May 3, 2024
March 1, 2024

Best Practices for Building Effective Employee Recognition Programs

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So you want to implement an employee recognition program to increase the engagement, retention, and productivity of your workforce. Congrats, that’s an awesome plan! Recognition programs have shown that they can:

  • Reduce turnover by 31%
  • Increase productivity by 14%
  • Increase engagement by 43%
  • Increase employee loyalty by 3X

However, like any initiative, you have to have the right plan in place if you want your recognition program to get people excited, improve your culture, and provide these benefits. 

In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know to create a recognition strategy and implement employee recognition programs at work.

Understanding Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is the act of expressing gratitude or appreciation for the contributions of an employee. It also includes expressing support for employee challenges and goals and congratulations for employee milestones.

Basically, recognition is recognizing that employees are people, not just cogs in a machine. Recognition can include monetary rewards for a job well done, a handwritten card from an employee’s manager, or shoutout on social media, or anything else. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be genuine.

The goal of employee recognition programs is to make it easier for leaders and employees to build, spread, and enjoy a culture of appreciation, support, and trust.

6 Steps for Creating Recognition Programs for Employees

By following the steps outlined below, you can build an employee recognition plan that accomplishes your goals, reaches your people, and provides the ROI you’re looking for.

Step 1: Plan Your Recognition Programs

In this preliminary planning phase, the goal is to define the focus, goals, and why behind your program. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind during this first step:

  • Define objectives and goals. What are the specific goals for your program? Do you want to increase engagement or cut turnover? Do you want to build a culture of inclusion for remote employees? Understanding the goals of the program will give you a bedrock of purpose to build from.
  • Develop a preliminary case for leadership. For a successful recognition program, you need leadership buy-in. Leadership has to care about budgets and ROI, so try to get an idea of the ROI of your program along with the money you’ll need. To help with this, use our employee recognition ROI calculator.
  • Build a team of recognition heroes. Gathering employees who believe in recognition and have influence in the company is a great beginning step. That way, you can gather insights and advice from employees and spread the word much more effectively. You can also delegate portions of the leadership business case to show leadership that multiple people believe in the program.

Step 2: Design Your Recognition Programs

Once you have a foundation of buy-in from leadership and a foundation of goals and objectives, you should create a program that fits your needs. Here are some important ways to plan the right recognition program:

  • Choose the right type of recognition. Choose between peer-to-peer recognition, top-down recognition, spot recognition, work anniversaries, incentives, or monthly nominations. Some examples of programs include sales incentives, service anniversaries, manager-to-employee programs, employee-of-the-month programs, and wellness programs.
  • Decide on recognition frequency. Can anyone recognize anyone else? Do managers choose an employee to shout out each week? Are a few employees recognized at a monthly meeting?
  • Figure out rewards. What is your budget for the program? Can managers give out rewards with recognition? Do you have a reward catalog for employees to choose from when recognized? Will you offer gift cards, cash, or points on a recognition platform?
  • Establish eligibility. Does your recognition program have eligibility criteria? Who qualifies and what do they need to do to be recognized?

Step 3: Select the Right Recognition Tools and Platforms

Recognition is easier than ever before with digital tools and platforms. You can automate processes, track budgets, and create new recognition programs quickly and easily. Find the right platform and tools for your budget and needs.

For example, here at Awardco, we’ve built a streamlined platform that allows for amazing customization, robust reporting, and automation. Depending on the program, anyone can recognize anyone else, both with and without points. Plus, we’ve built the largest reward network in the world, allowing you to give employees plenty of choices when it comes to rewards. All this with only a single yearly payment.

Do research into your different options and find which platforms provide the right mixture of capabilities and costs. Websites like the following help you compare options:

One vital step here is to train your managers on your new program. Since managers are the number one driver of employee engagement and satisfaction, they are the frontline of ensuring recognition is effective and frequent.

Step 4: Communicate the Recognition Programs

During the implementation and rollout phase, communication is vital. Communicate to the company that you have a new program, that it’s meant to recognize and reward employees, and how employees can participate in it. Choose the right channels for communication, such as:

  • Send out information in your company newsletter a few times leading up to the launch and a few times after the launch
  • Announce the new program in a company all-hands meeting
  • Put up posters and flyers around the office
  • Create a hype video to share in-person and online
  • Use your chosen recognition platform’s automation system to send emails out to everyone as often as you like

Step 5: Implement Your Recognition Programs

Implementation needs to be an exciting event if you want the program to stick. If the program just slides into the employees’ day-to-day work without any fanfare, they most likely won’t notice the change, let alone buy-in to the program. Here are some strategies for implementing your new recognition program:

  • Set up a countdown. For the weeks leading up to your official launch, come up with some marketing to spread the word and activities to get your people involved and excited. 
  • Build a brand. Design your recognition program with your brand’s colors and themes, name the program something fun (for example, The Nest Schools calls their rewards “Nest Eggs”)
  • Set up an initial event. A custom program that includes everyone with fun prizes or games is a great way to implement your program. For example, one Awardco client, All Access Staging, reached their manufacturing workforce with a St. Patrick’s Day program on the day of their launch—leaders dressed in green and handed out points to their employees.

Step 6: Monitor and Adjust Your Recognition Programs

Setting up and implementing your program is an awesome first step to get done, but it’s not the end of the road. No matter how much preparation you did, your program will probably need to adjust in time to suit shifting needs, new employees, or changed budgets:

  • Establish a feedback loop with employees. Make sure employees have a way to give feedback on your recognition program. Do they feel recognized enough? Are the reward options satisfying? Are they comfortable with public recognition? All this feedback can help you refine your programs.
  • Use KPIs to measure success. KPIs, such as recognition rate and employee engagement scores, can help you measure the success of your program. Set goals and frequently track your progress toward them.
  • Make iterative changes based on the above. Based on feedback and results you see, make changes to your program to increase its effectiveness and better suit your people. 

Robust Recognition Brings Long-Term Benefits

So there you have it. You now know the basics for planning, building, and implementing an employee recognition program. With an effective recognition program in place, your employees will be more engaged, loyal, productive, and happy, and you’ll be able to build a culture that employees enjoy being a part of.

To learn more about how Awardco works and our recognition capabilities, book a demo today.