Employee recognition has been a long-overlooked element of what makes for a successful workplace, but luckily more companies are catching on to its importance, especially as we emerge from COVID-19. Many companies piece together employee recognition programs manually by purchasing gift cards, handwriting notes, and tracking work anniversaries on email calendars. While somewhat effective, there is very little strategy behind programs like this, and without employee recognition strategies, your program will not deliver the results you need.
A thoughtful and effective recognition program is planned well in advance with strategies that come into effect well before your program launches. In this article, we’ll outline five key employee recognition strategies you should consider for your recognition program before implementation.
Most Common Reasons to Recognize
Before you begin the process of building your program, it’s important to understand the four most common reasons to recognize in the workplace. An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources practices, states that there are four most common reasons to recognize:
Recognizing Hard Work
Employees and managers most commonly send recognition for hard work. This includes recognizing day-to-day achievements, collaboration between teams, and helping with projects. This type of recognition should be frequent and specific to what precisely the employee did to warrant recognition.
Recognizing people includes celebrating major life events (purchasing a home, a new addition to the family, etc.), promotions, and attaining a new professional certification. While recognizing people is often linked more to personal life as opposed to professional life, recognizing personal achievements builds rapport between coworkers and demonstrates that working relationships extend outside the office.
Recognizing Job Dedication
Employees who go above and beyond should beyond recognized frequently, so it comes as no surprise that this behavior would be among the most common reasons to recognize. These employees stay late to finish projects, work as team players, and go the extra mile to ensure everything they work on succeeds. Job dedication also includes long-tenured employees redeeming service awards, so be sure to include this as part of your recognition program.
High-performing employees typically meet deadlines, complete major successful projects, and exceed goals — all behaviors worth recognizing.
These most common reasons to recognize fulfill a variety of emotional needs employees have. Employees want to be recognized as full-fledged individuals, meaning recognition should be holistic, relating to who they are as opposed to just their actions or their behaviors at work. Additionally, employees want to be appreciated for their commitment to their jobs. They spend most of their time at work, and they want their employers to invest the same time and energy in them. Lastly, high performing employees who deliver concrete results want to be recognized for their effort and know their work makes an impact.
Without proper employee recognition strategies, these four reasons to recognize become ineffective, repetitive, and disingenuous. Let’s discuss how to recognize strategically so your program can be as successful as possible.
5 Essential Employee Recognition Strategies
An effective recognition program is thoughtfully designed from pre-implementation to well after launch. However, if you currently have a program and want to optimize it, these strategies can also help boost engagement and awareness. Here are five employee recognition strategies that will help your program, whether you are exploring launching a recognition program for your company or if you already have something in place.
1. Have a communication plan in place before your program launches.
A successful program must be clearly communicated in advance to all employees, including management, and have C-Suite support. This helps inform the company of your program’s objectives and goals and gets others excited about recognition.
Your communication plan should include:
- Scheduled emails to employees that inform them of the upcoming launch of the new program
- Flyers and handouts
- Blurbs in internal newsletters
- Mention of the program during all-company or department meetings
- Deliverables for managers to familiarize themselves with recognition best practices early on
These resources are essential to building excitement for the program and increasing adoption rates early-on. After all, your employee recognition program won’t work without the participation of your employees themselves. If you are leveraging an employee rewards and recognition platform, many of these materials will be provided to you in advance of program launch.
2. Thoroughly train managers on how and why to recognize before program launch.
Without manager participation, your employee recognition program will quickly stall. SHRM states that a lack of participation by executives may not prevent others from achieving meaningful results, but it may lengthen the time it takes for the program to reach its intended objectives.
Training managers on how to use the platform is a key employee recognition strategy. According to a recent Gallup workplace survey, the most impactful type of recognition comes from managers, so it’s extremely important that they understand how to send meaningful recognition. Furthermore, once managers are fully trained on how to recognize, they must be trained on exactly why to recognize. Here are a few quick tips:
Very few people feel personally motivated by a generic message congratulating them for their hard work. When sending recognition, be as specific as possible and describe precisely what someone has achieved. Tailor your message to be unique and personal to the individual, and be mindful about whether the recognition is publicly viewable or private to you and the recipient. Part of being a manager is understanding whether your employees prefer to be praised in public or in private, so be sure to ask before implementing your recognition program.
Be Mindful of Frequency
Think of recognition like a house: the foundation of your program should be recognizing daily wins about once a month. Along with these wins, send a small amount of points for employees to redeem. The structure of your house is recognizing above and beyond work, which should happen 1-2 times a quarter. Finally, the roof of your house is recognizing major achievements, which should happen semi-annually or annually.
For the greatest impact, recognition should be timely. Not only does timely recognition make a greater emotional impact, but it also encourages positive and productive behaviors more than recognition sent days or weeks later. For daily wins and above and beyond work, managers should avoid scheduling time every week to send recognition and instead send recognition immediately after they see a behavior worth recognizing. Essentially, when you see it, say it.
3. Tie recognition to your company’s core values.
Your core values are the foundation of your company culture. Employees want to know what’s expected of them, and the best way to set these expectations is by recognizing employees for living your company values. Managers can clearly communicate what behaviors are rewarded to their team by ensuring every recognition is tied to core values. This establishes a precedent for why employees are recognized and connect them to a higher purpose at work.
