Employee Appreciation


Many employees do not feel appreciated. Our findings confirm decades of prior research. Leaders continue to struggle to reward the great work employees do. Peers and leaders alike do not give recognition often enough. Recognition, a critical action that causes the feeling of appreciation, is often deprioritized. Budgets get spent elsewhere. Manager time goes to more administrative tasks. Even HR leaders devote more energy to policies and procedures than recognition. Town halls, newsletters, and other cultural focal points often leave recognition moments until the last moment. When recognition makes the bottom of the priority list, people feel like their work goes unnoticed. It’s all too easy to believe managers, peers, and the organization don’t care about them or the work they produce.

Appreciation is more than a mere ‘thank you’; it is an exchange between coworkers and leaders that connects great work with organizational purpose. Within our Talent Magnet Culture Framework, we discovered five critical dimensions of appreciation: frequency of recognition received, the sincerity and meaningfulness of the recognition, consistency of recognition for high performers, leader acknowledgment, and a habit of recognizing others. Appreciation is a powerful emotion, where the individual feels acknowledged and valued, not just for the work they do, but for who they are and the talents they possess.

Appreciation is essential. It’s a feeling of being valued for one’s unique point of view, attitude, talents, and contributions. While compensation and benefits can contribute to a feeling of appreciation, things like autonomy, trust, responsibility, interactions with others, and authentic and sincere recognition are even more impactful.

Appreciation can improve engagement, inspire innovation, and build loyalty. When asked “what is the most important thing your manager or company does (or could do) to cause you to produce great work”, the number one response was “recognize me.”1 “Appreciation for my work” was the number one attribute that job seekers across the globe said was most important in their new job.2

Appreciation is defined as the “application of wisdom, sound judgment, and keen insight in recognizing the worth of someone.” It is an emotion.3

Recognition is defined as “the action or process of recognizing or being recognized. It is the act of using words to express gratitude.”4 It fuels the feeling of being appreciated.

Employees’ efforts and accomplishments must be appreciated through acts of recognition. Recognition has a significant impact on all six talent magnets. When asked to rate each talent magnet on a scale of 0-100, employees who felt recognized also felt more positive about purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership.

Recognition is Not a Priority

Recognition is not happening as often as it should be, nor is it as well executed as it should be. We found only 61% of employees feel appreciated in the workplace, and when recognition is given, it is done incorrectly 1/3 of the time.

Meaningful and purposeful appreciation is a powerful tool in bridging cultural discord in your organization. No matter the generation, level, department, function, or region of the world, all employees want to be recognized and feel appreciated. Recognition builds connections across your organization: cross-functional connections through peer-to-peer recognition, connection with your purpose and company through leader-given recognition, and connection to an employee’s individual achievements and success.

Effective recognition requires thoughtful, genuine, public praise, especially from leaders. Peer-to-peer recognition has tremendous value. But to think of it as a replacement for praise from leaders is a mistake.

Is recognition happening? In the past 30 days…

57% of employees received a “thank you” from a leader or peer

27% of employees received spontaneous praise for their work

26% of employees received formal recognition

20% of employees were assigned a special project

28% of employees did not receive ANY of the above

42% of employees told how they could improve while receiving recognition


Give deliberate thanks, spontaneous praise, and formal recognition.

Recognition cannot be an afterthought. It must be deliberate and given in a timely manner when employees display extra effort, accomplish something great, or achieve a career milestone.5

71% Decrease in feeling of appreciation when praise or recognition is not given after an employee gives extra effort or accomplishes something great

Whether it’s a simple thank you, spontaneous praise, or more formal recognition, showing appreciation deliberately has a profound impact on people. When a peer or leader can communicate in detail and with specificity how an employee’s work contributes to organizational purpose, they feel part of something bigger. They feel a sense of belonging. A simple “thank you” can have a lasting impact, if done well and thoughtfully.

Our research shows that appreciation can be engendered by:

A deliberate “thank you”—employees feel 116% more appreciated

Spontaneous praise—employees feel 172% more appreciated

Formal recognition—employees feel 355% more appreciated

Special projects—employees feel 74% more appreciated



Make recognition a priority.

Demonstrate the importance of recognition by changing when it occurs in town hall meetings, company-wide newsletters, or other forms of communication. More employees will see and hear the recognition moment if it takes place at the beginning of a meeting, rather than at the end. The same is true of a newsletter; the portion on recognition will be read more if it is placed on the front page in a prominent spot. If recognition is left to the end, it can be forgotten, rushed through, or dropped off entirely if there is no time or room left. This negatively impacts the recognized employee.

A good rule of thumb: recognize first. Or schedule an entire meeting or quick check-in where the only agenda item is giving recognition. One in two employees told us that recognition was an afterthought at organizational meetings.

When recognition is not seen as a priority for their organization, employees are:

38% less likely to feel appreciated

22% less likely to give others recognition

68% more likely to feel like the recognition they receive is an empty gesture

40% more likely to feel that they rarely receive recognition from peers



Help leaders give recognition in a genuine, specific, and personal way.

