviors into their leadership style and approach
    • When you praise your employees, emphasize why the recognized act was important.
    • Recognize team members’ individual talents and strengths.
    • Introduce a unique way to facilitate and encourage individualized recognition.
    • Learn how each team member likes to receive recognition and praise, and tailor an approach to meet everyone's recognition needs.
    • Encourage your employees to recognize one another and their partners on different teams or in different departments.
    • Make recognition an agenda item at regularly scheduled meetings. • Be an advocate for your employees by promoting their areas of competence and expertise.

Taking bold initiative

Solving problems outside of their key responsibility areas or functions

Developing new and effective systems or processes

Contributing to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), such as volunteering for the environment or charitable endeavors, internal or in the community at large

Boosting team morale

High-quality work that attracts positive customer feedback

Initiatives to reduce costs or improve products and services

Scaling operations or contributing to profits

Mentorship and thought leadership efforts

Going out of the way to support a project or peers

Counseling and helping a co-worker out of a difficult phase

To enliven the company's values and principles

For showing an act of future leadership

Recognize employees for achieving their goals

Public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation

Private recognition from a boss, peer or customer

Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews

Promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust

Monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase 6. Personal satisfaction or pride in work

These terms are often used interchangeably but are not the same.

Recognition is performance based.

Appreciation is the valuing of a person.

Simple gestures of thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation boost positive emotions that translate into camaraderie, a sense of mission, and a propensity to understand each other.

Language of Appreciation  Examples
 Words of Affirmation  Verbal or written praise; Positive communication message; Note or email of thanks and appreciation for a job well done
 Acts of Service  Offering support with a task or gesture of support and appreciation
 Tangible Gifts  Presents, treats, and tokens of appreciation to acknowledge contributions and milestones
 Quality Time  Intentional, thoughtful, and meaningful efforts to connect, whether virtual or in person (e.g., regular and informal gatherings)


Social Media

Teams Praise App, Team Member Shout-out site (IU Health), and Wambi (IU Health)


Handwritten Thank Yous

  • More personalized and a surprise usually to the employee
  • Send to their home address
  • Time and effort is recognized


Things to Say in Praise or Support of Someone

Good idea

I knew you could do it

You’ve really improved

I like your positive attitude

Thanks for the information

I appreciate your cooperation

We missed you yesterday

Thanks, but the credit really goes to my team

Who is your supervisor? I want him/her to know what a great job you did

Thanks for being flexible

You’re very organized

I couldn’t have completed this project without you


I am impressed with this work

Please join us

I appreciate your putting in the extra effort on this

I value your input

Do you understand or do you have some questions?

You’re on target


I’m sorry 

You’re a true professional

Great report

Well done

How can I help?

How was your weekend?

How is your (mother, daughter, son, etc.)

Thank you

Thanks for your support


I trust you (your judgment)

You demonstrated true leadership with that project