Employee recognition: Smart ways to do it and why it’s important

Think about the people you know and how they feel about their jobs.

Some love what they do, while others loathe their work.

Why would they hate their job? It might be the working environment (physical and fiscal), co-workers or a bad boss.

Or, it may be something as simple as the lack of recognition for job performance. Consider:

<In 2016, a Gallup analysis revealed only one in three American workers received any praise or acknowledgment for their work over the course of the week in which they were surveyed.

<An international Sirota Consulting survey of more than 2.5 million employees in a variety of fields over a decade found just 51 percent of workers were OK with the recognition received after a job well done.

As a worker, perhaps you can relate to this? As an employer, do you recognize this?

The cost of ignoring employee performance can be staggering. Consider that Gallup finding and how your bottom line would be affected if only 30 percent of employees are working at full tilt.

If workers are unhappy, they likely say so, harming the company’s reputation. Unhappy employees’ tenures are shorter and good workers are apt to look elsewhere, putting retention and hiring at risk.

The good news is that management in many organizations realizes the personal, productive and profitable aspects of employee recognition. It recommends a variety of incentives, immediate and long-term, that include tangible rewards, commemorative and monetary, for individual and team efforts. And they don’t have to break the budget.


At Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bern Township, there are a number of employee recognition programs, according to Michael B. Jupina, vice president of marketing and communications.

Some provide instant recognition, such as the token program, which Jupina terms an “on the spot” recognition of someone who did something that another employee, any employee, felt was worth recognition. The recipient gets a token, which can be redeemed for refreshments in the hospital café.

Guardian angel recognition, run by the hospital foundation, spotlights staffers – highlighted by employees or patients – who have gone above or beyond in helping a patient or family.


The hospital also grants other awards for exemplary professional and empathetic nursing care; accomplishments that relate to the hospital’s mission, vision and values; and annual nurse excellence awards. An annual dinner recognizes staff anniversaries in five-year increments.

“We recognize staff to show leadership’s deep appreciation of individual and team efforts,” Jupina said.

“We believe it is extremely important to both honor and celebrate staff when they turn our core values – reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence – into actions. Every time they do this, it’s a promise delivered to our patients.”


Debra Kurtz, a human resources manager with 20 years in a variety of production, manufacturing, distribution and food processing companies in Berks and other counties with a range of 90 to 2,600 employees, has experience with several employee recognition programs.

“I have seen anything from instant gratification such as vending and café coupons to use toward food and drink, pizza parties and sub parties for reaching a business unit/department metric goal,” she said, “and gift cards and gas cards for other type of recognition such as going above and beyond or exceptional leadership.

“I have seen recognition that the leadership team does by serving lunch breakfast and/or dinner to the employees. Jackets and shirts in appreciation for a job well done, such as safe hours worked, record days for producing and other metrics that make the bottom line successful.”


Kurtz, who is enrolled in a master’s degree program, said HR managers are keenly aware that employees desire recognition.

“One of the No. 1 issues that arise in employee surveys is that you always hear the bad and not the good. A smile, a thank you for a great job goes along way,” she said.

“Appreciation is valued even if there is not monetary value placed on it.”

Kurtz stressed the importance of individual and team recognition, depending on the circumstances – and even the personalities of outstanding workers.


Kurtz also advises an HR manager tasked with a recognition program to “look at the culture of your organization, look at the vision and values, and cultivate recognition around those.”

And, she noted, it’s never too late to get something started.

“Implementing even a small recognition program, when employees start to be appreciated and thanked for a job well done, they feel valued and tend to do more for the company overall,” she said.

“Attitude and motivations are key to help inspire any employee. Recognition is a small way to drive that motivation and inspiration.”


Jessica Weaknecht, director of human resources for Berks County, said employee recognition for governments is tricky because of their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. But that often spawns creative low-cost to no-cost ways to recognize workers.

For example, Berks County holds quarterly breakfasts recognizing employees for years of service and dedication.

“A lot of organizations still look to monetary rewards, but we are finding in the HR world that the millennials want more ‘perks’ … and to feel valued, as opposed to the monetary rewards,” Weaknecht said. “Maybe more time off, flexible work schedules, etc. …

“Today, it’s difficult to retain employees. I think that having programs in place lets the employees know they are valued and are essential to the operation and success of the organization.”

Business Journal Events

2019 CFO of the Year Awards

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
2019 CFO of the Year Awards

HR Symposium

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
HR Symposium

2019 Reader Rankings Awards

Wednesday, October 02, 2019
2019 Reader Rankings Awards

2019 Fastest Growing Companies Awards

Wednesday, October 23, 2019
2019 Fastest Growing Companies Awards