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How To Reward And Recognize Employees

Reward and Recognition go hand-in-hand.

Reward describes the benefits of working that an employee receives privately. Rewards are for the employee and their use, to improve their quality of life, and ensure they're getting as much from the company, as the company is getting from them. Recognition is the public communication of a job well done. Recognition can happen in small settings - just a simple thank you, or note of gratitude between the employee and the manager. Or, it can be more public - a slack note in the company channel, an award in a company event, or a LinkedIn post, highlighting accomplishments. Let's dig into each one a little closer.

At the heart of the employee-employer relationship is reward.


Rewards come in the form of compensation, benefits, perks, work-life balance, career development, a sense of purpose, or even network enhancement. Reward is the reason we all choose to work. Every person needs to feel rewarded for their work at some level.

Rewards aren't always salary based - work/life balance, career development, mentorship, or networking can be provided by the manager. Some employees may trade increases in salary for more PTO days or other perks.

Salary and benefits are typically controlled by HR and Senior Leadership, but the manager can, and should, advocate for their team whenever appropriate. Some employees set their goals based on compensation and title.

Your job as a leader is to suss out this motivation and support the employee’s career goals. Your goal is to find the appropriate match between the employee’s goals and the organization’s needs. It is your role as a leader to identify these ambitions, find a good match to organizational needs, and set clear expectations with the employee as to how to align their performance with their goals.

An employee who is motivated by title may be a great source of ideas for team enhancement, and could be a mentor to new team members. Or, perhaps, someone who can experiment with new responsibilities that allow the team to increase their bench of skills. For those that don’t explicitly say that money is their goal, the employee still has a need to feel rewarded, and basic financial needs to be met. Additionally, a lack of primary financial motivation does not give permission to compensate employees for less than they're worth, or less than their peers doing the same job. This is where your advocacy is key. It is your responsibility to ensure that the company gets its value from the employee, and vice versa.


Recognition is powerful and typically costs nothing. It is another critical component of employee engagement and comes very naturally for some people.

Acknowledgment of hard work validates employee effort and fuels continued engagement. A little bit of gratitude and public praise for achieving a goal, or demonstrating a core value can go a long way.

As a leader, it is your duty to highlight the efforts and results of your team. Contrary to reward, recognition is done publicly. Whether it’s a team meeting, group slack channel, or some other forum, there should be plenty of opportunities and examples for highlighting the success of individuals.

With recognition, employees feel proud and encouraged to continue to give their best effort to their work.

Important Caveats to Recognition

Be cautious not to embarrass any individual. You should have permission or a mutual understanding of how recognition happens on your team and in your organization Be sure you’re truly highlighting the remarkable. If you look hard enough (and have given ample space for experimentation), there will be examples of employee performance that are worth highlighting. Conversely, highlighting average tasks or “box-checking” can make the employee feel belittled, or the manager's recognition holds very little weight. Avoid highlighting the same people repeatedly, without recognizing others. Question your bias and be sure you’re not always recognizing the most charismatic team members. Be aware of the quiet team members. Very often, those individuals are highly productive and dedicated but don’t pull the spotlight. Be sure you’re looking for these examples as well. Be specific in your feedback, and highlight the outcome and the tasks as often as possible. You’re shining a light on the things others will want to emulate. Be intentional about where that spotlight goes.

Putting It Into Practice

Employee questions are meant for the manager to ask the employee before their one-on-one time. Give ample time to consider the question and respond back. Use a sliding scale, or a qualitative range to gauge response and changes over time.

Employee Reward Questions:

How satisfied are you with your current role and the company overall?

What are your career goals for the next 6 months, or 2 years?

Employee Recognition Questions:

How confident are you that people outside your peers know of your hard work and accomplishments?

Do you feel senior leadership appreciates the work you do?

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