Posted: 17 Jun. 2019 5 min. read

Why people think you don’t appreciate them, even when you do

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.“ – Gladys Bronwyn Stern

When did you last ask someone how they like to be recognized? Maybe you don’t think you need to ask, because you already know what people want. They want money. Or they want to be acknowledged by leaders. Or, when they hit it out of the park, they want everyone to know about it.

Do they really?

We surveyed more than 16,000 professionals about how they want to be recognized, and for what, and by whom. We found that what one person wants is often different from what someone else wants. And further, that those differences are related to one’s generation, gender, organizational level, and Business Chemistry type. Read the full report for all the findings: The practical magic of ‘thank you’: How your people want to be recognized, and for what, and by whom. Read on here for a summary.

Business Chemistry® is Deloitte’s framework for understanding and engaging different working styles, which was highlighted in HBR in March-April 2017. There are four primary Business Chemistry types, each with unique perspectives and strengths. Pioneers value possibilities and they spark energy and imagination. Guardians value stability and they bring order and rigor. Drivers value challenge and they generate momentum. Integrators value connection and they draw teams together.

Understanding individual worker preferences can be critical to creating an employee experience that is personalized, flexible, and customizable. And using Business Chemistry to frame these preferences helps us identify practical strategies for creating stronger working relationships and inclusive environments where all types excel and thrive.

So, what do people want?

Red, white, and blue pom poms

A simple ‘thank you’

For the day-to-day, the best recognition may be the easiest—say "thank you"! The majority of people in our study indicated they prefer a "thank you," verbal or written, over a celebration or gift. Research suggests people often underestimate the impact of showing their gratitude to others; if you might be doing so, this represents a great opportunity that doesn’t need to cost a thing! Start making it a regular practice to thank people for their contributions.

Money doesn’t make the world go ‘round

Even when the accomplishment is significant, cash isn’t king. Across organizational levels, generations, genders, and Business Chemistry types, new growth opportunities are the most valued kind of recognition, with salary increases, bonuses, and high-performance ratings falling quite a bit lower on the priority list. And yet, growth opportunities are valued more by some than others. It might make the most sense to show your appreciation by identifying a possible growth opportunity and then asking the person you’re recognizing whether the time is right for them.

Winning isn’t everything

Big wins aren’t the only thing people want to be recognized for. Sometimes projects fail, despite a team’s heroic efforts. Not everyone’s role is closely tied to identifiable successes. Some peoples’ contributions are impactful but less visible. Many of the people in our study shared that beyond the big win it’s also important to recognize the effort they put in, their knowledge and expertise, and their commitment to living the organization’s core values. Who might be making a quieter impact that you’re not noticing?

Child crossing the finish line in their go-kart

Not everyone’s esteem is equally esteemed

It matters who’s recognizing who. Some people most value recognition from their direct supervisor, others, from leadership, and still others, from colleagues. Business Chemistry types and generations show particularly meaningful differences here. When you want to acknowledge someone’s contributions, consider who you might invite to deliver or join in on a message of thanks.

Notecard or billboard?

Your appreciation of someone need not be shared with the whole world to make it count. Indeed, we found that most people prefer recognition that’s either shared with just a few people or delivered privately. This is true even for the groups that are typically more extroverted or social media savvy. So be thoughtful about when, where, and how you deliver your thanks.

Wrapping it up

Recognizing people’s unique contributions, and doing so in the ways they prefer, is one approach to demonstrating they belong and to helping them find meaning in their work. We see the results of this study as a window into some of the different perspectives people have on recognition. We encourage you to keep in mind that many of the people you work with are different from you, and what will make them feel most appreciated isn’t necessarily the same as what makes you feel appreciated. We hope you’ll ask more questions about how people want to be recognized, and for what, and by whom.

Access the full report: The practical magic of ‘thank you’: How your people want to be recognized, and for what, and by whom.



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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.