Recognizing and rewarding employees motivates them, fuels their desire to excel, builds their self-esteem, encourages employees to exceed expectations, and enhances team success.

We all have inherent needs to be recognized and rewarded for our efforts – both personally, and at work. We can provide ourselves with rewards when setting personal goals, and when involved in projects with others we become more motivated when we receive external recognition. At work, recognition and reward from co-workers as well as leaders is an important aspect of employee growth, with research indicating that up to two-thirds of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.

What is recognition and reward? Recognition means acknowledging someone for a specific accomplishment achieved, actions taken, or attitudes exemplified through their behaviours. It’s important to not only acknowledge achievements, but also show appreciation for excellent performance and behaviours you’d like to encourage. Appreciation centres on expressing gratitude to someone for their actions. Appreciation can be an expression or statement of thanks, or through a reward given. A reward is typically a tangible thing such as a celebration, promotion, or pay increase. 

Recognition and reward is present in a work environment where there is appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of workers’ efforts in a fair and timely manner. This includes appropriate and regular acknowledgements such as worker or team celebrations, recognition of good performance and years served, and milestones reached. 

Why is Recognition & Reward Important?

Recognizing and rewarding employees motivates them, fuels their desire to excel, builds their self-esteem, encourages employees to exceed expectations, and enhances team success. This, in turn, provides staff with more energy and enthusiasm and a greater sense of pride and participation in their work. In addition, employees who receive recognition are more likely to treat colleagues and customers with courtesy, respect and understanding.

What happens when employees don’t receive appropriate recognition and reward?

When employees believe that their efforts are not appreciated, it can undermine their confidence in their work, as well as their trust in the organization. At the least, employees are likely to feel demoralized; alternatively, they may quit. An imbalance between effort and reward is a significant contributor to burnout and emotional distress, leading to a range of psychological and physical disorders.

An organization with a good recognition and reward program would be able to state that:

  • immediate supervisors demonstrate appreciation of workers’ contributions; 
  • staff are paid fairly for the work they do; 
  • the organization appreciates efforts made by workers;
  • the organization celebrates shared accomplishments; and, 
  • the organization values workers’ commitment and passion for their work. 

How to effectively recognize and reward employees at work

An effective and strategic reward system for employees addresses these four areas: compensation, benefits, recognition and appreciation. Though here we only address recognition and appreciation. 

Regular performance reviews are important to ensure workers know where they are succeeding, as well as have an idea of where there are opportunities to grow. It’s also important to recognize important milestones; for example, the completion of a big project, or the number of years working for an employer. Employee recognition and reward needs to extend these formalities as well. It’s important to not only recognize outcomes – but also recognize effort. 

So, what are some unique ways to recognize employees for the work they do? 

  1. Handwritten note. A handwritten note (or e-card) of appreciation can go a long way to making someone feel valued and appreciated.
  2. Celebration or party. Many organizations have a party to celebrate the end of a year, but this can be extended past the traditional holiday party. Consider having an in-office or virtual party to celebrate a win, or to give people a little break from work. 
  3. Provide snacks or a free lunch. It doesn’t have to be an official party to feel like a reward. Provide healthy snacks throughout the week, or bring in a catered lunch on a Friday. 
  4. An experience. Providing a gift of an experience is a great reward for success at work. Consider tickets to an event or other local activity.
  5. Provide a physical award. Providing a plaque or a trophy can make someone feel special and appreciated for their accomplishments. 
  6. Buy coffee (or other beverage of choice!). Small tokens of appreciation can go a long way!

The Importance of Leadership

When it comes to recognition and reward, the role people leaders play in providing recognition to their direct reports is incredibly important. People leaders should be able to recognize opportunities for recognition of their teams, as well as be able to provide that recognition (in addition to constructive feedback), in a respectful and constructive manner. 

Final Thoughts on Recognition and Reward – Ongoing Improvement

Ongoing recognition and reward for workers will improve their workplace satisfaction, as well as their motivation for growth and development within the organization. This ultimately increases their passion and loyalty. It’s important for people leaders to have an understanding of how and when to give appropriate recognition for good work, as well as feedback to their team members. Ongoing training for people leaders is important. It’s also important to remember that recognition should be ongoing, timely, and should not always focus on workplace or task outcomes – but can also involve effort demonstrated, or embodiment of company values in the execution of work. 

Verbal recognition is important, but it’s also important to provide workers with tangible rewards for good work. This could include; time off, better shifts, or preferred task selection – as well as regularly reviewing and adjusting salaries where appropriate. 

Recognition and Reward is psychosocial factor 7 from the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace). For more information, see also Guarding Minds at Work (Samra et al.).