Employee Recognition Programs

Employee Recognition programs are a great way to recognize and reward work and behaviors that support the goals and values of an organization. It is an open acknowledgement and expressed appreciation for an employee’s contributions to their organization. They have the power to impact everything from productivity and motivation, to engagement and retention, so they should be executed properly and managed appropriately. They are an integral element shared by many of the world’s most successful organizational cultures. According to a study done by Forbes Magazine “organizations that give regular ‘thanks’ to their employees far out perform those that don’t.”

When designing a recognition program, it is important that it be relevant to the employees. Therefore, it is often useful to involve employees in the creation of such programs. Ask employees how they like to be recognized and make sure to include as diverse a group as possible. Also, to maximize engagement and support, ensure the program is well publicized by promoting it on the website, sending email blasts, or distributing an interoffice memo.  Senior management should enthusiastically support these programs to position them as a generous benefit offered by the organization and to gain employee buy-in.

In the past recognition programs have been predominantly tenure-based. Research has found that these programs have “virtually no impact on organizational performance.” Most employees don’t even know of such programs so for the most part, they aren’t creating much value. However, research shows that modernized programs can have a huge impact on productivity and business performance. “Companies that scored in the top 20% for building a ‘recognition-rich culture’ had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates” which saves millions of dollars in turnover related expenses. Some best practices to consider when creating a program are:

  • Recognize specific results and behaviors: rather than just recognizing an ‘employee of the month’ recognize a time that the employee went above and beyond to do the right thing.
  • Promote recognition of employees: when an award is given, be sure to tell everyone about it. Ensure that is organization-wide news.
  • Create peer to peer programs, not top-down: research shows that employees feel much better when they are recognized by their peers rather than their managers. Peers know what they do on a daily basis so when they “thank you” for your job well done, the impact is much more meaningful. Top-down recognition can be viewed as political and doesn’t always reach the ‘quiet but critical high performers.’
  • Make recognition easy and frequent.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, humans value ‘belonging’ and ‘the need to be appreciated’ greater than ‘safety’ which relates to compensation and benefits. This is why recognition programs prove to be so successful. To get started on the creation or modernization of your own recognition program, conduct a review and find out how long your current program has been in place, if applicable, and what employees like and don’t like about it. Then create a team that is enthusiastic about employee engagement and satisfaction and have them go to work on building the program.