Boost Employee Morale and Performance with a Recognition Culture

Share This Page To:

A culture of recognition develops engaged and loyal employees. Making employee appreciation integral to your workplace culture can be achieved through meaningful and intentional practices. 

Employee recognition has long been a cornerstone of effective management. But today, as the competition for talent escalates, the ways organizations show that they value their employees have become more important than ever.  

Creating a recognition program is a start—so if you don’t have one, that’s a good first step!—but great companies go further, constantly reevaluating the ways they reward employees. As companies grow, this becomes even more of a challenge, and leaders must rethink the way they add value to the employee recognition experience. 

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition refers to all the ways an organization shows its appreciation for employees’ contributions. It can take many forms and may or may not involve monetary compensation. Companies recognize employees for things like:

  • Achievements 
  • Exhibiting desired behaviors 
  • Going above and beyond expectations 
  • Milestones such as tenure 

Why employee recognition matters

From a very early age, we crave recognition from parents, teachers and friends. So strong is our desire for positive affirmation, particularly during developmental periods, that we can even perceive a neutral reaction as a negative one. 

This continues to hold true as we move into the workplace. Employee recognition helps to: 

  • Retain top talent 
  • Increase employee engagement 
  • Encourage high performance 

Great Place To Work Certified™ company O.C. Tanner studied employee engagement and how managers can tailor their workplaces to promote it.  

An employee survey included the question, “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?”  

Respondents answered in their own words, providing a variety of responses, but a clear pattern emerged. 37% of respondents said that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work more often. 

While other themes like autonomy and inspiration surfaced, recognition was the most common theme that emerged from responses. The study showed that affirmation, feedback and reward are most effective for motivating employees to do their best work. 

See the complete results in the chart below: 


By narrowing in on several statements in Great Place To Work® Trust Index™ survey that measure how much employees feel recognized at work, we were able to see the impact of recognition culture on employee experience. 

Great Place To Work analyzed 1.7 million employee survey responses gathered between 2018 and 2020 across small, mid-sized and large companies. 

Recognition makes employees feel promotions are fair, spurs innovation and extra effort

After comparing the overall experience of employees who received recognition to those who don’t, we found that recognition was strongly tied to several areas of positive company culture. 

Compared to those who do not consistently feel recognized at work, people who do feel recognized at work are: 

–  2.6x more likely to think that promotions are fair 

–  2.2x more likely to drive innovation and bring new ideas forward 

– 2.0x more likely to say people here are willing to go above and beyond 


Employee appreciation is linked to higher job satisfaction 

In the same Trust Index™ survey, when asked what makes their workplace “great,” employees who responded positively to survey questions measuring recognition say that they are “incredibly lucky,” “enjoy hanging” and that the company has “excellent integrity,” “uplifting environment” and some mentioned their “career success.” 


Employees who don’t feel recognized also struggle to describe what makes their workplace great 

Conversely, employees who don’t feel recognized at work responded to the same question with phrases such as “plays favoritism” and “popularity contest,” indicating there isn’t much that makes their workplace great. The only positive theme was “match benefits.”   

When asked what would make their company better, the employees who felt unrecognized responded with phrases that indicated feelings of unfair treatment and a manipulative work environment. Words such as “rampant favoritism,” “scare tactics,” “stop eliminating” and “job tomorrow” were most common among the “unrecognized” group. 


How to create a meaningful employee recognition culture

Many Great Place To Work® clients, even those with strong company cultures, face challenges when it comes to team and individual employee recognition. 

While there is no universal program for every organization, all managers can use five key elements of meaningful employee recognition. 

Creating a culture of recognition: 5 keys to meaningful employee recognition programs 

1. Be specific, be relevant

Recognition is more meaningful when tied to a specific accomplishment or business objective. When recognizing employees, explaining what the recognition is for help employees relate the recognition to their behavior. This encourages continued strong performance.  

Authentic appreciation is also tailored to the individual. Which of the five languages of appreciation in the workplace you choose to express should depend on what people prefer.

2. Be timely

Recognition that arrives months after the fact isn’t nearly as meaningful as recognition received promptly. 

The longer it takes for managers to recognize employees, the less likely employees will see the affirmations as authentic. Make employee recognition a priority and have formal recognition systems in place so you can strike while the iron is hot. 

3. Recognition comes in many shapes and sizes

There is a great deal of research that indicates people are motivated by more than just cold hard cash. It is also important to note that everyone has their own preference or style when it comes to giving and receiving appreciation. 

Get a clearer picture of the primary language of appreciation (in a work setting) of every individual. Then, recognize them accordingly. 

Beyond a bonus or a raise, consider customized gifts, taking them out for dinner or other acts that show employees their reward is personalized to them.

4. Little things go a long way

While it’s crucial to recognize major accomplishments, don’t overlook the power of the everyday thank-you to motivate employees. 

Writing handwritten notes or using the intranet to promote the good behaviors of individuals, can help instill a regular culture of employee recognition. These thank-yous and shout-outs don’t have to come from managers alone; some employees may find recognition more motivating when it comes from their peers rather than from leadership.

5. Connect to the bigger picture

Recognition helps employees see that their company values them and their contributions to the success of their team and the company overall. 

This is particularly key when organizations grow or change. It helps employees build a sense of security in their value to the company, motivating them to continue great work. 

Regularly share news about how the company is striving to reach the mission, and explain how individual employee goals relate to that vision.  

Organizations on the Singapore Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Biopharma 2023 excel in employee recognition. 

Recognition is absolutely essential in a great workplace, and it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. 

Ask your employees what type of recognition is most meaningful to them. You may be surprised to discover how simple, genuine expressions of thankfulness inspire them to do their best. 

Do you know if your employees feel appreciated? We designed an employee survey – based on 30+ years of studying employee experience – to measure and track levels of employee recognition, trust, innovation, and more.  Contact us about it today or join our Get Certified(TM) Webinar on 10 May to find out how you can invest in building great workplace cultures. 

Claire Hastwell

Claire Hastwell

Claire is our Content Marketing Manager. Claire works with Great Place to Work data and company culture experts to distil the psychology of high-trust workplaces. Claire co-authored the Women in the Workplace report and her profiles of Best Workplaces™ have featured in Fortune. When Claire’s not sifting through our 28+ years of survey data, she’s rolling out her yoga mat or daydreaming about her next U.S. road trip.

Get the Latest Articles, Insights, Trends and More.


To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.