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Employee Recognition and Reward Programs

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Where to Start and How to Keep the Momentum Going

In the HR world, the benefits of employee recognition and rewards programs are gaining traction. While the corporate world first began to implement these programs in the early 1990s and early 2000s, they’ve truly taken off in recent years. Are you implementing your own employee recognition and rewards programs? Should you be?

According to a study published in Forbes, “brands that create the highest levels of employee loyalty give themselves the best chance” at creating customer loyalty, too. One of the most surefire ways to foster employee loyalty is to create a culture of employee recognition, along with a system of rewards for rockstar efforts and results.

Maybe you’ve implemented your own employee recognition and rewards programs already—or maybe—like many employers, you’re just getting started. Either way, Peoplelytics has your back. In this article, we’ll show you how to get started with your employee recognition and rewards programs if you’re starting from scratch. And if your progress has faltered, we’ll discuss how you can pick the momentum back up. Let’s dive in.

What Are They? It Depends on Your Goals.

What are employee recognition and rewards programs? Generally speaking, they are strategies for acknowledging employee efforts and achievements, showing appreciation for team members, and incentivizing continued hard work and success. Because employee recognition and rewards programs aren’t—and shouldn’t be—one size fits all, it can be tough to put an exact definition on the concept.

In reality, the best recognition and reward programs are unique to the employers and employees they serve. They’re tailored based on the employer’s industry, the employees’ roles, and the ways in which the employees respond to and best receive praise.

If you’re new to the implementation of these types of programs, it can be helpful to reference the concepts often used by other companies. Some of the most popular employee recognition and rewards programs often take the shape of the following:

Ideas for Employee Recognition and Rewards Programs:

Time and Flexibility:

  • Volunteer time: Rewarding employee efforts with extra time away from work to volunteer time is a way to promote work-life balance, maintain your organization’s strong company culture, and support your employees’ personal values.
  • Flexibility to work from home: Do your employees have the capability to perform some or all of their duties from home? Granting high-performing employees greater flexibility and autonomy to work from home can be an extremely motivating reward mechanism.  
  • Extra Time Off: Every employee enjoys an extra day of PTO. Offering additional paid time off has always been a powerfully motivating reward for exceptional performance and strong efforts at work.

Experiences and Recognition:

  • Experiences: While monetary bonuses are popular rewards, experiential rewards can be a great way to recognize employees, too. Experiences can be tailored to fit the budget available within your program, with rewards spanning from local concert or event tickets to all expenses paid getaway for an employee’s family.  
  • Public praise: Public recognition and company-wide shoutouts can be very effective forms of employee recognition—for the right employees. Managers and supervisors who know their employees best may be in the best position to determine whether their direct reports would appreciate having “all eyes on them” or would feel overwhelmed. However, when executed correctly, public praise can show an employee just how valued and exceptional they are.  
  • Team Recognition Events: Team outings, bonding activities, challenges, and other fun events can be used to both celebrate collective wins and encourage further team building, providing a big boost to morale.
  • Employee Appreciation Day: Celebrate the hard work of all of your employees with a day made just to say “thank you.” The day could include catered meals, breaks to play games and socialize, time for specific awards, and even a happy hour event.
  • Recognition Walls: A public “recognition wall” in the workplace can be a great place to display the personal achievements of your employees. Your recognition wall might be physical or virtual; the same purposes could also be served via a newsletter.

Personalized and Custom Rewards:

  • Anniversary Celebrations: Recognizing the milestones of your employees, whether personal or professional, is critical to showing you care. Make an effort to record employees’ birthdays, work anniversaries, and other significant dates with personalized recognition and gifts, highlighting their value and long-term contributions to your organization.
  • Employee of the Month Award: Each month, choose a different employee to spotlight, and share company-wide why this individual is one to watch. An employee of the month award may be paired with temporary benefits, a monetary bonus, or something personal, like a gift card to the employee’s favorite restaurant or a donation to a charity of their choice.
  • Peer Nominations: Send out an employee recognition survey to capture your employees’ praise about their coworkers. Spotlight star employees one by one, and anonymously share their great peer feedback. You might also have employees “vote” via a survey for which employee encompasses your company’s values in the strongest way.
  • Chat with the CEO: Show your high-achieving employees that they are valued and their ideas are heard by scheduling a lunch or coffee with the CEO or other top leaders within your organization.
  • Hand written thank you notes: It may sound old fashioned, but a hand written thank you note still shows appreciation unlike any other token. From a member of your leadership (like your CEO), a thank you note makes an employee feel seen, appreciated, and valued. The more personalized the note, the better. 

Growth and Wellness Benefits:

  • Wellness Benefits: Offering wellness-related rewards like reimbursement for gym or fitness studio memberships, massage memberships, spa passes, or even luxury wellness getaways promotes a culture of work-life balance and shows employees that they are appreciated.
  • Professional Development Opportunities: Boosting high-performing employees’ opportunities for advancement in a tangible way can be an extremely motivating reward. Allowing employees to spend time developing their own skills, perks like bigger budgets for tuition reimbursement, conference attendance, workshops, and more benefit employers and employees alike.

