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3 Types of Employee Recognition (with Very Different Results)

People want to be recognized for their work.

It’s fairly obvious that employee recognition can contribute to motivation, productivity and engagement.

But did you know that different forms of recognition can lead to very different results?

In this article, we break down employee recognition into 3 basic types, and the different effects each tends to have.

1. Achievement-based recognition

When most people think of employee recognition, this is what they think of.

Employees receive certain rewards if, or when, they achieve certain goals.

Achievement-based incentive programs can be useful, but often don’t produce the intended results.

Why? Two reasons.

  1. Setting goals can have unintended consequences. Goals can steal focus from the bigger picture, encourage risk-taking and unethical behavior, and even undermine motivation and morale.
  2. Incentives tend to make people work harder, but not exactly in the way you might have wanted. Research has shown that incentives increase performance quantity, but not performance quality. More work, but not better work.

2. Care-based recognition

Meeting employee’s needs shows that you care.

This can include things like compensation and benefits, offering flexible work, or soliciting feedback in an effort to improve employee engagement.

The possible benefits are difficult to list, and basically include whatever likely outcomes are relevant to the type of support provided.

HOWEVER: The most important thing to keep in mind is that this type of recognition program is only effective if the goals and expected outcomes are properly and persuasively communicated to employees.

Perhaps the most effective method is to build it directly into your overall employer branding strategy. Not only does this help to initially attract employees, the same ongoing messages can help to engage and retain employees over time.

3. Respect-based recognition

This is by far the most overlooked form of employee recognition.

It doesn’t require any particular compensation, benefits, or other incentives.

It simply requires that employees feel respected.

Research has found 3 things that are very important to have at work:

  1. Effective communication
  2. Predictability
  3. Flexibility

Poor communication, unpredictability, and overly rigid delegation of responsibilities and tasks make people feel disrespected. And worse yet, each of these things leads to employee burnout over time.

When employees feel respected, they also feel a greater sense of control over their lives. And research has shown that this greater sense of control, which begins with feeling respected at work, ultimately boosts employee engagement and work/life satisfaction.

These effects of respect are above and beyond what you might expect to see from other achievement-based and care-based forms of recognition.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about respect as an important component of more employee recognition programs. The benefits could be amazing.

Image credits: Iain Farrell, Franco Dal Molin