Why employee recognition is important on the frontline

Posted on: February 28, 2024Updated on: April 22, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

When employees show up to work, giving their best to the business—their talents, attention, time and energy—they want their efforts to feel worthwhile.

Recognition tops the charts as a primary ask from employees. Over a third (39%) of frontline employees name recognition as a leading driver of happiness and success at work.

Frontline Employee Recognition And Engagement

Leaders who have yet to consider if they’re recognizing their people enough, or don’t already have a successful employee recognition program in place, are missing a significant opportunity to motivate employees, improve job satisfaction and employee retention rates, lower employee turnover—and more.

What is employee recognition?

In essence, recognition is about how you show—and tell—employees their hard work is being seen and appreciated.

Employee recognition goes far beyond providing adequate monetary compensation for a job well done. It can be as simple as verbal acknowledgment or positive feedback from senior leaders after a demanding project finally wraps up, or it can be more reward-based, with physical prizes, paid time off or access to new growth opportunities.

Whatever the form, recognition is meant to highlight the contributions of top talent and team members who put extra effort into achieving positive results for the business. It also creates happy employees by encouraging teams to celebrate their wins, regardless of size.

Types of employee recognition

Public recognition isn’t the only option to make employees feel valued. Here are definitions of common types of recognition and what they might look like across a frontline workforce.

Peer-to-peer vs. superior-to-report

Peer-to-peer recognition: Received praise from coworkers. For example, a grocery associate hears praise from other associates about the way they make connections with customers. This type of recognition is validating and can reinforce the associate’s positive self-image and confidence in their role.

Superior-to-report recognition: Leaders highlighting the achievements of their team members. A pat on the back from retail managers or even a corporate executive supports a culture of recognition by reinforcing company values and promoting feelings of job security.

Social vs. private

Social recognition: The kind of recognition that occurs in front of others, like a shoutout during a team huddle or a digital kudos in your frontline enablement platform.

Private recognition: Some employees prefer low-key acknowledgments. This kind of recognition stays between the individuals giving and receiving recognition.

Achievement-based vs. effort-based

Achievement-based recognition: Tied to meeting specific business objectives and reinforcing desired behaviors.

Effort-based recognition: Commending hard work and exceptional performance often—like daily or weekly—versus more milestone-based recognition on a quarterly or yearly goal.

Anonymous vs. attributed 

Anonymous recognition: Not attached to a specific person (think the kind of feedback from anonymous employee surveys).

Attributed recognition: Holds someone directly accountable for the recognition. Attributed recognition allows organizations to capture demographic information about the person being recognized (or the person giving the recognition) so they can see how efforts are impacting different employee populations.

Why employee recognition is important—and how it can affect employee engagement

Employee recognition forms part of the bedrock of company culture that places exceptionalism and excellence at its peak; it helps foster appreciation and empowers each employee to do their best. Recognition fortifies relationships and provides team members with a clear purpose aligned to achievable company goals. And, it’s good for business. Companies equipped with strong recognition programs are 12x more likely to see strong business outcomes.

3 reasons to give employees recognition

Let’s take a look at how a strong employee recognition program results in improved business outcomes—and improved employee engagement.

1.  Recognition motivates employees—and goes hand-in-hand with employee engagement and morale

When employees feel recognized, it boosts their self-esteem and confidence. Gallup and Workhuman found a critical link between workplace recognition and well-being: employees thriving at work were likelier to be told they were top performers, felt like they were being paid fairly and were less likely to be actively looking for job opportunities. On the flip side, employees who weren’t receiving recognition were more likely to have lower well-being.

These trends paint a picture of just how frontline employees can impact business outcomes. If you want to improve your employee engagement results, review your existing recognition programs and how you reward employees. Just like in their everyday lives, people want to feel fulfilled at work. So it’s no surprise that high performance, employee engagement and employee appreciation are closely linked.

2.  Recognition boosts employee retention and encourages staff to stay with companies longer

Every leader wants their team to feel connected to their organizational culture, even if the workforce is dispersed across multiple locations, cities or time zones (which is often the case when supporting a frontline workforce). That connection starts with recognizing employees.

Research shared in the Achievers 2023 Engagement and Retention report reveals recognition is the number one driver of connection in the workplace. Employees who feel a strong sense of connection—thanks to being recognized regularly—are 19% less likely to plan a job hunt and more than twice as likely to feel a strong sense of belonging among their peers and colleagues.

3.  Recognition promotes productivity and stimulates employee performance across the organization

On an individual level, recognition is key to boosting employee engagement. But it can also increase productivity and make a measurable impact across the entire team by reinforcing desired behaviors. 

How? Behaviors that are recognized are the ones that get repeated. When direct reports see their leaders recognizing employees, their peers are more likely to imitate those behaviors, which become part of the company culture quickly. 

So, helping employees feel appreciated is a great way to encourage—and scale—the behaviors you want to see (or discourage the behaviors you don’t).

How to create a successful employee recognition program

Now that you know why a strong culture of employee recognition is a win-win for employers AND employees, how can you build one from the ground up in your organization?

The basic steps are similar to putting together an effective employee rewards program

  • Determine the scope of behaviors worth recognizing—and communicate this far and wide
  • Identify key data and metrics to measure and avoid bottlenecks and ambiguity
  • Pick the format of recognition to be delivered
  • Set up the proper processes and tools to support employee recognition at every step
  • Measure everything and document how motivating employees is transforming your workplace culture

The ROI of employee appreciation and recognition is high, and companies who invest in recognition see improvements in employee morale, lived company values, employee productivity and beyond—so investing in creating this program is worth the resource and budget allocation.

Take the time to learn how your people want to be recognized and follow through. Once you have an approach to employee recognition that works best for your people, it won’t be long before you notice additional benefits, watch employee motivation rates soar and enjoy the increased productivity.

Maliyah Bernard's Headshot

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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