A Simple Mathematical Argument for Employee Appreciation

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Why pat someone on the back just for doing what they're already supposed to do?

People occasionally ask this in reaction to the concepts of peer recognition and employee appreciation.

Management and people operations don't need to devolve into fluffy endeavors, nor should everyone get a gold star for just showing up to work. That being said, employee appreciation is more important than you might think.

This is a simple case for employee appreciation and recognition as an integral element of a results-driven approach to people management, with a little math to back it up.

Everyone has at least one experience in life where they've really strived to do an outstanding job at something, and not received much if any appreciation for it in return. It's unlikely that experience inspired them to continue exerting the effort required to produce those results time and time again.

Here's why

When someone does extraordinary work, they're incurring the cost of exerting the extra effort it takes to elevate their output to that level. They're not just 'doing what they're supposed to,' which is ordinary workβ€”reaching goals and completing objectives. They're contributing more by surpassing expectations and doing extraordinary work.

Without any sign of appreciation or recognition for exerting the effort required to do that, there's little to no immediate incentive to repeat that behavior. A lack of appreciation and recognition incentivizes employees to simply 'do what they're supposed to,' because there's no difference in output correlated to the increased input required to go above and beyond that.

Without even discussing the impacts that employee appreciation has on overall engagement, there's a marked difference in the way an employee experiences their occupation.

Now for the math

It's really pretty simple calculation employees make, whether they're doing it consciously or not:

Work just hard enough not to get fired = zero appreciation.

Excel at work + strive to improve daily = zero appreciation.

Without appreciation or recognition, performing above average work can be a zero-sum endeavor.

Doing exactly what you're supposed to do is preferable if you're a toaster or a robot. Employees aren't toasters or robots, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that's still a good thing.

If you're doing it right, an employee is hired and onboarded (usually at considerable expense) because they're the best possible candidate for that positionβ€”better than you, a robot, or anyone else. They're someone that you're bringing on in hopes that they will excel beyond the job description and do more than what it takes to avoid being fired.

One of the easiest and least costly ways to encourage that behavior is to visibly recognize and show appreciation for the many contributions employees make to your organization. Employee appreciation doesn't necessarily require a massive effort or resource investment on the part of leadership, and the returns can be massive.

There are several routes to a successful staff appreciation program. One of the easiest is through peer recognition. Peer recognition empowers employees with the autonomy they need to crowdsource recognition, and build a culture of appreciation.

Building and maintaining a culture of appreciation and recognition in your organization ensures that the contributions that are being made aren't being ignored. When extraordinary contributions are given the recognition and appreciation they deserve, there's a much greater chance they'll happen more often. When extraordinary work happens more often everyone wins.

How are you working to show your staff the appreciation they deserve? Check out list of 13 Truly Excellent Staff Appreciation Ideas or download this guide:

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Originally published on July 22, 2015 β†’ Last updated August 9, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