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Employee recognition: Why it matters + how to deliver it

Employee recognition reinforces positive performance and shows your appreciation for good work. Learn how to deliver better recognition with this guide.

Por Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Última actualización el May 29, 2024

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is acknowledging and appreciating your employees’ contributions, big and small. Recognition can boost morale and motivation while reducing burnout.

Despite technological and cultural workplace improvements over the last decade, workers still experience regular burnout. A recent study from isolved notes that 65 percent of employees experienced burnout in 2023—and almost 9 in 10 say it’s more important than ever to have a personally fulfilling job.

Employee morale is a strong defense against burnout, but it takes time and effort to build. Businesses prioritizing employee recognition for good work or behavior can boost morale by showing their team members they’re valued.

Top-notch employers know that workers need different types of recognition. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to a stellar employee experience (EX) but a necessary building block.

To help you establish that building block, we’ll explore the importance of recognizing your people and how you can do so. We’ll also look at examples and the criteria for recognition.

More in this guide:

Why employee recognition is important

Employee recognition is important because it shows you’re paying attention and keeping your team’s best interests in mind. It contributes to a positive work environment that helps reduce turnover and stress. Follow along to learn four key benefits of recognizing your team.

In our EX Trends Report, 80 percent of respondents said their company could improve its employee experience.

Leads to a better CX

Employee recognition programs create a ripple effect that benefits CX. When your employee satisfaction is high and your workforce feels valued, team members are more motivated to go the extra mile for customers. This leads to friendlier interactions and a genuine desire to leave a positive impression, which reflects well on brand reputation.

Fosters a positive work environment

Your team’s good work deserves validation, and doing so helps your people feel appreciated, keeping them happy and productive. EX journey mapping allows you to identify any low engagement that might signal a need for positive reinforcement, such as employee recognition.

Mitigates employee turnover and stress

Acknowledging and rewarding team members for their contributions boosts morale, making them less likely to leave for another opportunity. This can increase employee engagement and keep people tuned into what they need to continue their achievements. Plus, engaged team members who know they’re valued may feel less stressed than those who feel overlooked.

Helps reduce long-term expenses

Your bottom line depends on employee recognition, too. Employee turnover is a major expense for any company, especially one that relies on knowledge and expertise. Employee recognition programs can reduce this expense by improving retention and lowering hiring costs.

Types of recognition at work

There are many different types of employee rewards and recognition. You can recognize achievements among your peers the same way your boss can acknowledge your own.

Type of staff recognition
What it is and why it matters
FormalThis is a structured program typically managed by HR. It’s planned and documented and often includes tangible awards, such as employee of the month.
InformalThis is more spontaneous, day-to-day appreciation. It’s less structured and focuses on an immediate appreciation for specific actions or achievements. A public meeting shoutout is an example of informal recognition.
Top-downThis classic recognition model encourages managers and supervisors to acknowledge and reward employees. It emphasizes a hierarchical structure with praise from positions of authority, like a supervisor giving a positive note in a performance review.
Peer-to-peerThis approach flips the script where colleagues recognize and appreciate each other’s contributions, like when an employee sends a message on a team Slack channel thanking another for their help. It can foster collaboration and feel more genuine than top-down recognition.
MonetaryThis is a way of acknowledging and rewarding team members with financial incentives, like profit sharing.

How to recognize employees

Every workplace is different, and not all employees prefer the same type of recognition. For example, monetary recognition can be a powerful motivator, but it’s important to use it strategically alongside other forms of recognition to create a well-rounded program.

Here are the best ways to recognize your team for their contributions.

An illustration of happy coworkers accompanies a list of the best ways to give employee recognition.

Recognize your employees in ways they value

Your employees know how they prefer to receive recognition, but they probably won’t let you know unless you ask them. Surveys are powerful tools for collecting feedback. An employee recognition survey might initially seem counterintuitive, but it shows that you value employee opinions and want to improve recognition programs for their benefit.

Some team members might not feel comfortable voicing their preferences, so the survey enables them to anonymously share the types of recognition they find most meaningful.

Example: A survey might reveal that some employees value public praise at team meetings, while others prefer private thank you cards. With this feedback, you can tailor the recognition approach to what motivates each employee—making this more impactful than a generic reward system.

Be specific and detailed with your praise

Specific and detailed praise equals more meaningful appreciation. While a generic “good job” can feel impersonal and forgettable, mentioning specific actions shows employees you’ve been paying attention and truly appreciate their efforts.

Vague praise doesn’t allow for learning and development, either. By pinpointing specifics, you’re giving feedback that helps reinforce positive behaviors.

Saying, “Thanks for going above and beyond to help close that deal with your creative presentation,” highlights the effort and the specific skill that contributed to success. This helps the employee understand what strengths to keep building on.

Example: A customer service rep receives a glowing customer review praising their patience and clear communication skills while resolving a complex issue. A manager could say, “I saw the fantastic customer review, Brielle! Your ability to stay calm and explain the technical details in easy-to-understand terms was impressive. That’s exactly the kind of service that keeps our customers happy.”

This detailed recognition acknowledges Brielle’s strengths, reinforces positive behavior, and motivates her to continue using those skills.

Don’t wait to show appreciation

There are two main reasons why showing immediate appreciation is a powerful way to recognize team members.

First, it reinforces behavior and motivates employees to keep doing better. When you directly tie recognition to an accomplishment, it strengthens the connection between the action and the desired outcome. This immediate feedback loop motivates employees to continue performing well.

Second, immediate recognition stays in our memory and leaves a lasting impact. Our memories can be fickle, especially in a fast-paced environment. You diminish the impact when you wait days, weeks, or months to acknowledge someone’s contribution. The employee might not even remember the action you’re praising, making the feedback less meaningful.

