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Employee Recognition

Employee Recognition vs Employee Appreciation [2023 Guide]

By July 13, 2023October 17th, 2023No Comments

Don’t be fooled by the title. We’re not here to give you an “either/or” comparison to determine which is more important – employee recognition or employee appreciation.

Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to highlight the differences between the two when it comes to making them actionable in your business.

Employee Recognition vs Employee Appreciation

And if you’re already a little confused because you thought they were basically one and the same… au contraire, mon frere (et ma soeur)!

Fortunately, the Harvard Business Review makes the distinction pretty simple for us – “recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are.” 

Even with this clarification, it’s still impossible to tip the scale in favor of one or the other. Each satisfies an innate need that most humans share – the need for approval. This is why they’re a power partnership and have such a combined positive impact on your employees and your organization’s success.

In the grand scheme of your HR efforts, employee recognition and employee appreciation affect every aspect of your employee relations. This includes:

employee engagement

► workplace culture

► internal relations and communications

► employee motivation

► output/productivity

► employee experience

► recruiting costs

► employee retention

► onboarding and training costs

► work environment

► employee morale

Does the idea of a steady flow of interviews, training sessions, and badge resets sound like the best practices of any successful company? Do you have an HR budget deep enough to support a constant hiring cycle?

Qualified employees aren’t cheap to find, but they also don’t have to be expensive to keep. And far too many studies confirm that employees stay where they feel valued for it to be a fluke.

Getting a little better idea of the big picture now? Well, strap in because we’re diving head-first into the breakdown of each, the importance of both, and some stellar ideas to keep you ahead of the curve.

Employee Recognition vs Employee Appreciation At A Glance

The fatal mistake so many organizations make is thinking that these terms are mutually exclusive. Believing that, by recognizing your employees you’re also showing them appreciation, is frankly a major step towards the downward spiral of your employee relations.

The HBR emphasizes that “For leaders who want their teams to thrive and organizations that want to create cultures of engagement, loyalty, and high performance, it’s important to understand the distinction.”

What is the difference between employee recognition and employee appreciation?

Employee Recognition vs Employee Appreciation

Emotion vs Attention

Appreciation evokes an emotional response and appeals more to our feelings and job satisfaction because it comes with strong undertones of approval and admiration.

Recognition is more about acknowledging specific accomplishments, milestones, outstanding performance, or other significant moments in the employee’s journey. It’s paying attention to the individual and their unique contributions and successes.

Professional Value vs Human Value

When showing appreciation, you’re commending something an employee chose to do or say because of who they are, and acknowledging their inherent value. It reinforces that they’re respected for more than just their education, skills, or professional contributions. Recognition is typically tethered to accomplishments, promotions, completions, and other measurable work-related achievements.

These rewarding moments raise their professional value because they represent a desire to build on their skill set, contributions, and experience.

Different Business Goals

Appreciation and recognition each promote different business outcomes – both support your employees, but also help to beef up your business’s bottom line. While they heavily complement each other, they still individually drive your stats.

Productivity improves by 23% when employees feel that their individual accomplishments and contributions are adequately recognized. But it jumps an impressive 20% (to 43%) when they feel truly appreciated by their organization for what they can do and for who they are.


Employee Recognition vs Employee Appreciation


Here are some ideas you can use to incorporate employee appreciation and recognition ideas into your employee recognition program:

1) RecognitionDNA Assessment

Start. Here. This assessment will save you a ton of time and some serious capital spent on all the wrong types of recognition. By identifying how each of your employees actually needs to be appreciated and recognized most effectively, you’re able to hone in on the form of recognition that’s right for each team member instead of generalizing for the masses.

Try RecognitionDNA

2) Employee Rewards

Caroo Gifts

Perfect for all your employee milestones and memorable moments. These rewards may be points that accrue and can be spent on products or gift cards for their favorite brands. Or possibly tickets for a local visual arts performance, concert, or sporting event. Employee rewards are a great way to consistently acknowledge your employees for things like birthdays, work anniversaries, and overall great work.

