How Do Your Employees Want to be Recognized?

If you have ever read Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages exploring how to best meet your partner or child’s recognition needs, you know that everyone has a specific way that they prefer to be recognized.  The same is true for your employees, after all, the whole person comes to work.  You may wonder, how do I figure that out about my employees? You could ask them; they may or may not know their own preferences.  Perhaps an employee once knew their preference, but it may have changed since the last time they took the quiz in the back of Gary Chapman’s book.  If you’d rather not ask, you could try all of the following to see which gets the most traction. The fact that you are attempting to discover what they respond to will go a long way.  People want to be seen and heard; they want a voice at work.  They need to know that they matter to you and to the company.  Here’s an overview of the 5 ways people can be recognized at work:

Words of Affirmation/Praise: 

Thoughtful, specific examples you share with them when they’ve done well.

First, establish if they are someone who likes praise in front of others or 1:1. Some people get embarrassed when called out in front of others, even when it’s positive.  Others like to be recognized in front of others. When you have determined their preference, be specific in your praise.  Instead of saying, “You did a good job on that presentation.”  Instead say, “You really wowed our client with your presentation!  Your message was clear, and concise, and spoke to the solution they are searching for.  You had a solid call to action that moved us forward.” As John Mayer’s song “Say” shared – “say what you need to say.”

Whether they prefer private or public praise, consider a thoughtful card/e-mail/text in addition to telling them, so they can look back on it.  A “feel good folder” whether in email or hard copy, is a great pick me up on a doubt day.

Acts of Service.

Acts of service are something that makes their life easier, eases their responsibility. 

It could be taking action without being asked.  For example, “I knew you were going to need access to XYZ software for that assignment, so I went ahead and put that in place.” Or, clearing snow from their windshield before you leave work, so they don’t have to do it when they go home.

Quality Time.

This is your undivided attention for someone while spending time with them. 

This consists of spending uninterrupted time with them talking, doing an activity, or enjoying comfortable quietness with them.  It may show up as you ignoring your ringing/dinging cell phone, asking a random person who stops in during that time to connect later, and/or turning and giving them your full attention without interruption. When you are meeting with someone and you ignore the pings of Slack, your Apple watch, and the ringing phone, you are conveying to them that they matter most.  If you glance at those distractions, you’re sending the message that whoever is contacting you may be more important than them.

It can also be an activity that you do together.  Perhaps you invite them to a sales call or to come look at a project with you.  That windshield time is just as valuable as the destination in getting to know them as a person.  The visit can be used as mentorship.  The message is, I care about you, and I want to develop your skill set. 

Receiving Gifts.

A thoughtful gift/raise/extra time off/bonus for them.

Instead of giving a raise/bonus with little messaging, it’s taking the time to say “You really grew your skillset this year.  I watched you successfully learn XYZ.  That skill has served us well in ABC Company.  Thank you for taking that initiative.  Here’s a bonus to acknowledge your accomplishments.”

This can also include company swag and a message like:

“I’m so glad you are part of our team.  You bring creative ideas and have made such an impact on ABC company.  Here is some swag in appreciation of you sharing your gifts with us.”

Those employees who prefer gifts appreciate that someone thought of them when purchasing an item.  A cup of coffee or something they like, even if it’s small, goes a long way.  They like to look back on it and associate feelings with a physical item.

Physical Touch.

You have to be careful with this one at work, que my HR hives!  Any kind of touch at work can cause an unintended Human Resources issue.  A knuckle bump or high five is really all we have in the workplace.  That said, we can gift physical touch through massages, spa days, and/or products – this is especially important for someone who lives alone.  Human touch is a basic human need.

If you want to learn more, you can read any of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman books.  They are all quick reads which give you insights into any relationship.  If you’d rather outsource the task of determining how your employees want to be recognized, invite Milestones HR, LLC in for a Voice of the Employee survey – we’ll get to the bottom of it for you!  Feel free to reach out via email at