What is Employee Recognition?

Want to improve motivation, job satisfaction, morale, and employee retention? Research shows that giving and receiving appreciation helps employees feel good. They strive for better performance too. After all, “Thanks goes a long way.”

Acknowledging your employees — genuinely and consistently — is what employee recognition (or social recognition) is all about. One of the qualities of a great workplace, the nation’s Top Workplaces understand the value of employee recognition programs. They’re also intentional about building people-first cultures rich in appreciation. 

Types of employee recognition 

Employee recognition in the workplace includes both formal and informal forms of appreciation. Culture and tone are set at the top, which is why leaders play a key role in employee recognition. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to appreciation, so it’s wise for organizations to find what resonates most with employees. Efforts to nurture a culture of appreciation are most successful when it comes from multiple sources and levels across the organization:

  • Company-to-employee recognition 
  • Manager-to-employee recognition 
  • Peer-to-peer recognition
  • Social recognition  
  • Top-down recognition 

What makes a successful employee recognition program?

How employee recognition programs are implemented defines their success. Successful employee recognition programs use a personal approach to motivate people. And while appreciation can mean different things, it should always be sincere and authentic. 

Capturing, strengthening, and echoing recognition from managers and peers engages employees and helps companies reinforce their goals and values. In the past, recognition programs included tactical gifts. Today, technology enables companies to amplify appreciation and promote social recognition.  

What are the benefits of employee recognition? 

Employee recognition in the workplace can increase employee engagement, boost morale, improve retention, and increase job satisfaction. Employee recognition can also: 

  • Drive motivation: Healthy competition inspires employees 
  • Reinforce company values: A greater connection to a shared purpose
  • Nurture trust: Employees feel seen and supported. 


Done effectively, employee recognition leads to improved productivity, customer loyalty, sales — and even higher profits.  

Employee recognition costs 

Employee recognition consistently ranks among the strongest workplace engagement drivers. And the good news? When a culture of appreciation comes from multiple sources and levels across the organization, it typically pays for itself in morale, productivity, and employee engagement.

Chances are, your organization is already spending money on employer recognition. Expenses such as team lunches, gift cards, and awards are employee recognition examples that may be allocated under a different category. But it’s important to remember that showing employee recognition is most effective when genuine, consistent, and individualized. 

Employee recognition examples and impact 

Top Workplaces are the nation’s elite organizations that excel at employee recognition. Some recent examples from these award-winning companies include:

  • CBIZ, one of the nation’s top providers of accounting, tax, and advisory services, has a Total Rewards Employee Experience program. They aim to enhance the quality of peer and employee-supervisor relationships and create a sense of purpose in each employee’s work through recognition and appreciation.
  • The ‘People Committee’ at The Gorilla Glue Company is dedicated to improving employee recognition through companywide events, cross-functional outings, and focus groups.
  • Security awareness training company, KnowBe4, as ‘Fun’ built into its company mission. One employee commented on a recent survey, “Leaders make me feel appreciated when they tell me how my contributions are making a positive impact.”

If you’re looking for employee recognition ideas, consider these best practices:  

  • Take every opportunity to give a sincere compliment or a simple “thank you.” 
  • Incorporate meaningful appreciation by recognizing employee, team, and company achievements. 
  • Talk to your employees about their strengths and individual growth to show you’re in touch with their achievements.
  • Recognize special dates such as work anniversaries and birthdays.
  • Highlight positive reviews that mention specific employees. 
  • Find ways to make it easy and quick for employees to express and broadcast their appreciation for others. 
  • Express the importance of appreciation during your onboarding efforts.
  • Encourage and role model a culture of peer-to-peer appreciation. 
  • Give employees the chance to develop, which demonstrates that you see their current successes and believe they can accomplish even more.


What happens without an employee recognition program? 

Failing to appreciate employees and incorporate employee recognition in your culture has a negative impact, especially in today’s competitive job market. Here are some things to watch for: 

  • Showing the wrong form of appreciation
  • Inconsistent employee recognition
  • Failing to show employee recognition during tough times
  • Employee recognition programs that feel fake or inauthentic


A lack of appreciation is a common reason why employees leave for better opportunities.  

Get recognized for your employee recognition program 

Top Workplaces are companies with the best employee recognition programs. This commitment to a people-first culture pays dividends, from attracting top talent to hiring and retention. Read more about why employer recognition awards matter



If your company believes in the power of a people-first culture, get recognized for it! Nominate your organization for Top Workplaces, the employer recognition program that offers awards in 60+ regional markets and national awards for culture and industry excellence.        


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