Intro to Employee Recognition

3 Minutes Read

Employee engagement and recognition is important.  I’ve never met an employer who thought otherwise.  I’ve never heard anyone even joke that it’s not critical. 

But here’s the thing, we all know it’s important and vital but I’m not sure everyone understands how they should be doing it. To use a term from military parlance, I notice more than a few people who see recognition as a fire and forget tool. The great ones I notice have the who, what, where and why expertise.  The 4 w’s as my media friends like to call it. 

So let’s step back for a minute and talk about the best ways to do recognition.  I’ll call it employee recognition 101.  In order to do this right you need to;


  • Who do you want to recognize
  • Determine the TYPE of recognition you want to give
  • When exactly do you want to give recognition
  • What is the impact you want your recognition to have


Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

Who do you want to recognize

A solid starting point is to recognize your immediate colleagues who help you do your job better. These peers tend to appreciate knowing they are helping people and not just the organization. 

One way to stand out is to think about the adjacent employees helping you achieve your goals. Perhaps it's someone in a different group altogether, a customer service rep who solved an issue for you, or the behind the scenes person who approved your budget request. 

Consider if you want to "recognize-up". Best practices suggest that a non-monetary thank you to your senior leaders or manager is good karma and shows you appreciate their management style. Just be cautious sending monetary awards up the hierarchy.

Determine the type of recognition you want to give

This is one of those things that seems very simple at first.  What do I want to give? A gift card for a great store!  But what comes to mind is why do you want to give that.  What is the reason behind it? 

The issue comes down to authenticity. If you approaching it like a chore this then ask, what’s the difference between doing this and walking around giving out $20, or pounds/euros/yen to everyone?  Sure it will be great at first, a novelty soon and, eventually, a measure of disrespect.  Your employees will think that you see them as someone who can be bought off with a simple payment. 

The type of recognition must align with your organization’s mission, it’s goals and what your employees view of it is. Just signing off on it and saying yes here you go thanks for what ever shows the exact level of disinterest if not disdain that employee recognition should be preventing. 

Employee recognition programs are about celebrating  your employees and not about you passing yourself off as an organization that seems to care. 

When exactly do you give recognition

I’ve shared with the HR executives I work with the well known data on recognition.  Wednesday is the most popular day to give recognition and mornings are the best time of day to do it since it helps employees kickstart their day.  This type of information is essential to your organization’s success. 

But also think about the timing as to how it interacts with the organization’s culture and the authenticity of the gift.  Do you give on Wednesday mornings because that’s when people do it? Should you give in a fashion that speaks of true reflection and authenticity in giving the recognition and making sure it’s not simply another item to be checked off your weekly to do list. 

Leadership needs to be cognizant of the times for recognition but it can’t see them as another task to check off. There are countless ways to recognize employees but for recognition to work there is a strong element of spontaneity to it. Keeping a list of employees birthdays, while a good idea for recognition, should not be seen as the mindless task of recognition.  

Recognize employees when you honestly feel there is a reason for them to be recognized

What is the impact you want recognition to have

Obviously happier employees who are more engaged with the organization’s goals.  But is that it?  As I have said does it fall back to being a task to be completed or a real opportunity to make your employees feel they are being recognized by the organization by creating an authentic experience. 

When you think of the impact you have to do that deeper dive and ask what you want to say and the context of the award.  Do you want to say thanks?  Do you want to say congratulations? Do you want to say thank you?  

This requires a complete separation from the concept of recognition being a task.  You need to know why you are doing this and what it means.  We’re no longer talking about the inauthentic check off list that is a chore.  We’re talking about management investing the time, as well as the resources, to place something behind recognition. 

So what are some of the takeaways for you?  I say: 

  • Know what you want to give, what you want to give it for and make sure you do it in an authentic way


  • Recognition isn’t some item to be checked off on a “to-do” list.  There needs to be a conscious effort to show that you are doing it for legitimate reasons and a reasonable time frame


  • Invest the time in knowing what the recognition is for and why you are doing it. This will mean there is a stronger impact of the recognition and you will be seen as authentic and not as someone checking off that “to-do” list I mentioned. 


Recognition is not some chore to be done.  It’s not item 24 on a list of 35 things. You need to make it real, authentic and, heartfelt.  The entire point of recognition is to make someone feel special.  Don’t follow the path of others and forget that. 

Todd Horton