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The Distinction Between Recognition and Appreciation

Feb 09, 2024


Appreciation. Recognition. Recognition. Appreciation.

Two words, same thing, right? Wrong!

Although it’s fair to say that the two are generally considered interchangeable when talking about motivating employees, not only are they not, but the lack of understanding around the distinction between recognition and appreciation could be reducing the impact of your employee engagement programme.

That’s why in this article we outline why it’s important to recognise the benefits of both and appreciate the differences! See what we did there?

The importance of employee recognition and appreciation


People love personal recognition and rewards. It’s a great way to boost teamwork and productivity. Recognition and reward solutions are uniquely suited to drive commitment, effort, and inspiration. Through our data we know that employees who have been told they make a difference at work in the past month are 2.4 times more likely to feel inspired, 2.3 times more likely to feel renewed commitment, and 2.2 times more likely to increase effort. 


Workplace culture makes the difference between thriving or surviving. Having a robust and innovative recognition and appreciation strategy will create a supportive work environment and improve your workplace culture.


Providing ways to help your team stand out and reward when it matters helps retain top talent, reduces staff turnover, and attracts the best new talent. According to Gallup, teams with lower engagement experience turnover rates 18 - 43% higher than those of highly engaged teams. 


Visibly recognising and appreciating employees by linking desirable behaviours to your company values demonstrates a sense of purpose and meaning that every employee can engage with. Make recognition and appreciation not only about results but crucially around values and behaviours too. 

To reiterate the importance of values, it works both ways. A recent study by LinkedIn of 10,000 global professionals shows that 68% of workers in the UK, France, Germany, and Ireland want to work for organisations that share their values.


Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit” (George Carlin).

To avoid ‘quiet quitting’ (disengaged employees quitting work on a psychological level), the importance of maintaining regular recognition, reward, and appreciation strategies is paramount to refreshing and retaining engagement. We know people love to be appreciated and recognised in a timely and appropriate way.

Those who received regular recognition with or without rewards were more likely to agree with these statements:

  • Encouraged to try new and better ways of working
  • Actively look for ways to improve work, every day 
  • Feel their manager supports them in taking smart risks 
  • Feel their manager leverages and accepts our differences as a strength

Since 2015, BI WORLDWIDE has annually studied the best predictors of employee engagement and consistently established these 12 New Rules of Engagement® are what best predicts and creates commitment, effort, and inspiration.

Momentum - witnessing others achieve success and receive great rewards instils friendly competition and can create momentum that drives personal and business objectives. We know through our research that those who receive multiple types of recognition and appreciation are happier, more engaged, committed, and perform with greater intensity.

What’s the difference between recognition and appreciation?

So, we understand why both recognition and appreciation are important but what’s the difference and why do employees need both?

Harvard Business Review simplifies it nicely: 

Recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are”

The article goes on to outline that, whether formally or informally, in recognition we’re acknowledging the past; a moment, an achievement, a task complete. Whereas appreciation has no bounds. Whether they complete the task or not, appreciation is about calling out ‘their worth as a colleague and a human being’. It’s about their value. 

Understanding the impact of appreciation and recognition if we solely focus on one or the other, we miss an opportunity to appreciate the person behind the ‘big win’ or overlook the colleagues who keep the business ticking outside of the ‘big projects.’ 

Employee appreciation ideas

Outwardly and consistently showing appreciation creates a supportive culture where individual employee contributions are valued.

Receiving appreciation, acknowledgement or thanks makes an individual feel confident, noticed, respected, and builds a true sense that they’re in the right place. The real joy of appreciation is that we can all appreciate a colleague- be it peers, managers, teams, associates, or contractors – because appreciation focuses on the individual and their unique qualities. There’s no deadline to wait for, no major project to complete, and no product that needs a launch – appreciation makes the every day meaningful and can be delivered every day, any day. It’s the little things that count. 

Leverage awareness days 

Awareness days like Employee Appreciation Day are the perfect opportunity to celebrate all employees, pay it forward, and create a special environment of appreciation. Food, a team day out, packing up early, sending ecards and peer-to-peer thankyous, can all add to the message that you appreciate their loyalty and contribution. 

