An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources
Jean-Pierre Brun* and Ninon Dugas
´des sciences de l’administration, Universite
´Universitaire, Quebec City, Canada
Employee recognition is as much an organizational management issue as it is one
related to the basic needs of individuals. Although it is gaining wider and wider
currency in sociology and organizational psychology circles, this complex notion is
still fairly vague in the management world. What exactly is employee recognition?
What are its limitations and conceptual nuances? What does the act of recognition
entail? These are the central questions addressed by this article. The article starts by
examining the growing need for recognition expressed by today’s workers. It then goes
on to provide an overview of the social and organizational context surrounding the
issue. Finally, it presents the various approaches and methods used to promote
employee recognition, as well as the sources of this recognition within an organization.
Four conceptual approaches to recognition are analyzed: the ethical perspective; the
humanistic and existential view; the work psychodynamics school; and the behavioural
outlook. An analysis of these different theoretical perspectives reveals that recognition
takes four main forms: personal recognition; recognition of results; recognition of work
practice; and recognition of job dedication. The ﬁeld of recognition, meanwhile, is
characterized by the presence of ﬁve types of interactions: organizational; vertical;
horizontal; external and social.
Keywords: conceptual paper; employee recognition; human resources practices;
meaning of work
To date, employee recognition has not been systematically conceptualized nor has it been
subject to a satisfactory theoretical integration, which is reﬂected in the vagueness of the
written corpus on the issue. Given employees’ urgent need for workplace recognition and
the growing organizational challenges in the areas of human resource management,
workplace quality of life and worker engagement, all of which share recognition as a
contributing factor, it is critical that we achieve a better grasp of this concept. Moreover,
when seen as a work organization and HR management tool, recognition represents a
viable alternative to control- and subordination-oriented approaches.
The concept as deﬁned here is based on a survey of the scientiﬁc literature dealing with
employee recognition and related topics. The proposed contextual and theoretical
overview therefore seeks to better establish and clarify the concept of employee
recognition and, in so doing, lay the groundwork for thoughtful discussion and targeted,
meaningful action in the workplace.
ISSN 0958-5192 print/ISSN 1466-4399 online
q2008 Taylor & Francis
*Corresponding author. Email: Jean-Pierre.Brun@mng.ulavca
The International Journal of Human Resource Management,
Vol. 19, No. 4, April 2008, 716–730
The importance of employee recognition
To respond to the limits of re-engineering work processes and to the requirements of
organizational productivity and efﬁciency, numerous researchers have examined the impact
of motivation to work on performance (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959; McGregor
1960; Vroom 1964; Porter and Lawler 1968). These studies quickly highlighted employee
recognition as an essential component of motivation. Moreover, Porter and Lawler (1968)
put forward an intrinsic and extrinsic motivation model speciﬁc to the world of work. These
authors stipulate that organizational performance is determined by gaining intrinsic and
extrinsic rewards. Several studies are in line with this theory, which can be referred to as
motivation as a predictor of organizational performance (Deci and Ryan 2000). However,
the goals of research on motivation are no longer limited solely to the achievement of work
performance but have evolved to respond to new management concerns related to employee
commitment (Meyer and Herscovitch 2001), turnover (Richer, Blanchard and Vallerand
2002), mental health in the workplace (Locke 1997) and recognition (Browne 2000; Franco,
Bennett, Kanfer and Stubblebine 2004; Saunderson 2004).
Some authors highlight the essential nature of employee recognition as a vector of
motivation (Dutton 1998; Appelbaum and Kamal 2000; Saunderson 2004; Grawitch
Gottschalk and David 2006), identity (Dejours 1993) and component of meaningful work
(Mow 1987; Morin 1996, 2001). Indeed, it acts as a personal development agent as well as
a binder and dynamic factor in industrial relations. It also proves to be pivotal to workplace
mental health. In fact, Brun and Biron et al. (2003) reveals that a lack of recognition
constitutes the second-largest risk factor for psychological distress in the workplace.