Example: A member of the CX team builds a customer retention program that results in a 10 percent increase in customer retention rate. Waiting until their quarterly review to acknowledge this achievement lessens the impact.

A more effective approach is for the manager to offer immediate praise, perhaps saying, “That was fantastic, John! Your persistence really paid off with this new retention program because our retention rate is up 10 percent.” This immediate recognition reinforces John’s efforts and motivates him to continue performing well.

Ensure fairness and consistency

Fairness and consistency are key elements of any employee recognition initiative. When recognition feels arbitrary or biased, it can damage employee trust and morale. If two employees achieve similar results but only one receives a shoutout, it might breed resentment and make workers feel undervalued.

Team members may also be more motivated to go the extra mile when they believe you will recognize their efforts fairly. Inconsistency can be demotivating. If you only give praise for flashy accomplishments and not for the consistent hard work that keeps things running smoothly, employees might feel like their daily efforts don’t matter.

Example: A call center implements a new recognition program that leverages data-driven QA and WFM tools to analyze workforce data. This way, leadership can ensure recognition comes from concrete, measurable achievements and feels fair and balanced.

Track employee performance

No employee recognition program is complete without the ability to track employee performance. The best, most immediate, and most specific recognition comes from data-driven insights, which workforce management (WFM) and QA tools can deliver.

With AI-powered WFM and QA tools, you can better analyze employee performance and spot areas where workers consistently exceed expectations. This enables you to proactively recognize these ongoing contributions and not just wait for major milestones.

These tools can also help set and track individual goals for each employee. This makes it easy to personalize recognition based on unique employee actions and performance targets.

Example: Customer service workforce engagement tools like Zendesk WFM and Zendesk QA can score agents on key metrics, such as average handle time, schedule adherence, product knowledge, tone, and more. This data can help managers identify top performers who deserve recognition.

Empower your employees like never before

Discover the three trends shaping the future of employee experience.

Examples of employee recognition

Here are different ways you can acknowledge employees while keeping the above tips in mind:

  • Public shoutouts: Acknowledge an employee’s achievement during a team meeting or company-wide gathering.
  • Personalized notes: Write a thank you note or a thoughtful email expressing appreciation for a specific accomplishment.
  • Extra time off: Gift an employee an additional paid day off or flexible work hours to show gratitude for their dedication.
  • Mentorship or training opportunities: Provide access to opportunities for employee development or mentorship programs as a form of recognition for high potential.
  • High-profile assignments: Entrust an employee with a challenging or prestigious project to acknowledge their skills and trust their capabilities.
  • Company-sponsored events: Organize social gatherings, team outings, or volunteer activities to show appreciation and foster team bonding.
  • Gift cards or merchandise: Give team members gift cards to their favorite stores or company-branded merchandise to express gratitude.
  • Public recognition boards: Showcase employee achievements or milestones with a physical or digital board.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Allow employees to work remotely or adjust their schedules for a period in recognition of their contributions.
  • Community service leave: Grant employees paid time off to volunteer for a cause they’re passionate about, allowing them to give back while still being compensated.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and the companies that are best at recognizing employee performance do so in various ways. Get creative with what works best for your business and what you learn about employee preferences from an employee recognition survey.

Criteria for employee recognition

The criteria for employee recognition will vary depending on your company’s culture and goals, but here are some general categories to consider:

Three icons represent the three main criteria for recognizing good performance in employees.

Performance-based recognition

Performance-based recognition focuses on highlighting achievements.

  • Exceeding goals: Use employee performance management tools to notice who consistently exceeds expectations, quotas, targets, or deadlines.
  • Problem-solving: Acknowledge workers who demonstrate exceptional problem-solving skills by resolving complex issues or finding innovative solutions.
  • Quality of work: Appreciate employees who consistently deliver high-quality work and meet or exceed standards for accuracy, efficiency, or creativity.

Recognition doesn’t always need to highlight performance, but it’s a great way to be specific with your praise.

Behavior-based recognition

Behavior-based recognition looks at employee actions and how they affect others.

  • Teamwork and collaboration: Recognize team members who effectively collaborate with colleagues, fostering a supportive and productive team environment.
  • Leadership: Acknowledge employees who demonstrate leadership qualities, motivating and inspiring others to succeed.
  • Work ethic: Appreciate employees who demonstrate a strong work ethic through their dedication, reliability, and a positive attitude.

Behavioral recognition can reinforce positive company culture and encourage more positive behaviors in the future.

Tenure-based recognition

Tenure-based recognition celebrates longevity, whether that’s an employee’s tenure with your company or the impact their work had on company growth.

  • Work anniversaries: Celebrate employee milestones like work anniversaries to recognize an employee’s long-term commitment and loyalty to the company.
  • Learning and development: Acknowledge employees actively pursuing professional development opportunities to expand their skills and knowledge.
  • Company growth: Recognize team members who contribute significantly to the company’s growth and success by achieving major milestones or launching new initiatives.

No matter the criteria you choose to evaluate for recognition, it’s important to strike a balance between recognizing big achievements and acknowledging smaller contributions to keep workers motivated.

Frequently asked questions

Get better employee insights to recognize performance

You can’t expect employees to thrive without validation that their efforts are meaningful. You need to support your people to create an environment where they feel valued. Employee recognition builds trust and morale and helps contribute to a more rewarding EX.

Give your support teams data-backed recognition with Zendesk WEM solutions. Our WFM and QA tools leverage AI to help you gain visibility into agent activity and performance so you can give specific shoutouts for unique achievements. With better insight into where your agents excel, you can ensure your recognition is fair and consistent while also being specific and detailed.

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