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Show Me the Kudos – Why Recognition is Important to Your Employees
By Karen Young

Karen Young, founder and President of HR Resolutions, has been involved in personnel and human resources for over 24 years. Her background includes in-depth experience in distribution, service and manufacturing organizations on the East Coast. In addition to her consulting work, Karen has been recognized by Governor Ed Rendell as one of “Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business” for her commitment to business growth, professional excellence, and community involvement. Karen can be reached at (717) 652-5187 or

I admit it. In fact, I am rather proud of it—I am a Baby Boomer.

Granted, I am at the end of the Boomer age bracket (generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964), but I still share many of the characteristics of my older brothers and sisters. For example, I was taught to go to work, put in an honest day’s labor, and say “thank you, boss” for your job. No pats on the back were necessary—just a fair paycheck for a fair day’s work. I was taught to be appreciative of any benefits my employer offered me, never thinking that they owed me anything other than a fair paycheck for a fair day’s work. I was a good Boomer!

Having said all that, I also recognize my needy and insecure side. I am not so proud of those two, but they are what they are. For example, I need to know that I am being appreciated; I need to know that my work is being recognized. A paycheck is great, but SHOW ME THE KUDOS!

And you know what? I will bet your employees are the same, whether they are Boomers, Traditionalists, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, or whatever the next generation title will be. Recognize and reward your employees and you will get more energy, more return, and a generally happier workforce.

I am not making this up. Numerous studies have been done on the subject of employee satisfaction, an important body of research—I believe it should be included in any manager’s library—is The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, published in 2005 by Leigh Branham. “Unrecognized and Unappreciated” is the #5 reason employees leave. And data in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For back up the idea that employees long to be appreciated.

I often use the words “reward” and “recognition” interchangeably, but they really mean different things. A reward is offered in exchange for something – the goal is to reinforce or modify behavior or induce learning. Recognition is about validation, an acknowledgement or special attention.

Both reward and recognition programs need not take a chunk out of already tight budgets. We will use me as an example again. I am incredibly easy to entertain—give me a small, flashy thing or a gold star and I am happy! Really, I am serious. Give me a gold sticky star on a report and you would think I would been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is easy to forget, when we are all grown up, the feeling of pride that comes from a gold star or a sincere “job well done”. And how much time does it take to say, “Nice job”? How much money to convey, “You really helped that project succeed”?

You can spend, literally, thousands of dollars on these programs if your budget allows. Or you can spend next to nothing. What matters is the idea that reward and recognition are motivating to your employees.

One of the best ways to begin to develop a program for your organization is simply to ask your employees what they want, what is important to them, what will make them feel special and appreciated. Once you have the answers, doing those things will have more effect, more quickly, than handing them the most expensive gold watch you can find.

Programs can be cash or non-cash based. Cash rewards include bonus programs, merit raises, and stock options, to name a few. Non-cash can be anything else of value to the recipient. Thank-you notes, a verbal word of appreciation, or employee of the month honors all serve to reward or recognize an employee. The best programs will carefully match what it takes for the employee to feel appreciated with what the organization can reasonably offer. 

Here is a story to give you an idea of the impression these programs can make on your employees. To this day I remember my first anniversary with The BYRNES Group back in 1990. Their recognition left a bigger impression on me than my five-year service pin with another company later in my career. When I got into work on the first anniversary of my employment, there was a single pink carnation on my desk. Attached to the carnation was a hand-signed note from the president of the company. I do not know if he delivered it personally (unlikely) but I do know that he knew my anniversary date. How simple was that? I still remember it and it did not cost the company more than a few bucks.

A carnation may not work in your organization, but the story demonstrates how simple it is to say thanks for a job well done. Kudos in tangible form can make all the difference in employee satisfaction—and retention!

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