Meaningful Recognition

In workplaces, failure to acknowledge the contributions of another is to ignore the basic human need of knowing one’s work has meaning and that one contributes to a cause greater than oneself. 

Sherwood et al., 2018

Meaningful recognition perception has an inverse relationship to burnout and has been linked to job embeddedness increasing one’s perceived connection with peers and the organization (1, 2). How recognition is communicated plays a vital role in the perception of its significance. Organizations are encouraged to take a personal approach in determining what delivery method is meaningful to the “end user (1).” Once known, the recognition should be specific to an act or accomplishment, timely, delivered by someone professionally important to the individual, and aligned with the individual’s values. Delayed accolades or non-specific recognition efforts can be disingenuous (3, 4, 5). Steps to take to engage in meaningful recognition of frontline staff can include the following:

  • Embed recognition efforts into workflows and formal processes that are known and encouraged throughout the organization (3).
    • Examples of processes are patient/client feedback forms, peer or manager nominations, recognition moments related to specific criteria, i.e., outcomes or performance targets, etc. (4).
  • Equip managers with tools for delivering personalized recognition.
    • Recognition kits allow quick access to note cards and other essentials (4).
  • Be specific when communicating gratitude (3).  
  • Promote reflection, extend appreciation, and express confidence in the employee’s ability to perform well (5).
  • Ask employees how they would like to be recognized (3).
  • Clearly communicate how all organization members should be involved from bedside to boardroom (3).


  1. Kim, L. Y., Rose, D. E., Ganz, D. A., Giannitrapani, K. F., Yano, E. M., Rubenstein, L. V., & Stockdale, S. E. (2020). Elements of the healthy work environment associated with lower primary care nurse burnout. Nursing Outlook, 68(1), 14–25.
  2. Cindy Lefton. (2012). Strengthening the workforce through meaningful recognition. Nursing Economics, 30(6), 331–338, 355.
  3. AACN Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments: A Journey to Excellence (2nd ed.). (2016). American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
  4. Zwickel, K., Koppel, J., Katz, M., Virkstis, K., Rothenberger, S., & Boston-Fleischhauer, C. (2016). Providing Professionally Meaningful Recognition to Enhance Frontline Engagement. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 46(7/8), 355–356.
  5. Sherwood, G., Koshy Cherian, U., Horton-Deutsch, S., Kitzmiller, R., & Smith-Miller, C. (2018). Reflective practices: meaningful recognition for healthy work environments. Nursing Management, 24(10), 30–34.