Rewards and Recognition: Getting it Right with Today’s Workforce



Not to sound like a broken record, but “now more than ever”, recognizing and rewarding your employees for their contributions to your company should be at the top of your to-do list. Whether you have a current program in place or are looking to create something from scratch, it is important that you understand not only the differences between rewarding and recognizing but also when to utilize one versus the other.


First off, is there a difference between recognition and rewards? ABSOLUTELY! And guess what – your employees need both! Yes, they need both recognition and rewards to feel fully satisfied with their job.


First, let’s look at recognition. “Recognition” is defined as, “the acknowledgment of something's existence, validity, or legality”. I’ll repeat that: acknowledging someone’s existence, their validity, or their legality. The word I want to stress in that definition is validity. Everyone – no matter who you are within your organization – wants to be authentically validated in the work they do.


Recognition is EASY:

  • It can be given at any time, and it can be given for any reason

  • It needs to be authentic and meaningful, specific, and detailed.


It is also important to remember the difference between giving praise and giving recognition. Praise tends to be more generic and doesn’t include specific information about behavior/actions that were good; that’s usually in the form of a “Thank You” or “Way to Go” or even “High Five – Good Job”. Authentic and meaningful recognition should be specific feedback that contains detailed observations about a person’s performance. For example, lead with the praise, “Thank you for staying late yesterday and working on the XYZ project. I appreciate your commitment to seeing the project completed”.


Now, let’s look at rewards. “Rewards” are defined as a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement. The thing – that tangible something – is the real difference between recognition and rewards.

  • Rewards are transactional and tangible. A tangible gift given to an employee to celebrate something they accomplished: if the employee does X they will be rewarded with Y.

  • Rewards are tied to goals. If the employee(s) accomplish X they earn Y. For example, if an employee has perfect attendance for the year they might get an additional day off, or a designated parking space at the front of the building. Or if a company hits their yearly sales goals, the sale department might get an end-of-year bonus.


It is important to note that rewards can be a great way to encourage employees to give your organization their A-game, however, you should be careful to not create a culture at your company where employees feel entitled to rewards. Rewards should be reserved for exceptional work and achievement.


Next week, we will be talking about some ways to create a rewards and recognition program, or if you already have one, how to rethink your current process.



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