Support and acknowledge personal development efforts

Follow up often with your team members, and review their development plans and personal aspirations. Support ongoing projects, including giving help and encouragement during challenges and, importantly, any failures, as failure will always lead to success when it’s seen as part of a natural development phase.

Encourage and share customer satisfaction surveys - taking appreciation beyond peer to peer

It’s easy for customer satisfaction surveys to come and go with little focus unless there’s negative feedback that jumps out and needs immediate attention. Most likely, many surveys will generate positive comments and scores that get a tick from an audit. However, ensuring all feedback is shared with customer teams can validate hard work as well as steer conversations for continued improvements. Employees need a boost from good feedback and build real relationships with their customers which is proactive, not reactive.

Include service milestones      

Service milestones from Day 1 cement appreciation without waiting for the dreaded passing of time. Acknowledge the first month, first three months, first year, and so on.  Trends in employment show that new work generations will be moving jobs more frequently than we’ve settled into in the past. Retention is more imperative than ever for employers so start the service appreciation early and stand out amongst traditional employers.

Celebrate life events 

The icing on the cake really is appreciating personal milestones. Birthdays, new homes, new jobs, marriages, partnerships, and new families fall into the myriad of life events we all experience while ticking off work hours. If you make it your business to know the important events coming up for your team members, you’ll be seen as a trusted and respected business with real values that see past the simple tasks of the job. 

Choice and flexibility

Build an appreciation programme that allows peers and managers to appreciate all colleagues, everywhere.  

  • Peer to Peer – colleagues everywhere should have the ability to thank their workmates locally and globally.
  • Appreciate Up – when you create the best workplace culture your employees will want to send appreciation to their managers and leadership teams.
  • Manager – of course, any manager worth their salt will want to regularly show their appreciation to their team, colleagues and stakeholders across the business.

Need further help? We've identified 25 employee personas who deserve appreciation any day of the year, including:

  1. The day brighteners - display a cheerful, always-positive attitude that builds morale and energises colleagues. 
  2. The planners - have the ability (and willingness) to plan and organise, whether it’s a celebration or a guest visit. 
  3. The participators - get the conversation started and keep it going by engaging others. 
  4. The-go-the-extra-milers - do whatever it takes to get the job done — and to get it done right. 
  5. The volunteers – show a willingness to always jump in and get involved. 

Check out our blog, 25 employees you should recognise for more ideas.

How to recognise with impact

Written and verbal recognition

Maybe it’s obvious; however, if you want to create the best impact by recognising employees, then specific, timely and appropriate recognition is the proven way to go. Written recognition via a dedicated recognition platform, email or 1:1 catch-up shows you’re genuine, and you mean it! Recognise for a good job well done, recognise for what’s been achieved, the delivery, the learnings, meeting objectives, and the success. 

Above and beyond rewards

There are going to be occasions that require recognition to be taken to the next level, where achievements go above and beyond the expected role or responsibilities. Examples of this include what we at BI WORLDWIDE refer to as ‘Manager Discretionary’ and ‘Nomination’ programmes.

  • Manager Discretionary programme - a manager uses their discretion to assess achievements and initiative, then delivers recognition with an appropriate reward that acknowledges the exceptional performance of a team or individuals.
  • Nomination programme - for full inclusivity, colleagues can also nominate others, be that an individual or a team, to receive high reward value recognition for approval by leadership and managers.

Performance league tables and employee incentive rewards 

‘Personalised’ incentives drive performance and results. Magnify success by giving quality recognition with reward and drive momentum to repeat quality work, increasing effort and the willingness to go that extra mile for the organisation and clients.

Training ‘The Importance of Recognition’

BI WORLDWIDE has developed supporting tools for managers to ensure recognition is inclusive and equitable. Our Recognition Advisor and Equity & Inclusion plugins advise and nudge managers, much like a personal assistant, to be aware of who, when, why, and where they could be recognising individuals and team performance.

Optimise your employee engagement

Ensuring your employee engagement strategy combines both appreciation and recognition will deliver more than happiness and performance results. Done well, the synergy of both creates a foundation within the workplace of a high-performing culture. The key differences between appreciation and recognition allow for multiple opportunities to support your team.

Don’t just recognise success, make every moment count and appreciate the highs and lows along the way and the full breadth of contributions your employees make every day.

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