3) Employee Appreciation Day

Monetary incentives aren’t the only way to make a splash. Designate one day each month as the company-wide day-o-positive feedback.

Check your trusty analytics and honor the employee(s) who received the most public recognition last month. Everyone on the payroll – from top to bottom – can gush and be gushed on all month for their hard work, then be super-celebrated on Employee Appreciation Day.

4) Corporate Gifting

Corporate gifts are typically a smidge more than a “small token of appreciation,” so this idea often correlates with a top-down rewards system. But senior leaders aren’t the only ones who can appreciate their colleagues, so it could easily be used in tandem with another recognition program for an added level of employee rewards.

5) Peer Recognition

How To Use An Employee Recognition Survey

Empower your employees to sprinkle shout-outs around the group like confetti. Sure, it’s great knowing your boss thinks you’re a top performer, but kudos from fellow team members scratches an itch they may not even know they had.

6) Digital Gift Cards


In this day and age, it’s tough to find a brand that doesn’t offer gift cards. Even better, they’re available in digital form, so you can customize your amount, add a message, and drop them right into your employees’ inboxes.

For some different types of gift cards, explore the Caroo Gift Card platform.

7) Signed eCards From the Group


Greeting cards haven’t lost their luster but they’ve certainly evolved from the standard issue 5×7 Hallmark edition. Ecards can now be personalized online, circulated for e-signatures, and emailed quietly to your honoree.

Are you ready for this 2023 Holiday Season?

View 2023 Holiday Guide


Want some examples of employee recognition and employee appreciation in real workplaces? Check out these rockstars!

1) Southwest Airlines


Southwest has totally redefined their employees’ idea of swag with their recognition program called… wait for it… SWAG! SWAG stands for Southwest Airlines Gratitude and is embedded into its culture of appreciation. Employees can earn points that equal cash to spend in the SWAG Shop, but it’s not just branded clothing and water bottles. Employees can choose from thousands of options, including event tickets and gift cards for their favorite brands. Six top 100 appearances on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Employers can’t be a coincidence.

2) HP Inc



The task of monitoring and managing employee appreciation and recognition for an international organization can’t be an easy one. But HP understands the assignment.

Especially during the pandemic, HP made these elements a top priority, despite its size. One of HP’s global financial executives was quoted, saying “memories are more powerful than money, you don’t remember where you spent your last bonus, but you always remember that good deed that was done to you by your manager who cared enough to do something special and recognize you.”

With 90% of their employees reporting HP a “great place to work,” they must be doing something right.

3) Cisco


By allocating 1% of its employee payroll to its recognition and rewards initiatives, Cisco reinforced its belief that “Recognition is an investment in people. It’s going to retain talent. If you’ve got the right talent, you’re going to drive revenue growth. It’s an initial investment with a future payoff.”

In 2021, an impressive 96% of its employees felt the company was a great place to work. Then, in 2022, Cisco was ranked #1 on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For® and #1 on their list of Best Workplaces in Technology,™ so its leadership must be doing something right.

Hopefully, it’s much easier now to see that recognition is performance-based while appreciation is more human-based. As you go forward and assess the programs in place in your business, also remember that,

“Recognition is appropriate and necessary when it’s earned and deserved. Appreciation, however, is important all the time.” ~ Mike Robbins, Author of “Bring Your Whole Self to Work”


Employee Recognition Vs Employee Appreciation: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do employees need both recognition and appreciation?

A: Employees need both recognition and appreciation in the workplace because one addresses their actions and the other addresses them as a person. Both are equally important but they impact different aspects of the employee experience.

Q: What is an example of employee recognition and employee appreciation?

A: An example of employee recognition is honoring an employee for a major milestone or standout performance, over and above what’s expected of them. An example of employee appreciation is sending an employee an egift card to acknowledge them for being a great team player.

Q: Why are employee appreciation and employee recognition important?

A: Employee appreciation and employee recognition are both important because each one creates a different internal response from the employee. But together, they’re a dynamic duo that boosts morale and employee engagement, strengthens bonds with your workforce, improves the employee experience, and creates a company culture of gratitude and respect.

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