Workplace blogs

Employee Recognition That’s Meaningful: Six Questions to Ask Before You Recognize Employees

Anyone can learn the names of their employees or customers, but how many people take the time to learn the names of their customers’ dogs? I met a salesperson last year who not only learned the names of his key clients’ dogs, but also sent birthday greetings on the dogs’ birthdays! Why? Because he recognized that to his rural farming clients, dogs are valued members of the family and workplace. In other words, he wasn’t just dropping names, he demonstrated that he recognized what mattered to his customers.

Similarly in the workplace, true recognition isn’t about just naming names or handing out “Employee of the Month” honors from on high. Eons ago when I had a real job for a boss who frowned upon me working in my underwear the way I am now (am I over-sharing?), I received a special award from on high. Of course I was honored. I was less honored, however, when the award was given to me by someone who I’d never met before and for something other than what I thought I was receiving the honor for!

So here is a simple checklist of questions to ask before recognizing someone (I’m speaking here of the more formal kind of recognition, not the day-to-day types of recognition that is so critical when it comes to motivating and inspiring people at work) in your workplace to help make the recognition as meaningful as possible:


Who? Who would the person most appreciate receiving the honor from? Perhaps it’s a colleague, an employee, the entire team, a valued customer or family member.

What does the honoree truly value? What are their personal passions or charity interests?  Can you contact an employee’s family member for input? (Although surveys show that employees say they would prefer to have cash bonuses, studies and follow up surveys reveals that meaningful gifts, especially those involving experiences, are actually deemed more valuable, meaningful and memorable.)

When and Where? Is the honor being bestowed in a timely enough fashion to be meaningful and in a location that is special to the person?

Why? Does everyone understand the rationale for the honor and how it links to your team’s success and the overall success/purpose of your organization?

How? Is the honor being bestowed in a manner than the person would appreciate? Some employees will revel in a public parade, but many are horrified at the prospect, so make sure you really understand the tone the person would most appreciate: Private or public? Understated or overstated? Disco-themed rollerblading bash or British-style tea and crumpets?

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2013, Humor at Work. Michael Kerr is a funny Canadian business speaker. Michael travels the world researching, writing and speaking about workplaces that rock.  To book Michael for your event or to sign up for the raved about weekly e-zine Humor at Work, visit


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