Formal or informal recognition: what approach should you adopt?

October 23, 2017

In Employee Engagement


Recognition programs – if well-designed and well-applied – can greatly enhance your employees’ returns and retention. But it is in the design and application of these programs that all the difficulty lies. Before you deploy your efforts, the type of approach to be adopted should be chosen. Two main approaches stand out and come together: formal recognition and informal recognition.

Let’s analyze each one of them to better define them, so we can see their advantages and disadvantages and understand under what circumstances they can be put into practice.

Informal Recognition

Informal recognition is within the discretion of your organization’s employees. As the name implies, it is not structured. Spontaneous and unplanned, it is used to emphasize behavior or achievement worthy of mention.

  • An employee who writes a research document that you think is strong and effective
  • A colleague who helps you to assemble a presentation
  • Or even another one who helps you to run the printer when it’s stuck before a big meeting

What you need to know is that all positive behaviors deserve to be emphasized. You probably wouldn’t open a bottle of champagne for any small issue… But it can be very beneficial for the corporate culture to give importance to the small gestures of everyday life. Informal recognition helps to show your employees that they are appreciated and that you value what they do.

Regardless of your work environment, informal recognition gestures are essential to creating a culture of happiness at work. However, if your work environment is rather formal or if you manage very large teams, this type of approach has limits because it can be more difficult to recognize the work of all in a fair way on a regular basis. This is where formal recognition comes in.

Formal Recognition

Formal recognition takes root in an organized program, governed by specific rules and with clear objectives. The employees who participate in it know exactly what behaviors they must adopt and what actions they must do to earn a reward.

Behaviors are, for the most part, measurable and rewards are attributed in an objective manner. Objectives are normally passed from managers to employees. They aim to motivate the latter to participate actively in the success of the company. For example,

  • Think of call center employees who need to reduce the average duration of their conversations
  • Or car sellers who have to reach a sales quota every month
  • Or even the business development officers who have to enter into a number of contracts each year

In order to implement a formal recognition program, it is important to respect these five fundamental concepts:

  1. Determine which behaviors deserve recognition
  2. Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and temporally defined)
  3. Encourage participation with promotion
  4. Manage and analyze the program
  5. Share successes within your teams

A program at the image of your corporate culture

If your business is rather formal and corporate, you have a vested interest in relying on a recognition program aligned with this approach. Conversely, if your business is more relaxed, your efforts will be more useful in setting up an informal program.

But in all cases, the combination of the two approaches based on to the circumstances is what is most likely to produce interesting results. The important thing is to create more opportunities so that your employees can surpass themselves and feel valued while respecting your corporate culture.


Enjoyed our advice?  Contact our Client Solution team to learn more about the tools and recognition programs that can help you inspire recognition in your organization.

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