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Praise your employees: 5 ways to reward and recognize

Acknowledge a job well done in private, in public and before moving on to the next task.

5 min read




Studies show that people are far more motivated by positive reinforcement than by the fear of failure, yet many workplace cultures are still buzzing with the daily energy of “just not screwing up.”

If you work in one of these offices, where employees are frequently distracted from the goals of the organization by anxiety about being called out for mistakes, what can you do? The good news is that no matter what level of leadership you currently hold, you can help to create a more positive workplace culture just by adding two words to your routine: Thank you. It seems simple, but praise and recognition are often overlooked by busy professionals focused on the bottom line.

If you want to draw people to you with positivity and motivate your team to strive for greatness, read below about the art of offering up positive recognition in the workplace.

Offer praise one on one

Research shows that employees today, especially millennials, crave one-on-one attention from their managers and superiors, and most feel they don’t get enough. Make sure that the interactions with your team aren’t strictly about corrective feedback — make time for praise and recognition in a solo setting, too. Give people time to recap and review the success with you, highlighting what went well, and what they learned or would do differently next time. Give them a few minutes to talk about their wins, and congratulate accordingly.

Give praise publicly

Recapping in a one-on-one setting will set you up well when you speak publicly about your team’s accomplishments. Now you have all the details to sell their successes to your superiors, other teams and the organization as a whole. Give praise and recognition to others in multiple forums, making sure that others are seen as trailblazers, innovators and problem-solvers.

Publicly celebrate the achievements and invite the organization to mark their accomplishments. You have to advocate for yourself, too, at the right time, but don’t worry too much about highlighting your own role in most of these public situations. Noting the success of your team will show more positive leadership than taking the credit for yourself. Both those higher up and those high-performers you’d like to attract to your team will remember how you praised others.

Say “thank you”

On my local station, the news anchors, meteorologists and reporters thank each other when handing off from segment to segment. This is a lovely and simple expression of gratitude, and it goes a long way in enforcing a positive culture; don’t become a stereotypical boss who fails to use these critical words merely because the work is “someone’s job.”

The men and women we work with deserve appreciation for a job well done, and “thank you” should be delivered with intention, eye contact and sincerity on a regular basis.

Take a pause

It may seem the most obvious step when providing recognition for a job well done, but so many fail to properly take the time. When a task is finished, big or small, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the work.

Early in my career, I worked for a man who was smart, motivated and funny. He had assembled a great team to realize his vision, but he had a horrible habit of barely acknowledging what you said when you reported to him that a job was done. Invariably, you would get one word — “great” — before he would use the same breath to ask you about the start of the next task. It was painfully deflating for his staff, and in the end, no one was motivated to do a job quickly or even do a job well.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big production, but it’s critical to take minute to pause and celebrate milestones that have been reached. Teams that have no time at all to enjoy their success will hardly be motivated to chase more. Take a breath before moving on.

Include praise for those outside your team

Don’t forget to note the contributions of those outside your team, or your organization. If a vendor was a key player in your success, say so; if another team was critical in helping you get the job done, be sure to note it. These are your opportunities to spread positivity and goodwill beyond your direct sphere of influence — don’t miss out.

It might seem like a lot, but really praising others and saying “thank you” probably won’t take you much more energy in the day. Regularly putting a few minutes toward making sure others feel properly acknowledged for their efforts will go a long way to building the positive workplace you envision. Make a plan on how you’re going to work praise into your every day, and before long, raising the visibility of your high-achievers will be a regular habit.


Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach who developed these five steps to help a newly promoted executive who had received a lot of feedback about her lack of employee praise. Garfinkle worked with her to make reward and recognition a sincere and consistent habit in her day-to-day life. He has written seven books, including “How to Be a Great Boss: 7 Qualities That All Great Bosses Have.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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