Employers Resource

The Employee Recognition Program: 5 Keys to Success

Imagine sitting at your desk when you open an e-mail from a colleague outlining the effort you provided on a project. With the praise comes appreciation and notification of your nomination for a company award for your contributions. Then another colleague comes in with a letter from the leader of the company and a token recognizing your nomination and contribution. Meanwhile, all of your team members come into your office to congratulate you and tell you this nomination is well deserved. Now that’s recognition. It’s recognition I received from my company through a formal employee recognition program, and that was only for a nomination! Looking back, none of this was complicated, expensive, or time-intensive – it was simply different sources of appreciation.

An employee recognition program can be a formal or informal program to acknowledge or express appreciation for an employee’s contributions to their organization. An effective program has the potential to increase employee retention and engagement leading to a productive workforce and better business results. Both large and small organizations use their resources to show appreciation to their workforce. In this competitive market recognition can make a huge difference. Employees leave companies when they do not feel appreciated. Employee recognition will not solve everything, yet it is another tool to enhance employee relations.

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When developing an effective recognition program consider implementing the following elements:


All employee programs require buy-in from management for the programs to make a difference. Employee recognition requires input and contribution from its leadership. Leadership defines and relays the values of the organization, and will be the best group to identify and express the criteria to recognize. Support from leadership will energize everyone to make nominations or value the recognition. Employees want authentic recognition from their managers, to know and see that their efforts are contributing to the success of the organization and that the leaders of that organization know it and value those contributions.


While recognition from a company’s leaders is essential, there are also a growing number of peer-to-peer recognition programs. The advantages of a peer-to-peer recognition program are that leaders cannot always be everywhere and see everything. A peer is much more aware of the contributions an individual is making on a day-to-day basis. Peer nominations also create a sense of belonging; recognition makes an employee feel valued by his or her peers. By having peers make nominations it creates buy-in from the workforce, makes employees aware of what is being recognized, and it reduces favoritism by allowing everyone in the company to make nominations. Leadership can still review nominations before giving an award, to make sure nominations are fair, and to reward the “right” behaviors – those aligned with company values and objectives.

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Grand Gestures Are Not Required

Some companies may worry that recognition is going to be expensive. Appreciation does not have to cost a lot. Frequent, small, timely recognition to a lot of employees is more likely to produce results than the occasional large, monetary award that goes to a select few. At the end of the day, recognition boils down to a “thank you” and there are many non-monetary ways to show appreciation like a hand-written note, recognition during a staff meeting, a plaque/token/award. Investing a little in recognition through gift cards, a day off, or a lunch, will produce dividends in the form of increased productivity, better customer service, and employee retention. A little bit of time, effort, and funds can go a long way towards producing a culture rooted in appreciation.

“Recognition” Should Take Many Forms

People are motivated by different things: monetary rewards, public recognition, a heartfelt handwritten letter, their manager’s praise – there are many ways to recognize someone. The right method may also depend on the workforce, and what works well in the office may not work for employees out in the field. While a formal recognition program should offer everyone the same things, by providing a variety of cash and non-cash incentives organizations can cover the array of individual motivations. Within our company recognition program, each element of the program satisfies a different need: peer recognition, management recognition, timely feedback, in-person encouragement, and tokens of appreciation. By covering all of those things, the program is more likely to resonate with each employee.

Monitor and Revise As Needed

Recognition should not be a once a year thing. Proper recognition is pivotal which means your company has many opportunities to change up its program. Especially when starting out, do not be afraid to change elements of the program! As long as you communicate the reason for the change to your employees, you’ll enhance your program. And if you adjust your program based on lessons learned, the evolution of your company and its values, and the needs of the individuals in your workforce, you will only increase the value of the employee recognition program.

Employees in your organization are doing great things for your company and clients every day. Are you catching people doing something good? Do you recognize those actions and individuals? Create an employee recognition program with many different elements to show the recipients, nominators, and your whole workforce that their daily contributions are making a difference in a big way.

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