Employee Recognition

One of the conversations I frequently have at events – our own and others – is about employee recognition. Many companies, large and small, have mission statements or a list of values that say they really value staff. The question I am asked, though, is why that doesn’t always ring true for those in administrative roles.

Many executives say the right words; indeed, we ran our own campaign last year about this. Here is a selection of the quotes:

  • “Administrators enable teams to be successful – they make sure things get done!”
  • “Administrators are the ‘go-to’ people to find out answers to questions and the people that are always ready to help”
  • “There is always something new to learn and an administrator there to learn it and lead change. Invest in your administrators and they will invest in you.”

So far, so good, so what is the problem?

Consistent Recognition

Organisations need to be consistent with how they recognise the contributions of employees. Generally, this comes in two ways; formal recognition schemes and informal appreciation.

Good employee recognition is incredibly important. It reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes that people create for the business, and employees gain a better understanding of how to effectively contribute.

To be clear, employee recognition is the timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behaviour, effort or business result that supports the organisation’s goals and values.

Recognition Programmes

Recognition programmes can help to motivate employees in a way that encourages positive approaches to their jobs and their tasks at hand. So, what are the basics:

  1. Make everyone eligible – this is fundamental; organisations should never exclude any employee or group of employees. This is especially important to consider when different employees have entirely different responsibilities; some will be back office and others will be more customer/client-facing. Depending on the nature of your firm’s business, they may need to create multiple recognition programmes for different departments or different types of jobs. As long as everyone is included.
  2. Define criteria clearly – the recognition must supply the employer and employee with specific information about what behaviours or actions are being rewarded and recognised.
  3. Be timely – ideally the recognition should occur as close to the performance of the actions as possible, so the recognition is clearly linked to a specific behaviour, outcome or effort. Depending on the nature of the business, rewards can be as frequent as daily.
  4. Set objective standards – the process should be as objective as possible to remove the chance of favouritism or, just as bad, tokenism. Supervisors must also apply the criteria consistently and transparently, so you may find the need to provide some organisational oversight.

The actual rewards will vary from organisation to organisation, but a common one is that of membership of professional bodies, such as the IAM.

This is an area where I hear the same issue repeated. Many administrators belong to organisations that encourage, and then pay for, their fee-earning or technical employees (such as scientists or engineers) to join professional bodies. However, when it comes to administrative staff this does not seem to happen. To some employees it looks like statements such as ‘We value all our staff” and quotes like “Administrators enable teams to be successful…” are just words after all.


Appreciation is a fundamental human need. People respond to appreciation expressed through recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued by others. When employees and their work are valued, their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are more motivated to maintain or improve their good work.

Praise and recognition are essential to an outstanding workplace. People want to be respected and valued by others for their contribution. Everyone feels the need to be recognised as an individual or member of a group and to feel a sense of achievement for work well done or even for a valiant effort. For many people a simple ‘pat on the back’ makes them feel good.

Surveys conducted by Sirota Consulting revealed that only 51% of workers were satisfied with the recognition they received after a job well done. This figure is as conclusive as you could get – it resulted from interviewing 2.5 million employees in 237 private, public and not-for-profit organisations in 89 countries around the world over 10 years.

Fortunately, you don’t need an organisational system, or even permission, to give appreciation. You can be a catalyst in your organisation; initiate it in your area. You could start doing it discreetly, not even telling others about the change, but doing it and observing the results.

There are two parts to employee appreciation, and everyone can do it.

The first aspect is to actually see, identify or realise an opportunity to praise someone. If you are not in a receptive frame of mind you can easily pass over many such opportunities. . Unfortunately, our work culture tends to mean we are focused on reacting when things go wrong and we are so busy when things are going well that we never quite get around to it. This happens all too frequently, so make it a point to find people doing things well.

The other aspect of employee recognition is, of course, the physical act of doing something to acknowledge and praise people for their good work.

One formula for recognising an individual for their efforts is:

  1. Thank the person by name.
  2. Specifically state what they did that is being recognised. It is vital to be specific because it identifies and reinforces the desired behaviour.
  3. Explain how the behaviour made you feel (assuming you felt some pride or respect for their accomplishment). *
  4. Point out the value added to the team or organisation by the behaviour. **
  5. Thank the person again by name for their contribution.

Everyone should be able to manage steps 1, 2 and 5.

* Step 3 can feel a little awkward at first, particularly if you are not usually an emotive person so look to bring this in more selectively until you feel comfortable doing it.

 ** Step 4 can come across as a little patronising so make sure you run it through in your head. Even if your intention is positive if it sounds like you are saying, “Haven’t you done well?” then keep it simple and omit this step.

Final thoughts

Appreciation costs nothing, and every emotionally intelligent person already understands the value it adds to the culture of an organisation.  It also contributes to improving employee retention, cultivating a spirit of self-improvement, and boosting morale and engagement.

For those that still need convincing, consider this:

The Boston Consulting Group conducted an online global study of 200,000 employees from 189 countries in 2014, finding that “Globally, the most important single job element for all people is appreciation for their work.” Appreciation was the top factor for happiness on the job, ahead of 25 other factors, and was highlighted in the findings as an indication of “the growing importance of ‘softer’ factors.”

Finally, reward and recognition programmes don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to include everyone, and be transparent and fair.

For more information on the IAM Corporate Membership Scheme and how your organisation can recognise its business support and administrative staff email us at info@instam.org.

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