· Eve Church  · 6 min read

What Do Effective Employee Recognition Programs Look Like?

How much are you doing to recognize your employees? A lot has been written about employee recognition but today we wanted to tackle the topic of having an effective employee program appreciation in place.

How much are you doing - really doing - to recognize your employees? A lot has been written about employee recognition (including by us!) but today we wanted to tackle the topic of having an effective employee appreciation program in place.

So if some of your managers are great at saying thank you and showing their appreciation to their teams but others are…not so good, it’s time to implement a formal, company-wide employee recognition program.

Many industries are feeling the strain of a competitive talent market right now. Which makes it even more important that your employee recognition strategy, as well as your perks and policies, are people-friendly and foster a fantastic workplace culture.

And a massive part of that workplace culture is employee recognition - and as a knock-on effect of that, employee engagement and employee retention.

It’s not rocket science to connect the dots, but before you start building your effective, people-pleasing staff recognition program, what do you need to know?

What do effective employee recognition programs look like?

Your employee recognition strategy may look slightly different, depending on your business model, your leaders or owners, your people, and even your sector, but these general principles should provide a helping hand.

Think about your objectives

Surely implementing an employee recognition program is all pros and no cons, right? Not quite. You need to make sure that you’re putting a proper procedure in place that goes a little deeper than managers simply tossing out the odd “Thanks - awesome job!” now and again.

Your program needs to align with your organization’s values for it to feel truly meaningful. Otherwise your employees will know that you’re purely paying lip service and it will come off as inauthentic - and therefore be pointless.

Therefore, carefully consider what you want your recognition program to look like and make sure it, and any terminology used to describe it, are clearly defined.

Ensure leaders understand the difference between recognition and appreciation

Yes, they’re very similar, but there is a crucial, if subtle difference between employee recognition and employee appreciation.

Neither are wrong and one doesn’t outrank the other. Indeed both help to foster a great company culture. But leaders need to know the difference, as do you in your capacity as HR so you can implement a successful program.

What is employee appreciation?

Knowing how to appreciate your employees doesn’t have to be complex. It’s about making your people feel good about working for you. For example, here are a couple of ways managers (and HR) can show your employees a little love:

  • Wish them happy birthday and go one step further with a cupcake and a card signed by the business’s leaders
  • Acknowledge annual employment anniversaries similarly

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition programs are different in that their purpose is to reward outstanding performance by a staff member. It’s about acknowledging something that has positively impacted the company

And it is for this reason that your employee recognition program should be in sync with your organization’s core values.

It should also shine the spotlight on your top performers and reward them in a transparent and public fashion. This has two purposes: it encourages repeat behavior while also encouraging others to strive for recognition by being more productive or profitable.

Effective recognition program checklist

To summarize, your employee recognition and rewards program should be built upon the following principles:

  • It should take into account what is important to the organization
  • It should establish what rewardable behavior actually is
  • All C-suite, managers, leaders and team supervisors must be onboard
  • It should be easy for employees to understand and for managers to implement
  • It should also be measurable so employees can see why others were rewarded
  • It should focus on recognizing the achievements of the individual employee

How do you reward employees in a recognition program

So now we’re down to the nitty gritty. You’ve decided as Human Resources and management what warrants recognition - but how do you then decide how to actually reward and recognize it?

Good question. Let’s take a look.

The problem is, what John in Accounts thinks is a great reward is not necessarily the same as Mei in Marketing. Raj in Design might love that gift card for the local coffee shop - but Jenny in Sales doesn’t drink coffee and never will!

Rewards don’t all look the same to everyone - which makes it tough for you to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. (Spoiler: There isn’t one!)

Here are some employee rewards to consider that could be tailored to individuals:

  • Gift cards - the aforementioned coffee shop, a restaurant, the movie theater, a store you know the employee loves
  • A day off at their choosing
  • A mention in the company newsletter and at a meeting
  • A promotion
  • A physical gift - which could range from the cheap and thoughtful such as a plant for their desk to something slightly more extravagant
  • Cold hard cash! Either in the form of a bonus or a raise

Only you can decide how you and your managers want to formulate your employee recognition program. It’s likely that tailoring rewards to individuals won’t go down too well: “Why did she get a promotion when I only got a free latte?!” etc.

However, if you want your employee recognition program to be effective and have the desired effect (on both your business and your employees) it needs to correlate with what motivates your people. This is where offering alternatives can help.

It might make your recognition program slightly more complex to manage, but it could solve any issues around trying to match the reward to the performance and therefore any lingering resentment by employees.

For example, offering similarly budgeted rewards such as starting or finishing work one hour earlier or later OR receiving a gift card to the value of one hour’s pay.

This is why we said earlier, your terms and wording MUST be clear and easy for employees to understand. Otherwise, how are they going to know what’s worth striving for?

Effective employee recognition programs: conclusion

Implementing a solid program that visibily demonstrates employee recognition (and employee appreciation) should be a priority for businesses who want to, not only retain staff, but attract new talent too.

Just keep in mind that it needs to meet your individual goals, embrace your company values, and that all leaders must be onboard for it to work in any meaningful capacity.

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