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Recognition drives employee engagement

By March 7, 2017 May 6th, 2020 No Comments

In all walks of life, for people of all ages, recognition is proven to lead to higher motivation. In the workplace higher motivation leads to increased productivity and has a positive impact on the bottom line.

Every manager should understand the psychology of employee recognition to get the most out of their team.

The key thing for managers to understand is how dopamine works in our brains. The most important part of the dopamine experience is that it runs out fairly quickly, and when we receive it, we want more of it. It becomes addictive.

So as an employee, if I do a good job on a project and get recognised for that by someone I respect (like my direct manager or a peer in my team), I’ll want that feeling again.

After receiving that recognition, an employee is much more likely to try and do a good job on the next project.

When people talk about dopamine, it’s often associated with pleasure and the effect you get from drugs and alcohol. But dopamine is about much more than pleasure. Dopamine’s true effect might be thought of as motivation 1.

In one recent study, a team of scientists mapped the brains of “go-getters” and “slackers” and found that those who were more willing to work hard for rewards had higher dopamine levels.

Neuroscientist John Salamone explains it like this:

“Low levels of dopamine make people less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself.”

Speaking from personal experience, I believe that when you don’t receive recognition and you know you should have, you’re likely to become incredibly demotivated.

You start to question whether your opinions, efforts and ideas really count, and what value you truly bring to your organisation. This is obviously a scary thought- of course your opinions and efforts count -but it’s interesting to see how much of an effect praise (or lack of it) can have on motivation.

Recognition has been proven to matter more than money, and timely recognition, particularly from your peers is proven to be a very powerful form of recognition.

A 2015 Gallup survey of 1,200 U.S. employees across many different industries found that:

  • 83% of respondents said recognition was more fulfilling than any reward or gift
  • 78% found praise from managers very or extremely motivating
  • 70% reported their most meaningful recognition “had no dollar value”
  • 86% found peer praise very or extremely motivating

It’s the last point, about peer praise, that I want to focus on. We often talk about how important it is for managers to praise their employees, but a huge opportunity that’s being missed is having coworkers praise each other.

In a survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), they found that only 17% of employees say they receive recognition from their peers, versus 31% from their supervisors. There is a huge opportunity to improve in this area.

You can’t expect managers to catch every single thing that every employee in his or her does; that’s just not realistic. A manager can’t be in all places at all times, so a simple solution is to create a culture of recognition.

Research from Deloitte shows that praise from your co-workers means more than praise from your managers, so it’s even more important to create a culture of recognition that allows peers to recognise each other.

So then the question becomes: How do you go about creating a culture of recognition?

You empower employees to show gratitude

Research on gratitude shows that this could easily be the answer, not only to create a culture of recognition, but to improve the well-being of everyone on the team. Practicing gratitude makes us better workers and better people.

“Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.” – Martin Seligman.

Researchers Princeton University found that “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”

A paper published in 2016 in the Clinical Psychology Review finds that people who express gratitude are more extroverted, agreeable, open, and conscientious, and less neurotic.

Practicing gratitude has been shown to make us:

  • Happier; •Sleep better; •More likeable; •More emotionally intelligent; •More optimistic; •Less self-centered; •Have more energy
  • And so much more!

Giving recognition is easy, but it is important to align recognition with corporate values to ensure that you maximise the enormous benefits.

Utilising an employee engagement platform to give and receive recognition, and monitor and report on the benefits will deliver consistency, transparency across the organisation, and should give you the opportunity to measure your return on investment.

Brownie points are thought leaders on employee recognition, and our clients across various industry sectors are delivering great results, reducing staff turnover and absenteeism, improving customer satisfaction, and improving productivity.

To learn how Brownie Points could deliver real employee engagement benefits to your business, give the team a call on 03 9909 7411 or email us at

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