80% of People Say this 1 Thing Makes Them Work Harder

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Theodore Roosevelt
[3-min read]

In her 2013 commencement speech at Harvard, Oprah Winfrey shared a powerful insight about human nature:

I have to say, the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience…

The common denominator that I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood.

I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: “Was that OK?”

I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyoncé in all of her Beyoncé-ness…

[We] all want to know one thing: “Was that OK?” “Did you hear me?” “Do you see me?” “Did what I say mean anything to you?”

This longing for validation isn’t just a personal need. It’s a professional necessity too.

When it comes to the workplace, recognizing your employees and coworkers and showing appreciation isn’t just a nice-to-do—it’s a must-do. Here’s why:

The Ripple Effect of Recognition

When people feel valued:

  • Their motivation surges

  • Their commitment deepens

  • And their productivity soars.

But here’s the thing: recognition isn’t just about saying “good job” for the sake of it. It’s about genuinely noticing and appreciating the efforts of those around you.

I created an infographic to show the impact of recognition at work. Click the image for a high-res PDF version.

And the impact? It goes beyond the workplace. It enriches every interaction, every relationship, every moment.

How to Make Recognition a Habit

Whether or not you’re in a leadership role, your ability to give others a boost is as simple as recognizing and appreciating them.

  1. Spot the Good Stuff: Keep an eye out for those moments of effort, big or small, and acknowledge them.

  2. Say It Out Loud: A simple “I noticed what you did there, and it really made a difference” can mean the world to someone.

  3. Personalize Your Praise: Tailor your appreciation to the individual—it shows you’re paying attention.

  4. Write It Down: A handwritten note of thanks can turn a routine day into an unforgettable one.

  5. Celebrate the Wins: Make space to highlight achievements, not just in big meetings but in everyday conversations.

  6. Lead by Example: Show appreciation openly and often, and watch it catch on like wildfire.

Give these tips a try and see the positive changes they bring.

Making It Work for You

Making recognition a part of your daily routine might seem daunting.

We’re all busy. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and miss opportunities to say, “I see you, thank you.”

The best approach is to start small and build from there.

Choose one tip from above and commit to it for a week. Observe the changes in the atmosphere around you and in the attitudes of those you've acknowledged.

Feedback is crucial; don't hesitate to ask a colleague or friend how your efforts are being perceived. This will help you fine-tune your approach and make your gestures of appreciation even more impactful.

Diving Deeper

Want to watch Oprah’s Harvard speech? Check it out on YouTube. It’s a gem.

If you’re curious about the data behind recognition as a motivator at work, two insightful articles are from Great Place to Work (the data source for Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For) and Gallup.

And if you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’ll change your life.

Connecting the Dots

Recognition does more than just boost morale and productivity.

It’s a reflection of your understanding of the human need for validation and connection.

By making others feel important, you pave the way for more meaningful, fulfilling interactions across all areas of life.

Begin with “thank you.” Even small acts of recognition can lead to big changes.

Until next time, remember: a little recognition goes a long way.