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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Why should we recognize others?

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

certificate of achievement

In today’s throw-away world, I venture that some of the items we treasure most are notes of appreciation or praise, certificates for a job well done, awards for “_____ of the year,” and other expressions of honor or recognition.

The wall in my office and the top of my office bookshelf showcase many I’ve collected over the years. I have a file with thank-you notes from former students. Consider what treasures of recognition you have saved over the years. We keep them because they are meaningful to us.

Why is recognition so meaningful?

As human beings, we crave the approval of others. It begins as young children who shout “Watch me, watch me” or beam when we display their artwork on the refrigerator. As adults, we may not ask for it or even seek it, but when it is given we greatly appreciate it.

I was recently honored with an award from the Indiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as their “Outstanding Dietitian of the Year,” I wasn’t aware I had even been nominated, so when I was invited to attend to receive the award it was quite a surprise.

A year ago I was honored by the Nutrition Science Department at Purdue University with induction into their Hall of Fame. I shared a post about it titled “Who are your heroes?” These recognitions caused me to reflect on the value of recognition.

Why should we recognize others?

When workers receive acknowledgement or positive feedback for a job well-done it leads to greater employee satisfaction and improved performance. When volunteers or contributors receive gratitude for a contribution or service rendered it leads to greater generosity and continued engagement.

Last weekend I was part of hosting a Donor Appreciation event at the Delphi Opera House where I serve as a volunteer. We unveiled our new donor wall recognizing everyone who has given $1000 or more to the restoration of our beautiful facility.

Tens of thousands of dollars in gifts came in just prior to and during the event, which added names to the wall and moved donors into higher giving levels. Guests at the event shared the excitement of celebrating what has been achieved through the collective generosity of those recognized. I invite you to learn more about this centerpiece of our community here:

According to the Maritz Institute white paper “The Human Science of Giving Recognition,” organizations that create a “recognition culture” experience improved trust, engagement, and sense of purpose. The paper cites research findings that receiving honor and recognition can be as rewarding, or even more rewarding, than being given monetary rewards. (1)

How should appreciation be communicated?

Verbal thanks, given promptly and sincerely is essential. But is that enough? Is it still considered good manners to follow-up with a written note of appreciation? The written thank you note is quickly becoming a relic of the past.

However, research indicates expressing thanks in writing has tangible benefits. In fact, the simple act of writing a thank you note has been shown to have a positive psychological effect on both the sender and the receiver. (2) Although a quick text or email may serve as adequate written acknowledgment, a handwritten note of thanks may be even more appreciated.

Job seekers take note – 80% of human resources managers and recruiters say sending a thank you after an interview helps them make a positive hiring decision. Since only 24% of job seekers take the time to write a thank you, it is a practice that can make you stand out from the crowd in a positive way. (3)

Think of all of the ways you can show appreciation and gratitude, or recognition and honor. Consider all of the people you can bless in this way. Don’t assume the receiver doesn’t want to receive thanks or praise. It is universally welcomed and in short supply. Express thanks in person, make a call, send a text or email, write a note, mail a card, throw a party, order flowers or balloons… be creative.

Recognition is powerful. And remembered.

I love giving awards even more than receiving them. A highlight of teaching NUTR 424, the Nutrition Communication course at Purdue, was creating the “424 Awards” and handing them out during a party on the last day of class every semester.

The award categories ranged from silly to serious and awardees were nominated by their classmates. I printed the certificates with each student’s name in a fancy font along with the name of their award and signed each one by hand. This message was on each one:

Take the wisdom of 424 with you…

Be forever learning…”fail” forward...

Be passionate about what you do…

Focus on your “audience,” not yourself… and…

Make a lasting difference!! Only you can be you!!

I was privileged this week to reconnect with former students during the Purdue Nutrition Science Department’s annual May Conference. Hannah Bercot, RDN, a student in NUTR 424 in fall 2015, received the “Rachel Ray” award that semester for her memorable food demonstration (see photo insert).

Hannah was excited to share with me her most recent accomplishment as Community Outreach Dietitian for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have created the 3,000 square-foot Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen.

In Hannah’s words, “The learning kitchen is a space for our community to build skills that will make being healthy easy. We will learn about the lifesaving properties of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, followed by skill-building labs and tasting.”

As Hannah described her enthusiasm for this project, I shared one of my primary joys in teaching was recognizing students’ passions and gifts and encouraging them to seek opportunities to grow in these areas. To learn later that they have done just that is a thrill.

This is not an isolated incident. I am often told by former students that they still have their 424 award. As stated at the beginning, we treasure recognition. Who can you recognize?

“Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.” ~ Mary Kay Ash

  1. The Maritz Institute. The Human Science of Giving Recognition. 2011.

  2. The Harvard Health Report. Writing a thank-you note is more powerful than you think. 2018.

  3. Robert Half. A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way. 2017.

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