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The Latest Research into Meaningful Recognition


Tue Aug 27 2013

The Latest Research into Meaningful Recognition

Meaningful recognition boosts engagement, productivity, and profits. On the other hand, ineffective recognition is a waste of both money and time. Too many employee recognition programs fail because recipients don’t find them meaningful.

What makes recognition meaningful? This is what we wanted to know when we launched our latest survey.  For the 2013 Make Their Day Recognition Survey, we asked respondents to remember a meaningful recognition experience from the past year. We then asked them to answer a series of questions regarding that experience, including:

  • What does meaningful recognition cost?

  • Are rewards significant to the recognition experience and, if so, what kinds of rewards provide the most meaning?

  • Who provides the most valued recognition?

What does meaningful recognition cost and does it include a reward?

We asked respondents to estimate the dollar value of any reward that accompanied recognition. For 70 percent of respondents, the recognition they received had no perceived dollar value.  They didn’t receive cash, gift card, points, or a physical gift of any value. It seems that the “stuff “of recognition, the tangibles, don’t provide much meaning.

We did find that recognition does often include a reward, however. The most common rewards mentioned were the intangibles, such opportunity for growth and development, status, or even virtual awards (existing only online).

Who provides the most valued recognition?

Managers, supervisors, and team leads are responsible for 45 percent of all meaningful employee recognition. No other source of recognition is nearly as important. Peer recognition at 22 percent is a distant second.


The overall percentage of meaningful recognition received from managers has decreased since we first ran this survey in 2007. Other sources of recognition (organization, peer, and other) have increased in importance since the previous survey, but still none come close to the importance of the manager.

Many believe that younger employees are the exception; they prefer peer recognition. After all, they grew up working in teams, relying on social media for feedback, and looking to their peers for positive reinforcement. It would make sense that they would find peer recognition most meaningful, but they don’t. For those 25 and under, most (76 percent) of their meaningful recognition comes from managers!

What do the results mean?

Employees are motivated by recognition more than rewards.  Rewards are fine, but they are not recognition. When you think about rewards, look at all your options—both tangible and intangible. Attach meaning to the reward. Opportunity and status are powerful because the meaning is inherent. With cash or gifts it is up you to supply the meaning.

The recognition they find most meaningful is praise from a manager, supervisor, or team lead.  If you are a manager, notice what your team members are doing right and tell them. With younger team members do this frequently, noticing even the small things they do. With more experienced members, save your praise for more significant accomplishments and your praise will be valued.


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