Among managers, for instance, it would appear to constitute a stress-tolerance factor and a
key element in their ability to handle difﬁcult professional situations (Dany and Livian
2002). One of the most important sources of organizational mobilization and engagement
(Wills, Labelle, Gue
´rin and Tremblay 1998; Tremblay, Gay and Simard 2000),
recognition plays a key role in the success and continuity of organizational change
(Atkinson 1994; Fabi, Martin and Valois 1999; Evans 2001). Moreover, it promotes
on-the-job learning (Lippit 1997) and is a building block of learning organizations
(Griego, Geroy and Wright 2000). Finally, by contributing to employee job satisfaction, it
has a positive impact on organizational productivity and performance (Applebaum and
Kamal 2000). Admittedly, most employees express a need to be recognized by their
supervisors, co-workers and clients, regardless of their job status or type (Brun 1999,
2000). In the same vein, respondents to a UK survey of construction industry professionals
(Bennet, Davidson and Gale 1999) ranked ‘recognition of their efforts’ as the most
important organizational practice or metric among those listed. However, both the
qualitative and quantitative data suggest a discrepancy between this need for recognition
and HR management practices developed in the workplace. Indeed, these practices are still
very much oriented toward the control and domination model of organizational and
personal conduct (Linhart and Linhart 1998). This growing need for recognition among
workers is partly due to speciﬁc social and organizational contexts.
The social context
Modernity is characterized by the hegemony of economic considerations and their pre-
eminence over social ones (Chanlat 1998; Meda 1995). It is accompanied by the
ascendancy of individualism, the breakdown of social networks and the weakening of
community spirit (The
´riault 2000). Moreover, in the opinion of Giddens (1991), the
modern context, by purging daily life of many of its human dimensions and placing
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 717
the individual before a set of dilemmas to resolve, throws up roadblocks to the process of
individualization. This prevailing environment of demands and the more ambiguous
nature of individual and group references, ampliﬁed by the loss of traditions, forces people
to identify anchor points and personal meanings to guide their lives. Work is liable to
represent one of these seats of existential meaning (Morin 1996). It also fulﬁls a wide
range of individual needs and aspirations. Despite the fact that it ranks second in priority,
after family, as a life value and sphere (Bourcier and Palobart 1997), it is still very
important to people. It appears to have taken over from former loci of social afﬁliation and
become the focal point for the social bond (Carpentier-Roy 1995, 2000). For many people
as well, work has taken on excessive importance in their quest for identity and their need
for personal fulﬁlment (Brun 1999). Consequently, their recognition expectations tend to
be much higher in this area of their lives.
That said, the profound changes transforming the world of work are challenging the
very premise of the value of individuals and their achievements within the company. Thus,
the organizational context brings into play some key factors that need to be considered.
The organizational context
The phenomena of globalization, international competition and technological change have
an impact on the organization, pace and nature of work, the deﬁnition of professions, as
well as the boundaries between previously distinct spheres of life (Gagnon 1996; Lebaube
1997). Companies themselves are also undergoing major changes. Whether in the form of
acquisitions, restructuring, process re-engineering, cultural transformation or leadership
succession (Fabi et al. 1999), these changes are now part of the organizational landscape.
The effects of these transformations, which are often carried out to develop a competitive
advantage or enhance corporate proﬁtability, are not always positive. Take, for example,
the feeling of uncertainty among many workers, resulting from the unpredictable nature
of the transformations and the threat of job cuts (survivor syndrome). A weakened sense of
belonging to the organization, a reduced regard for managerial authority, and the
questioning of the trust relationship between employer and employee following
the violation of the contract that used to bind them, are other negative consequences of the
new economic and organizational order (Rondeau 1999).
Moreover, the modern work environment forces managers and employees to respond to
unfamiliar and often contradictory demands, which can make it a real challenge to achieve
consistency and balance (Forest 2001). The multiple adjustments they have to make, along
with the extra effort they put in to perform increasingly complex and burdensome tasks
(Collerette, Schneider and Legris 2001), compound their need for true recognition.
