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The Science Behind Recognition

The Science

Blog Post

Why it’s important to recognize good work


Mark Keeton, Vice President
Solution Management

Think back to the last time you felt truly valued as an employee. Was it because you hit a project out of the park? Maybe it was when your boss gave you a pat on the back.

Regardless of the circumstances, chances are that in some way it was the result of recognition of your efforts or hard work. It’s a fundamental human need to want recognition or praise for achievements, whether they be at work, on the playing field or at home.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people have significant esteem and self-actualization needs. Esteem needs include esteem for oneself but also includes the desire for reputation or respect from others. Self-actualization includes fulfilling personal potential and seeking peak experiences or a desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

Needs lower in the pyramid must be fulfilled before the higher tiers can be realized.

More evidence of the need for recognition

Eighty percent of the HR leaders surveyed in the 2018 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey said that the majority of employee recognition programs help with employee experience, employee relationships, organizational culture, employee engagement and organizational values. Recognition touches so much of HR practice and company culture that it needs to be considered more than a program. Rather, it needs to be an integral part of the fabric of an organization.

There are many advantages of helping employees fulfill their esteem needs. It’s critical to recognize employees regularly – not just once a year during a performance review. It’s also important to note that recognizing employees doesn’t have to be expensive. According to Gallup survey data, employees rate recognition from their managers or a high-level leader as most memorable.

How recognition makes a difference in the workplace:

  • When employees feel appreciated, valued and recognized for their work, they are more likely to put forth more effort. They will stay later to meet deadlines and will work harder to meet customer requests.
  • It’s important to dole out recognition fairly. If there is even a perception of unfairness, employees will balk and the recognition strategies will lose their value.
  • Build in surprises. Giving employees the same things year after year as recognition can grow stale quickly. Sprinkling in unexpected rewards or recognition can keep your program fresh and interesting.
  • Make the recognition something employees will talk about. People feel funny discussing money and cash often can get lumped in for ho-hum items like household or car repairs so it doesn’t feel as special. Recognizing employees in new and different ways makes it easy for them to talk about and can incentivize underperforming employees.

This all can be boiled down to a maxim you probably learned as a child. As the Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”


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