APA Center for Organizational Excellence: Employee Recognition

Resources for Employers

Employee Recognition

In an APA survey, only about half of the U.S. workforce (51 percent) said they felt valued by their employer. More than a third (36 percent) hadn’t received any form of recognition in the last year. And only 47 percent said recognition was provided fairly.

On this page, you’ll find a collection of employee recognition resources, including articles and research abstracts, book recommendations and links to other high-quality resources. Check out the short video about employee recognition, below, and share it with the HR staff and managers in your organization to help get the conversation started.

Employee recognition efforts reward employees both individually and collectively for their contributions to the organization. Recognition can take various forms — formal and informal, monetary and non-monetary.

Employees who said that recognition practices are fair, that direct supervisors provide recognition effectively, and that they value the recognition they receive, reported a variety of positive outcomes. They reported higher levels of job satisfaction, a greater likelihood to work harder because of the recognition they receive, stronger motivation to do their best and a greater sense of feeling valued.

However, not everybody is motivated by the same incentives or values the same types of recognition. In fact, recognizing someone publicly who does not value public recognition can have the exact opposite effect.

More than a quarter of working adults (28 percent) said that written or verbal appreciation from their direct supervisor is important. But when it comes to the types of recognition that working Americans say are important to them, money tops the list.

Pay can be seen as a “satisfier” – but when it’s perceived as inadequate or unfair, people are unhappy. Once it reaches a certain point, adding more won’t necessarily improve motivation and performance. Similarly, when pay is seen as inadequate or unfair, all the non-monetary forms of recognition employers love to use won’t make up for that.

It’s important to identify what motivates individual employees and what types of recognition they value. This way, an employer can reward and recognize individual accomplishments effectively.

Making meaningful employee recognition part of your organization’s culture can go a long way toward improving job satisfaction, motivation and work effort. Ultimately, recognizing people for a job well done is good for your employees and good for your organization.

General Overview and Online Resources

Search our database of professional, academic and popular press literature for articles about employee recognition.

Trends in Employee Recognition – May 2017 Report (WorldatWork)

SHRM’s 2016 Survey Findings: Influencing Workplace Culture Though Employee Recognition and Other Efforts (Society for Human Resource Management)

Toolkit: Managing Employee Recognition Programs (Society for Human Resource Management member resource)

Keeping the Right People: Employee Recognition (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector – Canada)

RPI’s Recognition Best Practice Standards Overview (Recognition Professionals International)

The hunt for recognition (Association for Talent Development)

5 ways leaders rock employee recognition (Forbes)

The 12 things you need for successful employee recognition (business2community.com)

New Globoforce survey shows recognition creates more human-focused workplaces (businesswire.com)

Formal Recognition Strategies Help Drive Company Purpose and Culture (Recognition Professionals International)

The Economics of Recognition (Recognition Professionals International)

Social Recognition by the Numbers (Recognition Professionals International)

Bringing It All Together – Celebrating Recognition Throughout the Year (Recognition Professionals International)

Articles and Resources from the American Psychological Association

APA’s 2014 Recognition Survey

APA Survey Links Employee Recognition to Satisfaction, Motivation and Work Effort (newsletter)

Training Managers to Give Employee Recognition (newsletter)

Things That Make You Go Hmm – Recognition Style (blog)

Reward and Recognition at Work: What’s the Brain Got to Do with It? (newsletter)

Do You Value Rewards or Recognition? (blog)

Books on Employee Recognition

Titles and descriptions come from the APA Center for Organizational Excellence’s Amazon Associates Store.

Perceived Organizational Support: Fostering Enthusiastic and Productive Employees

By Robert Eisenberger and Florence Stinglhamber (2011)

Today’s constantly changing work environment is fraught with job uncertainty, frequent mergers and acquisitions, and a general breakdown of trust between employer and employee. More than ever, it is critical for managers to proactively shift away from devaluing employees as marginal capital to empowering them as human capital. “Perceived organizational support” — employees’ perception of how much an organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being — mutually benefits both employees and their organizations and is integral to sustainable employer–employee relationships. Using organizational support theory and evidence gathered from hundreds of studies, Eisenberger and Stinglhamber demonstrate how perceived organizational support affects employees’ well-being, the positivity of their orientation toward the organization and work, and behavioral outcomes favorable to the organization. The authors illustrate these findings with employee experiences and strategic approaches of major organizations such as Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, Costco and Google. Organizational psychologists, management consultants, managers, and graduate students will obtain a clear understanding of perceived organizational support and the practical knowledge needed to foster its development and positive outcomes.

Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research, and Practice

By Gary P. Latham (2011)

This book provides a unique behavioral science framework for motivating employees in organizational settings. Drawing upon his experiences as a staff psychologist and consultant, Gary Latham writes in a “mentor voice” that is highly personal and rich in examples. The book includes anecdotes about the major thought leaders in the field of motivation, together with behind-the-scenes accounts of research and the researchers. It offers a chronological review of the field, and a taxonomy for the study and practice of motivation. Controversies of theoretical and practical significance such as the importance of money, the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance and the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are discussed.


By Chip Heath and Dan Heath (2010)

The Heath brothers (coauthors of Made to Stick) address motivating employees, family members and ourselves in their analysis of why we too often fear change. Change is not inherently frightening, but our ability to alter our habits can be complicated by the disjunction between our rational and irrational minds: the self that wants to be swimsuit-season ready and the self that acquiesces to another slice of cake anyway. The trick is to find the balance between our powerful drives and our reason. The authors’ lessons are backed up by anecdotes that deal with such things as new methods used to reform abusive parents, the revitalization of a dying South Dakota town and the rebranding of megastore Target. Through these lively examples, the Heaths speak energetically and encouragingly on how to modify our behaviors and businesses. This clever discussion is an entertaining and educational must-read for executives and for ordinary citizens looking to get out of a rut.

Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation: Resolving the Controversy

By Judy Cameron and David Pierce (2006)

Over the past 30 years, many social psychologists have been critical of the practice of using incentive systems in business, education and other applied settings. The concern is that money, high grades, prizes and even praise may be effective in getting people to perform an activity but performance and interest are maintained only so long as the reward keeps coming. Once the reward is withdrawn, the concern is that individuals will enjoy the activity less, perform at a lower level and spend less time on the task. The claim is that rewards destroy people’s intrinsic motivation. Widely accepted, this view has been enormously influential and has led many employers, teachers and other practitioners to question the use of rewards and incentive systems in applied settings. Contrary to this view, the research by Cameron and Pierce indicates that rewards can be used effectively to enhance interest and performance. The book centers around the debate on rewards and intrinsic motivation. Based on historical, narrative and meta-analytic reviews, Cameron and Pierce show that, contrary to many claims, rewards do not have pervasive negative effects. Instead, the authors show that careful arrangement of rewards enhances motivation, performance and interest. The overall goal of the book is to draw together over 30 years of research on rewards, motivation and performance and to provide practitioners with techniques for designing effective incentive systems.

The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their Employees, Retain Talent, and Drive Performance

By Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton (2007)

The Carrot Principle reveals the groundbreaking results of one of the most in-depth management studies ever undertaken, showing definitively that the most successful managers provide their employees with frequent and effective recognition. Drawing on case studies from leading companies including Disney, DHL, KPMG and Pepsi Bottling Group, bestselling authors Gostick and Elton show how the transformative power of purpose-based recognition produces astonishing results. And they show how great managers motivate employees to excel by offering constructive praise and meaningful rewards, and in doing so achieve higher productivity, engagement, retention and customer satisfaction. This book presents the simple steps to becoming a Carrot Principle manager and to building a recognition culture in your organization.

Giving The Real Recognition Way

By Roy Saunderson (2008)

Employee recognition is an important strategy in retaining today;s shrinking workforce and in building positive relationships between leaders and their employees, which is why this book by recognition expert Roy Saunderson is an essential tool to enhancing your recognition giving skills. Drawing on his consulting and training experiences as President and founder of the Recognition Management Institute, the author effectively reminds us of the importance of giving what he calls Real Recognition. Using short and practical chapters, Saunderson covers the principles of how to give Real Recognition, tips for managers and employers to apply and typical mistakes to avoid. Saunderson’s warmth and down-to-earth style allows him to share everyday stories along with social science research in a way that makes you want to give the people around you the recognition they deserve.

