What’s the Difference between Recognition and Appreciation at Work?

What exactly does it mean to give recognition and appreciation in the workplace? You need both to build a thriving company culture at work.
What’s the Difference between Recognition and Appreciation at Work?
Erica Sunarjo

Just like thousands of other word pairs, recognition and appreciation are two concepts that look like synonyms, so we often use them as if they have the same meaning.

And while it’s harmless to use them as synonyms in everyday speech, getting these two concepts mixed up in modern management and HR can be quite a painful mistake. If you want to nurture a healthy, positive culture where employees feel satisfied and valued for their work in your company, it’s important to make a distinction between recognition and appreciation — and both have to be present.

Nowadays, it’s more important than ever to show your employees that you value them.

Even though the popular belief is that many employees decide to leave their jobs for better-paid positions or positions with more potential, studies show that the majority actually leaves because of a lack of recognition or appreciation.

Let’s start by clarifying both of these concepts before we dive into their similarities and differences.

What is Recognition at Work?

You can hear this term being tossed around the office all the time, in statements such as:

  • The boss finally recognized me for my hard work.
  • The managers recognized how much work I put in, so they gave me a promotion.
  • My work was recognized by my colleagues and I got voted Employee of the Month.

Generally, recognition is any type of positive feedback that’s a result of good performance, actions or results. It can happen both formally and informally. Formal ways of recognition include bonuses, promotions, pay raises and similar incentives (usually in compensation), while informal can mean anything from a pat on the back to a thank you speech in an all-hands meeting.

Generally, recognition is any type of positive feedback that’s a result of good performance, actions or results.

With the majority of employees, recognition actions — both formal and informal — will have a positive impact on their level of motivation and ambition.

Although recognition can be effective and spark positive change, it’s not perfect and it certainly has its drawbacks.

Firstly, it only happens every so often: in many organizations, recognition becomes apparent only after yearly performance reviews. Also, in companies with steep hierarchies, a lot of time can pass before a formal act of recognition gets approved by senior management. 👎

The other important drawback to acts of recognition at work is that they’re based on results and performance — meaning people who work hard, learn a lot and show a lot of progress over a short period of time might not get recognized, because they’re not achieving the results yet.

What is Appreciation at Work?

Unlike recognition, appreciation is not based on an employee’s performance, but their inherent value to the company. This can mean anything from their work ethics, knowledge and skills, to relationships with colleagues and positive behavior.

These are some of the cliché appreciation sentences:

  • I don’t know how I’d do this without you.
  • This place would fall apart if you weren’t here.

Just like recognition, appreciation can come in many shapes and sizes. It doesn’t necessarily imply non-compensational rewards. Employees can still get bonuses, raises or promotions out of appreciation, but the difference is going to be that it’s not going to happen because of one task, project or quarter, but consistent great work.

Appreciation doesn’t necessarily imply non-compensational rewards.

Unfortunately, appreciation is severely under-practiced in modern organizations. Employees usually receive acts and statements of appreciation from their colleagues, but rarely from their managers.

It’s very common that industries such as finance or business, who have a culture of financial compensation as a form of recognition, severely lag behind when it comes to appreciation of their employees. The result? Higher wages and bonuses, lower job satisfaction,” says Clara Morton, a recruiter at localization company TheWordPoint.

Appreciation is severely under-practiced in modern organizations.

What’s bad about recognition is precisely what’s great about appreciation: it doesn’t have to come once a year or every couple of months, but can basically happen every single day.

Regardless of whether it’s colleague-to-colleague or manager-to-employee appreciation, even the tiniest of appreciation comments can go a long way.

What’s even better is that you can appreciate employees for their value even if they make a mistake or fail at something, which makes it much more important and valuable than recognition in the grand scheme of things.

It’s also much easier to be able to go without the red tape and simply show an employee that you appreciate them. You don’t have to ask for written permission, senior manager approval or anything else…

How to Recognize and Appreciate Your Employees?

We’ve come to the practical part. Now you know what recognition and appreciation at work are and how they are different, but how exactly can you start implementing this in your organization right now? Here are some ideas:

Birthday celebrations + gifts

There’s nothing more depressing than realizing that people at work don’t care about your birthday at all. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a big birthday person or not — the thought really counts in this case.

Work anniversaries

Celebrations of time spent with your employer are cute as hell — especially if they’re initiated by the employer!

Peer-recognition awards

Ask your staff who deserves a little bit of appreciation this month? Just make sure you don’t turn it into a popularity contest, but the actual reward of hard work. You can also use Hi5’s Recognition Dashboard to check on this yourself (read more here).

Best team awards

Appreciation is not limited to individuals — teams deserve and need recognition and appreciation, too (although individual rewards are always more effective).

Thank you emails

The modern sequel to the good, old-fashioned thank you notes. 😜

Hall of fame

Brag about how awesome your employees are by putting up a hall of fame with their best achievements on your website.


Recognition is a great way to show your employees that you notice their hard work and that it’s paying off. Appreciation, on the other hand, is showing your employees that they are seen, valued and, well… appreciated. 🤗

The recipe to perfect employee satisfaction, therefore, has two ingredients: recognition and appreciation. You shouldn’t exclude one just because the other is there — a combination of both is guaranteed to make your employees happy!

Hi5 is an easy way to see appreciation & recognition across your company in real-time. Try it for free >