The Plague of Appreciation

Does your workplace suffer from the plague of appreciation – recognition programs that don’t work,  supervisors and managers that don’t use them, the absence of the word “thank you,” rewards applied inconsistently, perceptions of unfairness or favoritism, and/or leaders that take all the credit? You’re not alone. Excelling at showing appreciation and recognizing employees is a constant struggle for many organizations – even some of the best places to work. But one recent study conducted by Kelton Research (2010) reports that 56% of employed individuals say that being appreciated would motivate them to stay in their current position – underscoring the importance of showing appreciation in our workplaces.  The study also suggests that increasing demands in the workplace have led employees to feel particularly undervalued by their superiors these days.

When ERC conducts employee engagement surveys for organizations, recognition and rewards is usually one of the lowest scoring areas  – even among organizations that are truly excelling at engaging employees and creating great places to work and many times even among organizations that have a recognition/rewards program in place.  Also interestingly, we find that low scores on issues regarding recognition and rewards are rarely an issue of whether the employee values the rewards given, but more importantly how rewards are distributed and whether immediate supervisors are showing appreciation to employees for their contributions.

Such observations lend themselves to two common recommendations for organizations seeking to improve how they show appreciation to employees.

It starts with the supervisors. No matter what type of recognition program you build, if your supervisors aren’t trained to use it or don’t use it, it won’t be effective.  Supervisors and managers will need to support the program. But beyond that, supervisors need to be held accountable for acknowledging, recognizing, and appreciating the contributions of their staff and possibly even rewarded for doing so. Here are a few ways you could consider engaging supervisors in recognition.

  • Create training programs for supervisors on how to use reward/recognition effectively and consistently and the benefits of recognition for them and their employees. Or send them to training from an external provider on this topic.
  • Don’t build a recognition and reward program without consulting a group of your supervisors or managers. Remember, they are on the front-lines with employees each day. They know what behaviors and results are most valuable and this feedback can be highly beneficial in helping to develop a program. Conduct a focus group that considers their insight into recognition/reward program development and talk openly about the barriers they perceive to effective implementation. The best way to get buy-in is by including them in the process.
  • Educate supervisors and managers that appreciation goes beyond recognition and reward programs and that making an effort to say “thank you” and expressing words of appreciation, when deserved, are important.  Provide them tools for showing appreciation. Some employers create “tool boxes” for supervisors with note cards and spot awards, but it could be as simple as a checklist of ways they can show appreciation. 
  • Hold supervisors and managers accountable for giving credit to others – especially their own workers. Remember, however, that you may be constantly battling the “what’s in it for me” mentality that can be pervasive in a workplace so you may even want to build in an incentive.

Consistency results from clarity. A common complaint about recognition programs is that they are applied inconsistently. This is often a result of vague and unclear criteria for applying rewards (i.e. employees goes above and beyond, exceeds expectations, etc.). Unclear criteria for recognizing employees usually results in inconsistent recognition. Often, this is where common complaints of favoritism and subjectivity come into play.

  • Create criteria that limit the degree of subjectivity. Observable objective, behavioral, or results-oriented behavior is generally best to use.  Be sure to define specifically what is to be recognized/rewarded and try not to  leave it open for interpretation.
  • Gather employee feedback on how it’s working from both supervisors and employees. This can easily be done by conducting an employee survey, conducting interviews, or using some other form of feedback collection. While you may never achieve the high “scores” you’d like to see on recognition/rewards (trust us, it’s rare!), incremental improvement is a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.
  • Spot check on those employees not being recognized. Follow-up with supervisors to discuss the matter. All too often in our workplaces, we overlook many individuals that are contributing and adding value.

Additional Resources

  • HR Consulting – for assistance with developing a recognition/rewards program for your organization or in conducting an employee engagement survey to benchmark how your employees view your recognition and reward practices in addition to many others, please contact
  • HR Help Desk (members only) – for guidance, sample policies and practices, and other information related to creating a culture of appreciation and/or a recognition/rewards program, contact
  • Surveys – To learn how other employers are approaching low-cost reward and recognition, reference this free report here.


Kelton Research (2010). Cornerstone OnDemand Employee Attitude Survey

This entry was posted in Communication, General HR, Performance Management and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Plague of Appreciation

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