The science behind happier workplaces

Our study shows a strong relationship between the amount of recognition an employee receives and their happiness at work.

Recognition in workplace

“People work for money but go extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards” — Dale Carnegie, Leadership Training Guru

What’s Focal is Causal [1]

Recognition is the acknowledgment of exemplary behaviors, effort or performance that supports the organization’s goals towards better business results [2]. It reinforces an employee’s effort in favor of that behavior because our brains are wired that way.

When directing our attention, whatever we have in our focus is given greater importance and this focus helps us connect the dots. Imagine how much faster skill adoption would be if we could be made to focus on skills that are most important. And for bonus points, recognition programs boost employee satisfaction because faster skill adoption is associated with personal growth[3].

Putting it all together, you get a nice, virtuous circle; give recognition and employees feel happier. They will then focus more on what they’ve been recognized for because it made them feel happier before. That same focus results in productivity improvements [4] and improvements in skill because the recognition encourages more effort and deliberation on the part of the employee. Pretty great eh?

Our data studies also bear this out, strong employee recognition programs produce happy employees when compared to those whose employers offer less recognition.

Relationship between employees recognition and happiness

“Employees who are recognized more often are happier than those who are rarely recognized or not recognized at all”

We collected recognition and happiness data from 4,445 employees through Happily recognition and daily pulse surveys.

Our findings showed that employers who provide more recognition have significantly happier employees. Figure 1 maps the relationship between recognition and happiness rates. A regression analysis produces an r-squared value of 0.87 and a Pearson correlation of 0.96, giving us the confidence to conclude that increasing employee recognition makes employees are happier at work.

Figure 1. Happiness rate at each recognition rate

Expanding a little further, we found that in the group of 4,445 employees, there were 3,001 happy employees. We grouped the happy employees into four recognition groups:

  1. G0 (Never): Recognition rate equal to 0
  2. G1 (Rarely): Recognition rate > 0 but < 0.5
  3. G2 (Often): Recognition rate > 0.5 but < 0.9
  4. G3 (Always): Recognition rate > 0.9 but < 1

* where recognition rate is the frequency in which they received recognition on a weekly basis.

Figure 2 and Figure 3 show the number of happy employees in their respective recognition groups. While the number and proportion of happy employees varied, the trend is clear: the majority of happy employees belong to the always recognized group (G3). This means that as recognition levels increased so do the proportion and number of happy employees.

Figure 2. Number of happy employees by recognition group
Figure 3. Happy employees breakdown by recognition group

Recognition in the workplace affects the happiness of employees. And happy employees stay with their employers longer. They are more productive, more confident, and much more likely to be motivated to improve themselves to achieve their goals, which include your organization’s goals.

So what if you want to take action today?

Here are 3 ways to encourage recognition in your workplace

  1. Hold activities or host mini-events to recognize employees
    Most of us love recognition from our peers and our managers. While not every employee loves the public attention, for most, an opportunity to be praised in front of those co-workers who matter will do wonders for them.
  2. Have recognition or reward programs
    Formalized recognition programs can be just the thing to focus your organization on behaviors that make the biggest difference to your goals, your stakeholders, and your customers. So put some thought into rewards, even if they aren’t grand they’ll make a difference.
  3. Maintain appreciation culture in the organization
    Encourage your team to actively appreciate each other by giving them opportunities to recognize one another. Praise from the boss is important, but praise from the team is often judged to a higher standard, and therefore praise from them is much more meaningful.

Recognition is crucial for your organization

Recognition brings happiness, maximizes productivity, improves employee retention, encourages a growth mindset, and perhaps most importantly boosts morale [5] — which we certainly need now more than ever!

Are you ready to make recognition a central feature in your workplace?



[1] Robert B Cialdini, “Pre-Suasion 2016”, Chapter 4, P. 51


[3] Berkowski et. all [1992], “Ellis’ Handbook of Mental Deficiency, Psychological Theory and Research”, P. 360