Organizations often assume leaders already know how to appreciate their people, and that often is not the case. Employees want to feel their leaders know them (and the work they do) in a specific, personal way. When leaders give generic thanks or appreciation to a group, rather than an individual, it can dilute the experience. Instead, leaders should be specific about who, what, and why they are appreciating.

40% of employees feel that the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture, according to our study.

Recognition should connect with what matters most, and leaders should align their praise with the company’s goals and values that come from the organization’s purpose.

Establish champions who can train and teach recognition best practices to leaders and new employees. Create a feedback mechanism so leaders can know and stay up to date on the great work their people are doing. Whether it’s fueled by data from your recognition program or performance management tools, public recognition from other peers, or regular one-on-ones with employees, leaders should have access to what their employees have been accomplishing. Recognition should be a part of your company’s culture, not just another HR program.



Position employees as subject matter experts and connect them with others.

When employees feel valued for their unique points of view, attitudes, talents, and contributions, they feel empowered to lead on their own. Develop employees into subject matter experts. Connect them with others in the organization so that people come to them for help and guidance. This helps to highlight an employee’s specific strengths and connect those strengths to specific accomplishments. It shows how employees are uniquely contributing and valued. By establishing people as experts, you inspire them to lead on their own.

When people at an employee’s organization come to him or her for help, we see a:

40% increase in appreciation

59% increase in engagement

30% increase in job satisfaction

Recognition Builds Connection, Loyalty, and Unity

Recognition is the ultimate connector. It connects people to the organization’s purpose and their own successes. It can connect teams and employees to their leaders. It can single-handedly unify cultures during times of disruption and turmoil.

Appreciation also equals longevity. Consistent above and beyond performance recognition can add 3.5 years to an employee’s tenure, and effective career celebrations extend employment by 2-4 years. A holistic appreciation strategy doesn’t just make people feel good— it boosts retention.8


In the end, while compensation and benefits may play into one’s sense of appreciation, it’s connection, interactions with others, and sincere and authentic recognition that makes employees feel genuinely valued. The simple act of recognition can transform a culture.


Employees who claim their managers regularly acknowledge them for good work are 5 times more likely to stay9


of employees said they would stay at their jobs longer if their employers showed them more appreciation10


Make recognition deliberate.

Make recognition a priority.

Make recognition personal.

Make employees feel irreplaceable.

Appreciation Sources

1. O.C. Tanner, “Cutting the Cost of Disengagement”, Infographic.
2. Rainer Strack, “The Workforce Crisis of 2030” Boston Consulting Group, 2014
3, 4, 5. David Sturt, Todd Nordstrom, Kevin Ames, Gary Beckstrand. Appreciate. O.C. Tanner 2017.
6. Niagara Casinos Case Study, O.C. Tanner.
7. Virgin Trains Case Study, O.C. Tanner.
8. Effect of Years of Service Recognition, O.C. Tanner.
9. “US Employee Pulse Survey,” Qualtrics, November 2017.
10. “More Than Half of Employees Would Stay Longer at Their Company If Bosses Showed More Appreciation, Glassdoor Survey,” Glassdoor, November 13, 2013..

Niagara Casinos welcomes millions of visitors each year from around the world. In an effort to reward their 4,000 employees for demonstrating the company’s new values, they gave their recognition program a much-needed facelift. Their new recognition program brought awareness, reinforced their new values, connected departments that don’t frequently interact with each other, and improved camaraderie. Live streams of ecard and award descriptions are played on monitors in the employee cafeterias at all properties. These serve as an ongoing reminder of recognition happening across the organization. Today, 90% of employees understand how they contribute to the success of the company, and 93% say they are likely to stay.

“You can’t deliver a remarkable customer experience without employees that are committed and connected to the organization. We believe that recognizing employees that go above and beyond is a strategic imperative for our business because when done right, it pays dividends.”


When leaders do not effectively communicate accomplishments, employees are:

70% less likely to feel appreciated

74% less likely to stay at the organization

42% less likely to be engaged

46% less likely to promote their organization

We see significant generational differences for Appreciation. Generation Z scores highest, with 80% feeling appreciated. Millennial, Generation X, and Baby Boomer employees score considerably lower.

Virgin Trains had the challenge of trying to unify an innovative, youthful brand culture with the established, historical, black and white railroad culture. There was a lot of work to do to create cultural change in a mobile, desk-less operation that runs 24-7. They implemented a new recognition program to unify their culture with common values, consistent use and experiences across all of their locations, and the ability for every employee to recognize each other. At Virgin Trains, the employee experience equals the customer experience. By focusing on employees first, Virgin Trains knows they’ll treat their customers well.

“We ask a lot of our people. And we ask them to do it with heart. So there must be something we can do to appreciate our people and let them know what they do has a huge impact.”