Faced with the human costs of these transformations and the challenges posed by
current economic conditions, many organizations are working to reforge their ties with
employees and stepping up their efforts to devise new HR management models (Rondeau
1999). The declared strategic objective consists of adapting HR practices so that they help
facilitate workplace change and contribute to retaining – and engaging – staff. The goal is
also to develop employee skills and improve quality of life at work (Human Resources
Development Canada and Statistics Canada 2001). In this regard, management practices
that promote greater worker involvement in the decision-making process, ﬂexible pay,
teamwork, and training incentives, are seen as promising courses of action. Indeed, in
some organizations, initiatives like these tend to gradually substitute for more classic
control-, domination- and subordination-based approaches to management. They already
J.-P. Brun and N. Dugas718
incorporate the concept of employee recognition because the aim is to acknowledge
people’s contribution to the organization, as well as their training and development needs.
But what exactly is employee recognition? As both a focal and convergence point for
multifaceted dimensions, it is a polymorphous, polysemous concept that draws on multiple
approaches. Clearly, accounting for its complexity will be no small task.
Approaches to employee recognition
Our analysis of the scientiﬁc literature led us to identify four non-exclusive approaches to
employee recognition: (1) the ethical perspective; (2) the humanistic and existential view;
(3) the work psychodynamics school; and (4) the behavioural outlook. These in turn are
expressed through four employee recognition practices (see Figure 1): (a) personal
recognition; (b) recognition of work practices; (c) recognition of job dedication; and (d)
recognition of results. These four recognition practices fulﬁl a variety of staff needs: on
one hand, to be recognized as full-ﬂedged individuals, and on the other, to be appreciated
as workers capable of being committed to their jobs, to invest time and energy in them, to
perform their duties competently and to deliver concrete results.
The ethical perspective
HR- and organizational-management ethics are particularly fashionable at the moment.
‘This branch of ethics affects each part, each function and each process in
the organizational world, and the ﬁeld of industrial relations is no exception.’ (Lapointe
2003, p. 1.)
That is why it comes as no surprise that the ethical perspective provides considerable
grist for thinking about employee recognition. The ethical discourse promotes the idea that
recognition is a question of human dignity and social justice, and not just an organizational
performance or workplace mental health issue (Brun 2000). The concept of human dignity
is founded on the belief that the person is an end in itself and, as such, should not be
considered as a mere means or instrumental entity for the company (De Konink 1999).
Human dignity and respect for the irreducible, inalienable nature of the person go hand in
hand. In this perspective, the worker cannot be designated merely as a number, case or ﬁle.
The notion of equality among people, to which one is entitled simply by being human,
is also associated with employee recognition. The latter becomes a duty of the modern
company, especially in the demanding environment to which it subjects its workers
(Bourcier and Palobart 1997). All in all, it constitutes a shared collective responsibility
that falls to each member of the organization (Brun 2000). Recognition is therefore linked
to the notion of concern for others, to the attention paid to outcomes and to the impact of
actions taken (Brun 1999).
Finally, given the crisis of meaning or ‘crisis of belief’ (Lefebre 2000) facing the
modern world, some people favour a management ethic able to fulﬁl workers’ need to have
meaning, to ﬁt in and to feel rooted (Pauchant 2000). Moreover, ethical factors are inherent
to meaningful work (Morin 2001).
Figure 1. The four employee-recognition practices.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 719
On an ethical level, recognition displays afﬁnities with the concept of organizational
justice. In its distributive, procedural and interactional forms (Aquino, Lewis and
Bradﬁeld 1999), organizational justice can be infused into an organization through certain
practices, such as the following:
.Have senior management clarify organizational standards regarding the distribution
of rewards, and treat workers fairly in accordance with these standards and the
effective contribution of groups and individuals.
.Have company executives go to bat for their employees when they feel threatened or
are affected by difﬁcult decisions.
