Communicating recognition in the workplace

Recognizing the effort, skills, insight, determination, creativity or attitude of your colleagues, whether as a peer or as a leader, is an important part of creating and maintaining a highly productive team.


Written recognition—from a quick personal note to a formal letter cc’ing senior management—can be greatly appreciated and valued if it is done well.


In this article, we’ll look at three things to remember when writing words of appreciation:

      Choose an appropriate register

      Be realistic and genuine

      Individualize your message


Choose an appropriate register

Register is the level of formality in our words. Which register is most appropriate for your words of recognition will depend on the situation.


If you are a leader, you will sometimes want to be a little formal in your recognition, so it carries weight and importance. A formal register is less appropriate for peer recognition, where you will often want to be neutral—neither too formal or informal.


An informal register often carries more energy, so it can be a quick and effective way for leaders and peers to express appreciation and encouragement. 


Formal: Finance Specialist Diana Smith worked with high levels of care and attention during the FY 2023 budget planning and she was able to increase the efficiency of the process. She applied her technical skills to the best of her ability and communicated promptly and clearly with her colleagues.


Neutral: Hi Diana, I wanted to let you know I’m so grateful for your diligent and skilled work on the budgets. You found and corrected errors no one else spotted, and I learned a few tips from your approach. Thank you!


Informal: Hurrah for Diana! Her super Excel skills mean we’ve made it through the budget battle in record time and without losing too much sleep!


Be realistic and genuine

If your message of appreciation is over-the-top and unrealistic (e.g., “You are the best employee ABC Company has ever had!”), the receiver will wonder whether you really mean what you’ve said. This doubt can remove any of the positive feelings you hoped to create with your message.


Make sure you choose wording that reflects how you honestly feel and don’t turn automatically to superlative or extreme statements (e.g., “You are the most amazing analyst ever” or “The team could not even function without you”).


When you communicate realistically and genuinely, the receiver won’t feel any doubt that you really mean what you said.


Unrealistic: You are the most amazing analyst ever!


Genuine: Your analysis skills are really impressive. I especially like how you communicate the findings so clearly.


Unrealistic: The team could not even function without you.


Genuine: You’re an important member of our team and we all appreciate your commitment and guidance.


Individualize your message

If your colleagues notice you send the same words of recognition (e.g., “I appreciate your effort toward our shared goals”) regardless of the person or situation, your recognition will start to look mechanical and insincere.


You can avoid this “automated” feel by making sure your message is individualized to the recipient and their input or achievement. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your messages have to be longer—they just need enough information so the reader knows you didn’t copy and paste. 


Example individualized recognition statements


You managed the interpersonal issues within the project team really well. Your calm approach in dealing with the timeline disagreement helped both sides agree to a compromise that allowed the work to move forward.


Thank you for your diligent work this year. I’m especially appreciative of your work on the XYZ project annual reporting—I know you had to spend extra time with the contractor to get the details and data we needed.


The team is grateful for your input into the new communications strategy. Your perspective and insight on the messaging, content and channels helped us see there was too much overlap and potential duplication of efforts.