Praise matters. Most of us can remember a time when we got positive feedback at work, and it gives us a warm glow. When our actions are recognized and celebrated, it lets us know we’ve done a good job. The positive reinforcement and sense of accomplishment provided by praise also means it’s more likely that we’ll try again in the future, which makes a positive impact on performance management.
But sometimes, written praise gets left by the wayside in favor of verbal recognition. Both have their place — but nailing how to write great praise is a key skill that all managers and employees can, and should, develop.
Here’s why praise is so important, plus some expert tips on how to craft meaningful written praise that helps boost engagement and performance while also building a work culture where praise is given the recognition it deserves.
Why Praise and Recognition Are Crucial for Employee Engagement
As humans, we’re hard-wired to crave praise. A 2022 Gallup and Workhuman report on recognition in the workplace uncovered that when recognition efforts are done right, employees are:
- 4x as likely to feel engaged
- 5x as likely to feel connected to company culture
- 56% less likely to be looking for a new job
- 73% less likely to feel burned out “always” or “very often”
The report also found that creating a work environment where recognition is prioritized can save a large company with 10,000 employees up to $16.1 million in annual employee turnover costs.
"In the current job market, businesses are realizing the significance of praise and recognition in terms of fostering employee engagement,” said Ashley Samson, chief of staff at National Business Capital. “Praise is intrinsically tied to employee retention rates. Today's management teams are exerting exceptional efforts to retain and sustain employee satisfaction, given the escalating costs and time investments required to replace disengaged workers,” she added.
The impacts of praise and recognition on the employee experience are hard to ignore, and they’re also backed up by science.
The Science of Praise
It might be going a bit too far to suggest that praise is just as important to employees as compensation — after all, no one can pay their bills with nice words. But scientists have found a strong link between how both praise and money make us feel.
A study published in the academic journal Neuron showed that a specific part of the brain, the striatum, is activated when we receive a monetary reward, but it’s also activated when we receive a social reward like a compliment. Why? One reason might be that material rewards and social approval both fulfill our basic human needs to feel accepted and secure.
Praise: The Missing Link
Despite the clear link between recognition and engagement, many companies are still failing to provide meaningful praise for their employees. In fact, 81% of leaders say recognition doesn’t form a part of their major strategic priorities, according to the workplace recognition report from Gallup and Workhuman.
It may be no surprise, then, that on average only 22% of US employees feel recognized at work. This varies by industry, with only 18% of healthcare workers saying people are regularly recognized at their organization, compared to 34% of employees working in financial services.
Recognition can also help companies prove their core values aren’t just written on a piece of paper but are embodied in the everyday actions of their people. It’s a powerful way to reinforce your commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives, with authentic recognition shown to foster an increased sense of belonging for employees.
Karen Liebenguth, executive and leadership coach and founder of Green Space Coaching, noted that while employees and managers should learn how to validate themselves to develop a healthy sense of their capabilities, praise is still a vital element of our workplaces: “Because we are interconnected we need regular external validation from others so that we feel safe and trusting in our work and with our colleagues. It fosters motivation, open-heartedness, learning, and development.”
Praise is a key part of creating a company culture of recognition — where all employees feel seen, valued, and supported. But to be effective, this recognition needs to be provided at least a few times per month, according to the Gallup and Workhuman report. And their data also show there’s no such thing as too much praise, as long as it’s genuine.
Embedding Praise Into the Everyday
Managers and employees alike can look for opportunities to give praise, like when someone:
- Completes their onboarding as a new employee
- Goes the extra mile
- Delivers a big launch
- Gets promoted
- Goes out of their comfort zone
- Hits specific milestones, like a work anniversary
- Learns a new skill or tries something different
While some of that praise can be delivered verbally, written praise is also a crucial part of any employee recognition program.
One way to achieve this is using a recognition platform like Lattice Praise. This allows appreciation and praise to be delivered in several different ways, from within the platform to an individual email, or shout-outs on collective Slack channels. Taking the time to celebrate high performance and show appreciation in this way also creates a culture of continuous feedback, where employees aren’t waiting until their annual review to discover how they’re doing.
Written praise from managers is crucial — but public recognition from peers can also be a powerful motivator. Lattice Praise also allows for peer-to-peer recognition, which can help build stronger teams, reinforce company values, and increase motivation and retention.
Encourage the whole team, at every level, to keep a “smile file” of the written praise they’ve received. This is something they can refer back to before a performance review, or on one of those days (we’ve all had them) where they just need a little pick-me-up to boost morale.
