It’s that time of year again, when we gather with family and friends and usher in the start of the Holiday Season by filling ourselves on good food and enjoying good company. Thanksgiving is a time to take pause and give thanks for the people in our lives who make a difference – and, of course, watch a lot of football.

This time of year can also be a great time to sit down and think about our employees and how we recognize their achievements and successes throughout the year. Traditionally, leaders only take stock of these things on work anniversaries, birthdays, and performance reviews. This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to make year-round employee recognition a priority and habit for the upcoming year.

Employee Recognition vs. Rewards

When we talk about employee recognition, it’s important to understand that we don’t mean rewards. Rewards are handed down for accomplishing or exceeding pre-determined goals and they are associated with winning contests or leading others in terms of goals and KPIs. Rewards often have their own pomp and circumstance surrounding them, and they involve handing down a prize or a trophy as a symbol of achievement.

Recognizing employees, on the other hand, is much more personal, which means taking the time to highlight specifically what an employee is doing right. Recognition is a display of appreciation for contributions that and employee makes, either with or without pre-determined goals or KPIs in place. Recognition can be anything from a simple “thank you,” to a handwritten note, to some type of reward, like extra paid time off.

The key word to remember when it comes to employee recognition is “specific.” Everyone likes a general pat on the back for effort, but to recognize an employee is to highlight exactly what that person is doing right, so that the individual has the information they need to replicate that action or behavior in the future.

Recognition to Drive Productivity

Effective leaders use ongoing employee recognition to help drive productivity. When a team member is recognized for a specific action, achievement, or contribution, they will have the tools to take that feedback and use it to continue engaging in the behaviors that led to the outcome. However, recognition spreads just beyond the employee being recognized.

For example, a sales director may recognize a team member who blew their quarterly goal out of the water by trying a new sales technique. Let’s say that the director gave that recognition during a team meeting, outlining the successful employee’s approach, and expressing praise and gratitude in front if the group. This does two things for the entire group: 1) it gives the sales team a new, tested tool in their toolbox to approach their work in the future and 2) it shows that their sales director has a true appreciation for and takes the time to acknowledge employees when they push the boundaries to achieve their goals. This can ignite a fire in a team, motivating them to try new things and work a little harder to get that same level of recognition from leadership.

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Looking for more information on driving employee performance? Beth was featured in discussing ongoing performance feedback.

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Recognition is a way to hand down positive reinforcement, solidifying behaviors in employees that leaders hope to see repeated. However, it is also an excellent way to motivate an entire team, as it is just human nature to desire recognition for achievement.

It’s Always a Good Time to Hand Down Recognition

Employee recognition doesn’t have to be reserved for quarterly meetings, holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions. In fact, it shouldn’t be. For recognition to have a long-term, positive impact on a team, leaders should be prepared to recognize employees throughout the year, in real time. If a team member is recognized three months after an action, they won’t closely associate the recognition with the action. When recognition happens in real time, it is far more impactful and helps drive positive change.

I wish you, your family, and your employees a safe and Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, enjoy your company, and don’t forget to take the time to recognize a team member or two before you close up the office for the holiday weekend.