1001 Ways to Reward Employees

By Bob Nelson (2005)

Bob Nelson took the seeds of an idea and turned it into something indispensable for business. The idea? That it’s not a raise that motivates an employee, and it’s not a promotion—what really sparks a person to perform are those intangible, unexpected gestures that signify real appreciation for a job well done. Bob Nelson presents hundreds of ideas and examples of how companies are using rewards and recognitions to boost productivity and keep their valued employees happy. Airplane mechanics are rewarded with balloons and pinwheels. Another manager calls his employees’ mothers and thanks them for raising such industrious children. There are ideas from the offbeat (The Margarita Award) to the company-wide (a quiet room) to the embarrassingly simple (a hand-written thank you note) to the wacky (the Laugh-a-Day challenge) to the formal (a two-week promotion to special assistant to the president). Each section includes no-cost rewards and low-cost rewards, both public and private, making this new edition an indispensable resource for making the person/achievement/reward equation work.

The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook: The Complete Guide

By Bob Nelson and Dean R. Spitzer (2002)

Author of the Business Week million-copy bestseller, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, Bob Nelson is the motivational specialist who helps businesses stay competitive by teaching them how to inspire their employees to excel. Now joined by Dr. Dean Spitzer, senior consultant and performance improvement expert for IBM, Nelson distills the knowledge, experience and ideas gained from working with thousands of organizations into a hands-on, practical fieldbook. Beginning with the basics of motivation, including the decline of traditional incentives and the trend toward empowered employees, the book lays the groundwork for developing and managing a rewards or recognition program in any work situation: how to recognize an individual or a group; how to develop a low-cost recognition program; how to sell it to upper management, prevent and fix common problems, and assess its effectiveness.

Keeping Up in a Down Economy: What the Best Companies do to Get Results in Tough Times

By Bob Nelson (2009)

In this book, Dr. Bob Nelson, best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, discusses his recent research, experience and insights as to how managers and organizations can make a practical difference during tight and recessionary times even with little time, resources or budget. This book uses hundreds of current and practical examples of what today s managers and business owners are doing to keep employees focused and positive in ways that can help their organization to emerge stronger from difficult economic times. By focusing on the right things in this negative and challenging time, any company can make a dramatic and marked difference in improving its ability to compete more effectively. And, to keep employees from becoming overloaded and myopic, management needs to especially be proactive and positive in difficult times.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late

By Leigh Branham (2005)

For every employee who leaves your company for higher pay or a better opportunity, there are many more for whom those “reasons” are just convenient explanations — and the real impetus for their departure may never be brought to light. Perhaps the real question is: Why are they looking for new jobs in the first place? According to more than 80 percent of employees, it’s not that there’s greener grass on the other side of the fence; it’s the preponderance of negative factors in their current workplaces — from poor management practices to toxic workplace cultures — that essentially push them toward the door. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave can help you identify the “push” factors in your organization, and mitigate or eliminate all of them. Incorporating data from surveys performed by the prestigious Saratoga Institute of more than 19,000 employees, this critical book examines various recognition topics in depth.

Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works, 2nd Edition

By Cindy Ventrice (2009)

Author Cindy Ventrice zeroes in on what truly makes employees feel valued and lays out proven recognition tactics that will provide a genuine, lasting boost for your business. Ventrice demonstrates that integrating the intangible rewards people crave—praise, thanks, opportunity and respect—into the daily routine is far more effective than typical recognition awards, events, perks and privileges, and she shows exactly how to do it. This second edition features new examples from innovative companies like Best Buy, Cisco Systems and Google, as well as detailing how to provide recognition in increasingly virtual workplaces, account for cultural differences in reward preferences and ensure that rewards are perceived as fair and equitable.

