6 Tips for Giving Better Employee Recognition at Work

Recognition & Rewards
February 9, 2024

Picture this: you've got a fantastic team. They're putting in the hours, hitting targets, and excelling at their jobs. But when it comes to acknowledging their efforts, you've hit a roadblock. 

As a leader, the idea of recognition may raise some concerns:

  • Will others get jealous?
  • Will this sound cheesy and miss the mark?
  • What types of actions am I supposed to be recognizing?

One thing you know for sure: your team deserves more than a surface-level "good job." They deserve personalized, timely, and memorable recognition that keeps them motivated and feeling valued. But you're still not quite sure how to get started.

You're not alone! Mastering the art of consistent and impactful recognition can be a struggle for many leaders. The good news is learning how to give recognition at work is a management soft skill that can be mastered, and we're here to help! 

At Qarrot, we help companies implement official recognition programs and also help their leadership become better at giving recognition. Through our experience working with organizations, we have noticed a few recognition best practices that lead to appreciation having a greater impact on employee happiness and motivation and, of course, the overall success of their recognition programs.

This article will explore these best practices and uncover tips to help avoid your recognition efforts from falling flat. With these tips, you'll be equipped to offer your employees impactful recognition that truly energizes a team. Our goal is to take you from the place of doubt into clear victories marked by a sense of accomplishment. 

6 Tips for Giving Better Employee Recognition at Work

Offer frequent recognition (at least monthly!)

One of the biggest challenges for leaders is getting into a habit of giving recognition at regular intervals. A lot of leaders are great at giving recognition for those big, obvious accomplishments that happen a few times per year. But where they lack consistency is sharing their appreciation for the smaller everyday efforts that happen behind the scenes. In other words, all the steps and work that lead up to the big accomplishment.

Now, we're not necessarily implying you need to give recognition every single day. But ideally, you want to be aiming for more than a few times per year. Workplace studies have demonstrated that the frequency of recognition directly correlates with satisfaction at work. The more frequent the recognition, the more satisfaction increases. 

Many leaders might say, "But my employees don't achieve big accomplishments that frequently; what am I supposed to recognize between these bigger wins?

Well, once again, one of the best ways to make sure to give frequent recognition is to focus on praising employees' "behind-the-scenes efforts," not only the big final accomplishment. Praising employees' smaller efforts not only results in more frequent recognition but also more genuine recognition. Ultimately, it will have a greater emotional impact on the employee as they will feel personally appreciated and valued.

Focus on one specific goal or accomplishment

What type of recognition do you think sounds more impactful to an employee?

  • "Great job on everything you've done this week."
  • "Thank you for your standout efforts in dealing with client X this week. They were being particularly difficult, and you did an amazing job at de-escalating the situation."

If there is one recognition tip to remember, it is that impactful recognition is specific. In other words, it focuses on one specific accomplishment or achievement. Of course, the occasional "great job on everything you've done" is acceptable. As we always say, giving some recognition is better than none. But if you want to deliver recognition that really makes an employee feel deeply valued and appreciated, take the time to point out a specific win, especially one that you know they've worked so hard to achieve.

That said, leaders and managers sometimes can be unsure which accomplishments deserve official praise or recognition. We recommend identifying achievements that align with the organization's goals or demonstrate exceptional skills. 

For instance, recognizing an employee's ability to deal with challenging clients, as in the second example, acknowledges their effort and highlights a crucial skill — de-escalation. Recognition like this not only boosts morale but also demonstrates what skills or behaviors are valued. Remember, the key is to be genuine and specific in your recognition, showing that you not only notice their efforts but also understand their unique contributions to the team. 

Highlight the impact of the employee's work on the organization

People want to go to work and feel like they are making a difference. It feels great to know that your contributions are impacting not just your team but the entire organization. 

That’s why impactful recognition will always take it a step further and highlight how the employees' work impacted the organization. Bonus points if it can be quantified. Adding extra words that speak to these finer details will go a long way to instill in the employee a sense of accomplishment for their hard work.

