Don't (just) recognize employees, appreciate them with your heartfelt gratitude!

Genuine appreciation and gratitude for employees really resonates. (Photo by Carl Attard from Pexels.)

People tend to think of recognition and appreciation as the same thing, but knowing the difference and focusing on genuinely appreciating the employees working for you can impact morale, engagement and satisfaction in the workplace.  So don’t (just) recognize employees, appreciate them with your sincere gratitude!

What is the Difference?

In an article for Ladders, Paul White described the reasons why employers should stop recognizing employees and start appreciating them. White shared that too often he has encountered employee recognition programs that not only don’t seem to be working, but are in fact generating apathetic, sarcastic and cynical reactions from employees.  White believes this is because recognition is different from authentic appreciation.

Here are some reasons why from White:

  • Recognition is largely about behavior – the sole focus is on employee’s and manager’s behavior (observe and reinforce).
  • The primary emphasis of recognition is improving performance – the focus is on what is good for the company and the manager (look good if team performs well).
  • The relational direction of recognition is top — down – typically comes from managers and supervisors.
  • Recognition is really an organizational function – can feel impersonal, contrived and not often experienced as a genuine expression of appreciation as team member as a person.

Conversely, authentic appreciation has these qualities according to White:

  • Appreciation focuses on performance plus the character qualities of the team member and their intrinsic value as a person – employees can receive appreciation even if performance hasn’t been stellar.
  • Appreciation has dual objectives: to improve performance but also to support and encourage the person – encouragement when employees aren’t performing at their best because of other issues in their lives can be impactful.
  • The goal of appreciation is what is good for the company and what is good for the person – authentic appreciation is based on a concern for an individual.
  • Appreciation requires more than behavior, it requires “heart attitude” – it has to be authentic, it can’t be faked. Appreciation needs to be sincere and genuine (which is harder than recognition).
  • Appreciation can be communicated in any direction – so it can be expressed by anyone in the organization (not just management).
  • Appreciation is based in a person-to-person relationship – feels more “real” than recognition from an entire organization or recognition for an impersonal goal (e.g. number of years of service).

Don’t (Just) Recognize Employees, Appreciate Them!

Dr. Gary Chapman, famous for authoring The Five Love Languages series, shared this explanation of the difference between recognition and appreciation in the workplace on his website.
…Most companies focus on recognition and think people feel appreciated. However recognition puts the emphasis on performance and uses “words of affirmation” or “tangible gifts” as their methods. This misses half of their employees. Recognition is also “top-down” and often becomes routine.
Appreciation, on the other hand, focuses on the person. They may not be performing at their peak, for many reasons, but when you express interest in them as a person, they are motivated to become more involved. It is the difference between treating people as machines who crank out the work and people who have feelings, frustrations, desires, and dreams. When people feel appreciated, they want to be a part of the team.

Impacts Employees Differently

In Fran Skinner’s article for Barron’s which examined recognition versus appreciation, she explored not just the differences, but employee reactions.
A key takeaway from Skinner is:

Very simply, appreciation is non-judgmental. It isn’t about whether someone did a good or bad job. It is simply about appreciating them, their effort or their willingness to help…
Alternatively, recognition is doing something to call out positive performance or outcome…

It’s crucial to determine which is important to each employee. Skinner explained:

Some employees value and want both, from not only managers but peers and direct reports. Some employees only want one or the other. Finally, some don’t value either. Top leaders know to ask and respect what each employee’s preference is, as opposed to guessing or assuming that one size fits all. When an employee does value one or both, top leaders make a conscious effort to satisfy that preference as another way to motivate and engage their employees.

Skinner is often asked for the best way to appreciate or recognize an employee and always responds that it depends on the preferences of the receiver, not the giver.
Taking the time to know your employees and understanding what resonates with them is critical. As Skinner shared:

Recognition and appreciation have the potential to be great no-cost or low-cost motivational tools for team leaders. However, they’re only effective if leaders understand if and how each is valued by their employees.

Resource for Appreciating Employees Year-Round

Cultivating a culture of recognition and appreciation year-round requires planning, commitment and inspiration!
Download “gThankYou’s FREE “Day-to-Day Employee Celebration Calendar” to find fun case studies and upcoming dates that can help keep employee appreciation activities top-of-mind and inspired year-round.

The gThankYou annual calendar is jam-packed with insights into the latest HR trends, how-to tutorials for engaging and thanking employees, case studies to inspire you, examples of holidays to celebrate each month, and research statistics to help you make the business case for appreciation.
Download yours FREE now and build a workplace culture of recognition and appreciation!

About gThankYou, LLC

Turkey Gift Certificates and Turkey Or Ham Gift Certificates by gThankYou are two of America’s favorite employee gifts and can be redeemed for any brand (Turkey or Turkey Or Ham), at virtually any grocery store in the U.S. Find out more: gThankYou Gift Certificates.
gThankYou, LLC provides company leaders with a variety of easy, meaningful and affordable ways to recognize and reward employees, holiday time or anytime. gThankYou! Certificates of Gratitude and our free Gratitude Cards are personalizable including incorporating your company logo. And, nearly all orders ship same day.

To learn more about gThankYou, watch our “About Us” Video and visit gThankYou today!

gThankYou, LLC ( is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Contact: Rick Kiley, Chief ThankYou! Officer, gThankYou, LLC at or 888-609-2234.
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Gift Certificates

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Step 1

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Personalize your gThankYou Certificates with Giver name or logo (both optional) and give them to employees.

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