The end of the year is traditionally a time to thank employees for their hard work. Especially this year, as departments are squeezed tight and employees asked to do more with less.

In my ongoing research on employee recognition, I have identified five types of praise: personal, written, electronic, public, and indirect. Although these may seem related, I have learned that they are mutually exclusive; that is, they tend to be separate and unique actions, each with its own benefits:

  1. Personal praise is considered by employees to be the most important type of praise. It consists of being verbally thanked one-on-one for doing good work, being specifically sought out for such praise by one's manager, or being commended for good work in front of others. The best personal praise is timely, sincere, and specific.

  2. Written praise is the next most valued type of praise by employees. It too, comes in several varieties, from a letter of commendation being added to an employee's personnel file to a written thank-you note. In past years, I've taken the time to write an individual letter to each of my employees, specifically listing highlights of their performance that I was proud of over the past year.

  3. Electronic praise lets you leverage positive communication as it occurs in your daily work. In a recent online survey that I conducted, 28 percent of employees reported it is “extremely important” to them to have positive e-mail messages forwarded to them, and 65 percent said it's “extremely or very important” to be copied on positive e-mail messages.

  4. Public praise can come in many ways. You can post positive letters from customers on a “Good News Bulletin Board,” or even bring some key customers in-house to acknowledge employees. Or use the company newsletter to name top performers or to thank project teams. Many companies have a year-end awards banquet to recognize individuals and groups. Bring such ceremonies alive with stories about people's successes and the obstacles that they had to overcome to achieve their goals.

  5. Indirect praise uses any of the above communication when employees are not present, knowing that word will get back to them. For some employees, this form of recognition is the most credible because it is done without any return expectation.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is a frequent presenter at conferences and associations, president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego, and best-selling author of Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs to Be Done, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, and Managing For Dummies. For more information, visit, call (800) 575-5521, or contact Bob directly at