For example, note the stark difference between the following two examples:

  • “Thanks for all your hard work on closing the deal with Company X. Your hard work and dedication have been an asset to our team!”
  • “Thanks for all your hard work on closing the deal with Company X. Because of your hard work, we will surpass our quarterly quota by over 10%! Amazing job.”

This detailed acknowledgment instills a profound sense of pride and reinforces the understanding that every individual contribution is crucial in steering the entire organization toward success.

Speak your employee's language of appreciation

Every employee is unique. For example, it’s important to remember that not everyone will enjoy receiving public praise and recognition. Some people don’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention and having the spotlight on them. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be recognized for their work at all. It just means that they may prefer to have recognition delivered privately or in a more personalized way.

Workplace expert Dr.Paul White explains this idea in his book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. We often think verbal appreciation is the only way leaders can share recognition with their teams. But in this book, White explores the many ways leaders can share their appreciation for their team and why just saying “thank you” at work isn’t always enough.

A popular example: is quality time. If a busy manager makes time to give an employee their undivided attention by sharing a meal or booking a time to talk about their career goals, that can be a genuine way of showing appreciation for your employee.

The bottom line is don't limit yourself to verbal "good jobs" or "thanks yous." Of course, you can make that one slice of the pie, but you can also share your appreciation in other ways, like giving your employees a helping hand or making quality time for them.

Use a variety of recognition methods

In a similar vein, varying your recognition methods is critical to giving effective recognition to your employees. For example, you might find yourself giving verbal "good jobs" or shout-outs in meetings. That's what you find the most practical and effective at showing appreciation for your team's work. 

However, giving the same "good job team" in a meeting week after week, you might start to sound like a broken record. And your "good job" will not have the desired impact on your team's morale. 

In this case, you might want to consider switching things up. You could, for example, offer a written note or letter of appreciation to your employees for bigger accomplishments. Or you can offer to take your team out for lunch and spend some quality time with them as a reward for a job well done. 

There are many ways to show employees you care about them and appreciate their hard work. Sometimes, it's beneficial to make an extra effort to do something special and unique, especially when you wish to acknowledge the biggest goals and accomplishments.

Ask for feedback

Feeling underappreciated at work is a major reason for employee turnover. A Gallup report shows that a lack of recognition remains one of the most common reasons employees leave an organization. In other words, although appreciation is relatively simple to offer (and highly cost-effective), so many leaders tend to fall short in this area. 

So what can leaders do? We recommend simply asking your staff how they feel. Yes, it might seem a bit weird initially, especially if you’re not used to asking for feedback about your leadership skills. But this conversation will be an important icebreaker and show employees that you really care about them and their opinions. 

You can ask:

  • Do you feel appreciated and recognized for your work?
  • How would you prefer we show you appreciation (i.e. verbal recognition, team lunch, etc.)
  • Can you give me an example of a time you felt appreciated for your accomplishments?

Keeping connected with your staff on these questions is critical to reducing potential employee turnover due to feeling unappreciated. Giving your employees appreciation is truly a low-effort and high-impact action in the workplace. Managers should be doing their best to ensure that employees are feeling fulfilled and satisfied in this area.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest challenges of growing a culture of recognition in a workplace is getting everyone in the habit of giving regular recognition. Managers and leaders are busy people, and it can be difficult to make recognition into a regular habit. On top of this, some typical worries might stand in the way, like "Will others feel jealous," or "Will this sound cheesy and silly."

We want to assure you that your worries are valid. But in our experience, following these best practices will mitigate any risk of jealousy among your team or sounding too cheesy. When you are specific in your recognition, there will be no room for jealousy, as the other team members will likely appreciate their peers for their hard work because they saw it, too. And if you ensure that your recognition is detailed and focused on the impact of the employees' work, you will certainly not come across as cheesy. But rather, you will be shining a light on the impact of the employee's hard work, and will always be much appreciated.

Ultimately, with these recognition best practices, you'll create a workplace where recognition isn't just a nice-to-have but an essential aspect of fostering engagement, motivation, and the overall success of your organization.

Guest Author