How to Create an Employee Recognition Program that Works for Your Organisation

08 June 2022 | 4 Minute
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How to Create an Employee Recognition Program that Works for Your Organisation

We know that recognition in the workplace is a positive thing, and better still, if you can build a recognition culture, you should see improved employee engagement. In practice, a recognition culture should increase productivity and engagement, reduce turnover and allow a satisfied and motivated workforce. One survey showed that 82% of employees view recognition as an important part of their happiness in the workplace, and furthermore, 82% feel happier as a result.

However, how does an employee recognition program really work, and how easy is it to get them right or wrong? We’ll dig deep into how employee recognition programs can work, what your strategy should entail, and how to put it into practice by all, not just management, so all your people feel that they matter.


What is an Employee Recognition Program?

Employee recognition programs are formal or informal ways of ensuring that recognition becomes a part of the organisation’s culture. An informal employee recognition program could be managers giving recognition at least once a week or encouraging peers to recognise their colleagues regularly.

A formal recognition program may involve organised forums where individuals can vote for each other or where managers can ensure that recognition is given to individuals or teams, which may result in rewards.


Why are Employee Recognition Programs More Important Than Ever?

The workplace has been unsettled during the pandemic, and many employees have changed the way they view their role in the world of work and may seek alternatives. Therefore, employers have an increased challenge to motivate and engage their people to retain them.

Individuals need to feel valued for their role, and one way to do this is by changing your organisational culture to become a recognition culture. Company leaders are responsible for the behaviour within their organisation, so to change this behaviour so that recognition becomes embedded, you may need to ensure formal systems are in place so that recognition is happening at all levels every day.


What Should a Successful Recognition Program Look Like?

There are many ways you can measure the impact of a recognition program, but before you start, you need to think about what employee recognition looks like to you and how you want your people to give and receive it.

For recognition to be truly impactful, then it should be as specific as possible. For instance, you could award one of your people a reward because they always go above and beyond their role. However, this doesn't really tell them what they're doing well and doesn't isn't specific enough to show them what they could be doing more of in the future.

More importantly, recognition programs need to be long-term, measurable, known, and understood by every employee. There’s no point in having employee recognition programs in place if no one in the organisation knows about them or uses them.

Programs should be consistent, but there's a balance between over recognising individuals so that it doesn't have an impact anymore or giving the odd recognition and then forgetting to do it consistently. Recognition is not a one-off form of communication, so it must ensure that recognition is consistent with creating an impactful employee recognition program.

While you can introduce the best recognition program ever invented, it's not going to have an impact if it's incredibly complicated, no one understands how it works, or no one knows that it exists. Therefore, your program needs to be easy to understand by all, simple and quick to use, and easily accessible and openly discussed by everyone.

Also, offer different forms of recognition. Recognition and how it is received and given are personal to each individual. That's not to say that managers must spend hours giving personalised recognition to suit every person, but recognition programs should consider that individuals like to receive recognition differently. For example, if you have an online voting system where individuals who received the most recognition acknowledgements or given a public award or an announcement, some individuals will thrive on this, and others will find it too public. Therefore, a combination of programmes will hopefully appeal to everyone.


How to Begin in Creating an Employee Recognition Program?

As mentioned previously, recognition will mean different things to different people. Therefore, while leadership can drive recognition programs, they also need to gain a clear picture of what individuals want. For some, a free lunch or an extended lunch hour will be an appealing form of recognition; however, for others, this may offer little recognition or motivation.

So, to understand how to appeal to your people, you could ask them via feedback surveys, focus groups, or managers could speak to individuals in team meetings. Some employees will enjoy the recognition that is unplanned or spontaneous, and others may prefer a structured program. According to SurveyMonkey, 16% of employees prefer to receive positive feedback during their annual review, 25% prefer it during team meetings, and 38% prefer to receive it in one-to-one manager meetings. In a different survey, almost half of the employees prefered recognition or awards that were a surprise or unplanned.


How Do You Vary Your Employee Recognition Programs?

Once you have a better idea of what your people want, you can start to design the programs and introduce one or two that will appeal to the most individuals. When you have designed and implemented these programs, it's essential that they are communicated to everyone. All employees and managers know exactly how to use them to give recognition, whether it's peer-to-peer recognition or manager to employee or team.

You can use existing organisational tools to increase everyday communication and recognition. For example, this may be via team meetings or video calls. You might introduce recognition via Slack channels, where you can also tag an employee’s manager to extend recognition visibility. Such recognition can be daily and spontaneous and requires minimal effort or planning.

Other programs will require more planning and potentially a budget, but simple things like a gift to someone’s home on their work anniversary or birthday could be very low cost yet effective. According to Deloitte, three-quarters of employees reported that all they need to feel recognised is a ‘thank you’ at work.

And then, there are the types of recognition that are linked directly to higher rewards, such as bonuses or other monetary values. Research shows that 57% of employees would prefer recognition to be shown in the form of a cash bonus. However, a personal approach is also important, as two-thirds of employees said they were more likely to value being given tickets to their choice of a concert rather than having the cost of the tickets as payment instead.


Examples of Employee Recognition Programs

There are endless examples of employee recognition programs in different organisations. Here are just some examples of how you can use recognition programs that come at a financial cost and those that cost nothing at all. Examples such as the ones below are excellent ways to highlight how you can create an employee recognition culture throughout your organisation:

  • GE Healthcare believes in including employee recognition in as many workplace communication and team meetings as possible. They have a dashboard on the wall that shows employee performance and achievements, and team members are recognised in monthly updates. They also have an initiative called six-word success stories, where they highlight stand-out employees in six words to the rest of the organisation.
  • At the Yorkshire Building Society, there is a focus on employee work anniversaries. Anniversaries are a great way to recognise your people because everybody should hopefully have one, so they are not in any way exclusive to job level. Employees receive a personalised yearbook to thank them when they reach their third anniversary. The yearbooks are a way of celebrating an anniversary and are made up of photos, comments from managers and peers, and other things that have happened during the individual’s employment at the Yorkshire Building Society.
  • The Australian branch of technology company Siemens has an employee recognition initiative linked to rewards and can be carried out online between offices or individuals based in their Australian teams. Their Shine recognition program allows employees to award their peers points for jobs where they deem a colleague has gone above and beyond. When individuals have collected enough points, they can exchange them for a gift of their choice. Not only does this program encourage recognition across the country it also encourages peer recognition.
  • At Hubspot, they invest money in a recognition program that focuses on employee development. Recognition is given in the form of an online learn@Hubspot learning platform, a free books program, workshops, a mini MBA program, and many other ways. It allows employees to feel recognised but also continue their ongoing development and learning.

Employee recognition programs should not be viewed as a nice to have in your organisation but as an essential part of your business strategy. Your people need to feel valued, and with so many organisations offering fantastic recognition and reward programs, you have to keep up to retain your people. To make an impact, programs need to be relevant, consistent, communicated, timely, and specific. And don’t panic that recognition programs will cost you a fortune because they don’t have to. After all, a simple thank you costs nothing at all but goes a long way.


A technology partner like Sorwe can help with feedback processes by giving employees an easy way to record feedback sessions, have two-way feedback conversations, ask for 360 feedback, give positive feedback in the form of recognition, and get feedback through surveys, among other things.

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10 Features to Ensure You Include in Your Employee Recognition Program
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