Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation


By Mike Robbins
March 24, 2020

Recognition and appreciation. For leaders who want their teams to thrive and organizations that want to create cultures of engagement, loyalty and high performance, it’s important to understand the distinction.

Recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance. But there are some limits to recognition. First, it’s performance-based, so it’s conditional. Second, it’s based on the past, so it’s about what people have already done. Third, it’s scarce. Fourth, it generally has to come from the top. And while recognition that includes monetary compensation can be great, researchers from the London School of Economics found that financial incentives can actually backfire when it comes to motivating employees.

Appreciation, on the other hand, is about acknowledging a person’s inherent value. The point isn’t their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a colleague and a human.

In simple terms, recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are. This distinction matters because recognition and appreciation are given for different reasons. And when we show appreciation to our colleagues, customers, managers and partners, we’re more likely to build trust and connect. Here are a few simple ways to show appreciation for those around you:

Listen: One of the best things you can do for the people you work with is also one of the simplest: Put down your phone, turn away from your computer and genuinely listen to them.

Tell people what you value about them: Doing this proactively — not because someone did something great or because you want something from them — is an incredibly powerful gift. It can positively affect how your colleagues feel about themselves, your relationship with them and the culture of the team.

Check in: There’s a quote I like that is often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” No matter who said it, it’s such a great reminder. Check in with the people you work with.

Recognition is appropriate and necessary when it’s earned and deserved. Appreciation, however, is important all the time.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.


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