There was a time when employees used to work primarily to earn a living and companies too believed that money was the only parameter that mattered to keep employees happy. But things have changed dramatically now. Employee recognition is a big buzzword today as it can make or break an employee’s experience at your organization and even impact your long-term growth and success. So, what does this term mean? Employee recognition is a way of acknowledging an employee’s effort, behavior, and skills at the workplace. Timely and fitting recognition plays a significant role in improving the employee experience and productivity levels.

Recognition is not something that just employees love. Apparently, it is universally loved and wanted! When it comes to human beings, recognition has the ability to directly stimulate the hypothalamus gland in the brain. This gland controls the production of the hormone called dopamine. Dopamine causes feelings of motivation, pleasure, and satisfaction.

People enjoy feeling satisfied and pleasured and repeat activities that help secrete this hormone.

There can be different types of recognition in the workplace as identified by experts. This article will take you through the major types and help you understand how best to choose the right methods. Keep reading to know more.

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Why is appreciation critical at work?

We just read that when a person is appreciated and recognized for good work, their dopamine kicks in, and they end up feeling happy and motivated. So what happens next?

Dopamine affects the reward system in the brain. Like a child enjoying a sweet treat, the brain enjoys the extra dopamine released and looks forward to it more. It trains the body to repeat the activity that led to the extra dopamine release again.

As a result, the employee works smarter, reaches goals quicker, solves problems with out-of-the-box thinking, and indulges in whatever behavior results in appreciation.

A white paper study published by Cicero tries to understand the relationship between performance recognition and employee engagement. Here are some of the results from the paper.

  1. When employees experience strong recognition, 79% of them are highly engaged. In contrast, only 25% of employees who receive weak recognition are engaged.
  2. 49% of employees agree that they would have a better relationship with their managers if they are offered ongoing recognition for their work.
  3. 88% of employees who receive strong performance recognition end up proactively innovating in their area of expertise.

The right forms of recognition will play a vital role in even retaining your employees.

The attrition rate is something all HR departments closely watch. In today’s scenario, it is expensive finding new hires and training them. As a result, keeping your existing employees happy and satisfied is a cheaper and more effective option.

  • A study says that employees who are not recognized for their work are two times more likely to be job hunting.
  • Another study reports that 40% of employees feel they would put more energy into work if they were recognized more often.

Here is a blog that talks about other employee recognition strategies you should know about. Check them out when you have the time.

Do you really need different types of employee recognition?

The drawbacks of a one-size-fits-all approach

Here is a question most employers have. Is it indeed necessary to use different types of employee recognition approaches? Won’t a single recognition mode work?

While we all agree that every human being enjoys and wants to be recognized, the way they like to be recognized varies. For example, some people would really enjoy being talked about in a team meeting and appreciated in the open for the work done, while others may value monetary benefits added to the paycheck.

Similarly, some achievements may require you to pick up the most professional of all methods of recognition, while others may just require an informal pat on the back.

So clearly, you cannot get away with a single form of recognition and will need to invest time and energy exploring the different options out there.

Types of recognition

While there are so many different types of recognition, you can categorize all of them into two broad groups – structured and unstructured. Let’s discuss in detail each one of these.

Structured recognition

In the different types of employee recognition out there, this is probably something most organizations (both big and small) already have in place. These recognition types are official and are often carried out by the HR team on behalf of the leadership. There are specific timelines to give out these recognitions, and they are almost always predictable.

Some of the common structured recognition modes are:

  • Milestone awards (5th year, 10th year, 20th year work anniversaries)
  • Employee of the month/year awards
  • Top performer awards
  • Different award programs
  • Retirement recognition

 Pros and cons of structured recognition

Pros of structured recognition

Cons of structured recognition

It is a good way to foster long-term relationships with employees. These could become too formal and driven.
Awards are offered regularly and at pre-stipulated times. Predictability gets boring after a while.
Since these are driven by the leadership team, such types of recognition get a lot of attention. These recognition modes are too impersonal.
Such recognition and awards are fair. These get expensive as they are done at an overall organizational level.

Unstructured recognition

The next type to discuss is unstructured recognition. This is considered a slightly modern approach that creates a space for people to appreciate one another spontaneously. There can be limitless types of employee recognition strategies that can make a remarkable difference to how an employee ends up feeling.

Every manager can have their own ways of unstructured recognition at the workplace. Some of them walk up to the employee’s cabin to share a word of appreciation, while others can order lunch for the employee for the day, as a means of appreciation.

Here are some of the popular examples of unstructured recognition.

  • Continuous or ongoing recognition
  • Celebrating personal milestones (sending gifts for the birth of a baby or marriage anniversaries)
  • Encouraging peer-to-peer recognition

Now, technology plays a vital role in creating an environment of unstructured recognition. Let’s say you focus on ongoing recognition. This means recognition has to be a regular, everyday affair at the workplace.

PossibleWorks has worked with many clients in the past, creating R&R platforms and tools that encourage regular and timely recognition. Our tools have the following features.

  • Peer-peer endorsements
  • Virtual social wall of frames
  • R&R gamification
  • Automating nominations and milestone awards

Pros and cons of unstructured recognition

Pros of unstructured recognition

Cons of unstructured recognition

This type of recognition is very flexible and open. The success may depend on how interested the individual managers are.
Unstructured recognition is more personalized and satisfactory. It may cause biases when not handled right.
It is really effective in improving short-term performances. Excess of unstructured recognition, without forethought, can bring down the value of being recognized.
It does not have to become an expensive affair. Some employees may not take unstructured recognition very seriously.


As an organization, you need to include different types of recognition within your R&R system to ensure employees are benefitting from them for real. Both structured and unstructured recognition methods have their own advantages, and it would be best if you use them equally to appreciate your employees.

PossibleWorks understands how critical an organization’s R&R program is for its growth and sustenance. That is why we take the time to understand the people and the process before suggesting tools that work. We are also open to customizing programs that better fit into your system.

Do get in touch with us to know more.

Are you using the right technology for your Recognition programs?

Checkout our Buyer’s Guide to Employee Recognition software Or Book a Demo

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