Givers of recognition see healthy ROI

Employers should focus on more than just the recipients of rewards to see gains in employees’ motivation, support, understanding, teamwork and pride

While study after study has confirmed employee recognition’s profound impact on key business metrics such as culture, turnover, engagement and a host of other business-related metrics, most studies have focused exclusively on the impact recognition has on the person receiving it. But what about the person giving the recognition?

It turns out those employees who are more inclined to give recognition see increases in: motivation to contribute, support of company values, understanding of how teams contribute to organizational success, likelihood to recommend the organization, pride in the organization, willingness to go above and beyond, and desire to be working at the same organization in one year.

That’s according to a global study by the O.C. Tanner Institute that found employees who “always” give recognition see a 26 per cent increase in engagement scores, a 22 per cent increase in actual work results and a 33 per cent increase in innovation, compared to those who “never/rarely” give recognition.

Giving recognition is especially impactful on a surprising sub-group of employees — millennials. Counter to what is often said, millennials were especially enamoured with the concept of giving other people recognition.

Most notably, 85 per cent of millennial employees agreed that recognizing someone else’s achievement makes them want to work harder, compared to 79 per cent of generation X employees and 61 per cent of baby boomers.

While it is true millennials love to receive recognition more than past generations, they are also more motivated by turning it around and giving other people recognition too.

Are employees giving recognition?

While giving recognition is important, only 42 per cent of respondents to the study indicated they themselves had given recognition at work in the past seven days. It is important to note that within the study, recognition was defined as “an expression of gratitude or appreciation from someone else when they have done something well at work or experienced a personal milestone. Recognition may be as simple as you acknowledging, noticing, valuing or caring about the work of others.”

In other words, the study set a relatively low bar for recognition, so it is disappointing to see so few employees give recognition.

Essentially, the results indicate that about 56 per cent of employees self-reported that they themselves hadn’t expressed acknowledgment, value or care about someone else’s work in the past week.

Breaking down the result by organizational title also yields interesting findings.

The good news is managers are more likely than non-manager employees to have given recognition at least one time in the past month; however, for those who gave recognition at least once, non-manager employees, on average, gave more.

The results indicate it is more difficult to break through and get front-line employees to give recognition but, once you do, they can become some of the most frequent givers at an organization.

But the study highlights a chasm that exists between the perceptions of senior leaders and non-manager employees. Overall, a much lower percentage of front-line employees believe everyone at their organization has the opportunity to give and receive recognition. Ninety-one per cent of executives say everyone has the opportunity to be recognized at their organization, but that number drops to 60 per cent among non-manager employees.

The study highlights the fact that often times the perceptions of management don’t match the reality of front-line employees at the same organization.

Why don’t employees give more?

The study also asked employees why they don’t give recognition more often. One of the most common reasons was because their organization doesn’t have a formal program to give recognition. However, beyond that, one out of five employees indicated they don’t feel empowered to give recognition at work and 17 per cent of employees indicated they don’t feel like it is their responsibility to give recognition at work.

To overcome these challenges, employers need to clearly communicate that recognition is important. Switching the conversation to centre on the person giving recognition opens up a unique opportunity to make prescriptive recommendations to employees.

Simply put, an employer can’t really tell employees it is important for them to receive more recognition because they have limited power in determining how often they actually receive recognition.

However, employees can be told it is important to give recognition because it is something employees have the power to actually do themselves.

Organizations vastly underestimate the power of email. Nearly three-fourths of employees indicated that if their organization chose email as the primary method to encourage them to give recognition, they would want emails at least monthly.

Thirteen per cent indicated they would want emails daily, 29 per cent would want emails weekly, and 31 per cent would want emails monthly. Email communications are an easy way to reach all employees, help them understand that recognition is everyone’s responsibility, and empower all employees to give recognition.

Respondents also indicated that a recognition culture needs to be championed by leadership within the organization.

“Have a culture of recognition — if leaders and others don’t recognize employees much, it doesn’t motivate us to do it either,” said one respondent.

Another employee emphasized that leaders need to “create a culture with more genuine recognition.”

Ultimately, leaders are the ones who set the tone. Only a concerted effort from senior leaders will allow organizations to overcome some of the top reasons employees are not currently giving recognition.

Promoting open channels for all levels of employees to provide recognition will result in enhanced employee engagement and an elevated workplace culture. All levels of employees should feel like they can and should provide regular recognition to their coworkers — giving recognition is a universal action unrestricted to just top managers.

While front-line employees may feel like it’s not their place to provide recognition, it’s in an organization’s best interest to do what it can to dispel that perception. The gains of giving recognition are clear, and employers should reevaluate how they can better nurture a culture that fosters recognition — not just for the recipients’ sake, but for those who are giving it.

Jordan Rogers is the manager of research and measurement at O.C. Tanner in Salt Lake City, Utah. He can be reached at (801) 493-3090. For more information, visit

Latest stories