Employee recognition and employee appreciation — are these just two ways of saying the same thing? To put it simply: no. While these concepts are related, there are some important distinctions between them. 

Both recognition and appreciation are linked to employee productivity and retention. When you understand the difference between recognition and appreciation, you can create a workplace culture where employees are engaged, motivated, and likely to stick around. 

Let’s look at some examples of the difference between recognition and appreciation. 

Preview of employee appreciation vs recognition

Employee recognition vs. employee appreciation

Recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance. Say an employee meets a target, lands a high-profile customer, or completes a critical project. In these situations, you would recognize them with an award, bonus, promotion, raise, verbal thank you, or handwritten note. Managers generally handle this type of recognition. But some companies allow and encourage employees to recognize their peers, too.

Recognition is linked to employee performance, motivation, and tenure. Companies with sophisticated recognition practices are 12 times more likely to have strong business outcomes. Eighty-four percent of employees said that social recognition had a measurable impact on their engagement.

Appreciation is different because it’s not tied to a specific event or outcome. It’s about acknowledging who someone is and what they bring to the table. When you appreciate someone, you celebrate their worth as a colleague and human being. “Showing appreciation to employees on their worst day,” says Josh Berman of Culture Amp, “Is just as important as providing recognition on their best.” 

What does this look like in practice? Appreciation involves simple gestures like proactively telling someone what you value about them and checking in regularly to ask how they’re doing and discuss any challenges they may be facing. 

Appreciation might seem small, but it can have a significant impact. Eighty-one percent of employees say they’re more motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. And 53% of people said feeling more appreciation from their boss would help them stay longer at their company.

Why this distinction matters for managers and leaders

Now that you have a better sense of recognition and appreciation, you might be wondering why it’s important to distinguish between the two. Here are a few reasons

Recognition and appreciation have different goals

Recognition focuses on outcomes, so it’s timely and limited. People can only complete so many projects or meet so many sales targets each quarter! It’s important to give recognition right when it’s earned and deserved. 

Appreciation is essential all the time. It’s about acknowledging who someone is every day, not just when they accomplish a specific task. You can connect with and support your team members and peers anytime.

Employees perceive recognition and appreciation differently

Recognition and appreciation are both linked to productivity, but some research shows that they affect employees differently. Companies report a 23% increase in productivity when employees feel recognized for individual achievements, but a 43% increase when people feel valued in their organizations. Culture Amp reports that employees would most like to be shown appreciation for trying new things (even if they fail), bringing positivity to the office, and living out the company values. 

Recognition and appreciation matters more in a remote work environment 

With co-located teams, you can organize awards ceremonies, impromptu lunches, or simply pay someone a quick compliment when you pass them in the hall. It’s easy to manage both recognition and appreciation. In a remote setting, both praise and appreciation take intentional effort. You want to make sure not to lump them together or neglect one. 

Consider ways to adapt both recognition and appreciation to the remote setting. Can you hold award ceremonies virtually? Set up a Slackbot so employees can send each other public appreciation notes? Periodically send treats to make everyone’s day a little sweeter?

Unlock the key to employee engagement and motivation in any setting

Recognition and appreciation are related but distinct ways of tapping into employee motivation and engagement. Recognition happens in response to specific actions or outcomes, while appreciation is a way to acknowledge people for who they are. Tailor both recognition and appreciation to your employees’ preferences and needs.

In a remote setting, employees are more likely to feel isolated and ignored. This is why managers and leaders must take an intentional approach to recognition, appreciation, and all other aspects of the employee experience.

Find more advice for thriving in the remote setting in the Leader’s Guide to Navigating Change in a Remote Workplace.