The Psychology of Recognition: Why Employee Recognition Matters

Date: July 14, 2020
psychology of employee recognition

Recognition is a basic human need. Why do we need it, and how often should you provide it, are questions frequently asked by managers, and understanding the psychology of recognition can help answer them.

Our brains need recognition

Employee recognition is more than just a thank you for doing a good job. It’s something our brains are hardwired to need. In fact, recognition results in the release of dopamine. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain. Dopamine stimulates the parts of the brain (ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens) that processes rewards and creates positive emotions like satisfaction and enjoyment.

Gallup’s article about praising employees states that, “Receiving praise and recognition releases dopamine in the brain, which creates the feelings of pride and pleasure. Better yet, that dopamine hit cements the knowledge that more of that behavior will create more praise, resulting in another dopamine drench, and so on.”

Based on this, it’s no surprise that employee recognition results in higher levels of motivation, engagement and productivity, lower staff turnover, and an increased ability to retain and attract top talent.

Here are some recognition and engagement statistics that might blow your mind:

  • Employees who receive strong recognition are 33% more likely to be proactively innovating.
  • Companies with recognition programs that are effective at improving employee engagement have 31% lower voluntary turnover. 
  • Organizations with highly engaged employees achieve 2x the annual net income of organizations whose employees lag behind on engagement.

For more recognition statistics, check out our article ‘Employee Recognition Generates Amazing ROI

How long does recognition last

The affects of dopamine wears off fast. This is why after a pay rise or promotion you’re extremely motivated to do a good job for the first month or so, but after that the motivation starts to dwindle. 

It’s impossible to determine how long positive effects of recognitions lasts on an employee as there are many factors that affect it;

  • The individuals personal need for recognition frequency.
  • The culture of the company (is it positive already, is it negative).
  • The burnout level of employee (if an employee is so burnt out, the positive recognition might fall on deaf ears).
  • Day to day, hour to hour comments. For example, if an employee receives recognition from a manager one day, but the next day gets pulled aside for being late, the positive effects may wear off as their most recent experience is a negative one.

How often do you need to recognize employees

“Recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis - weekly, maybe daily.” says Gallup’s chief scientist, Jim Harter. 

At minimum, Gallup advise that you should praise someone verbally once a week. 

Further more, you can never give too much recognition as long as it is honest and deserved, according to Gallup.

Using employee recognition software like Bucketlist, it provides employees and managers with an easy way to publicly acknowledge their peers. The recognition software integrates with platforms you use daily, such as email, Microsoft Teams or Slack, or you can also use the recognition app to do a quick shout-out. 

According to Advisor Websites CEO Alex Wingert, “Bucketlist has helped me and other managers see the one percenters that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

Dopamine is a human need, but most people feel like they don’t receive enough praise.

Recognition is an essential need

Looking into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, at every level there are needs that can be satisfied by employers.

Starting at the bottom for the greatest basic need and working your way up to the top level, workplaces have the ability to provide great impact.

  1. Physiological needs - these are biological requirements for human survival, such as food, water, shelter, warmth.
    • Workforce impact: you need an income to be able to afford food, shelter and warmth.
  2. Safety needs - humans need to feel secure and safe. This includes sense of order (e.g. laws and police protection), financial security, health and wellbeing.
    • Workforce impact: financial security through job security.
  3. Love and belonging needs - the need for interpersonal relationships motivates behaviour. This includes friendships, intimacy, trust, acceptance and both giving and receiving affection.
    • Workforce impact: relationships between colleagues, sense of belonging, trust with manager.
  4. Esteem needs - this is divided into two parts; esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, independence), and desire for reputation or respect from others (status, prestige). 
    • Workforce impact: accomplishing tasks/projects, being respected by colleagues, not being micromanaged, job title.
  5. Self-actualization needs - this is the top level and Maslow describes it as the “Desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.” Self-actualization needs are different per person, and can present itself economically, academically, athletically or creatively.
    • Workforce impact: motivated to do more, willingness to go above and beyond for a cause they believe in, out-of-the-box thinking, strong ethical standards, taking responsibility for actions, believing in self.

Gratitude and happiness

Additionally, Studies show that if you express gratitude, it raises your happiness by 25%. Using an employee recognition and rewards program not only helps the person receiving the recognition to feel satisfied, but also it helps the person giving the recognition express gratitude. It’s a win-win-win situation as the company benefits with increased productivity and higher levels of engagement.

There is endless research available to demonstrate the importance of why humans need recognition, and the positive results of recognition to employers. 

Bucketlist is listed as one of the best employee recognition software programs available, with a 4.9 star rating out of 5 on G2

To find out more about how the Bucketlist employee rewards and recognition app can help your business, contact us for a free demo. We’d love to help you improve your company’s employee recognition program!

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