don’t do that! tips on recognizing appropriately

By in Appreciation, Employee Rewards Programs, and Recognition Strategies
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Imagine going to your friend’s 30th birthday party and giving them a child’s toy as their birthday present. Or showing up at a wedding with no gift, but telling the happy couple “congratulations” on your way out. My sister once received a set of beautiful ornaments for Christmas from her in-laws….unfortunately it was the same set that she had given them the Christmas prior (with the original card still unread and attached). Emily Post, Dear Abbey, and countless others have made a career out of helping readers understand simple etiquette when it comes to showing appreciation for friendship.

Unfortunately, when it comes to appreciating your employees, the old phrase, “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t cut it. The way you recognize your employees matters. How you recognize big accomplishments or career milestones has to be different from how you recognize smaller everyday efforts otherwise the recognition will come across as insincere.

So what’s appropriate when? After talking to employees in focus groups around the country, we found that different types of recognition awards have different impacts, and in some cases, like in the example above about birthday gifts, what’s appropriate to recognize one achievement is not appropriate for another. Here are some examples that will help you determine what’s best:


Many people think cash is the ultimate award. But employees told us that cash makes them feel very awkward in most recognition settings. Imagine giving your coworker a $10 bill because they stayed late to help you on a project? Or your boss giving you $25 after you finished a big project? In both scenarios, it would be more appropriate to show appreciation by presenting an award personally selected for them instead.

However, if you’ve just made a $10M sale or you saved the company $25,000, a cash award is very meaningful. It motivates employees to try for those big-ticket wins again. But keep in mind, it has to be a substantial monetary amount. Even at that, the impact of this kind of recognition is short term.

 Gift cards or award selection

This type of recognition tends to be one most employees are comfortable with—giving a gift card to a peer or giving a team member a chance to choose a nice award item for the great work they’ve done. Both are perfect award types when recognizing multiple times a year. They make employees feel valued and appreciated for their great work and inspire them to continue to be innovative, making a difference people love. Gift cards or award selection alone, however, should not be used to recognize high-level accomplishments or significant career milestones. They will seem insignificant and will not create a meaningful experience for those larger accomplishments.

 A symbolic award

Employees who are celebrating a huge accomplishment or a major career milestone want an award, such as a trophy, that they can display to show off their achievement. It builds a sense of connection to the company and brand when an employee receives a symbolic award for something they have worked very hard and very long to accomplish. Employees like to display awards showcasing their years of service at their company because they gain respect and admiration from new employees who see the award and realize the expertise and knowledge they have gained in those 10 or 25 years. Symbolic awards, though, will lose their meaning if you give them out weekly to say thank you for everyday effort, when a personalized note of thanks is more appropriate.

For more insights and a handy guide to show your people what to recognize, when to recognize, and why it matters, download our Purposeful Appreciation Guide.

By christina chau
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Comments (1)
Bryan Harrell

Nice post Christina! I completely agree concerning cash being used for recognition. We have found the money gets spent on bills and is soon forgotten. While gift cards are great, they should not be used as the only means of recognition. Like money, it’s soon spent and lost to the ages. I don’t even remember the amount of most of the gift cards I got for Christmas. A personalized, symbolic award does seem to work best. A plaque or object that stays around forever and is a permanent reminder of a job well done or for dedicated years of service is treasured. I enjoy reading your articles. Keep ’em coming! Thank You!
~Bryan Harrell
Employee Recognition Specialist

April 22, 2015   |   Reply
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