Employee Engagement and Recognition Terminology

By Bob Nelson

Here are a few key terms related to employees and the workplace that you’ll encounter in any discussion of employee engagement and recognition. If you are uncertain of their definitions, read on:

  • Engagement: The simplest definition is tapping into employee discretionary efforts, that is, an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond in doing his or her job. A definition that’s a bit broader is offered by Wikipedia: “Employee engagement is a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.

  • Recognition: Recognition is a positive consequence provided to a person for a behavior or result. Recognition can take the form of acknowledgment, approval, or the expression of gratitude. It means appreciating someone for something he or she has done for you, your group, or your organization. You can give recognition as someone strives to achieve a certain goal or behavior or upon completion of that goal or behavior. Using recognition, organizations can build engagement and drive success for the company, including all stakeholders. Recognition comes in all shapes and sizes, but the major categories of recognition include the following:

    • Interpersonal recognition: A personal or written thank you from one’s manager or peers.

    • Social recognition: Acknowledgement, public praise, or thanks provided on social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

    • Tangible recognition: A certificate, plaque, trophy, paperweight, coffee mug, or other memento.

    • Intangible recognition: The granting of more involvement in decision-making, autonomy, flexibility, or choice of working assignment.

  • Reward: Something with monetary value (but not necessarily money) that is provided for desired behavior or performance, often with accompanying recognition. A reward can be an item or an experience. Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter defines a reward as “something special — a special gain for special achievements, a treat for doing something above-and-beyond.”

  • Incentive: Recognition or a reward that is promised in advance for an anticipated achievement that meets certain criteria. Incentives create anticipation and excitement and thus can result in stronger, clearer motivation.

  • Motivation: The internal human energy available to inspire a person to act.

  • Motivator: Anything that increases motivational energy.

  • Demotivator: Anything that reduces motivational energy and/or triggers negative behaviors.