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Sometimes the right words are hard to find. It’s why there’s an entire industry devoted to professionally written, mass-produced cards to say everything from “thank you,” to “happy birthday,” to “I’m sorry”.
Finding the right employee recognition words presents its own unique set of challenges. It’s not just what to say, The question is often how to say it. How do you make sure your message is authentic and motivating, without sounding like a platitude or just plain over the top?
So if you struggle to sincerely convey employee appreciation, you’re definitely not alone. But just because employee recognition vocabulary is challenging, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the extra effort to find the right words. Mountains of data suggest employee recognition is vital to the modern workplace. In fact, research from the O.C. Tanner Institute, Gallup, and Aon Hewitt suggests that employees think recognition is the most important thing a manager can do to inspire great work.
So are you ready to start giving employees the recognition they crave? Our language primer will help you know what to say when you need to say it.
Pro Tip: Make a list of people you manage or closely work with. Put everyone into a rotational reminder on your calendar so you can be sure you’re providing equal recognition to everyone and not playing favorites and making others feel left behind. This system simply helps you monitor your recognition activities so you don’t risk inadvertently forgetting some people while prioritizing others.
Vocabulary List: The Best Recognition and Appreciation Words
- Preesh (slang for appreciate)
In-Person Recognition Scripts That Aren’t Cheesy
Don’t let being a little tongue-tied get in the way of giving your colleagues the recognition they deserve. Save these scripts and you’ll always have just the right words to say, which pays off in the end. Employee recognition has benefits beyond simply making employees feel good. Recognition can also boost productivity, engagement, and, of course, overall happiness.
The all-purpose script
Keep this line in your pocket for any occasion that presents the perfect opportunity for some heartfelt recognition of your employees or even your peers.
“I’m so glad you’re on my team; you do so much for this company—seriously, I think we would be absolutely lost without you.”
The specific activity script
Whenever someone on your team goes above and beyond and really does something you find impressive, it’s the perfect time to make sure they know exactly how impressed you are. “Great job” doesn’t really cut it when you’re looking for high-impact recognition. Try this instead.
“I was blown away by your [insert accomplishment]. I would have never even thought of doing something like that. What you did will really help us [insert goal of project, etc.]. Thank you.”
The key here? Point to something specific, and connect it to a business result. It shows that you’ve truly understood the impact your team member has made.
The specific skill/characteristic script
You don’t have to wait for an employee to drive a specific, impressive result to provide some good employee recognition. Calling out a trait or skill can be just as effective. Just take a few moments to think of what skills you love the most in your employees. Have you ever told them how much you appreciate their unique abilities l? It’s time!
Here are some example scripts:
“I love how you’re always on top of everything. I never have to check in with you, and that makes my life so much easier. You rock.”
“I know I don’t say this enough, but I’m constantly dazzled by your creativity. So many people would kill to have your imagination.”
“Your constant positivity is contagious! Thank you for brightening up our department.”
“It’s wonderful to know I can trust you with anything. Just knowing you have my back makes me feel less stressed out.”
The swag and recognition script
If you’re handing out employee recognition gifts, don’t neglect the delivery. Here’s what to say:
“[Employee name], you know I’m terrible with words, and I probably don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate having you on my team. Here’s a little token of the appreciation I feel towards you every day.”
The anytime/works-every-time script
These go-to phrases will serve you well in nearly any situation that calls for a quick, verbal equivalent of a high five.
“You’re my hero!”
“You made my day.”
“You did it again!”
“We’re so lucky to have you here!”
“I knew you would rock this assignment.”
“You really make it fun to work here.”
“I really like working with you.”
The asking for help script
Asking for help is a subtle, yet impactful, way to provide employee recognition. Asking for help doesn’t just show that you’re impressed with your employee’s skills or action. Asking for help is the equivalent of crowning an employee as an expert, an expert so adroit in a particular skill that even you, the boss, seek their assistance.
“You write the best emails. They’re so friendly, clear, and concise. I have to draft some communications to leaders at other companies. Would you mind taking a look at my drafts and giving your recommendations?”
“I need some ideas for a director brainstorm. You always have the best ideas. Would you mind if I ran some of my ideas by you?”
“Can you show me how you format your reports? I can’t figure it out, but I love whatever it is that you do.”
“You’re a great public speaker. Would you mind listening to my presentation for an upcoming summit and giving me some pointers?”
You can adapt and use these templates for any written employee recognition you plan on providing, whether it comes in the form of an email, a formal letter, or a card. Why put employee recognition in writing? Well, in staffing firm OfficeTeam’s recent survey, workers cited an “A handwritten thank-you card from the chief operating officer” as the best form of appreciation they had ever received.
