Almost half of employees think the praise they receive at work is an empty gesture, study shows

Survey points out the need for personal and sincere recognition as a third said it was received in an ‘uncomfortable’ way

Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Almost half (47 per cent) of UK employees say the praise they receive at work is meaningless and feels like an empty gesture, a study has found.

The OC Tanner 2023 Global Culture report, which polled 4,653 UK employees, leaders, HR practitioners, and business executives, revealed that two thirds (61 per cent) of employees said leaders acknowledged the great work they do. However, a third (31 per cent) said that recognition was received in an “uncomfortable” way.

OC Tanner suggested that genuine recognition – which should be given in a personal and sincere way – might come in the form of a deliberate thank you, spontaneous praise or a formal award for a member of staff or a team. 

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Charles Cotton, senior reward adviser at the CIPD said employees who do not receive recognition can view it as a “kick in the teeth”, especially during the cost of living crisis, and urged employers to review their recognition strategy.

“All employers should be reviewing how their people are currently being thanked by management, colleagues and customers to see that recognition supports the needs of both the business and staff,” he said.

The report revealed that when employees don’t feel connected to their workplace communities, their sense of belonging drops by 88 per cent and their desire to stay with the company for another year falls by 82 per cent. 

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Emma Parry, professor of human resource management at Cranfield School of Management highlighted that line managers must build a relationship with their team and develop a culture based on “trust, transparency and genuine rapport” to avoid employees viewing praise as disingenuous.

“Alongside this, recognition efforts need to be timely, related to a specific behaviour and delivered in a way that fits with the employee’s personal preferences,” added Parry.

The report also outlined that increasing pay or providing bonuses “does not convey appreciation like true recognition does,” as a reduction in giving and receiving recognition increased the odds of burnout by 45 per cent.

But, Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said in the current economic crisis, employees may actually prioritise monetary rewards over non-financial incentives.

“For some a thank you is enough, while others seek a more meaningful gesture,” said Dale, who added that organisations may need to “step up” their recognition game to counter a “difficult few years”.

Similarly, Wai Bin Lai, UK country director for Sympa, stated that the cost of living could cause friction regarding recognition. “Employees may believe that their pay is not keeping up with their needs if the cost of living is rising more quickly than salaries, which could result in low morale, reduced motivation and increased turnover rates,” he said.

But just over half (53 per cent) of employees denied that recognition was an integrated part of their culture.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, said even though line managers may be doing a good job of expressing their appreciation, this isn’t translating into meaningful recognition.

“Employees that feel recognised and appreciated at work are one of the key elements to building a thriving workforce with a shared purpose,” said Aston, adding that “investing in meaningful recognition schemes that make employees feel truly valued” can have a huge impact on employee wellbeing, motivation and retention of talent.