Employee recognition is the formal or informal acknowledgement of a person or team’s behavior that serves two key purposes:

  1. To show genuine appreciation for the contribution
  2. To communicate that the person or team’s effort is valued

We’re going to walk through why employee recognition is so important, read a practical scenario involving your unsung heroes, and learn why showing your appreciation is essential to any team leader’s success.


Importance of Team Building

Photo Courtesy Fort Campbell Courier

Why Employee Recognition is So Important

Appreciation is a basic human need and an essential ingredient for high-performing teams. When managers learn to deliver praise and recognition genuinely, they discover that achieving organizational goals becomes easier.

Everyone responds positively when his or her efforts are valued. The simple act of recognizing your employees increases their satisfaction, improves productivity, and inspires others to continue to do good work.

“… being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centers of the brain.

When you receive genuine praise, you feel like your contributions are valued. Think about it:

Individually, everyone wants:

  1. to be treated with dignity and respect
  2. the opportunity to learn and grow

Collectively, everyone wants:

  1. to feel like their contributions matter
  2. to be a part of something greater

Leading successful teams means developing each employee’s potential and recognizing their efforts.

Practical Scenario:

When I flew helicopters, we regularly trained for missions requiring us to fly beyond the range of our fuel, which meant we needed to meet up with a tactical refuel team to pump gas somewhere along our flight path during the operation.

During our weekly exercises, our fuel handlers were always the first in — they setup refuel points, attaching hoses to generators and blivets (heavy rubber bags of gas) – and the last ones out.

These men and women often worked in extreme conditions, from blistering heat to freezing cold, where they were expected to pump gas while standing under churning rotor blades that produced winds of 30 miles per hour or more.

Just like you and your unsung heroes, our refuel experts were critical to the success of every operation.

Employee Recognition

Photo Courtesy 514th AMW, USAF

A Case in Point:

Most people are aware that despite one helicopter crashing upon arrival during the raid and capture of Osama bin Laden in 2011, 24 Navy SEALs managed to conduct their mission successfully.

Separately, this operation required the helicopters to fly a distance that exceeded their range, necessitating a refuel aspect of the operation. Few people realize that there were 79 people involved in this operation, including a refuel team that made it all possible.


Every learning organization wants to assess its performance and look for ways to improve the next time around. We did that via the Army’s well-known After Action Review (AAR).

Unfortunately, in my scenario, it wasn’t always feasible to include our refuel team in the AARs we held immediately after each mission. As the Operations Officer, I oversaw the refuel team, and this meant taking time to touch base with the team leader after everyone returned.

Every organization has its refuel team, your unsung heroes. If leadership does not make a conscious effort to acknowledge each and every member’s contribution, you will transform an essential role into a thankless job, unwittingly making it the weak point of your operation.

Whether your goal is to satisfy the individual or collective needs mentioned above, everyone needs a shot of dopamine to increase satisfaction, improve productivity, and stay motivated.

Offering genuine praise and recognition is an inexpensive, yet extremely effective way to inspire every member of your team to continue to do more good work.