Practical Perks (and Food)!

  • Company merchandise: Rewarding employees with useful and fun branded items, like apparel, luggage, and tech encourages company pride and reinforces your team building efforts.
  • Snacks in and meals out: No matter an employee’s role, personality, or tenure, everyone appreciates free food. This is another option that can be tailored to fit an organization’s budget: you might provide office snacks to everyone or reimburse a high-performing team for a nice meal. Besides, sharing a snack moment or a meal together is another way to build team comradery.
  • Parking Privileges: Provide prime parking spots for top performers or “employees of the month” on a rotating basis, giving employees one more reason to continue working hard.
  • Profit Sharing Compensation Packages: A classic motivational tool is to reward employees a portion of the profits they help bring in to the business or help secure for the business. While commission based incentives are often provided for sales or account management employees, profit sharing is a concept that can extend to corporate or “behind the scenes” employees, too. It’s a great way to show that even though not all employees are directly responsible for sourcing new clients, they’re not just cost centers to your firm.

Starting Your Employee Recognition and Rewards Program from Scratch? Here’s How to Get Started:

Looking to kick off your very own employee recognition and rewards program? As with any project, the first step in getting your program off the ground is to take inventory of what’s currently going on, what you have to work with, and where you’re starting from. Here are a few key steps to follow:

Step 1:  Assess the Health of Your Company’s Current Culture.

Before you design an employee recognition program, it’s crucial to understand your company culture and what your employees value. Administering an employee culture survey is a fantastic (and accurate) way to understand what your employees think of your organization and how that collective opinion can be strengthened through a well executed employee recognition and rewards program.

Step 2: Determine What You Want to Improve, and What You’re Already Doing Right.

After you’ve received the insights from your preliminary culture survey, work together with your organization’s leadership to set clear objectives. What about your culture do you want to improve, and how do your culture goals align with broader business goals? How can an employee recognition and rewards program help you achieve these goals? Are you aiming to boost morale, increase productivity, reduce turnover, or all of the above?

Determining exactly how your program initiatives relate to broader business goals (and ultimately, drive revenue) is the first step in not only planning out your recognition and rewards program, but also in securing the all-important and invaluable leadership buy-in. Setting these goals at the outset will also give you a great place from which to benchmark your successes as your program succeeds.

Step 3: Create a Framework of Realistic Recognition Methods and Rewards to Implement

Whether you use the employee recognition and reward program ideas we discussed earlier in this article, come up with your own, or go another direction entirely, you must create a vision for how you want your program to function. Will it rely on just one method of recognition or just one type of reward? Will it combine a mix of incentives and motivational tactics designed to encourage all team members to shine?

Consider what will work for your employees—who are different—and who are motivated by different things than any other group of employees in the world. The best place to go for information about what will motivate your employees will always be the team members themselves.

While some groups might respond well to public praise, others only want tangible incentives. While some teams want to spend time bonding together off-site, others are simply too busy and prefer quick ways to connect in-office. Decipher your employee’s opinions via an employee recognition and rewards survey, and uncover what your employees really want more of.

No matter which motivational tactics you implement, your framework should be flexible. Starting with uncompromisingly rigid program infrastructure, expensive start-up costs, or otherwise “going overboard” can hinder your ability to pivot as you take in the real-life results of your program ideas. As you’re getting started, give your program wiggle room to shapeshift and adapt to new information as you receive it. Just because your employees indicated they may have wanted something doesn’t mean they’ll actually respond well to it. If this is the case, you’ll need to know. You can (and should) also capture shifting opinions via recurring employee surveys.

Step 4:  Revamping Your Existing Employee Recognition and Rewards Program by Continuously Monitoring, Reviewing, and Adjusting Based on Data

Your program has been designed and implemented, and your employees are starting to react. Now what? This isn’t the time to sit back and rest on your laurels. Rather, now is the time to intelligently analyze, assess, and improve upon your original ideas.

Collecting feedback from your employees, their managers, and leadership is the only way to determine if changes are perceptible at the employee, team, and organizational levels.

When analyzed in tandem with other hard data (i.e., financials and productivity metrics) available within your organization, the feedback you garner from regularly administered employee feedback surveys can paint a remarkably clear picture of the success of your program initiatives, as well as their relatedness to your company’s bottom line. Data should be used to both continuously improve your program, and celebrate its successes along the way.


When it Comes to Employee Recognition and Rewards Program, Data-Driven Insights are Your Power.

Creating and maintaining effective employee recognition and rewards programs is an ongoing journey. Success requires the enactment of decisions based on real data from your employees, not just ideas or anecdotes.

Administering regular employee surveys, including culture surveys, satisfaction surveys, and recognition surveys will provide you with the data you need to form game changing insights.

Finally, remember that the long term success of your employee recognition and rewards program depends on your ability to adapt to shifts in employee attitudes, perceptions, and business needs over time. As your organization evolves, your recognition and rewards strategies should too.

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