Employee Engagement Employee Recognition

Employee recognition and employee engagement: What’s the difference?

In the ever-changing world of work, the HR function has had to evolve in order to adapt to the needs of an ever more disengaged workforce.  

employee engagement

Their response to these changes has been to strive to gain employee engagement through employee recognition.

At a glance, these terms seem to be the same and may get confusing as they are often incorrectly used interchangeably.

In this blog, we are going to take a look at what the differences between employee recognition and employee engagement are through a series of questions and we will also take a look at an example of a company that’s getting it right.

Let’s kick off by looking at employee recognition.

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is a timely acknowledgment, informally or formally, of a person’s actions or behaviours that are above and beyond standard performance and support the organisation’s values and goals.

Why is employee recognition important?

As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day running of an organisation and forget that the people who work in the organisation are the most valuable assets.

When people are recognised for the work that they do, they feel appreciated and this gives meaning to their work.

 The ability to show appreciation for employees through recognition can make a huge difference to the career of an employee over a lifetime and to the wellbeing of the organisation.

Companies that have instituted recognition programs for their employees have reported seeing the following benefits:

  • Improved profitability

  • Higher customer advocacy levels

  • More innovations

  • Improved retention rates

  • Increased productivity

  • Lower rates of absenteeism

  • Greater employee wellbeing


Looking for ways to recognise your employees? Take a look here

Recognition can be given in a variety of ways, from a pat on the back to say “well done for doing such a great job” or a simple thank you or a note of acknowledgment on the organisation’s brag board.

What is most essential in giving recognition is that it is personal, timely and authentic.

As technology continues to advance, recognition has gone digital. Platforms such as bountiXP are leading this revolution by providing cloud-based recognition solutions.

Let's take a look at an example of an organisation that is getting employee recognition right:

From the outside, Zoom may seem like it’s just the video conferencing version of Skype but when we pull back the curtain we find that they are way more than that.

Zoom takes employee recognition so seriously that they have formed a "happiness crew”.

Few organisations can say they have a dedicated "happiness crew" to make their employees' recognition better, but Zoom can.

"We offer the usual Silicon Valley perks, but our executive team and volunteer employee Happiness Crew also deliver happiness to our employees, customers, and community through unique activities, perks, experiences, and more." - Heather Swan, Chief Happiness Officer / Strategic Alliances.

Zoom recognises its employees by reimbursing them for buying educational books, paying for employee gym memberships and also allowing executives to take their team out for a monthly breakfast.

"The concept of Employee Appreciation Day is contrary to how we treat and engage with our employees, we do everything we can to show our appreciation for them every single day."  Heather Swan

Now that we have a clearer idea of what employee recognition is, let’s take a look at employee engagement.


What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.


Why is employee engagement important?

The importance of employee engagement can’t be overstated as it affects every single aspect of an organisation.

We see results such as a reduction in staff turnover and absenteeism, an improvement in efficiency, higher customer retention rates and ultimately, more profits.

Engaged employees are even willing to do discretionary work, which is an employee’s willingness to go “above and beyond” the call of duty, such as helping others with heavy workloads, volunteering for additional duties and looking for alternative ways to perform their jobs more effectively.

Employee engagement is not a “set it and forget it” activity but luckily there are steps that we can take to ensure that our employees become and remain engaged:

1. Make sure your employees receive regular feedback.

2. Give your team the necessary tools to do their jobs correctly.

3. Endeavour to add some fun activities in the workplace.

4. Throw in some incentive programs that reward people for great work.

5. Set and hold your employees accountable for the goals they have achieved.

6. Set a long-term vision of the organisation that everyone can buy into.

But who is actually responsible for employee engagement?

Often it is assumed that employee engagement rests solely on the shoulders of the HR department but the truth is that this is a joint effort in which everyone has a vital role to play.

Starting with the executive leadership teams who should lead the charge, instead of HR, as they are looked up to and buy-in from them signals that employee engagement is taken seriously. Middle management is closer to the ground and can keep an ear out to see how engaged everyone is and employees can help out through initiatives such as peer-to-peer recognition.

Let's take a look at how Southwest Airlines is getting this right:


employee engagementWhen it comes to employee engagement, there are few companies that are as revered as Southwest Airlines.


Southwest Airlines are certainly not resting on their laurels when it comes to keeping their employees engaged.


They have a team full of committed, enthusiastic people who are passionate about the organisation’s vision and values and are willing to do the extra work to help the organisation continue to succeed.

They truly went above and beyond what anyone could have expected when they allowed employees from various departments to design their own uniforms and have set the bar when it comes to their customer service levels due to the engagement and commitment of their employees.

They encourage employees to stay inspired to do things differently. This was evident when a video of one flight attendant rapping the safety information went viral.

Recognising those employees who really go the extra mile is another key factor of Southwest’s engagement practices.

Each week, the CEO gives a “shout out” publicly praising employees who have done exceptionally well in their jobs.

There’s also a monthly magazine which recognises all the employees that stood out that month.

This kind of recognition keeps employees aware that they’re valued and that their hard work and commitment to the organisation doesn’t go unnoticed.  

“They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty and the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”  - Herb Kelleher (Founder) when asked what separates Southwest from its competitors.

Let’s pull it altogether…


How does employee engagement and employee recognition fit together?

Employee recognition drives employee engagement.

It is more vital than ever to understand that in an employee market, there is fierce competition for scarce talent.

Employee recognition has to be much more than empty platitudes. It has to come from an authentic place, a place of true appreciation for the hard work that employees are doing.

What we should aim to do through employee recognition is to alter the employer-employee relationship to go from a one-way, ‘what can you do for me’, to a two-way, ‘what can we do for each other’ street.

When employees are recognised, they know that they are appreciated and that their work is not going unnoticed. Employees who know that their work is going unnoticed will care about the organisation and will want to contribute to the organisation moving forward.

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