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Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Successful Employee Recognition Program


More and more organizations are now realizing the importance of having a comprehensive and effective employee recognition strategy.

According to a pretty recent survey, the lack of employee recognition is driving 44% of surveyed employees to switch jobs. Meaning, having an effective employee recognition strategy is very important not only to drive your team’s morale and productivity, but also to lower turnover rates.

However, running an employee recognition program can be quite tricky: using too many overused appreciation clichés, and your employees may think that it’s not genuine, which can backfire. On the other hand, being too creative, and your employees may not completely understand what’s being recognized.

In this post, we will cover the knowledge you’ll need to know to create an effective employee recognition program and cultivate a culture of recognition in your business.

Employee Recognition: The Concept

What actually is employee recognition?

In a nutshell, employee recognition is an act of acknowledgment and appreciation of a company’s employee for a specific accomplishment or positive behavior.

These accomplishments can be a job well done (i.e. successful project execution), tenure or loyalty, acts that align with the company’s culture, successful teamwork, and others. At the same time, the recognition awards can also take many different forms and approaches.

It’s also crucial to understand that not only each accomplishment is unique, but every employee is also unique with their own preferences. One recognition award that’s effective for a specific employee may not be meaningful for another.

This is why giving the right kind of recognition award is very important, or else it may be counterproductive. While employee recognition can improve your team’s morale, employee engagement, and reduce your organization’s turnover rate, reckless implementation of employee recognition will only be a waste of time and resources.

Effective Employee Recognition: Best Practices

While, as discussed, employee recognition should be unique and personalized, all effective recognition efforts should follow the following best practices:

1. Timely

As a general rule of thumb, the faster you recognize an accomplishment, the more effective it will be. If possible, recognition should happen on the same day whenever possible to produce a clear connection to accomplishment and/or positive behavior.

If you wait too long, it can result in a faded impact of that recognition, and both the recipient and their peers may not get the intended effect. You may also lose the opportunities to encourage the same kind of positive behavior.

A very common mistake is to only recognize employees at their annual review, which can be counterproductive.

2. Specific

It’s crucial that the recognitions are clear and specific. That is, the recipient should understand clearly which of their actions or behaviors are being rewarded.

Being specific here means you shouldn’t only say “great job!”, or “nice work”, but you should be more detailed and discuss the context of the recognition. When recognition is not specific, it may come across as unclear or even not genuine.

Specific recognition will help your employees understand which of their behaviors or actions are appreciated, which will motivate them to repeat it.

3. Regular and frequent

Frequent recognition translates into consistency and regularity, which will, in turn, result in a lower turnover rate and more motivated employees.

No matter how small, employees make contributions every week or even every day, and it’s crucial to have a system in place to ensure you can provide regular feedback about these contributions.

You should not only award and acknowledge huge project successes or milestones, but it’s equally important to celebrate small successes frequently.

4. Public vs Private

This one can be quite tricky to pull off.

Some employees may prefer private recognition, and there are also certain situations where private recognition can be more effective.

However, in general, public recognition tends to be more effective not only for the recipient but also for their colleagues. The public can learn about the action or behavior being appreciated, which may motivate them. Public recognition may also give colleagues an opportunity to join in the recognition, which can amplify the impact of the recognition.

How To Implement Effective Employee Recognition Program

Define clear criteria and objectives

Start by determining:

  • The types of behaviors/actions that will be rewarded: refer back to your business’s overall objective and decide which behaviors/actions to incentivize. Effective recognition should align well with your company values.
  • How should each behavior/action be rewarded: to be effective, recognition should be unique and personalized depending on the employee’s unique preference and the behavior itself. We will discuss more of this in the next section.
  • Frequency of recognition: as mentioned, recognition should be consistent, regular, and frequent to be effective, so define how often recognition should occur in different situations.
  • Who should recognition come from: traditionally, recognition can come from leaders/managers/employers, but peer-to-peer recognition can also be effective. 360-degree recognition from both leaders and peers is typically the most effective.

Define your recognition rewards

Again, recognition rewards should be unique and personalized to be effective, and one of the most common misconceptions in designing an employee recognition program is to think that employees always want monetary-based rewards.

However, non-tangible rewards like praise, applause and emblematic recognition can also be meaningful to employees. A varied and personalized approach can help your organization to constantly and frequently implement the recognition campaign.

Here are some examples of recognition rewards you can implement:

  • Monetary bonuses: can be implemented in various different ways, from very small to very large. To facilitate personalization, an employee recognition software like Guusto can help in providing versatile, gift card-based rewards.
  • Experiential rewards: gifts that don’t come in the form of money or things, but rather allow the recipient to experience something. For example, travel tickets and accommodation.
  • Verbal praise: can be effective both in top-down (leadership) and peer-to-peer recognition.
  • Written praise: can come in traditional form (i.e. written notes) or online (social media mentions).

Wrapping Up

Correct implementation of employee recognition program can be very important in improving your team’s morale, boosting productivity, and lowering turnover rate. However, employee recognition is only effective when done right, so it’s very important to make sure the employee recognition program is meaningful, memorable, and specific.

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