Merriam-Webster defines recognition as giving “special notice or attention” and appreciation as “a feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude.” Though the two concepts are similar, there is a distinction between them that employers need to know about in order to truly value their employees and make sure their efforts are properly praised.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the workplace by drastically increasing the remote worker population. However, research findings over the last two decades indicated that there is very little difference between the remote and face-to-face workforce populations.
Why Recognition and Appreciation Matter to Employees
In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation,” author Mike Robbins shared his insights into why recognition and appreciation matter so much to today’s workers. “Recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance,” Robbins says.
Recognition means that an employer notices the kind of work employees are doing and acknowledges their successes. The recognition from an employer can involve:
- Presenting an award
- Giving a promotion, raise or a check
- Sending a thank-you card or note
Recognition praises accomplishments, with the employer hoping to encourage employees to keep up the amazing work they are already doing. Robbins warns us, however, that recognition has limits.
He observes, “First, it’s performance-based, so it’s conditional. Second, it’s based on the past, so it’s about what people have already done. Third, it’s scarce. Fourth, it generally has to come from the top.”
Recognition is fleeting, however. Someone may gain it for the day but once an accomplishment is acknowledged, it is then forgotten and another replaces it. For an employee, the fleeting nature of recognition can be a disappointment after feeling gratification for a job well done.
Related link: The Great Resignation and Resumes in Today’s Job Market
How Appreciation Differs from Recognition
“Appreciation, on the other hand, is about acknowledging a person’s inherent value. The point isn’t their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a colleague and a human being,” Robbins notes.
Ultimately, appreciation might be more substantial than recognition. After all, what does everyone seek? Remembrance. That remembrance might be for their families, their friends, their country or even themselves, but everyone wants to be remembered because it means their life has value.
In the workplace, appreciation creates lasting relationships and respect, which is instrumental to a company’s long-term success. If employees feel they are appreciated by employers, they’ll put more effort, time and passion into their work. There will also be less turnover because employees won’t want to leave a job that helps them feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Recognition is important because human beings like to be noticed and told they’re doing a good job. We thrive on praise.
But what we truly want is to know that people listen to us, believe in us and think that we are worth something. Robbins shares Oprah Winfrey’s wise commencement speech at Harvard: “I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience….The common denominator that I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood…[We] all want to know one thing: “Was that OK?” “Did you hear me?” “Do you see me?” “Did what I say mean anything to you?””
How Leaders Can Show Appreciation to Employees
So how can employers show their employees that they are appreciated? Listening to employees seems simple enough, yet many leaders have a hard time doing so.
Let employees know that you’ve heard their insights and ideas. Don’t just tell an employee you appreciate them; tell them why. Show that you actually know something about them and that your remarks are not just a superficial observation.
Also, let them know you’re around. You’re not just checking on their status, numbers or quotas; you’re also checking on them.
In the words of Robbins, “In simple terms, recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are.” Career accomplishments don’t define a person; it’s only a portion of who they are as human beings.
Winning a legal battle, securing a new client or saving a company thousands of dollars are all recognizable achievements. But there are so many intricate parts to human beings and so many different aspects of a person’s life. Recognize employees’ accomplishments, but appreciate their personalities, devotion and values that they bring to the workplace.