Evidence for the effectiveness of employee recognition

Posted on 14.03.2016
This blog post highlights the evidence for the effectiveness of employee recognition strategies in improving engagement, performance, productivity and profitability.
This evidence comes from academic research and from research using data compiled by research houses such as Towers Watson, HayGroup, Aon Hewitt and Gallup. It comes from case studies compiled by many leading companies and organisations. The cumulative effect of these different studies leaves little room for doubt about the importance of recognizing employees.
But the evidence also comes from our own experiences of working in organisations which care about expressing gratitude for their employee's success in reaching specific goals or for living the core company values - and the effect that has on overall business performance.

Overview of key sources

Recognition is globally a top 3 engagement driver
Sanborn P, Malhotra R, Atchinson A. Trends in global employee engagement. AonHewitt. 2011:4

The most important single job element to feel happy on the job is appreciation for work.
Strack R, Von Der Linden C, Booker M, Strohmayr A. Decoding global talent - 200,000 survey responses on global employment preferences. BCG. 2014:16

45% of the 5000+ respondents considered "recognition for work" to be a top five driver of employee attraction in the EU
Charman C, Crawley J, Fawcett R. European Talent Survey - Reconnecting with employees. TowersPerrin. 2005:7

Depending on the context, promoting recognition increases engagement by 40-60%, making it the single most important lever for engagement
Turbocharging Employee Engagement: The Power of Recognition From Managers. Towers Watson. 2009:2

Companies with effective recognition programs have a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate than those with ineffective programs
Garr S. The State of Employee Recognition in 2012. Bersin by Deloitte. 2012:10

Individuals who receive regular recognition increase productivity, engagement, customer loyalty & satisfaction, have better safety records and have fewer accidents
Rath T, Clifton D. How Full Is Your Bucket? Gallup. 2004

When asked about characteristics they desire in their workplace, employee recognition is the most often mentioned.
Hein P, Baumruk R, Lloyd A, Devcich C. Workforce Mindset Study. Aon Hewitt. 2015:6-7

Productivity increases by 18 to 22% when comparing the highest with the lowest quartile in terms of engagement
Harter J, Schmidt F, Killham E, Asplund J. Q12 Meta-Analysis. Gallup & University of Iowa. 2006:27

Recognizing success makes the brain change neural pathways and in doing so makes it more efficient to repeat the successful activity again.
Berinato S. Success Gets into Your Head and Changes it. Harvard Business Review. 2010-Jan:24

Giving recognition builds connections between people. These social connections register in the brain in the same way as basic needs such as food and water.
Lieberman M, Eisenberger N. Pains and pleasures of social life. Science. 2009-323:890-891

Verbal praise or positive feedback significantly increases intrinsic motivation.
Pierce D, Cameron J. Positive effects of rewards and performance standards on intrinsic motivation. The Psychological Record. 2003-53:561-579