This Side of Theory

Student Affairs Reflections and Musings

Culture of Recognition

It’s Chicken Dinner season in student affairs — the time of year when we gather nightly for a banquet meal in recognition of our students, our staff, our student staff. A former supervisor of mine used to joke about how many types of chicken he would eat during the two weeks at the end of the semester. Ten years later, campus menus have expanded — but I wonder if our understanding of recognition has evolved as much.

I’ve thought a great deal about how to create and sustain a culture of recognition in the work place, particularly one that persists throughout the year and isn’t simply about the very end of the academic cycle. While the end of year recognition is excellent, wouldn’t a culture of recognition be more motivating and engaging for everyone?

Last week I watched this video on gratitude:


And I thought about the emotional connection we have to gratitude — that the more we express our gratitude, the better we feel. Our happiness increases.

Isn’t this what a culture of recognition should look like?

So often at our banquets and receptions, the recognition is internal and self-serving. This year I challenged my staff to think about we could recognize others outside of our department. As a result, we created a Friend of Residence Life award, recognizing someone outside our department who supports our mission, vision, and goals — and that award was presented at the end of year banquet, making the RAs part of the process.

It’s a small step, but I’m hoping to broaden the conversation next year and identify more ways we can continue to create this culture.

In the meantime, who can you thank today?


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  • Amma Marfo

    Stacy, I love this. I’m a tremendous proponent of prompt and meaningful recognition that’s appropriate for the person in question- not just in April, but any time they deserve it. Especially when they don’t expect it.

    This is particularly important on campuses that don’t have a chicken dinner season- we have a singular leadership awards reception, but no organized employee recognition. I go out of my way to thank people for their good deeds as often as I can, because they literally might not hear that otherwise.

    Thanks for spreading the gospel about recognition done “right”!

  • Bob Bennett

    No man is an island. There are a lot of hands, both internally and externally, that go into making any project a success. Who are those supporting roles that never get the recognition they deserve? They should get a thank you as well!