Most business leaders know the power of recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done. Surprisingly, however, relatively few take the time to actually do it. According to one survey, 45 percent of U.S. workers reported they had not been recognized at work in six months or more, while another 16 percent reported they had never been recognized at work.

Deloitte just released the results of its survey of more than 16,000 professionals working in more than 4,000 organizations in 101 countries. The survey was conducted to determine exactly how people want to be recognized, for what, and by whom.

Key takeaways include:

  • While we likely all agree that recognizing others for their work is a positive thing, people differ in how they want to be recognized, for what, and by whom.
  • Three-quarters of people are satisfied with a simple "thank you" for their everyday efforts. However, 36 percent of women would prefer you make the extra effort and put that in writing. 
  • Even when the accomplishment is significant, cash isn't king. Across organizational levels, generations, and genders, the most valued type of recognition is a new growth opportunity. 
  • Big wins aren't the only thing people want to be recognized for. 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.

  • It matters who's recognizing who, and whether the preference is for recognition from one's direct supervisor, from leadership, or from colleagues depends on who is being recognized.

  • Most people prefer recognition that is either shared with a few people or delivered privately, rather than widely shared.

  • 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. 

Says Suzanne Vickberg, senior manager and applied insights lead for the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience,

There is tremendous value in understanding the perspectives of those you work with, and this includes their preferences for how they want to be recognized. This understanding can help create more successful working relationships, while fostering a workplace that validates its people and their unique contributions.

Remember: recognizing and rewarding employees for their good work is one of the best and most effective things any leader can do to move the needle on employee engagement and performance. And it doesn't need to cost a lot of money. A simple "thank you" is usually all it takes.