The Role of Employee Listening in Recognition

Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to matter. But no one wants a ribbon for just showing up! It’s insulting and diminishes one’s real accomplishments.

Leaders often mis-understand recognition. At Spark, we’ve seen leaders be overly effusive over small matters or thank too often for an everyday task. Employees want to use their talents, be challenged, and be recognized for making a difference and for contributing in some meaningful way.

Being thanked, appreciated, or recognized for something they themselves don’t value or feel is unworthy of the attention, will backfire and become a blocker to engagement rather than creating fulfillment.

So, how do leaders know what to recognize?


The catch is, listening to what? The environment can be noisy and how can leaders discern what matters most to employees?

With over 20 years of research, Spark knows what drives meaningful recognition. But first, here is what it isn’t:

  • It isn’t celebrating employee birthdays. Sure, it’s nice to have a birthday acknowledged by colleagues with whom you have a relationship, but this doesn’t help work or career fulfillment.
  • It isn’t a Friday night Happy Hour for a generic thank you, unless it was an exceptional week with a clear deliverable to be celebrated.
  • It isn’t volunteering together on a community project, although working together for the social good does uplift people and helps them get to know each other better.


To create passion at work, we do know employees need a to feel their work and career are highly MEANINGFUL and they also need to feel a high sense of PROGRESS against what matters most.

We also know that one of the best ways to provide a sense of PROGRESS is through CELEBRATION. But celebrating what? We have already said it’s not about birthdays, happy hours or volunteer projects.

The secret to recognition at work is LISTENING to what employees care about the most and that’s WORK ACCOMPLISHMENTS. After 20 years of research, we have consistently validated that employees need the following:

  1. Clear, prioritized GOALS that matter and to make use of their skills, knowledge and natural interests.
  2. Meaningful FEEDBACK on their performance against those goals so they can improve their chances of success.
  3. And, they need to REGULARLY CELEBRATE these work accomplishments.


Employee LISTENING is about connecting aspirations with opportunity and tracking progress against what matters most. Recognition is all about celebrating WORK accomplishments that make a difference to people and the organization. We all want to be seen and appreciated for our valued contributions, not for showing up.


What Is the Spark’d Lens™?

The Spark’d Lens is a ground-breaking discovery based on data and science – validated tens of thousands of times. Like a camera lens, it provides focus, using two important filters – Meaning and Progress; the key ingredients in creating passion at work.

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