Well-Conceived Recognition and Reward Programmes Reinforce Employee Wellbeing | EAPA-SA

Thanks to Covid, and the myriad of challenges that came with it, people are struggling with stress and anxiety like never before. It is understood as inevitable that, over time, the anxiety and stress from which employees are suffering will significantly decrease their work performance, reduce job satisfaction and negatively affect their relationships with colleagues. The good news is that there are tools at an organisation’s disposal to mitigate employee stress and burnout – employee recognition is one of these tools. 

“Employee recognition is the act of publicly acknowledging employees, and expressing appreciation for who they are and for their contributions to an organisation”

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is the act of publicly acknowledging employees, and expressing appreciation for who they are and for their contributions to an organisation. This recognition may be for a job well done, commendable behavior or contributing to favourable results that align with organisational values or goals. 

Research agrees that employee recognition is a powerful tool

In their report titled, From Thank You to Thriving, Gallup identifies five research-based key elements of wellbeing that contribute to people’s thriving, struggling or suffering in life. 

  • Career wellbeing — refers to how people spend their days and whether or not they generally like what they do with their time. 
  • Social wellbeing — refers to people’s relationships with others and whether or not they have meaningful connections and positive interactions with others. 
  • Financial wellbeing — refers to people’s economic stability and standard of living and whether or not they have the funds they need to provide for themselves and/or their family. 
  • Physical wellbeing — refers to people’s health and physical condition and whether or not they have the energy and endurance to be productive each day. 
  • Community wellbeing — refers to people’s daily environment and whether or not they feel satisfied, connected and engaged with the areas in which they live.


Prior research, conducted by Gallup and Workhuman has established an extensive connection between employee recognition and wellbeing. It shows that employees who receive the right amount of recognition for their work have: 

  • lower burnout: Employees are up to 90% less likely to report being burned out at work “always” or “very often”;
  • improved daily emotions: Employees are up to two times more likely to report having experienced a lot of gratitude the previous day and about 40% less likely to report having experienced a lot of stress, worry and sadness;
  • stronger relationships: Employees are seven times more likely to strongly agree they have meaningful connections or a best friend at work, and as much as 10 times more likely to strongly agree they belong.

Recognition benefits individuals, team and the whole organisation

Research has established that well-conducted employee recognition along with supporting wellbeing can work in combination to take performance to a whole new level.  Creating a culture of recognition and appreciation empowers everyone in an organisation. Here are three ways in which recognition benefits individuals, teams and employers:

  • In individuals it builds self-confidence:  People like to know that their efforts are noticed and valued. This is particularly true when they have taken on a particularly challenging task or have gone the extra mile. Recognition not only develops self-confidence; it builds assurance that the individual can stretch themselves when the next opportunity comes along.

“Research has established that well-conducted employee recognition along with supporting wellbeing can work in combination to take performance to a whole new level.”

  • In teams it builds interpersonal trust:  Employee recognition keeps lines of communication open and paves the way for positive and constructive feedback. This enhanced communication helps to build trust between employees and leaders. What’s more, while many people believe that employee recognition can only come from a manager after a significant achievement every-day peer recognition can also play a big role in helping employees feel appreciated for their work. This helps build colleague-relationships, which is key to social wellbeing.
  • In an organisation It builds a motivated culture: Employee recognition leverages positive reinforcement in a highly effective way. When people feel seen and valued for the work that they do, they are more likely to continue in that way. This drives an organisational shift to build a culture of motivation that fosters employee wellbeing. 


The characteristics of effective recognition

Before implementing an employee recognition programme, it is important to understand the characteristics of effective recognition:

  • It is timely

Too many employees only receive recognition at their annual review. Recognition is most effective when it is timely. Waiting can result in the diminished impact of the recognition and result in a lost opportunity to encourage the same kind of positive behavior. Aim to give recognition as soon as possible to maximise the connection between positive behavior and recognition. 

  • It is frequent

It is not necessary to wait for a significant milestone or achievement to give recognition. Employees make great contributions every day and failing to recognise these contributions increases the likelihood of them feeling undervalued in their role. Frequent recognition will translate into more engaged employees and can lower turnover.

  • It is specific

Specific recognition helps employees understand exactly which of their actions was praiseworthy. Being specific means acknowledging the details and context of a task well done, providing more than saying, “Thanks, great job!”.  When feedback isn’t specific, it risks coming across as insincere or unclear.

  • It is visible

Public recognition offers several distinct advantages. Firstly, being recognised publicly boosts its impact. In addition, giving praise in front of a wider audience communicates what is considered praiseworthy and highlights work being done across the organisation. It also gives peers the opportunity to join in the recognition, reinforcing positive behavior. Additionally, visible recognition can bring to light innovations or challenges that spur valuable discussions within teams.

  • It is inclusive

Inclusive recognition helps to foster a sense of equity and belonging for all employees. A powerful way to ensure more people are recognised is to diversify the parties responsible for giving recognition. When employees are empowered to recognise peers, praise happens more frequently, while also carrying more detail and context. A comprehensive recognition programme based on peer recognition can provide a better understanding of what a team and the whole organization considers valuable while removing the bottlenecks imposed by top-down recognition. 

  • It is values-based

Values-based recognition encourages employees and teams to work toward a common vision. If your culture is really based on a shared set of values, make a conscious effort to reinforce those values through praise. When sharing positive feedback, think about how a contribution lines up with the organisation’s values, reinforcing positive actions. 


Recognition makes people feel seen and respected, which impacts their wellbeing. Organisations have many opportunities to leverage employee recognition as a wellness strategy. This has far-reaching repercussions, delivering win-win benefits for organisations and their employees’, from fostering general happiness and success in their job, to boosting energy levels and supporting social health and integration. As such, employee recognition is a force for good in workplaces across the globe.