.Give thought to the human and ethical components of managers’ decisions within
.Acknowledge past mistakes and the negative impact of poor decisions on
In a broader sense, when recognition is viewed in an ethical light, it involves actions aimed
at righting wrongs employees have suffered through speciﬁc managerial decisions. It also
reﬂects openness to individual and organizational values. The following are a few practical
examples obtained from one of our studies on recognition practices (Brun and Dugas
.Provide dismissed employees with professional services to ease the transition
period, and help them ﬁnd a new position or change careers.
.Establish an organizational culture that respects personal values and promotes their
tie-in with organizational ones.
.Assign projects to employees that do not go against their core beliefs and the aspects
they value about their work.
The humanistic and existential view
The humanistic and existential view, which is closely related to the ethical approach, is
concerned with recognizing people, their being, their unique, distinctive character and
their existence. The belief underlying this perspective is a fundamental trust in humanity
and the potential of people and communities. Here the notion of justice is not central.
The theory states that if you provide people with the proper working conditions – ﬁnancial
and material, of course, but chieﬂy in the area of relationships, communications, power and
independence – it will be easier for them to approach their work positively and align
themselves with organizational objectives. They will also work more creatively toward
achieving these objectives (Martin, Lenhardt and Jarrosson 1996). According to this
perspective, it is important to take the time to ‘get to know the people we work with, fully
acknowledge their existence and ultimately give meaning to their actions’ through
recognition (Bourcier and Palobart 1997, p. 21).
In the humanistic and existential view, recognition approaches employees or trade
groups as bearers of intelligence, emotions, and expertise (Jacob 2001).
Speciﬁcally, it consists of an a priori recognition; that is, recognition immediately
granted to everyone based on the principle of equality among people by virtue of their
common humanity. It is often expressed in everyday interpersonal relations and gestures.
In Bourcier and Palobart (1997)’s ‘indifference – compensation’ continuum, it appears to
represent an advanced form of consideration. In our view, it should serve as the foundation
of all other recognition practices.
J.-P. Brun and N. Dugas720
Through existential recognition, individuals are granted the right to voice their
opinions about and inﬂuence decision-making, as well as the course of their own and
the organization’s actions. In short, they are authorized to be a witness to and producer
of the corporate enterprise. For employees, the indicator of existential recognition is the
impression that others acknowledge their existence and take their needs into account. They
also have a sense of being respected as a whole person, having unique physical, emotional,
psychological and cognitive characteristics.
Although this type of recognition can be expressed through formal practices, it is more
often than not informal and non-monetary. Following are examples of existential
recognition practices (Brun and Dugas 2002):
.Regularly informing staff of organizational goals and strategies.
.Consulting and involving them in the various design and steering phases of projects.
.Authorizing personalized arrangements and ﬂexible work schedules.
.Giving employees decision-making latitude in their jobs.
.Promoting their development by giving them access to training and upgrading
.Getting managers to be more visible and accessible.
.Encouraging employees to support each other at work.
The work psychodynamics school
Work psychodynamics are concerned with people’s subjective experience in the
workplace, as well as the individual and group defence strategies they employ to maintain
their psychological balance in disconcerting working conditions. The economy of
suffering and pleasure in work also falls within its ambit.
According to the work psychodynamics theory, recognition is a reward expected by
the subject that is largely symbolic in nature. It involves two central components: it is
recognition in the sense of acknowledgement, or rather, ‘recognition of the reality of the
subject’s contribution to the organization’ (Dejours 1993, p. 225). The reference here is to
actual work, rather than the work prescribed by the organization. This type of judgment
tends to be frequently resisted by the management chain because it points to deﬁciencies
in work organization. Recognition exists as well in the sense of gratitude, to highlight a
worker’s contribution to the performance of work. This second form of recognition is
generally even less forthcoming in the workplace.
Recognition also stems from a judgment made about the work accomplished and its
results; it is expressed in two ways. The ﬁrst type of judgment, called the ‘beneﬁt
judgment’, is primarily issued by supervisory personnel, clients or subordinates, and
addresses the social, economic and technical beneﬁts of the employee’s work.