The project completion template
If your employee or coworker has been working on a project, say a complex report, for months, then you owe that person something a bit more powerful than a simple emailed “thank you” – or worst of all, silence.
Dear [employee/coworker name],
Thank you so much for your incredible work on [project].
I especially loved how you [insert specific details of the project here to provide concrete recognition].
This [project] would not exist without your vision and hard work. I hope you’re proud when this launches. I know I am.
Who doesn’t love a good compliment? Make sure employees know about the compliments they’re getting by recording them in writing. (Cards and emails with compliments make the best cubicle decorations!)
Dear [employee/coworker name],
Thank you again for your work on [project]. When I passed your work along to [boss/higher up], she said it was “one of the most thorough and informative reports she’d ever received.” She mentioned how it’s really going to help her prepare for her upcoming new business pitch.
Way to go!
When an employee does something that directly contributes to a positive outcome that to benefits the company, then—you guessed it—it’s time to provide some deserved recognition.
Dear [employee/coworker name],
I know you worked really hard on [project]. Well, your work really paid off. [Explain how their work contributed to a positive outcome for the company. For example: Your attention to detail in positioning our unique strengths really elevated leadership’s pitch and helped us land a new client. The pitching team wants you to come to their celebratory pizza party!]
I hope you don’t mind repeating your amazing work in the future!
The irreplaceable template
No one likes to feel replaceable or underappreciated, and according to OfficeTeam’s recent survey, about 66% of workers would likely leave their jobs if they feel unappreciated.
Make sure your employees and coworkers feel appreciated and absolutely irreplaceable by putting it in writing.
Dear [employee/coworker name],
Your [recent work] proved something I’ve long suspected—that you are truly better at [applicable] skill than anyone I’ve ever worked with.
I just wanted you to know how talented you are, and I’m thankful you choose to use your talents at [company].
Keep up the amazing work!
The add-on template
You’ll probably end up using this go-to template at least once a day. After all, how many times a day do you email your team? A fill-in-the-blank phrase related to the subject of your email lets you sprinkle your day with appreciation without sending any special stand-alone emails.
Write your usual email, and at the end of it, say:
Thank you for your work on [project]. I know we’ve all been super busy, but I see how hard you’re working, and I’m incredibly grateful for the [specific skill] you’re bringing to this project. We’re in the home stretch now; lunch on me when we meet our deadline.
The “delivering news with appreciation” template
You probably have to write tons of emails letting employees know about current happenings, accomplishments, and other news. This template works for both significant accomplishments and random news, such as the new water cooler.
Guess what, everyone? We beat our 2011 Q3 sales record! (Like we’ve been trying to do since 2011.) You all—yes, even those of you who don’t work in sales—did not just contribute to this success, but you made it happen. I’m so inspired by each and every one of you. Thanks for being awesome at what you do!
Guess what, everyone? We’re getting a new refrigerator. That’s right—top-of-the-line, french doors, print-free stainless steel, and so much more. Why? Because you all deserve the best refrigerator money can buy.
But all joking aside, you all do amazing work, and you constantly blow me away with your talent. It’s the least I can do to get you a shiny new refrigerator. Thanks for being awesome at what you do!
Extra Credit: Creative Ways to Say Thank You
Mix up your vocabulary with these words and phrases that say “thank you” without actually saying “thank you.”
- I appreciate you.
- I couldn’t have done ________ without you.
- You really helped accomplish ________ .
- Your effort/action means a lot to me.
- I love the commitment you demonstrated.
- I still have no idea how you managed to do ________ . But I’m so glad you did!
- I was so impressed with ________ . Would you be willing to help me ________ sometime?
- I really loved what you did with ________ . I just wanted you to know how much you impress me.
- I’ve never met anyone with your ability to ________ .
Non-verbal appreciation ideas
- Social media shout outs
- Gamify with YouEarnedIt
- Give swag people actually want
Required Reading: Best books on managerial communication
If you want to keep on boosting your ability to provide meaningful employee recognition at just the right time, then take a look at some of these top-rated books on managerial communications.
This is a compilation of the Harvard Business Review’s best articles on communicating. The book aims to help you inspire others, build support, and foster other key managerial skills.
The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White
Inspired by the format of publishing phenomenon The 5 Love Languages, this book tackles the languages of appreciation to help leaders boost team morale.
by Gary Chapman and Paul White
The authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace strike again with a book designed to help leaders build a culture of appreciation from the ground up.
Based on the third most popular TED video of all time, this handy book will help any manager build the tools they need to communicate with inspiration and efficacy.
What’s something a boss or co-worker once did or said that made you feel appreciated and special? Share the love by letting us know in the comments below.