Frontline Intelligence - HR Consulting: Valuing vs. recognising employees

by 03 Oct 2012

Recognition without value, over time, will make the recognition hollow. Jeffrey Jolton outlines best practice in employee recognition.

There is currently a lot of talk about recognition. The best organisations spend a substantial amount of money and resources on their recognition programs. Despite these investments, employees don’t necessarily feel they are being recognised for great work.

One of the more common enquiries on employee engagement surveys is some variation of, “I receive recognition when I do good work.” The norm score across industries and countries for this question is about 55% favourable. Meaning, on average, about half of all employees feel they are appropriately recognised.

At the best companies (top 10%) the score is about 66% favourable, not overly impressive when these companies have favourable scores in the 80–90% range in a number of other areas.

Compare this to the enquiry, “I feel valued as an employee of this company,” which is much less frequently asked (indicating that many organisations don’t even see the value in asking about employees feeling valued). The average score here is 41% favourable, with 32% marking an unfavourable response. In other words, on average, less than half of the employees in a typical organisation feel valued as an employee and one-third actively believe they aren’t valued.

These findings also indicate that there is a difference between recognising and valuing employees. This is more than a difference in semantics; it’s a difference in experience. Recognition is the identification or acknowledgement of something. When we recognise employees, we acknowledge that they are doing good work and are letting them know we appreciate their efforts. Recognition is typically tied to what we do – not who we are.

Valuing is about appreciating the worth of something (someone) and of esteeming something (someone) highly. When we value employees, we appreciate them for who they are and what they bring to the organisation. We acknowledge them not merely for tasks, but for the deeper intrinsic worth they add to the organisation by just being there.

Kenexa’s research shows that, in general, valuing employees appears to be a driver of engagement (and often the top driver) more often than recognising their efforts. In a limited sample of companies, ‘feeling valued’ showed up as a driver 85% of the time, whereas recognition of efforts emerged only 30% of the time. Feeling valued seems to reflect a broad core of what people are looking for in an engaging work experience – that is, a primary element that connects people to their organisation and motivates is a strong sense of feeling valued and appreciated. Recognition is important, but is more likely to be seen as a singular experience (event driven) than sustained (environment driven).

The two are interactive, however. Organisations that had high scores on valuing employees had higher scores on recognising employees. But recognising efforts didn’t always translate to people feeling valued.

Looking at dysfunctional organisations, one characteristic that emerges for some is rote recognition. These companies recognise people for anything and everything with no real purpose or thought behind it. It is as if someone was told, “recognition equals engagement” and so he or she just ran around patting everyone on the back saying “good job” regardless of the real effort or accomplishment achieved. This underscores the importance of showing your people you value, not just recognise, them.

Recognition without value, over time, will make the recognition hollow. It turns something that should be satisfying and special to employees into something rote and meaningless. Furthermore, without valuing employees, organisations fall into a dangerous zone where they fail to treat and see employees as people.

Valuing others isn’t a leadership thing, it’s a people thing, and it is probably the people thing that the majority of us cherish the most. If you think back to a moment in your life when you felt special and appreciated, it’s most likely a time when you were being valued in some way.

We can all do a better job of valuing those around us. As you go through your recognition rituals, take a few moments to show those around you how you value them. Maybe it’s because they make you feel good, or you learn something new from them every day, or they are warm to those around them, or they have the knack of diffusing tension in difficult situations, or they take care of the small stuff so you don’t have to.


About the author

Jeffrey Jolton is Consulting Director at Kenexa - phone (03) 9602 3899 or email


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