Employee Recognition Programs: An Expert Guide to Getting Started

Why does recognition matter?

Many companies don’t consider the true benefits of keeping employees engaged. It’s common for senior leadership to assume the company has plenty of perks that already accomplish this, like gym memberships and quality benefits packages. So, why dedicate more resources to recognizing employees for their work when you could be spending elsewhere?

What you may not be considering are the hidden costs of turnover. When employees disengage, the likelihood that they will look for alternative positions increases, along with the risk of costly interviewing, training, and onboarding. On average, turnover costs companies approximately double the average employee salary. Workplace recognition helps employees feel valued, improves retention, and attracts new talent.

Recognition provides additional benefits as well: a Glassdoor study shows that over 80% of employees² are more motivated when they feel appreciated, 71% of highly engaged employees work at organizations where peers are recognized at least monthly, and that engaged employees are proven to be 31% more productive. The bottom line: companies need to be investing in recognition programs for their employees if they aren’t doing so already.

The Secret to Meaningful Recognition

First, managers need to understand what their employees value most and leverage that to strengthen the employee-manager relationship. The next step is learning what motivates the employee and tailoring recognition to that individual employee.

Remember that every act of recognition should be three things: personal, specific, and unexpected.

  • Personal recognition strengthens the bond between the recognizer and employee being recognized.
  • Specific praise tells the employee exactly what they did to deserve the praise and encourages
    similar behavior for the future.
  • Unexpected recognition heightens the value of recognition since it’s not anticipated.

This right type of recognition will help you — and the company — prove that you are invested in recognizing employees and that you want it to work for both of you. Let’s look at some examples of meaningful employee rewards.

Giving Compelling Rewards

Remember: you want every act of recognition to be personal, specific and unexpected. Be sure to articulate what the employee did to deserve the reward and communicate the value. Then, offer them meaningful rewards like these:

Keeping your employees engaged with creative employee recognition ideas is key to retaining top performers.1. Host quarterly core values awards ceremonies.

Host quarterly celebrations to recognize employees that embody the company’s core values. Let your workforce vote for which employee should receive the reward, reinforcing peer-to-peer recognition. Employees who win these awards feel like keys driver of the company’s culture, mission, and success.

2. Invest in their professional development.

Recognize your employee’s outstanding work by sponsoring entry into a networking event or a professional development course of their choice. This shows the employee that the company is invested in boosting their professional value.

3. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.

Help your employees recognize each other for achievements and milestones to improve collaboration between departments through peer-to-peer recognition. Whether your company chooses to use a digital recognition platform, a manual gift card program, or handwritten thank-you cards, make it easy for employees to make others feel valued in the workplace.

4. Match the employee's donation.

Studies show that prosocial behavior at work significantly improves engagement and even sales numbers. Let the employee choose the charity they want to donate to and support their initiative by matching their donation. This demonstrates that your company is invested in supporting your employees in and outside of the workplace.

Low-Cost Recognition Tips that Work

With examples of compelling rewards in mind, let’s move on and cover some low-cost recognition tactics. Making your employees feel appreciated at work doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. The toughest part of giving meaningful recognition can simply be conveying sincerity. Finding a low-cost way to recognize your employees can actually be a more personal form of recognition — one that requires direct communication. Here are some ideas:

5. A day off.

Give the employee time to spend and celebrate with loved ones and/or relax on their own. This is also a huge help when it comes to boosting morale as well.

6. Lunch with an executive of their choice.

One unique way to reward employees is to connect with an executive. Your employee has the opportunity to build personal relationships with high-level executives at their company and pitch their ideas over lunch.

Alt text: Handwritten notes are a personal way to recognize employees for their hard work.7. Handwritten notes.

Penning a personal note to an employee specifying what they did to deserve the praise is a huge morale booster and shows the employee that the company — and their immediate colleagues — appreciate them.

Rewards with Tangible ROI

While low-cost recognition tactics can be truly effective, investing in employee rewards can yield significant returns as well. The ultimate goal of recognition is to drive meaningful engagement. Articulate what the employee accomplished and then recognize them for it with a tangible reward. Here are a few places to start:

8. Offer a paid vacation.

Encourage the employee to take time off by paying for their trip. Ambitious companies can pay for a family member’s vacation as well.

9. Invest in their higher education.

Demonstrate that you are invested in helping develop your employees’ careers by offering to help fund their higher education. Prove your commitment to your workforce by investing in their overall career development.

10. Offer everyday home services.

Offer to make your employees’ lives easier by picking up the tab for dog walking, babysitting services, house cleaning, laundry services, or other services that alleviate the stress of work-life balance. Beyond helping employees save time and money, this gesture shows that your company is committed to your staff’s wellness.

11. Make a large donation in their name.

Donate to the charity of your employee’s choice to strengthen the employee’s relationship with your company. This gesture also provides good publicity for your company and establishes your business as a community leader.

The True Value of Recognition

Rewards and recognition encourages productivity, profits, and innovation. When your employees genuinely enjoy coming into work, they work harder and dedicate more time to helping your company reach its full potential.

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