Using your company’s core values as a guideline for recognizing is an employee recognition strategy that creates consistency for your recognition program. Companies that use this strategy typically see more participation in their recognition program and an increase in the number of employees who know their company’s core values by heart.
4. Ensure you have flexibility to modify the recognition program as you go.
A strategic employee recognition program needs to be continuously improved, which means you’ll need a platform with the flexibility to adapt to your company’s needs. For example, growing companies might start with a smaller recognition program, but as you scale, you’ll need the flexibility to expand your program to accommodate a rapid increase in employees. One employee recognition strategy to consider is using a SaaS platform to manage your recognition program. SaaS platforms tend to be more flexible and adaptable for companies as their needs change.
5. Measure and report results.
Your recognition program should be continuously monitored to stay relevant for your workforce. According to SHRM, the evaluative process should include a review the following types of questions:
- Does the program provide rewards that are adequate, fair, competitive and appropriate?
- How often are employees recognized?
- Is recognition fair and equitable for all employees?
- Has the program helped to change processes and/or did it support the company’s other performance initiatives?
- Have you communicated effectively to the company about the program?
- Do employees find the program to be meaningful?
- What would you do differently next time?
After you’ve conducted a thorough evaluation of the state of your recognition program, present the data to all stakeholders and identify areas for improvement. If you are working with a SaaS provider, you’ll have access to reports that can assist with this process.
Applying these Employee Recognition Strategies
How to Strategically Recognize People
Personal recognition (meaning recognition for major life events, promotions, etc.) tends to come from peers. The first employee recognition strategy listed above — your communications plan, deployed well in advance of program launch — will help build awareness of the program, get others excited about recognition, and encourage peers to send recognition and redeem rewards.
As we discussed above, recognizing people is the foundation of your recognition program. It’s critical for employees to be educated about how the program works — they should know recognition best practices to create meaningful messages. An increase in peer-to-peer recognition improves employee relationships and actually reduces turnover, two common goals of a recognition program.
How to Strategically Recognize for Hard Work
Both peers and managers commonly recognize others for hard work. Peers most commonly recognize for day-to-day achievements and helping with projects, while managers recognize inter-team collaboration and embodying core values. These recognitions encompass the day-to-day hard work employees do, so these recognitions should be smaller and more frequent.
These smaller recognitions provide valuable data for managers to measure and report on. Managers can use the fifth employee recognition strategy, measure and report results, to keep an eye on employees frequently receiving recognition from their peers. If you have set up a recognition program that is easily monitored and measured, you can use this data to see who among your team is recognized the most, the least, and for what reasons. This can help identify top performers and those who make a strong day-to-day impact at your company and may be candidates for larger recognitions in the future, like Employee of the Year awards.
This data can also be leveraged to explore potential inequities and challenges with your recognition program so you can make adjustments for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive program. The fifth employee recognition strategy, having the flexibility to modify the program, comes into play here as well. Ensure you can make quick adjustments to your employee recognition program by using a SaaS platform.
How to Strategically Recognize for Job Dedication
Recognition for job dedication (going above and beyond, service awards, and major project completions) should typically come from managers, so ensure you take advantage of the second employee recognition strategy and thoroughly train managers how and when to recognize. According to SHRM, training should begin as high in the management hierarchy as possible and produce results that prompt involvement by senior management. Part of this training should include emphasizing the importance of tying recognition about job dedication to core values, the third employee recognition strategy listed above. When management continually reinforces the importance of core values, the rest of the organization listens.
How to Strategically Recognize for Results
Recognizing for results is another instance where manager-to-peer recognition is most meaningful. Good results should be recognized as soon as they happen to celebrate important wins and encourage future wins. To keep high-performing employees motivated, be sure to send personalized, meaningful recognition for outstanding work. Again, you must ensure that managers are thoroughly trained on the importance of leveraging your recognition program and why to recognize. Additionally, consider making this recognition public, which can directly lead to lower turnover, increased and productivity.
Choosing the Right Platform
Leveraging these employee recognition strategies will help you build a strong program from the start. Let’s quickly recap the benefits of these strategies:
- By communicating about your recognition program well in advance of launch, your employees can be prepared and get excited about a new way to engage.
- Training managers on how and why to recognize will set a strong example for your employees of how to use the platform and encourage others to send recognition.
- As managers and peers send recognition to others for embodying your company’s core values, employees will get a stronger sense of your company culture.
- Having the ability to modify the program will enable you to scale to your company’s needs.
- Routinely measuring and reporting on results will provide you a clear understanding of how your employee recognition program is functioning and where to improve.
When looking closely at each of these employee recognition strategies and their benefits, it’s important to acknowledge that choosing the right recognition platform plays a large role in their success. For example, if HR leaders are managing an employee recognition strategy manually, they will face challenges with the manual processes of modifying the program and collecting data to measure and report results. By choosing a SaaS platform that automates these employee recognition strategies, HR leaders can eliminate the headache of manually maintaining a successful recognition program.
In fact, SHRM emphasizes the importance of an administratively uncomplicated program: “The entire recognition process should be managed with a minimum of administrative effort. A system that requires excessive management control, complex financial calculations or exceptional employee efforts to be understood will not likely achieve its desired results.”
The right platform will be, as SHRM states, “administratively uncomplicated” while encouraging recognition to become a habit in the workplace, not only for managers, but for all employees. To truly build a strategic employee recognition program, consider choosing a SaaS platform that will provide the flexibility, adaptability, and user interface that a successful program needs.
Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.