How often should you recognize employees? And does the quality of (or the amount of) public recognition and rewards matter more? Companies tend to approach this question in different ways.

Simply increasing recognition isn’t going to keep employees satisfied.

Some businesses believe that linking pay-per-performance to quantifiable output is the key way to recognize employees and increase their happiness and productivity.

However, the more-is-better approach (while a viable solution in some situations) could work against a company, especially when the business falls back on this solution too often.

Other companies lean on different methods to motivate their employees (even if this partly includes pay-per-performance strategies). These organizations get creative and recognize and reward their employees for milestones, doing great work, being excellent team members or receiving exemplary customer feedback through tailored notes of public recognition, pointing out exactly what the individual did that was so great and possibly sharing the note to a work group or even companywide. The employee also might be given a reward at the same time, like e-gift cards, experiences or custom company rewards. They focus on quality more than quantity.

The question then becomes: Is one of these business models superior to the other? Let’s discuss both business strategies for public recognition and decide.

When is “more” the correct approach?

Managers usually have performance reviews with employees, but it shouldn’t be the only meeting managers hold to talk to employees and recognize their stellar performance. As an HR professional, you need to instruct managers that scheduling regular meetings – like holding weekly one-on-ones (or, at the very least, at the end of each month) is critical to their success.

Currently, just 1 in 3 U.S. workers, according to Gallup, believe they’re regularly recognized for their good work. This is a frightening statistic, considering that employee happiness is directly linked to overall engagement and productivity.

Management needs to take time to publicly recognize employees for outstanding work.

However, leaders and managers, and even peers, must keep in mind the amount of recognition they distribute. A balance is necessary to encourage employees to work hard but also avoid feeling entitled. While the steps for doing so are company-specific, there are some general rules of thumb we recommend companies follow:

Recognize Employees Often

Most employees want their managers to check in on them regularly. This could be in the form of surveys or just asking them how they’re doing and feeling. It’s important to keep a pulse on how your employees are functioning. That doesn’t mean that it’s all on managers. Communication should be a two-way street, and employees should also ask for feedback.

Of course, it’s always easier to recognize those high-potential, high-performance individuals who are always front and center and are comfortable tooting their own horn. They always seem to be doing great work. But consider there may be a self-fulfilling prophecy happening. Acknowledging individuals for their work through public recognition and spending time giving them encouragement leads a person to feel more motivated.

As Jeff Haden of Inc. Magazine writes, “Find ways to spread the positive feedback wealth. You might have to work hard to find reasons to recognize some of your less than stellar employees, but that’s okay. A little encouragement may be all a poor performer needs to turn the productivity corner.”

Be Spontaneous

Leaders and managers should complement their in-person, one-on-ones with unexpected moments of public recognition. It’s always exciting to receive positive feedback that you didn’t expect – either about something you did or even from a person you don’t regularly hear from. So next time you catch yourself thinking about how appreciative you are of a feat someone achieved, don’t keep it to yourself and store that information away – communicate it and hand out that ad hoc recognition!

Don’t Generalize

Awarding a staff member “Employee of the Month” is great, although possibly a little bit dated as a public recognition idea. An even better idea is to personalize an accolade, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in the next segment.

When you personalize the reward, you reinforce specific behaviors so the employee knows exactly what he or she did well and therefore should repeat. As you can begin to see, the two contrasting philosophies (more recognition and quality gratitude) actually overlap.

Managers can keep employees happy by finding a balance between quality recognition and the amount of praise received.
Managers can keep employees happy by finding a balance between quality recognition and the amount of praise they receive.

When is “more” not the correct approach?

While being more engaged with your employees is the right approach, offering them more public recognition and rewards isn’t always the best way to motivate them.

As proof, take for example a Gallup study of 10,000 workgroups in 30 different industries conducted back in 2004 – before social media made personalization and individualization a staple necessity in society – that investigated the importance of individualization in the workplace. Tom Rath of Gallup explained that employees longed for work environments that catered specifically to them. Fast-forward to today, and this thought process (at both work and home) is now on overdrive with millions of online social media profiles plastered across multiple platforms.

People want to be recognized as people, not just a number in a company.

In other words, employees want to be recognized as people, not just a number in a company. They have individual wants and needs, and expect employers to cater their public recognition and rewards to them.

The overall concept of individualization existed well before 2004. Called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this five-tier psychology model addresses people’s motivations based on whether their needs are satisfied. While the bottom of this pyramid consists of basic human survival instincts, the very top is reserved for self-actualization: realizing personal potential, growth and self-fulfillment. Managers must consider and implement this philosophy when recognizing and rewarding employees.

The question of whether quantity is better than quality doesn’t have a one-sided answer after all. Balance must exist between the two so you can get the most out of your workforce. One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other. Managers need to understand their workforce and environment and cater their recognition and rewards to their employees accordingly.