The recognition of results, which we touched on a bit earlier, is the most direct
manifestation of this. The ‘beauty judgment’, meanwhile, is mainly pronounced by peers,
who are in a better position than anyone else to judge the quality of work performed and
the effort put in by the person. In passing judgment, this group recognizes that the person
performed his/her work according to accepted practices. This sense of being appreciated
by one’s peers makes employees feel that they belong to a community. By being
acknowledged for their particular way of doing things, their style (Clot 1999), and the
characteristics that make them stand out from others (originality, elegance, ingenuity,
thoroughness), they begin to feel recognized for the unique contribution they bring to
their professional life.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 721
Recognition of work performance deals with the manner in which employees carry
out their duties, rather than the people themselves or the results they produce. It also deals
with their behaviours, skills and professional qualiﬁcations.
Recognition of work performance focuses on employees’ work process, most notably
the creativity, innovation and continuous improvement they bring to their work methods.
In the context of the work process, the main indicators for this type of recognition manifest
themselves when individuals (or teams) feel recognized for their expertise, skills,
ingenuity and professional qualiﬁcations in the way they perform their duties and solve
problems. Subjects usually come away with a heightened sense of esteem and personal
competency. Following are examples of actions for expressing the recognition of work
performance (Brun and Dugas 2002):
.Encourage peer feedback on an employee’s professional qualiﬁcations.
.Have managers recognize the expertise of each team member and give each
employee assignments at par with his/her qualiﬁcations.
.Consider the work process in team assessments and employee performance
.Give out professional practices awards; set up programmes to reward innovation.
.Obtain personalized thank-you letters from clients for the quality of service
provided by employees.
It should be added that recognition of work performance focuses more on what employees
do than who they are as people. The latter aspect is addressed by a second form of
`-vis the work process: recognition of job dedication, by which employees
are recognized for how hard they work, how well they apply themselves to their duties, and
the consistency of their contribution.
Recognition of job dedication acknowledges the level of participation, commitment and
contribution shown by an employee or team in the work process, as regards effort. Employees
may sometimes fall short of expected results, despite their best efforts and know-how.
It would be proper, nonetheless, to recognize the quality and intensity of the energy brought
to the task, which are far too often the least visible aspects of the actual work. Recognition of
job dedication is also an opportunity to highlight the contribution of less-productive
employees and behind-the-scenes workers, such as those in technical or administrative
support. Through their daily commitment, these workers contribute to the organization’s
effective ongoing operations. Finally, it is about recognizing the risks that employees take to
fulﬁl their duties and the energy they bring under sometimes less-than-ideal conditions.
These different ways of recognizing job dedication all give employees the sense that
their efforts are being noticed and appreciated, irrespective of the results of their work. This
approaches the concept of ‘pure recognition’, as deﬁned by Bourcier and Palobart (1997).
In our opinion, this recognition should be expressed in a way that is proportional to the
effort the employee puts in or is capable of delivering, since recognition constitutes an act
of truth and there is no room for ﬂattery. Conversely, a workplace where major physical
and psychological efforts are inadequately compensated can have an adverse effect on
employees, according to an extensive study of German workers (De Jonge, Bosma,
Siegrist, Peter et al. 2000).
Following are some good examples of this form of recognition:
.Manager thanking an employee for his/her involvement in a project (valuing
.Manager recognizing the valueof an employee’s ideas, even if they cannot beput to use.
J.-P. Brun and N. Dugas722
.Leading a round of applause in a meeting to highlight the time and effort invested in a
.Supervisor sending a message to thank an employee for his/her courage and
perseverance in difﬁcult working conditions.
If recognition of work performance and job dedication plays a critical role in work
psychodynamics, they are by no means the sole contributing factors. In other words, an
organization does not necessarily have to avail itself of this approach to recognize the
work performance and job dedication of its employees.
