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The Difference Between Recognition and Appreciation

Here’s a simple truth: Rewarding your employees often and publicly can mean the difference between them staying put or losing them to a competitor.

The data is out there. Eighty-nine percent of respondents to a 2018 Society for Human Resource Management survey either agree or strongly agree that employee recognition positively impacts their experience.

What needs to be deciphered a bit more thoroughly is knowing when to appreciate versus when someone should be recognized.

As stated by Merriam-Webster, here are the brief definitions of each:

Recognition: special notice or attention

Appreciation: a feeling of expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude

Defining these two terms helps us see what they have in common, and why they’re distinctly different. Appreciation has more to do with feelings and expression while recognition is calling specific attention to something special or well done.

The key is seeing that both are valuable in their own right, and understanding that both are necessities to create a workplace culture that keeps employees loyal and engaged. In the simple, but oh-so wise words of former LA Lakers center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “If not shown appreciation, it gets to you.”


Praising your employees should be an everyday experience and showing them proper appreciation should happen often too. Sometimes, though, there are stand out moments like these that deserve special kudos:

When an accomplishment shines above all others; when a special set of skills gets you a new client/contract; or when the team wraps up an exhausting job, these are the times to express extra appreciation.

Every now and then, too, it’s a good idea to show gratitude for no particular reason. When your entire staff is present, working hard, and showing up on time, give them a little something to tote around as a reminder that you appreciate their great attitudes.


Recognizing your employees demands a more substantial show of praise. Think trophies, award certificates, crystal desk clocks, and paperweights.

Some stand-out moments when recognition supersedes simple appreciation:

Ready for another simple truth? The more you do, the more they’ll do.

By showing an employee they’re truly appreciated and that you genuinely see who they are and what they’ve accomplished, they’ll gain the confidence and energy to consistently increase productivity and output.

The common thought when it comes to employee engagement is to treat your employees as customers. Think of your team members in terms of how you can create a valuable experience for them, improve their journey, and be empathetic to how they feel.

With a relatively small amount of effort, you can recognize and/or appreciate your employees. By doing so, you’re nurturing a potentially life-long commitment from them—a commitment that could see your business long into the future.

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