Your Employee Recognition Message — Keep It Simple

August 31, 2016


Exactly twenty years ago I got into the field of educating people on how to get recognition right in the workplace. My reasoning was no one was showing leaders, managers and everyday employees how to give recognition the right way.

Oh sure, there were always mandates from the C-suite on high to “go say ‘Thank you!’” more often to the employees. Back then such requests were usually the result of a low-scoring employee satisfaction survey.

Still, no one was showing people how to do recognition correctly.


In the intervening years, let’s take a look at what has happened with recognition giving.

Recognition is still considered to be one of the top drivers of employee engagement.

Organizations with highly effective recognition programs have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than workplaces with ineffective recognition programs. Only 14 percent of organizations actually provide managers with the necessary tools, education and resources for giving rewards and recognition.

When asked what leaders could do more of to improve employee engagement, 58 percent of respondent on one SHRM survey suggested, “Give recognition.”

Consider Monster’s 2013 U.S. Workforce Study. Only 48 percent of employed workers feel their efforts are recognized and valued at their present job.

Of the 18 percent of employees on the 2014 CareerBuilder report who said they intended to leave their positions, 65 percent cited feeling unvalued as one of the top reasons for leaving.

Seems not a lot has changed from twenty years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now it is “employee engagement” surveys that produce the ugly truth of recognition not being given so well.


I am here to tell you that giving recognition is not hard to do. Not only is it fairly easy to give, but it can be downright fun too.

We just have to keep the recognition message very simple.

There are lots of quick ideas on how to express effective appreciation to people: be specific, give as soon as possible, be positive, etc. However, I think we have to change people’s beliefs and attitudes first before any communication or feedback techniques will ever take root and become ingrained habits.

Consider the following five principles as ways to transform recognition giving in the workplace.

Value People’s Contributions

Do we value the merit and importance of each individual’s work in the workplace? Do we esteem their work highly enough? Each of us adds something each day to the benefit of a customer or for the company. It is hopefully the best we can give. In essence, we have contributed something valuable. Now the question remains as to whether others see what we have done, and whether they will acknowledge our contribution.

Sincerely Thank People

We’ve likely all done it, and if not, I am very proud of you. Have you ever given the obligatory “thank you!” after being served at a restaurant and never even faced the server to look them in the eye as you thanked them? It is not a matter of just saying the words — “Thank You” — which employees are asking for. It is receiving them with total sincerity. Look a person in the eye and earnestly acknowledge them candidly and without any phoniness.

Appreciate the Difference Made

It might be easy to say thank you to someone, but employees might not know the difference their contribution on the job today made to someone else. So tell them. Share how their actions have helped you, benefited a customer, made a manager elsewhere in the company stand up and take notice. Knowing a person made a difference gives purpose and meaning to their work.

Express Your Personal Feelings

Over the past 20 years, as I looked at the companies that were getting recognition right and those that weren’t, I saw a pattern. Greatrecognizing companies have people who are not afraid to express feelings. They are not solely performance focused. They put feelings, emotions, and celebration into every act of recognition given. This means even in your one-onone exchanges to express your personal excitement, enthusiasm and encouragement.

Honor People Respectfully

I can tell you that no amount of recognition can happen naturally in any organization where there is no equality of respect. No respect, no recognition. Ironically, when we honor someone, we are giving them the highest degree of respect we can. It means treating that person in a special way with the dignity and respect they want, and not necessarily as we would like.

Twenty years later, it looks like people still need to be shown how to give others the recognition they deserve.

Let us help one another do better by just making recognition simpler.

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