The behavioural outlook
The behavioural outlook embodies a viewpoint that differs greatly from the concept just
described. Under this fourth approach, human behaviour is controlled by its consequences
within an effort-reward model (Siegrist et al. 1990). Recognition thus becomes a method
for positively reinforcing observable on-the-job actions and behaviours considered
desirable by the company (Nelson 2001). In this way, the recognition of results takes on
increased importance in behaviourist management practices. However, positive
reinforcement is rarely advocated as the sole method for recognizing employees’ work.
Spontaneous, interpersonal expressions of recognition are considered just as important, if
not the foundation for all practices aimed at reinforcing worker behaviour.
The behavioural approach is closely linked with recognition of results, although this
type of recognition is not exclusive to it.
The recognition of results deals primarily with the end product of employees’ work
and their contribution to achieving corporate objectives. It is therefore a form of
recognition that is expressed predominantly a posteriori, that is conditional in nature, and
that has a direct tie-in with the organization’s mission and objectives.
As an expression of judgment, appreciation and gratitude toward an individual or
team, recognition of results is concerned primarily with the effectiveness, beneﬁt and
value of the work performed. It also involves an evaluation of employees’ performance
and productivity, as well as their successes and failures. Workers therefore feel they are
being recognized for their contribution to delivering results, which has the effect of
increasing their sense of usefulness, effort-reward balance (Siegrist 1996), effectiveness,
and value to the organization. On the other hand, some studies also show that recognition
of results, for example through salary (annual increases, bonuses, incentive bonuses, etc.)
has little effect on employee performance in the medium and long terms (Bishop 1987).
Recognition of results is often expressed in a formal manner:
.Performance evaluation meetings.
.Ceremonies to highlight special achievements.
.Incentive bonuses when speciﬁc objectives have been achieved.
.Bonuses awarded for outstanding contributions.
But they can also occur more informally:
.Peers spontaneously congratulating an employee who has tackled a major work
.Manager saluting a job well done at a team meeting.
As it becomes increasingly common in the workplace, recognition of results is likely to
have perverse effects, such as jealousy, sense of unfairness, more competitiveness among
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 723
employees and loss of credibility. For example, a survey of recognition practices at a
parapublic organization revealed that the annual bonuses given to managers created
jealousy among those who did not receive them and a sense of unfairness among
employees who felt they were every much as deserving of a bonus as their supervisor.
In addition, an exclusively results-oriented focus is liable to obscure the reality of the work
process, disregarding the effort, emotional investment, risk taking and problem solving
that goes on daily. This form of recognition must therefore be applied shrewdly and
complemented with other signs of recognition (Appelbaum and Kamal 2000).
In any event, over and above the approaches and practices by which it is expressed,
employee recognition is a phenomenon that exists on various levels, as a function of the
sources of recognition and workplace dynamics.
The scope of employee recognition
The act of recognition needs to be considered from an interactional perspective that
encompasses the notion of reciprocity and thus takes into account the bidirectional nature
of all human relationships. Such a perspective highlights the fact that the expression of
recognition presumes the establishment of a bipolar relationship between two or more
individuals in the workplace and that, consequently, it can be expressed by either of the
parties. Recognition may be mutual, one-way or non-existent between the parties, but it
nonetheless represents a form of message that each person sends to the other. Whether
understated or openly visible at the heart of industrial relations, recognition (or lack
thereof) is expressed through various types of interaction.
Recognition-related interaction types
Our analysis reveals the presence of ﬁve types of recognition-related interaction,
represented by the relationships formed on the organizational, vertical, horizontal,
external and social levels.
On the organizational level, the concern for employee recognition is expressed
through policies and programmes stating the organization’s intention to recognize the
work performed by its members. We are not referring here to concrete gestures made by
managers or employees but rather to the structural elements of recognition (value, policy,
mission, goal, etc.). If managers are mandated to develop recognition-related expertise and
soft skills, organizations have a duty to enforce their declared guidelines so that words
translate into action (Bourcier and Palobart 1997).