Written praise is crucial for employee morale, performance, and engagement. But one reason companies may not be delivering here is that it can be difficult to know how to create this type of recognition. Here’s how to get it right.
How to Give Meaningful Praise and Recognition
When considering how to craft praise that really means something, it’s useful to lean on the following strategies: Keep it specific, and keep it concise.
Keep it specific.
To be effective, praise should encompass so much more than a generalized statement like “Great work on that project!” And that means taking the time to tailor your praise to each employee, so you can offer concrete examples.
“What exactly do you recognize in someone?” is a question that Liebenguth suggested asking yourself. “Is it some of their qualities such as being reliable or timely or thorough? Is it their attention to detail that you praise or their ability to think strategically, to see the bigger picture?”
Timeliness is also key. As a manager, getting into the habit of writing down the specific accomplishments of each team member shortly after they happen can help you write authentic, detailed praise later on. If left until just before a scheduled performance review, you may find yourself struggling to remember key details from the past year and risk falling back on that “Good work!” platitude.
Keep it concise.
"Effective praise should be concise and impactful: Make it short and sweet. To make sure it's authentic, be direct and succinct,” said Samson.
Concision doesn’t mean a lack of detail, but rather resisting the temptation to use unnecessary jargon or complex language. Use short sentences that say what you mean directly, without all the filler.
Bullet points are a great way to pull out important details, like how you noticed the positive attitude or work ethic of your team members. Bolding key phrases within a sentence also makes it much easier for people to see important information at a glance.
What Not to Include
Liebenguth noted that when giving written praise, it’s also important to avoid mixing up praise with constructive feedback, because then all an employee will tend to hear is the criticism. “It’s because of our inbuilt negativity bias, our tendency to focus on the negative, on what’s lacking,” she explained.
If you write “I really appreciate the clarity of your last presentation but you could have given more detail about x, y, and z,” on a performance review, then most employees will focus on what they could have done better, rather than on the kudos you’re trying to give them.
How to Write a Meaningful Recognition Message
Knowing where to start writing a meaningful employee appreciation message can be tricky. That’s why we’ve rounded up some expert advice to break the process down.
If, as a manager, you’re trying to translate your gratitude for someone’s hard work into tangible language they can use in their next performance review, Liebenguth suggested starting with what you appreciate about an employee: “Make it human and personal. It’s helpful to see the whole person and what they bring to their work and team which is so much more than their expertise or specific skills.”
Liebenguth’s sample script:
- What I appreciate about you is your self-care and awareness of others, your willingness to lend a helping hand, to step in for someone, or to do something that goes beyond your actual remit. I also like your ability to listen attentively and to think things through before you begin a task. I have also noticed your interest in learning new things and openness to embrace change.”
To make the praise more substantial, add details about specific tasks they’ve accomplished well. To get you started, Liebenguth offered these examples of meaningful praise.
Examples of Employee Recognition Done Right
When an employee nails a project, you can say:
- “I appreciate the effort you put into writing the report about x despite the tight deadline. You have covered all the information and research relevant to the topic and written it in clear and succinct language.”
When an employee demonstrates specific skills, try saying:
- “I rejoice in your patience and empathy when you teach a new skill to staff, and your willingness to explain things in different ways.”
- “You seem to have a good understanding of people’s different learning styles. I have the impression that staff members appreciate the clear and accessible way in which you teach.”
When an employee shows leadership, you might say:
- “I very much like the way you lead the team. You are an inspiring leader, a real role model. You don’t tell people what to do. Instead, you listen carefully and you are curious about others.”
- “You mainly ask questions to find out about what’s going on for your team members, what they enjoy doing, what they are interested in, what they think they are good at, what their thoughts are with regards to a project or decision. It lets your team members know that you trust them. And this in turn gives them freedom and autonomy to be the best they can be.”
- “You are often the one who comes up with new ideas about how we could do things differently, always including everyone in the team.”
When someone collaborates well, you could say:
- “I appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge with others on the team. You take time to explain what you’ve learned and what you know with others rather than keeping it all to yourself.”
- “I appreciate the way you collaborate with others. You are a genuine team player. You take time to understand your team members’ roles and to then make suggestions on how to best work together.”
- “You are supportive of others and you communicate honestly and clearly about how we collaborate (or not) in the team.”
Giving Praise the Recognition It Deserves
Ready to find out more about giving meaningful praise? Download our interactive Workbook: How to Request, Give, and Receive Feedback, and discover how to create a culture of recognition built around praise, that will help motivate engaged employees to do their best work.