The Science Behind Employee Recognition

Recognition

May 3, 2022

Taryn Hart

X min

5 min

Human beings are wired to feel connection, belonging and acceptance. Employee recognition isn’t just becoming an industry standard, it’s an essential requirement for an employee’s well-being, motivation and performance.

The Science Behind Employee Recognition
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Table of Contents

Human beings need recognition

In 1943, Abraham Maslow theorized that human beings make decisions and partake in motivational behavior based on a hierarchy of needs. This pyramid of needs consists of basic physiological needs like water and food, the need for safety, the need for love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. A core requirement in the esteem level of this pyramid is appreciation.  

Figure 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

As human beings, we have the need to accomplish things, and in turn, have those accomplishments appreciated and recognized. In addition to feelings of accomplishment, we need to feel that our efforts are valued and that we are making contributions to the world. Without this recognition, we begin to feel our actions or hard work have no purpose, and this leads us to feel unappreciated, undervalued, and unmotivated.  

What happens in our brains when we feel appreciated

Human beings are wired to feel connection, belonging and acceptance. When we experience appreciation and gratitude, our brains release dopamine and serotonin. These are crucial neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel ‘good’ and helping us regulate our emotions and immediate stress response. Gratitude acts as a catalyst for these neurotransmitters, and actively experiencing gratitude and appreciation allows us to manage our stress levels better.

Feeling and expressing gratitude activates several parts of the brain. When we verbalize thoughts of appreciation and gratitude, the prefrontal cortex is activated, which is responsible for positive emotions and decision-making, as well as reward and motivation. The more we practice expressing appreciation, the more we activate these gratitude circuits in our brain. Over time, it takes less effort to stimulate those pathways.  

Scientists have also suggested that by activating the reward center of the brain, gratitude exchange alters the way we see the world and ourselves. When we give and receive ‘thank you’ notes, our brain automatically produces motivational thought patterns. This means that practicing acts of recognition in the workplace improves employee's mental well-being and increases their motivation to continue to contribute value to their organization.  

The relationship between recognition and well-being

Employee recognition promotes positive psychological functioning and its absence worsens it. Positive psychological functioning (PPF) is comprised of the positive feelings that lead to self-acceptance, personal growth and social contribution. The absence of recognition can lead to the deterioration of an employee’s psychological health and, ultimately, their performance.  

Feeling unappreciated affects not only your emotions but also how you think and act, so it’s no surprise that a lack of appreciation can influence your mental health and lead to mental illness. If others ignore what you do for them, it can feel devastating. You might start to wonder why you bother putting effort into a task if you never feel appreciated for it, or worse, don’t feel your work contributes value to your organization.  

In a UK study, 78% of respondents said they would work harder if they had more recognition. In that same study, 94% said that employee recognition is critical in retaining talent. The solution to keeping your employees is becoming simple – if you want to keep your employees, it’s critical you recognize them.  

The importance of employee recognition  

The results of a study conducted on over 1800 employees found the effect of recognition is two times greater with peer-recognition than with top-down supervisor-recognition. This study highlights the importance of promoting employee recognition in organizations for the impact it has, not only on well-being, but also on the positive psychological functioning of the employees.

Technology now exists to make recognition accessible, simple and impactful for any organization. Cloud-based platforms that work in browsers and mobile apps allow remote, field and in-office employees a place to share regular, meaningful recognition.

Kudos, an employee recognition and engagement platform, harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition and helps organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Employee recognition isn’t just becoming an industry standard, it’s an essential requirement for an employee’s well-being, motivation and performance. It’s been almost 80 years since Abraham Maslow theorized that human beings require appreciation. The science has always been there, now it’s time to take it seriously and implement the recognition your employees not only deserve but need.  

About Kudos

Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce.

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