Vertical and hierarchical interactions are characterized by the recognition relationship
that forms between the manager and the employee or team. This recognition can be
expressed from the top down or the bottom up, but there is often an imbalance in this
exchange. In some workplaces, managers give little recognition to their employees’
contributions while, conversely, employees may show signs of recognition toward their
manager and may exhibit mutual recognition amongst themselves (Jacob 2001).
According to one poll (Crop 1999), 30% of all employees in the Canadian federal public
service said they ‘somewhat disagreed’ or ‘totally disagreed’ with the statement that
‘[their] immediate supervisor recognizes their work appropriately’. However, a large-scale
US study (Buckingham and Coffman 2001) revealed that the most compelling determiner
of an employee’s performance was the quality of the relationship with his/her immediate
supervisor. Managers’ reluctance to afford recognition to their employees may stem from
a fear of losing control, apprehensions about others’ creative power, resistance to more
J.-P. Brun and N. Dugas724
egalitarian relationships and a detachment from employees’ actual work (Hivon 1996)
often caused by new management constraints. Other explanations have also been put
forward: signs of recognition show weakness and can be perceived as ﬂattery; they
produce unintended effects; they must be handled with care; and they have to be expressed
´doin, in Bourcier and Palobart 1996, p. 66). Finally, some authors (Brun and
Dugas 2002) point to the fact that managers’ failure to apply recognition practices is often
due to a lack of time, skill and knowledge in this area.
The horizontal component, meanwhile, refers to the recognition that develops
between peers and team members. This form of recognition is all the more important
since, as was noted earlier, co-workers are the ones who are best placed to make a
‘beauty judgment’ about the quality of work performed and who foster the employee’s
sense of team spirit. Colleague recognition appears more trustworthy in their eyes,
because it is free of managerial inﬂuence (Nelson 2001). Although horizontal recognition
is more commonly practised than the vertical variety, it is still inﬂuenced by the current
workplace situation. The advent of new work organization and corporate management
techniques, coupled with job insecurity, can have the effect of intensifying competition
among co-workers and, consequently, undermining the impetus for mutual solidarity and
recognition (Dejours 2000). Moreover, Brun et al. (2003) show that organizations’
performance context, the increase in manager/employee ratios, and the burgeoning of
activities parallel to production or service provision are a few of the reasons why the
relational conditions conducive to manager– employee or employee – employee
recognition have gradually dwindled in modern organizations. Regarding recognition
among co-workers, a 1999 Crop survey revealed that 31% of all employees in the
Canadian federal public service congratulated other employees on their work only
occasionally, rarely or never.
The external component is related to service delivery and involves not just clients
and suppliers, but consultants and partners as well. This type of recognition is
important, because when organizations suffer a serious decline in their work environments,
employees may come to perceive it as the last remaining source of meaning and motivation
for their jobs. The ‘relational’ or ‘client’ approach adopted by many organizations can
create a context that encourages the expression of this form of recognition.
Lastly, the social component is concerned with the relationship that the organization
and its employees have with the community, as well as the one that society at large has
with the various trades and professions. This recognition may be expressed, for instance, in
the community’s esteem for an organization and its social value, or in social groups
recognizing the role and contribution of speciﬁc professions (nurses, ﬁreﬁghters, etc.) to
the wider society. Social recognition is also expressed in employees’ volunteering spirit,
stemming from their own recognition of their community’s needs. It may also be
perceived by the latter as their way of giving back to the community.
The wider the range of interaction types translated into meaningful recognition
practices in the workplace, the greater employee satisfaction will be and, by extension,
better corporate performance. Thus, in our view, by providing outlets for recognition on
the vertical, horizontal and external levels, organizations will make a considerable ﬁrst
step toward achieving a culture of recognition.
Given the depth and complexity of the concept, we have included a summary table
(see Figure 2) to illustrate how the various interaction types work in conjunction with
employee recognition practices. The examples provided are not mutually exclusive, and
are sometimes applicable to more than one recognition practice. Thus, the goal of this table
is primarily to compare and contrast the different employee recognition practices.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 725
Figure 2. Interaction levels and recognition practices.