365 Ways to Motivate and Reward Your Employees Every Day: With Little or No Money

By Dianna Podmoroff (2005)

This book is packed with hundreds of simple and inexpensive ways to motivate, challenge and reward your employees. Employees today need constant re-enforcement and recognition and here is how to do it. With real life proven examples and case studies from actual companies, you can use this book daily to boost morale, productivity and profits. This is your opportunity to build an organization that people love to work at with these quick, effective, humorous, innovative and simply fun solutions to employee work challenges. Make your business a happy place to work, and reap the benefits.

Recognizing and Rewarding Employees

By R. Brayton Bowen (2000)

Positive feedback and recognition are proven and valuable – but too often overlooked – management tools. Recognizing and Rewarding Employees gives managers the rewards most successful at motivating employees, tips for showing appreciation for work done well, ways to promote achievement through recognition and more.

101 Recognition Secrets. Tools for Motivating and Recognizing Today’s Workforce.

By Rosalind Jeffries (1996)

Top ten best seller at the American Society of Training and Development International conference, this quick 17-minute management tool offers over a hundred instant, practical, low-cost, ready-to use ideas for how, when and where managers can recognize and motivate individuals in today’s diverse workplace. Based on anecdotal research developed from the responses of over 10,000 managers and employees, 101 Recognition Secrets shows: how to use recognition as a performance measurement tool; how to motivate marginal employees; strategies to boost employee performance and productivity and; principles necessary for effective recognition. Companies such as Boston Medical Center, Marriott and Metroplex Corporation use the book as a catalyst for enhancing corporate competitive advantage and as an important part of commitment to continuous quality improvement programs.

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation

By Edward L. Deci and Richard Flaste (1996)

In a book that challenges authoritarian thinking about motivation, a distinguished social psychologist offers an alternative to current reward/punishment theory, which, far from anarchy, espouses our ordered, internalized sense of freedom, responsibility and commitment.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By Daniel H. Pink (2011)

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink in Drive. In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery and purpose and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

Work Motivation in Organizational Behavior, Second Edition

By Craig C. Pinder (2008)

This second edition of the best-selling textbook, Work Motivation in Organizational Behavior provides an update of the critical analysis of the scientific literature on this topic, and provides a highly integrated treatment of leading theories, including their historical roots and progression over the years. A heavy emphasis is placed on the notion that behavior in the workplace is determined by a mix of factors, many of which are not treated in texts on work motivation (such as frustration and violence, power, love and sex). Examples from current and recent media events are numerous, and intended to illustrate concepts and issues related to work motivation, emotion, attitudes and behavior.

Work Motivation: Past, Present and Future (SIOP Organizational Frontiers Series)

Edited by Ruth Kanfer, Gilad Chen and Robert D. Pritchard (2008)

This edited volume in SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series presents the current thinking and research on the important area of motivation. Work motivation is a central issue in industrial organizational psychology, human resource management and organizational behavior. In this volume, the editors and authors show that motivation must be seen as a multi-level phenomenon where individual, group, organizational and cultural variables must be considered to truly understand it. The book adopts an overall framework that encompasses “internal,” from the person, forces and “external,” from the immediate and more distant environment, forces. It is destined to challenge scholars of organizations to give renewed emphasis and attention to advancing our understanding of motivation in work situations.

Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement

By Kenneth W. Thomas (2009)

In today’s organizations, employee engagement is vital—more is being required of workers than ever before. In this new edition of his classic book, Kenneth Thomas draws on the latest research findings to identify the key to employee engagement: intrinsic motivation. Only intrinsic rewards—rewards that come directly from the work itself—encourage the profound commitment and sense of ownership needed for a truly engaged and innovative workforce. Thomas identifies four intrinsic rewards, explains exactly how and why they build engagement, and provides a diagnostic framework to evaluate which need boosting and how to boost them. The second edition has been revised and updated throughout, with an expanded section on how leaders can identify their own intrinsic rewards and new tools, tips, and practices for encouraging intrinsic motivation in others.

Professional Associations & Membership Organizations

American Psychological Assocation

Recognition Professionals International

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Society for Human Resource Management

The content provided above is for informational purposes only. The inclusion of any product, service, vendor or organization does not imply endorsement, recommendation or approval by the American Psychological Association, the APA Center for Organizational Excellence or the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

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