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Employee Motivation

Personalising Employee Recognition—The Intricacies of Rewards & Praise

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‘Good, Good’

Before focusing on employee recognition, let’s remember school days. Did your teachers praise or otherwise reward you for your hard work or excellence? If so, how was this delivered? Was it directed at you with care, tailored for you, and specific about how you’d earned it?

Or are your memories of teachers with backs turned on you, writing on the board, vaguely muttering “Good, good” to the whole class? Or are your memories of the always-top-of-the-class student receiving an award, while students with other good qualities were unrecognised? Perhaps that top student was you. How did it feel to be up there, with all eyes on you?

‘Needs Improvement’

Multiple studies since the 1960s have confirmed the value of recognition in educational settings. Being noticed and given positive feedback results in improvements in both social behaviours and learning. Those who were praised or rewarded are more cooperative with educators and more likely to give compliments and other positive feedback to peers, in a virtuous cycle.

One important finding by Carol Dweck is that it’s best not to praise students for ‘fixed’ personal qualities like attentiveness or intelligence, but rather to give ‘growth-mindset’ praise for desirable actions and outcomes. Both that concept and the importance of praise itself remain true when the context changes from school to workplace. Employee recognition and rewards focused on achievements contribute to more content, and therefore more productive, cooperative, proactive, and loyal employees.

That’s not to say that any old recognition will do. A teacher with their back turned on the class, throwing out random words, is instructive in its own way. It demonstrates how not to praise, by lacking the qualities we look for in effective, not counterproductive, positive feedback.

‘Well Done’

Great recognition, be it a single instance with one employee or an organisation-wide rewards programme, includes:

  1. Authenticity: if praise is delivered without genuine admiration and appreciation, this will be sensed, and do more harm than good.
  2. Consistency: some companies introduce a rewards programme with great fanfare, then let it fizzle or quietly drop it. Again, this can damage trust rather than making employees feel valued.
  3. Clarity: not only the recipient of the recognition, but also their peers, should understand why they’ve been singled out. This transparency will reduce the chances of resentment among the workforce, and encourage good models.
  4. Integrity: any form of recognition whatsoever should be in phase with the company’s values and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  5. Diversity: remember the top-of-the-class student who always got prizes for one specific form of achievement? Rewards work better if many forms of contributions are recognised, and thus, different people.

‘Very Well Done’

You might assume that anyone would be delighted to receive recognition, but for some, it might be uncomfortable and unwelcomed. There’s a greater understanding of personality types nowadays, particularly with respect to introversion and extroversion, and how public spaces like workplaces are often geared to extroverts. The open plan office, the Christmas party, the team-building exercise can all be challenging or an actual nightmare for the introverts.

Regardless of which of the many personality type systems you use for analysis, focusing on extraversion and introversion is a good starting point. Personalising praise so it’s well-received and enjoyed will depend on the particular situation; the scale and frequency of this praise or reward; the recognition system in place in your organisation; and time and other available resources. No matter the circumstances, however, the first consideration should be the recipient.

Taking personality into account may affect the form of praise or reward given, the way it’s delivered, or perhaps even both. Here are three common forms of praise and recognition that you should consider:

  • Banners, cakes, parties, making a speech—any of this may be experienced as scary, uncomfortable, or embarrassing by the more introverted people, but enjoyed by the more extroverted ones.
  • A one-to-one chat, to treat the employee as a valued expert or deliver words of praise, is more in the introvert’s wheelhouse. (If your recognition system includes peer review, be aware that introverted people may be less likely to praise extroverts, and adjust accordingly).
  • A gift, especially if it’s time off or reduction of workload, would of course be enjoyed by anyone. But the way it’s delivered should again take the recipient into account.


It can be challenging to approach tailored employee recognition, especially if you have a workforce of hundreds and hardly have the time to get to know them all well. There’s also a broad spectrum to consider, including some introverts presenting as social extroverts, some extroverts who prefer quiet work environments so they seem more introverted than they are, etc.

But fear not: RewardCo’s systems and services take these considerations into account in supporting you to praise your workforce. And if you’re ever in any doubt, just approach the employees and ask! After all, they’re the experts.

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