No, Employee Recognition and Appreciation Aren’t the Same

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Employee recognition and appreciation aren’t the same thing, and they can have very different meanings when it comes to motivating and celebrating your workforce.

Article 4 Minutes
No, Employee Recognition and Appreciation Aren’t the Same

When a business has ambitious goals it wants to achieve or serious challenges to overcome, you must rely on your workforce. The people who keep the business running every day are the key to your ultimate success, whatever your specific objectives and obstacles might be.

This is particularly important to remember in the 'new normal' created by COVID-19. The companies with the strongest employee relationships will be the best-placed to deal with the potential long-term consequences of the pandemic, such as increased remote working and the accelerating digitalization of business processes.

So it's worth thinking about what you could be doing to strengthen your bonds with workers and to give people the best possible experience in the workplace.

This should include showing both recognition and appreciation for people's hard work. While it might seem like these two concepts are interchangeable, there are some significant differences between them that every HR manager should know.

What's the difference between recognition and appreciation?

According to Mike Robbins, a speaker and consultant who has experience working with Fortune 500 companies, the simplest way to distinguish between these two concepts is by viewing recognition as a reflection of what people do, and appreciation as a celebration of who they are.

Understanding recognition

82% of people view recognition as a key part of their happiness at work, and managers that make an effort to recognize their top performing staff will no doubt see an increase in engagement.

In the workplace, recognition can come in various forms:

  • A verbal thank you or a handwritten note to acknowledge outstanding work or someone putting in a special effort that delivered a great outcome
  • Presenting an award to an employee who’s excelled in their role
  • Recommending an individual for a promotion
  • A pay rise or performance-related bonus

Any one of these measures can be effective in recognizing people's hard work and motivating them to continue giving their best in the future.

However, it's important to use retrospective recognition in the right way so it doesn't lead to any unintended negative consequences. For example, you don't want to give the impression that you're only interested in what people have already delivered for the company, rather than their potential to develop and achieve things in the future.

You should also be focused on fairness at all times, particularly when it comes to financial rewards. If your budget only stretches to bonuses for a select few members of staff, make sure each award is fully deserved and other employees won't feel unjustly overlooked.

Appreciating your staff

Where recognition is performance-based and retrospective, appreciation is more holistic, in the sense that it celebrates a person for their worth not only as an employee and colleague, but as a human being.

A hypothetical scenario where this distinction could be crucial is if your team were to dedicate a lot of time and effort to a big sales pitch that ended up with you not winning the business.

If you were to look at this situation in terms of recognizing results and outcomes, the company hasn’t, strictly speaking, gained anything. But that doesn't mean your employees didn't give 100% and do great work along the way. By thanking and praising people for their core qualities and characteristics, you show that you appreciate them for who they are, regardless of whether the pitch was successful or not.

Why recognition and appreciation are vital

Employee recognition and appreciation have their differences, but they can be equally important and beneficial for the company as you seek to reach new levels of profitability and success.

For many people, work is about much more than money. Accenture states that while most executives believe pay is the strongest motivator for people to join and stay with an employer, the reality is more complicated. Although money certainly matters, employees are also driven by their "emotional, relational and purposeful needs".

In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, at least eight out of ten respondents said workplace recognition positively affects:

  • The employee experience
  • Colleague relationships
  • Organizational culture
  • Staff engagement
  • The 'humanity' of the workplace

If you can find the right approach to both recognizing and appreciating your workforce, you can expect to see both immediate and long-term benefits that’ll help the company thrive.

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