Motivating Employees Through Recognition

In the past, recognition was given to employees based on years of service with an organization through standard gifts at five, 10, 15, 20 and 25+ years. However, this approach to recognition has changed in today’s workplace. In our performance-based work environments, the reasons for recognition have expanded in scope. Leaders now realize that recognition should not only acknowledge past performance but that it should encourage future performance as well.

One of the challenges is that many organizations still struggle to understand how recognition programs can drive engagement and performance. During times of austerity, organizations are often reluctant to invest in recognition programs.

Read more about the ROI of employee engagement and employee recognition

However, in tough economic times, recognition is increasingly important since organizations and leaders are often asking employees to do more with less time and resources. Being able to recognize employees – whether it is through a formalized recognition program or informally by leaders – is an essential leadership skill that can motivate employees to higher levels of performance.

What is an Employee Recognition Program?

A recognition program is the process by which an organization acknowledges employees’ performance contributions that are considered to be above and beyond their role. Recognition is usually not given for meeting performance expectations, but for exceeding those expectations by achieving superior results or by demonstrating organizational values. The objective of any recognition program is to increase employee engagement and performance.



Generational Considerations

Different generational cohorts are drawn to different types of recognition. When leading a multigenerational team, it is important to understand each generation’s expectations and desires for recognition.

For many Traditionalists, recognition was something that they experienced on rare occasions. Other than length of service rewards, recognition was not expected on a regular basis.

Similar to Traditionalists, recognition was not a frequent occurrence for many Baby Boomers. It is important for this cohort to have recognition conducted in public, in front of peers and other leaders, so as to communicate their value and importance to the organization.

Gen Xers were the first generation to expect recognition as a normal part of the employment experience. They believe that if they are doing an exceptional job, they should be recognized for going above and beyond in their role. Otherwise, if there aren’t rewards, they may be satisfied to just remain a “good” employee and won’t strive to be “great.”

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Gen Ys have grown up in a world where they have been recognized constantly, often just for participating and not necessarily for achieving results. This generation has brought into the workplace an expectation that recognition should happen frequently, for a variety of reasons, and occur at the team level, not just the individual level. Gen Ys not only want to be able to recognize their peers, but also expect to be able to evaluate and nominate leaders within the organization for strong leadership skills.


Adwoa K. Buahene

Adwoa K. Buahene

Adwoa K. Buahene is co-founder and Managing Partner at n-gen People Performance Inc. n-gen is the training partner of choice for industry leaders, providing solutions for managing generational differences in the workplace.

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