Applauz Blog

7 Proven Tips for Managers to Give Better Recognition in the Workplace

Published: February 3, 2020

Last Updated: February 7, 2024

  6 min read

Giving recognition to employees doesn't have to be so hard, with these tips any leader can do so in an impactful way, leading to more employee engagement.

Imagine the following:

  • How it feels to receive heartfelt appreciation from your significant other after you took the time to cook a great meal. 
  • How it feels when someone gives you a meaningful compliment at work, such as saying that they admire your work ethic.

Recognition and appreciation are critical to employee happiness. But also, to human happiness in general! Yet, many managers have difficulty making time for recognition, and organizations struggle to create highly appreciative environments.

That said, as a manager, you might have a goal to “give more recognition.” But it’s likely that you still have a lot of questions on your mind. 

For example:

  • Which actions should I recognize?
  • What should I say?
  • How often should I recognize?

You might be hesitant to give more recognition because of these questions. 

Throughout this article, we will answer all these questions and outline some proven best practices for giving recognition at work. As a result, employees will feel genuinely valued and appreciated. And you -- and your company -- can reap the benefits of greater appreciation in the workplace, such as higher productivity and employee retention.

7 Proven Tips for Managers to Give Better Recognition in the Workplace

Tip 1 - Recognize your employees at least once per month

How often should I give recognition? It's a common question for managers who want to give more recognition or those whose HR teams ask them to get involved with a recognition program.

Luckily, research has some answers!

Dr. Paul White, the author of the book The Vibrant Workplace, is the employee recognition expert. White's best advice for managers is to make employee recognition a regular part of your life at work. Giving continuous recognition makes praise more sincere to your employees. But also because recognition is a bit of a double-edged sword

Allow us to explain.

Recognition is great for boosting employee happiness and morale. Yet, the effects ofGuide_EmployeeProductivity recognition are short-lived. 

In the same way, you wouldn't expect to build a strong relationship with your spouse because you planned thoughtful birthday celebrations only once. 

For employee recognition to have a lasting effect, it needs to be continuous.

So how often should you recognize employees? Once per month seems to be the sweet spot to maintain high morale and engagement.

  • One particular study found that employees who are recognized at least once per month are 50% more engaged.
  • Other studies have shown that frequency of recognition directly correlates with satisfaction at work. The more frequent the recognition, the more satisfaction increases.

Giving monthly recognition may seem like a lot at first. But whether verbal or written, giving recognition only takes a few minutes. There's no need to write a novel or craft a long speech. Just a few words will mean a lot to a hard-working employee.

Do you struggle giving employee recognition?  Sharpen your recognition-giving skills in less than 20-minutes. Discover  proven best practices for providing recognition with our Recognition Training  for Managers.  Explore the training

Tip 2 - Start by recognizing performance, but slowly incorporate spontaneous recognition

Imagine how difficult it would be to get into better shape without a plan. It is crucial to have a workout plan or regimen because it offers concrete steps and holds you accountable. 

Similarly, if your goal is to "give more recognition to your employees," that's a pretty vague goal. So break it down a little. Make it less ambiguous. Simplify it into steps that you can follow easily. 

In short, start small. Consider focusing recognition efforts on hard performance or output objectives expected every week, month, or quarter. 

For example

  • Manufacturing workers that have a specific output rate they have to maintain per month.
  • A customer service team with a weekly team goal is to keep a customer satisfaction score greater than X percentage. 
  • A marketing team that has a quarterly objective to attain a certain amount of marketing qualified leads.  

Most employees have official, concrete goals they need to achieve. Sticking toGoals-rewards recognizing the attainment of these recurring performance goals makes it dead simple to remember when and what to recognize. You can even put a reminder in your calendar!

Over time, you'll get into the habit of giving regular recognition. 

After that, you can start incorporating spontaneous recognition which is great for the following: 

  • Supporting and encouraging employees during a long-term project.
  • Saying something nice about an employee's soft skills.
  • Recognizing employees who embody company values.
  • Recognizing those who contribute new ideas or take initiative outside of their role.

There are many different reasons to give employees recognition. Start by recognizing performance-related goals, then move on to more spontaneous forms of recognition.

Tip 3 - Recognize the person, not just their performance

Now that you understand what to recognize and how often, let's discuss the content, in other words, what to say. 

When we think about the content of a recognition message, we usually associate it with praising an employee's performance.

For example:

  • "Great job on exceeding our targets for the quarter!"
  • "Amazing job on that presentation."
  • "Thank you for your speed and accuracy on this report."

Giving performance-based recognition is a great start. But, the problem with only praising performance and productivity is that it can make your message's content feel impersonal

Consider the difference between complimenting someone's eyes versus complimenting their great taste in music. Of course, people cannot control the colour of their eyes, so acknowledging someone's great taste in music makes for a far more meaningfulGuide_EmployeeRecognition compliment.

