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August 11, 2022
January 20, 2021

Employee Recognition and Appreciation: What's the Difference?

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To many people, employee recognition and employee appreciation are two sides of the same coin. While they’re both great ways to improve the employee experience and do have some similarities, they also have some key differences. 

Think of them like chocolate and vanilla ice cream. They’re both ice cream and both delicious, but chocolate is best for Rocky Road and vanilla is best for Cookies and Cream. Why settle for one when you can have both?

Recognition and appreciation build off each other, and each is important in the pursuit of creating a great culture. See how they differ, why each is important, and how to implement both effectively at your business.

What’s the Difference Between Appreciation and Recognition?

In the simplest of terms, appreciation is about who people are, and recognition is about what people do. When you show appreciation for someone, you convey gratitude for that person’s value as a human. When you recognize someone, on the other hand, you show gratitude for their contributions.

Those may sound similar, but don’t worry, we’re here to help. This post will help you recognize and show appreciation in the most effective ways.

Recognition: Pros, Cons, and Best Practices

Employee recognition is usually focused on employee accomplishments or getting things done. Recognition can come in all different forms, from a raise or a promotion to a public shoutout or an award of some kind. Recognition can (and should!) also be informal, such as a handwritten note or a sincere expression of gratitude.

Tip: With an employee recognition platform like Awardco, you can send out personalized recognitions easily. With online shoutouts AND offline recognition notes, you can reach every employee in the best way possible.

We have a whole blog on the importance of recognition (surprising, right?) and its benefits, so we won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say, employee recognition leads to:

  • 81% lower absenteeism
  • 43% lower turnover (for low turnover organizations) and 18% lower turnover (for high turnover organizations)
  • 41% decrease in quality defects
  • 18% increase in productivity
  • 23% increase in profitability

When employees are recognized, they know that their work and their efforts matter. They’ll feel valued and supported, and they’ll be motivated to continue to try their best.

Potential Drawbacks of Recognition

According to our earlier definition, recognition is for what people do. That performance-based model inherently presents a problem: what about the employees who don’t do as much or as visible of work? Employees who quietly get their work done each day may miss out on recognition (even as they watch those around them get recognized). That can create feelings of missing out.

Another potential pitfall is that not everyone can receive the same recognitions. There are only so many promotions, so much budget for raises, and so much time in meetings for public shoutouts. So, once again, people may get left out.

Best Practices for Recognition

When done correctly, recognition is key to building a culture that employees want to be a part of. To make recognition effective, and to avoid any potential pitfalls, here are a few tips:

  • Utilize both peer-to-peer and top-down recognition. Recognition from managers and leaders is important. After all, 53% of employees say that they want more appreciation from their boss. But getting recognized by a peer can have a huge impact as well. Because people know and work with their peers closer than bosses and leaders do, peer recognition can be more personalized and meaningful—this helps to avoid the recognition pitfalls mentioned above. 
  • Make recognition easy and frequent. With Awardco, recognizing peers and direct reports is super easy. Going back to the ice cream metaphor, it’s like having an ice cream bar sitting in the freezer, ready to go. That automation allows you to send out recognition more often, and to more people, which is vital.
  • Recognize as many people as possible for specific results. Every employee accomplishes things. New hires get the hang of their responsibilities, salespeople hit sales quotas, and HR reps solve problems. Recognize as many people as possible for their individualized work.

Appreciation: Pros, Cons, and Best Practices

Just like ice cream exists in a wonderful variety of mouth-watering flavors, employees are all unique and bring their own skills and personalities to your organization. When you show appreciation for someone, you acknowledge that person’s inherent value. You’re not focusing on their accomplishments—instead, you appreciate them for who they are.

This is what appreciation can do for your business and for employees: 93% of employees who feel valued are motivated to do their best work, and 88% of those same employees are more engaged.

Potential Drawbacks of Appreciation

Trick question! When you show employees that you value them as people, there aren’t really any pitfalls or downsides! The only two things you need to watch out for are the method of showing appreciation and insincerity. Public appreciation can make some people uncomfortable, so you have to know how best to appreciate each person. Also, make any appreciation genuine and real because employees can tell if they’re being spoon fed compliments to pacify them.

Best Practices for Appreciation

You have a few options for making appreciation consistent and effective:

  • Be proactive. The best thing you can do is to proactively tell employees what you value about them. Do they always show up consistently and work hard? Do they bring humor and lightheartedness to the team? Are they reliable? Are they kind and welcoming? Are they knowledgeable? Simply share your appreciation for what each person brings to the table.
  • Consistently check in. Talk with employees regularly and show that you care about them as people, not just as numbers on a spreadsheet. Don’t let weeks or months pass between meaningful conversations.
  • Be genuine. People can tell if you’re merely going through the motions. When you talk with someone, make sure to give them your full attention. When you compliment someone, make it mean something. And most importantly, LISTEN to your employees. Make sure they know that their thoughts, feelings, and ideas are important to you.

These small tips can really convey appreciation and value, and when employees feel valued, they’re happier and more productive.

Recognition and Appreciation: the Perfect Ice Cream Sundae

While it’s true that you can recognize someone for just being awesome or appreciate someone’s hard work, it’s important to know the subtle differences between them so that you can know how to most effectively recognize and appreciate those around you.

Besides, life is better with both chocolate and vanilla ice cream in it. With both recognition and appreciation, each and every employee can feel valued, supported, and noticed, no matter who they are, what they do, or whether they’re introverted or extroverted.

That feeling of belonging is key to retention, motivation, productivity, and happiness. So mix a little chocolate and vanilla, add some nuts (work/life balance), chocolate syrup (employee rewards), and a banana (development opportunities), and you’ll have a sundae that your employees can’t get enough of.

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