Making praise and recognition actually work

by Guest blogger  CEO & Co-Founder at Perkbox & Huddlebuy,

It’s no secret that both giving and receiving praise makes us feel good: we’re psychologically wired to function in a receive-give and give-receive kind of environment. When we feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in what we’ve achieved, our brain releases the hormone dopamine, immediately awakening the reward and pleasure areas of our brain.

Receiving credit where credit is due is the simplest form of recognising one’s existence. A cultural analysis by Alversson & Willmott says that:

“A sense of internal coherence and high self-esteem facilitate a positive process of organisational control…”

…So what on earth does that mean? Basically, that you are more likely to produce higher quality work in less time when you feel needed and positively regarded. When you are praised for enriching and supporting your office’s mission, or when you are recognised for contributing to your culture (co-workers, tasks, team goals), you’ll feel that you are a valuable cog in the business machine. You’ll feelengaged.

On the flip side, the ability to recognise the importance of an individual’s particular talent in a team and exactly how that can be supercharged is at the root of a good employer, and, in turn, a successful business.

What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, when it comes to work, some employers will simply throw money at their team in an attempt to provoke these feelings of worth and to motivate their staff to work hard, year upon year. And it’s true, providing a short-lived, release-action financial reward can cause a spike in employee motivation. Temporarily, at least.

This is all very well in the short-term, but everyone knows that with the highs come the lows. Although management may not realise it, financial rewards can often contribute to a rollercoaster ride of emotions amongst their workforce: employees receive a boost when they are rewarded, but tend to return quickly to ‘normality’, feeling more deflated than they did beforehand. What’s more, being locked into an expectation that bonuses will increase year on year is a one-way track to disappointed employees, across the board.

We are increasingly exposed to research backing the importance of non-financial praise and recognition as a way of motivating teams for longer, sustained periods of time, whether that is peer-to-peer, employer to employee or familial relationships.

Why is this?

It’s science: frequent feedback and recognition for completed projects or tasks results in small boosts of dopamine, the‘happy hormone’, rather than the bonus cycle, which is extreme highs followed by lows. The nature of peer-to-peer recognition means that employees are not only praised when they are expecting it, but also when they are not, whether it is from colleagues in their team, or from other staff members across department. It’s a no-brainer: there’s less expectation and therefore less disappointment, in addition to a greater appreciation for the recognition they do receive.

According to McKinsey & Company:

“Non-financial motivators are more effective than extra cash in building long-term employee engagement in most sectors, job functions, and business contexts”. 

The graph* below is very interesting. It highlights the lack of correlation between the frequency at which employers use non-financial incentives and their effectiveness. In other words, despite the fact that a large percentage of people believe non-financial incentives to be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective, they are deployed with a lot less frequency than financial.

So, how can you praise and recognise at work to ensure that you don’t tip the scale in the wrong direction? A rewards system is something that needs to be worked on systematically.

Here are a few simple suggestions to get you started:

  1. Be specific in your praise – recognise individual achievements. Whether that is a well-written report, a creative idea or a perfect cup of tea, shout about it!

  2. Show appreciation – Both employees and employers can recognise hard work and achievement. Give your teammate a simple, verbal ‘well done’ or a quick pat on the back or, if you’re an employer with a little cash to spare, you can go all out and reward a star team member with an experience, like a skydive or a hot air balloon ride.

  3. Be individual – This one’s for the employers: you need to understand your team and personalise your praise. Not everyone will want to be praised publicly – some value a simple thank you gift over long public speeches of adornment. Understand the “language” someone speaks and recognise them in a way they will appreciate most. It’s this that will differentiate you from other employers.

This piece was brought to you by Perkbox – the UK’s fastest growing employee engagement platform. Perkbox helps businesses of all sizes to boost the financial, emotional and physical wellbeing of their team by providing employees with on-the-go access to a range of perks, an online reward and recognition system and a wellness hub. Click here to find out more.


Role of Reward & Recognition in effective Employee Engagement

Written by guest blogger Lottie Gunn 19th May 2016
James Murphy, Founder & Director of Membership Services of the Employee Engagement Alliance, welcomed the group of HR and engagement specialists to Instinctif’s offices in Gresham Street and kicked off the event, where we discussed the business benefits of reward and recognition being part of an employee engagement programme.

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14% of R&R programmes fail as they are financial; top down and extrinsic, as opposed to intrinsic (values based) which can also include gamification and the impact that has.

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Kate Reilly and Sheneen Harris from PPL spoke about their R&R programme and the review and benchmarking they did before they implemented an old one. Their new programme takes into account what employees want and their demographic. Since implementing their programme they’ve seen a rise in revenue for the company. They said that some of the more low cost benefits such as fruit had the highest impact.


Antonella Vaughan, Business Advisor from Purple Cubed, talked about the fact that reward and recognition schemes are used to retain employees and change behavior. Antonella emphasized the need to use both reward and recognition together (reward is tangible and recognition should ideally be a surprise and spontaneous). Antonella emphasized that when organisations link their R&R programmes with their employee engagement strategy there can be a 30% increase in retention.

She discussed a number of case studies in which giving gifts and not ‘cold, hard, cash’ enable people to have more of an emotional connection with the item and the perceived value is greater. You also don’t need to justify the spend to yourself… I.e buying a really expensive coffee machine that you wouldn’t normally do.


The afternoon concluded with a panel discussion with the speakers and Victoria Lewis-Stephens, Managing Partner, Engagement from Instinctif. The summary points were:

  1. Make sure your R&R scheme is applicable for your culture and demographic and links with your employee engagement strategy
  2. Small, low cost perks can make a big impact, including a simple ‘thank you’
  3. Communicate your rewards and benefits (through induction, Total Reward Statements, reviews, intranet pages, etc.)
  4. Link your recognition scheme with your values – people should be recognised for what’s important to the company and what will ultimately help it succeed
  5. Don’t get complacent – keep your programmes up to date and relevant to your company/ demographics
  6. Measure your R&R programme through business performance. Ensure you have the basics in place first – pay, job descriptions, tools to do the job, etc.

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