The same idea applies to the workplace -- people want to feel special and different. Show employees you value and see their unique talents and abilities.

Ultimately, to boost the impact of appreciation, a recognition message should add a few words about the soft skills they brought to the table. In short, be specific. 

let's look at the examples from above, but with a more personalized touch:

  • "Amazing job exceeding your targets for the quarter! We are so impressed by your creative problem-solving and work ethic." 
  • "Amazing job on the presentation; your delivery was impressive. You have a natural ability to come into a room and be persuasive. We are lucky to have this talent on our team!"
  • "Thank you for your speed and accuracy in this report. Your ability to focus under pressure is hard to come by and truly something to be admired."

As you can see, an employee appreciation message is most impactful when leaders highlight what the employee did differently. When someone sees you and understands you as a person, it's a great feeling. Simply put, you "get" them. This feeling is a powerful glue that connects people, both personally and professionally.

Tip 4 - Praise the process

In a similar vein, an employee receiving recognition for finishing an assignment or project is a great start. But this type of praise can feel generic and impersonal. Most people can complete a project. Right?

  • So ask yourself: What did the employee do differently? If you focus on articulating this distinction, your recognition will feel more powerful and genuine.

That said, even if you're a fast-moving company that is laser-focused on results, it's still vital to praise the process when recognizing a work accomplishment.

The process is highly personal and a reflection of an employee's true skill and talent. Praising the process makes recognition more personal and meaningful, only motivating your employees to continuously live up to the same standard.

Tip 5 - Follow PEP guidelines

We have offered many tips already, so we've created a simple acronym to help anyone remember how to give great recognition. We also wrote an entire article on how to give more powerful recognition you can refer to here

To sum it up in a few words, PEP stands for personal, earned and process:

  • Personal: This means recognition should include words highlighting someone's unique character, personality, or skills. It also can mean recognizing the qualitiesAsset 105 you admire about them.
  • Earned: Recognition should be based on merit. Avoid giving recognition to go through the motions.
  • Process: Ask yourself what this person did differently in the process. What was their unique contribution? What knowledge or skill did they apply?

With this simple framework, you can focus on saying the right things, and you'll be sure to give great recognition that makes employees feel valued and more engaged as a result.

Tip 5 - Remember everyone deserves recognition

Offering recognition is not a popularity contest.

To avoid turning it into one, make sure to recognize different types of actions, accomplishments, and, most importantly, various groups and individuals.

Don’t give recognition to the same people over and over. Everyone at work deserves to feel good about their work and efforts!

Make sure to express gratitude to groups and individuals who occupy less visible (but critical) roles in a company.

For example, it’s easy to show appreciation for a developer that pushes a new feature, but what about the people behind the scenes? Those who stay late organize social events, or the staff in the warehouse, or IT support that sets up all the systems that allow people to actually do their work every day.

For a culture of appreciation and gratitude to truly flourish, express gratitude to everyone for actions big and small.

Tip 6 - Think about how individual employees prefer to be appreciated

This tip is not about what you say but how you’re saying it. In other words, how you convey appreciation to your employees.

There are many ways to show appreciation: publicly, over email, face-to-face, with gifts, making time for the person, doing a favour for them, etc. 

As an organizational psychologist, Dr. Paul White says in his book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in The Workplace, “each person has a primary and secondary language of appreciation.” And unless a manager or colleague expresses appreciation in our primary language, “we will not feel truly valued.”

Be sure to express gratitude and appreciation in a way (and via a medium) that will respect and resonate with each employee. 

Tip 7 - Talk to your employees 

Research shows a big disconnect between how good managers believe they are atGuide_RemoteWork giving recognition and how appreciated their employees actually feel. 

You can't appreciate your employees on their way out the door. That's why it's vital to ensure your team is feeling consistently valued and respected in the here and now.

The best way to understand how your team is feeling is to go straight to the source.

For example, at your next one-on-one meetings, ask some of the following questions to help you with your recognition efforts:

  • Do you feel recognized and appreciated for the work you do?
  • How can I better support and show recognition for your work?
  • What type of recognition do you prefer to receive? 

You may find it odd at first to discuss this topic with your employees. Yet sometimes, an honest and open conversation is necessary. Keeping track of employee expectations in terms of recognition (and if you're meeting them) is vital in ensuring that no employee is left feeling frustrated or resentful.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing your employees' contributions is a simple, cost-effective way of making them feel appreciated. The positive side-effects of recognition are proven -- more engagement, higher morale, and productivity.  

Although recognition is an effective solution to many people management problems, many managers struggle to keep it consistent. These simple best practices make it easier to understand how to give consistent and impactful recognition.

Always remember that recognition does not need to be pages long to have an impact. Just a short, personalized message, at least once a month, can make all the difference. 

Category Tags

Everything you need to know about employee recognition Read Guide
A Happier Workplace


Subscribe and join our community of curious HR Professionals and Managers.