Employee recognition

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Employee recognition is the timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person's behavior, effort, or business result that supports the organization's goals and values, and exceeds his superior's normal expectations.[1] Recognition has been held to be a constructive response and a judgment made about a person's contribution, reflecting not just work performance but also personal dedication and engagement on a regular or ad hoc basis, and expressed formally or informally, individually or collectively, privately or publicly, and monetarily or non-monetarily (Brun & Dugas, 2008).[2]

Theoretical foundation[edit]

The track of scientific research around employee recognition and motivation was constructed on the foundation of early theories of behavioral science and psychology.[3] The earliest scientific papers on employee recognition have tended to draw upon a combination of needs-based motivation (for example, Hertzberg 1966; Maslow 1943) theories and reinforcement theory (Mainly Pavlov 1902; B.F. Skinner 1938) as a foundation for the effects of employee recognition.[4]

Needs-based motivation[edit]

Needs-based motivation theories are based on the argument that humans have basic drives that motivate them to behave in ways that help them fulfill those needs.

  • Maslow's hierarchy of human needs: Maslow's model identifies five categories of needs: physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem and self-actualization.[5] These 'levels' of needs are arranged on the hierarchy in order of immediate effect on human development and subsequently, potency for influencing behavior. According to Maslow, individuals are never fully satisfied on any need level but once a class of needs is substantially met, it is no longer motivating for the individual.[6] Human behavior is therefore presented as a rational activity directed at the satisfaction of successive levels of needs. Recognition schemes are based on the notion that individuals aim at the satisfaction of the esteem needs after fulfilling previous needs on the hierarchy. The esteem needs can be broken down into the need for self-esteem and the need for the esteem of others. The need for the esteem of others is required to be satisfied externally through status or prestige, recognition, and appreciation by others. The need for self-esteem is understood as the need to hold a high evaluation of oneself based upon real capacity, achievement, independence, and respect from others.[7]
  • Hertzberg dual-level needs theory : During his research, Hertzberg interviewed several hundred US professionals, asking them to name work experiences that made them feel "exceptionally good" about their jobs, as well as those that made them feel "exceptionally bad" about their jobs. After categorizing the responses, Herzberg found that factors that caused negative feelings were quite different from those that caused positive feelings. Respondents who felt good about their work cited factors that largely correspond with Maslow's needs, which are positioned higher on the hierarchy. This included achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility and growth or advancement.[8] On the other hand, dissatisfied respondents tended to cite factors extrinsic to the job such as pay, working conditions, supervision, security, relationships with colleagues and company policies. Most of these factors correspond to Maslow's physiological and safety needs. Herzberg's findings led him to conclude that there exist two different spectrums: one set of 'hygiene' factors that make up a continuum from dissatisfaction to no dissatisfaction, and a second set of 'motivator' factors that make up a continuum from no satisfaction to satisfaction (Hertzberg 1966). Recognition, according to Herzberg, is a motivator whilst monetary rewards such as pay are necessary to prevent dissatisfaction but don't promote job satisfaction and motivation.[9]

Reinforcement theory[edit]

Reinforcement theory has its roots in the work of behavioral psychologists John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, E.L. Thorndike and B.F. Skinner. It argues that people can be conditioned through rewards, which can be intangible in nature, and punishments to repeat rewarded behaviors and cease unrewarded behaviors.[10] Through this process of conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and the consequence for that behavior, either an incentive or a deterrent. The theory is based on Thorndike's (1911) law of effect, which states that people are likely to repeat behavior that produces a pleasurable outcome.[11] Reinforcement theory has also been applied in an organizational setting. A version of reinforcement theory, organizational behavior modification theory (Bandura 1969, 1986; Luthans and Stajkovic 1999; Stajkovic and Luthans 1997) is concerned with modifying employee behavior on the job through the systematic implementation of reinforcement interventions. The central tenet of the theory is 'you get what you reinforce' (Luthans and Stajkovic 1999: 52)[12]

According to Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), there are three types of positive reinforcers that result in an increase in performance-related behaviors when contingently administered: pay, performance feedback and social recognition. Social recognition is defined as 'the use of verbal consequences, typically expressed by individuals, such as attention, recognition, commendations, compliments, and praise' (Stajkovic and Luthans 1997: ). Therefore, reinforcement theory provides a theoretical basis for the positive effect of recognition employee performance by demonstrating that individuals who are recognized or rewarded for their performance are motivated to keep performing activities for which they have been recognized.[13]

Types of employee recognition programs[edit]

According to Punke (2013), recognition programs should be balanced between performance-based and value-based initiatives, but the programs should be composed of three methods: formal, informal and day-to-day recognition.[14]

Formal recognition[edit]

It consists of structured recognition programs with clearly defined objectives, processes, and criteria linked to rewarding and recognizing individuals, teams, or departments on a company-wide level for achieving specific business targets, exemplifying specific organizational values, or performing actions that go above and beyond normal work expectations. According to Punke (2013), this approach is extremely organized recognition involving recognizing employees who have done so many years of service at the organization.