J.-P. Brun and N. Dugas726
Practical implications of the proposed model
Employee recognition is being increasingly acknowledged as a management practice
having a wide-ranging impact on people and organizations (Bishop 1987). Even though its
criticality has been clearly identiﬁed, many organizations are still looking for ways to
approach the concept in a strategic, orderly manner. The model we propose allows
organizations to more clearly pinpoint the various possible expressions of recognition
(existential, work practice, job dedication and results), and to systematically take stock of
what recognition practices exist or are lacking in the workplace. For example, as part of the
knowledge transfer activities conducted pursuant to this research project, we coached
several organizations that had mapped out the recognition practices employed by their
managers and workers. This mapping provides an overview of how recognition is
implemented within the organization, showing what has been done and suggesting
practices introduced in some work units but not in others. It also helps to identify
what practices have been used less frequently and to guide the organization in rolling out
its recognition efforts.
In fact, the model proposed in this article shows to what extent employee recognition
can draw on various practices. We wanted to name these practices to provide managers
and employees with concepts, terms and language that they can apply to their management
practices and daily work routines.
This article highlights the fact that the current social and organizational context has made
employee recognition a priority issue for organizations and the wider community alike.
The majority of studies support the idea that the need for recognition is felt by a substantial
portion of the workforce, regardless of the status or profession of workers (Saunderson
2004). Employee recognition is key to preserving and building the identity of individuals,
giving their work meaning, promoting their development and contributing to their health
and well-being (Grawitch et al. 2006). It also represents a constructive alternative to
control- and monitoring-oriented management styles (Dandeker 1990). Finally, it fosters
the growth, transformation and performance of organizations.
In light of its importance and the paucity of theoretical and practical material on the
subject, acquiring a clearer understanding of the concept of recognition was imperative.
We would therefore like to conclude this reﬂection by proposing the following deﬁnition
for employee recognition:
Recognition is ﬁrst and foremost a constructive response; it is also a judgment made about a
person’s contribution, reﬂecting not just work performance but also personal dedication and
engagement. Lastly, recognition is engaged in on a regular or ad hoc basis, and expressed
formally or informally, individually or collectively, privately or publicly, and monetarily or
To better elaborate on our deﬁnition of employee recognition, we have broken it down into
1. It constitutes a constructive, authentic response, preferably one that is personalized,
speciﬁc, consistent, and short-term; and that is expressed through human relationships,
against the backdrop of various types of work- and company-related interaction.
2. It is based on recognition of the person as a digniﬁed, equal, free, and unique being who
has needs, and also as an individual who is a bearer and generator of meaning and
experience (ethical and existential nature of recognition).
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 727
3. It represents an act of judgment on workers’ professional endeavours (recognition of
work performance) as well as their personal commitment and collective engagement
(recognition of job dedication). It also consists of an evaluation and celebration of
results produced by employees and valued by the organization (recognition of results).
4. It is furthermore a regular daily or ad hoc exercise expressed through a set of practices
that are formal or informal, individual or collective, private or public, and monetary or
non-monetary in nature.
5. Finally, for its beneﬁciary, recognition represents a reward experienced primarily at the
symbolic level, but may also take on emotional, practical or ﬁnancial value.
Some of the points covered in this article already suggest future avenues of research, for
example, the impact that recognition or lack thereof has on workers and organizations, as
well as the obstacles to providing it, deserves further study. It would appear that, to be well
founded, recognition practices must be incorporated into employees’ and managers’ daily
work habits, into routine HR management practices, and into the current organization
model. Consequently, there is a need to explore in greater depth the main conditions and
dynamics to implementing relevant, wellness-promoting employee recognition strategies.
Furthermore, if, according to the ethical perspective, recognition must be given to all
employees, must it take the same form for everyone? How do you develop recognition
practices that are sufﬁciently universal but also meaningful for each individual? These are
just a few of the questions that will need to be addressed in future research.
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