Sarah Thomas

Workplace recognition doesn’t just make us feel good by changing our brain chemistry, it is good for business in general. Appreciating your employees and expressing praise improves employee engagement and retention rates.

The Need for Recognition

Abraham Maslow designed a hierarchy of needs to explain what motivates a person. The needs that are the most important are the largest part of the pyramid. These are the physical needs of food, shelter, and safety. Once physical needs are met, the need to be valued is most important. Belonging is a constant need in our lives – not just in our personal life but in our work life as well. Recognition makes you feel valued in the workplace. The need for recognition must be satisfied on a regular basis according to Gallup.

Brain Chemistry and Workplace Recognition

Oxytocin and dopamine are the “happy hormones” that are naturally produced by the hypothalamus. These hormones cause positive feelings like trust and connection.

Workplace recognition activates these happiness-inducing hormones. These hormones increase prosocial behavior or behavior that has a positive social impact. Examples of prosocial behavior include altruism, listening, and collaboration. When we’re producing oxytocin, we feel more generous, trusting, and a greater connection to others, according to Inc.  High levels of oxytocin make employees perform better. Dopamine levels are also higher when there is recognition in the workplace.

The lack of recognition in the workplace causes dopamine levels to drop. This leads to disengagement and unhappiness at work.  Gallup also found that when praise is withheld, employees fall naturally into a negativity bias. Work feels pointless when you aren’t recognized. This negative emotion snowballs and they perceive reactions as negative even if they’re neutral.

Workplace Recognition and Business

SHRM surveyed HR professionals and found that the top management challenge is retention. Poor retention rates hurt businesses – to the tune of $11 billion per year according to

Engaged employees outperform other employees by 202% according to a Dale Carnegie Training Survey. However, only 20% of employees feel strongly valued at work, according to TinyPulse. When an employee doesn’t feel valued, they also don’t feel happy. Unhappy, unengaged employees don’t perform well. Even worse, Cutting Edge PR says that 13% of employees are actively disengaged. This is a dangerous and costly scenario for a business. Actively disengaged employees are seeking employment elsewhere, which drives up turnover rates.

A Psychometrics Engagement Study asked workers what senior management and leaders could do to improve employee engagement. Giving praise would improve engagement, 58% of respondents said. SHRM says that 68% of HR professionals agree – employee retention rates are better when employees receive positive recognition in the workplace. Companies with a high level of recognition also report higher rates of productivity according to

The Best Recognition

The easiest and cheapest way to improve workplace recognition is to praise employees. Psychology Today suggests that you give praise right away and be genuine when you’re giving recognition.

Recognition between team members is important. According to Forbes, this praise feels just as valuable to an employee as praise from a manager. Peer recognition also makes the employee feel valued by their peers.

Use praise that is personalized, tangible, and unexpected to build trust. When your employee or team member does something right, praise them immediately by name. Be specific as to what part was helpful. Public praise also works to build trust between employees. Make sure that your company culture includes recognition.

Tailor your praise to your employee. Some people don’t like praise in a group setting but appreciate praise individually. Another employee may prefer verbal recognition instead of through email or text. Get to know how your employees feel appreciated, and give them recognition and praise in the way that they prefer.