Informal recognition[edit]

It focuses primarily on performance achievements, goal accomplishments, and other milestones by individuals or teams that may occur monthly or quarterly. It may include low-cost awards, refreshments, point-value incentives, gift cards, and certificates. Informal recognition programs have been identified to point out employee value and contribution at the right moment as a result of its instantaneous nature and the continuous changing work environment.

Day-to-day recognition[edit]

It is a type of recognition practices that are frequent (daily or weekly), low or no cost, often intangible and often reliant on interpersonal skills for positive feedback that can be given to all employees. According to Harrison (2005), the day-to-day recognition brings the benefit of immediate and powerful reinforcement of desired behavior and sets an example to other employees of desired behavior that aligns with organizational objectives. To him, it gives individuals and teams at all levels the opportunity to recognize good work by other employees and teams, and it also gives the opportunity for them to be recognized on the spot for their own good work.


Employee recognition has been identified to be a highly effective motivational instrument that can have significant positive impact on employee job satisfaction and performance as well as overall organisational performance (Rahim & Duad, 2013).[15] When effective recognition is provided in the workplace, a favorable working environment is produced, which motivates employees to become committed to their work and excel in their performance. Highly motivated employees serve as the competitive advantage for an organisation because their performance leads an organization to well accomplishment of its goals and business strategy. However, a demotivated environment has been identified to produce low or courage-less employees who hardly practice their skills, lack inventiveness and are not fully commitment to the extent an organisation needs.[16] By consistently and frequently applying formal, informal and everyday recognition programs, organisations are provided with a powerful tool for influencing employees to live the organisation's values and implement its focus (Herzberg, 1996 as cited in Luthans, 2000). It also affords the organisation opportunity to highlight desired actions and behavior thereby creating role models for other employees (Silverman, 2004).[17] By specifically reinforcing expected behavior, organisations not only indicate to employees that their efforts are noticed and appreciated but also inculcate in them the organisational values, goals, objectives, priorities and their role in achieving them. As a motivational tool, employee recognition programs assist employees to see how they contribute to bottom-line results and how their contributions will be recognized and rewarded immediately. In any case formal, informal and every day recognition programs are able to satisfy both employees' and employers' needs as well as bring the maximum result and function for organizations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Michael E.; Treviño, Linda K.; Harrison, David A. (2005-07-01). "Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 97 (2): 117–134. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2005.03.002. ISSN 0749-5978.
  2. ^ Brun, Jean-Pierre; Dugas, Ninon (April 2008). "An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources practices". The International Journal of Human Resource Management. 19 (4): 716–730. doi:10.1080/09585190801953723. ISSN 0958-5192. S2CID 154647832.
  3. ^ Smith, Charlotte Lucy (September 2014). Employee recognition at work: A study of employee experiences (phd thesis). University of York.
  4. ^ "Armstrong's Handbook of Reward Management Practice: Improving Performance through Reward, Third Edition - PDF Free Download". epdf.pub. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  5. ^ "Classics in the History of Psychology -- A. H. Maslow (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation". psychclassics.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  6. ^ "Classics in the History of Psychology -- A. H. Maslow (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation". psychclassics.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  7. ^ Maslow, Abraham H. (Abraham Harold) (1954). Motivation and personality. Internet Archive. New York, Harper.
  8. ^ "Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors: Learn how to Motivate Your Team". www.mindtools.com. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  9. ^ "Herzberg, F. (1966) Work and the Nature of Man. World Publishing, New York. - References - Scientific Research Publishing". APA PsycNet.
  10. ^ Cameron, Judy; Pierce, W. David (1994). "Reinforcement, Reward, and Intrinsic Motivation: A Meta-Analysis". Review of Educational Research. 64 (3): 363–423. doi:10.2307/1170677. ISSN 0034-6543. JSTOR 1170677.
  11. ^ Thorndike, Edward L. (1898). Animal intelligence : an experimental study of the associative processes in animals /. New York: Macmillan.
  12. ^ Luthans, Fred; Stajkovic, Alexander D. (1999). "Reinforce for Performance: The Need to Go beyond Pay and Even Rewards". The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005). 13 (2): 49–57. doi:10.5465/ame.1999.1899548. ISSN 1079-5545. JSTOR 4165539.
  13. ^ Luthans, Fred; Stajkovic, Alexander D. (1999). "Reinforce for Performance: The Need to Go beyond Pay and Even Rewards". The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005). 13 (2): 49–57. doi:10.5465/ame.1999.1899548. ISSN 1079-5545. JSTOR 4165539.
  14. ^ Recognition.One. "Define the 3 types of Recognition". www.Recognition.One. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  15. ^ "Rewards and Motivation Among Administrators of Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UNISZA): An Empirical Study". www.ijbs.unimas.my. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  16. ^ DeCremer, David (2007-08-01). Advances in the Psychology of Justice and Affect. IAP. ISBN 978-1-60752-466-3.
  17. ^ Silverman, David (2004-05-25). Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. SAGE. ISBN 978-0-7619-4934-3.