The importance of building a company culture where feedback and recognition are commonplace is well-known. Employees who report feeling recognized at work are more motivated, engaged, productive and ultimately more likely to stay at your organization. Not surprisingly, 80% of organizations have a recognition program to reward employees for a variety of achievements. These often involve a monetary reward, like a gift card or a “spot bonus.”

While these programs are useful, they’re far from perfect. With widespread work-from-home policies and general economic uncertainty putting pressure on employees, forward-thinking organizations have an opportunity to rethink traditional programmatic approaches to recognition. By building recognition programs that encourage frequent, authentic recognition in the flow of work, they can help make employees feel more motivated and engaged. Let’s be honest, everyone could use a little more of that right now.

Why now is the time to rethink recognition

While employee recognition has always been important, the surge in remote work over the past several months – with many knowledge workers working from home until the end of 2020 or beyond – has brought it to the top of the priority list. Working from home can negatively impact motivation, especially if the employee doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Emotional and economic pressure also reduces employee motivation. If companies don’t take steps to address employee motivation, they could see happiness and productivity among remote teams drop significantly.

Improving recognition is one way to counteract this. A huge volume of research over the past twenty years has consistently shown that recognition is one of the easiest ways to boost employee motivation. Employees can feel siloed or lonely when working remotely and public recognition can be a good way to share wins cross-functionally. Receiving a genuine “thank you” from a manager can also help build the feeling of psychological safety, which we’ve found contributes to high-performing managers and teams.

What effective recognition looks like

For employee recognition to be most effective, it should be:

Frequent – Like constructive feedback, recognition should be given regularly, but not so regularly that it loses impact.
Timely – Give recognition as close as possible to the accomplishment the employee is being recognized for. Waiting to give recognition can reduce its impact.
Specific – Effective recognition should be both appropriate to the achievement and tailored to the individual. As author Adam Gostick summarizes, “It’s demotivating to give someone a minor award for a major accomplishment.”

Traditional employee recognition programs tackle recognition from one angle, often a monetary reward delivered top-down or peer-to-peer. Although these programs positively contribute to a culture of giving recognition, they rarely meet all of the characteristics listed above. They also don’t account for some of the nuances that are key to delivering authentic and effective recognition, including:

Public versus private – Some employees prefer to be recognized in public, others feel uncomfortable with this and would prefer private recognition. Some situations call for one or the other.
Non-monetary recognition – In some cases, cash awards can actually be less impactful than a meaningful “thank-you.”
Acknowledging progress – Acknowledging small wins on the road to a longer-term goal can be crucial for motivating your team.

How next-gen leadership development platforms help give recognition

Platforms like Cultivate can contribute to employee recognition in several ways. They take a more holistic approach by reinforcing feedback behaviors alongside recognition. For example, a Cultivate message might tell someone that they’re consistently scheduling meetings during the time slots their team prefers to have them. The user gets specific information on what they are doing well and why, along with encouragement to keep up the good work. These platforms also encourage authenticity by looking at observed behavior and encouraging managers to give recognition in the flow of work, rather than through an external platform. Finally, they can provide coaching on the process of giving recognition itself, like when to give it in public versus private. This can help managers improve their ability to recognize their team and become better people leaders.

If you’re interested in seeing how Cultivate’s leadership development platform can complement your employee recognition program, request a demo here.



Cultivate is a digital leadership platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to provide in-the-moment feedback and tools to enterprise employees. Our mission is to help build stronger workplace relationships, and empower people leaders and employees to be more effective, engaged, and balanced.