Employees are telling us they need real recognition if we want them to stick around

By: Bill Zolis

I have to admit that it wasn’t very long ago that I first heard the term “emotional salary.” But when I started looking into it, I quickly discovered that it is a very useful term, shorthand for a lot of the concepts we have been talking about in terms of building the well workplace. 

Emotional salary is simply all the good things we want from our jobs – in addition to salary. 

It refers to the non-financial benefits that employees want and need from their working lives. These are often pretty intangible: psychological needs, recognition, status, professional growth, a sense of making progress at work and in life, feeling valued and respected, a sense of belonging, and a positive workplace culture. 

Emotional salary encompasses many aspects of the work experience that contribute to an employee’s overall well-being and job satisfaction. It’s about liking your job. And perhaps even a little bit about liking your life. 

A central part of all of these things can be summed up in the word “recognition.” And we’re talking about sincere, on-going recognition of job performance and the person’s status and value in the organization. 

A lot of what I’ve read about emotional salary deals with its role in one of the biggest concerns that employers are facing today – recruitment and retention of staff. 

A survey by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that more than half – 57 percent – of employees said that feeling recognized in their current jobs would make them less likely to respond if they were approached by a recruiter for another organization. 

The survey, which polled 4,200 employees and 1,600 HR professionals, also found some interesting things about the type of recognition that employees value the most. 

– 64 percent said that they preferred to receive meaningful recognition as opposed to frequent recognition. 

– They preferred specific recognition for something they achieved, as opposed to general recognition. 

– They preferred to be recognized for something they themselves valued and thought was important. 

– And they preferred the recognition to include mention of how their contribution was valued by the organization as a whole, and personally by the person providing the recognition. 


But we can’t provide recognition in a vacuum. There is a much larger context. Recognition is a reward for superior performance, and the first thing we have to do is to make sure we have the conditions that enable and encourage superior performance. 

So let’s back up a few steps here. What is it about a job that makes us feel happy, and fulfilled, and motivated to excel? 

We want to feel that we are doing a good job. 

We want to feel that the job we are doing is useful and important. 

We want to feel that we are making a real contribution to getting the job done. 

We want to feel that our coworkers rely on us to do our part. 

We want to feel that we have the resources and support to do the job. 

We want to feel that management trusts us to do our job. 

Now, at this point, I should point out that if the people in your workplace are able to feel that way all or most of the time, you are going to have a pretty happy and productive organization. 

People are going to knock themselves out to hold up their end of the bargain. They’re going to be creative, and collaborative, and solution driven.  

Effective recognition is a part of all of this at every stage. And it has to be an on-going reality that reflects the organization’s respect for each person in the workplace, and the contributions they make.  

The kind of recognition we’re talking about is all about defining roles and relationships and status within the organization. Real recognition is not just an occasional event, it’s a day-to-day reality. 

Recognition starts at the start. When a project kicks off or a task is assigned, the main message should be, “Here’s what I want you to do. I know you can do it and I trust you to make it happen.” 

Along the way, recognition consists of touching base, expressing interest and coordinating progress. It’s more than just asking, How’s it going? It’s also asking, What problems are you encountering? What do you need? How can I help? 

Recognition and trust include allowing people to take some risks and allowing them to fail – and supporting them as they pick up the pieces and try again. 

Recognition also means marking the milestones. Reporting to the group about the overall progress that is being made by the team, singling out the work being done by individuals, explaining the value of their contributions, expressing faith in the group, speaking positively about the next steps. 

And recognition consists of never missing an opportunity to celebrate success. When it’s one person who has achieved a goal, scored a win or accomplished a difficult task, it needs to be shared with the team – it needs to be recognized and seen to be recognized. 

When the team has a success, well, it’s time for pizza at the staff meeting and an opportunity to talk about what this success means to the organization, how the team made it happen, and the individual contributions. 

And let’s not forget the day-to-day. A lot of jobs are all about, well, doing the job every day. Consistently and to a high standard. They may not include opportunities for breakthroughs and home runs, but they do require a level of dedication that needs to be recognized from time to time. 

Of course, good work and success don’t just need to be recognized. They also need to be rewarded. Yes, there could be financial incentives down the line and opportunities for promotion, especially in larger organizations or smaller ones that are growing.  

But, in the meantime, the emotional salary that is part of the equation means that good work and success result in more of the things that we all want from our jobs. 

Recognition, yes. Opportunities for growth in the job. Career development. The chance to take on other projects. More responsibility. Acknowledgement that you are growing in your career. And the knowledge that you are trusted, valued and relied upon. 

For organizations looking to enhance their employee recognition strategies, the key lies in personalization, authenticity, and a comprehensive approach that integrates various aspects of the employee experience.  

Personally, I think we can sum it all up in four words: Respect, trust, reliance — and thanks. 

I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmorebenefits.com. 


Mapping Canada’s Employment Standards Acts: While looking up the Employment Standards Acts (ESA) across provinces, we found this detailed document that provides each’s information and ESA links for every province. From Mainstay Insurance Brokers. 


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