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12 ideas for building an employee recognition program



Employee recognition is a key component of any healthy work environment. Recognizing your employees in various ways helps them feel like valued members of the team, which, in turn, increases engagement, boosts morale and adds to an employee’s overall satisfaction with their work and employer. However, employee recognition programs come in all shapes and sizes. Employee recognition covers anything from giving bonuses to public praise to acknowledging important dates and employee milestones.

In this post, we’ll dig into 12 employee recognition ideas, their benefits, and how you can implement each into your human resources strategy. We’ll also share a few quick tips to help you implement these ideas with ease.

1. Above and beyond recognition

Above and beyond recognition is quite simple, but simplicity doesn’t make it any less impactful.

Top performers who go above and beyond what is expected of them should be appreciated and recognized. It’s this type of outstanding behavior that leads to company innovation, customer satisfaction, and exceeding your goals time and time again.

Above and beyond work ethic is what’s keeping your team held together. These are the employees who go out of their way to fix a problem if they see one and will always go the extra mile to do their best work. Who doesn’t want a team full of employees like that?

The way you keep above and beyond employees and inspire more people to work this way is by recognizing people‘s efforts, which could come in the form of a simple message to bonuses to social acknowledgment.

2. Employee appreciation events

Appreciation events can recognize a team, a group of people or the entire company all at once.

You might hold a larger team-building event focused on development and teamwork, giving employees an opportunity to step away from their daily grind. Appreciation events can also be smaller in length, such as a breakfast, a catered lunch or a meal outside of the office at a local business.

Just be sure to ask your employees about their preferences. Do they have any dietary restrictions if the event includes food? Do they feel their workload allows them to take time away for a team-building session? Giving employees one more thing to do or an event to participate in isn’t a reward if their current workload isn’t reasonable.

3. Monetary awards

Monetary perks are simple but still valued by employees. Financial incentives are a huge motivator for people, especially employees who are trying to save, planning for a family or are already supporting loved ones.

Monetary awards may be desired by your employees, but financial rewards alone won’t give you all the benefits of a more comprehensive recognition program. Financial gain should never be your only form of recognition.

4. In-the-moment recognition

In-the-moment recognition doesn’t require a lot of planning and usually comes at no cost to the business. Get your team in the habit of sending small kudos, even in Slack, when an employee reaches a goal, exceeds expectations or helps another team member.

When employees are recognized right away for a job well done, they can feel good about their work immediately. Not all recognition needs a planning committee. A simple “Thank you for your hard work this week” or “Wow, you did a great job” or “Congrats on reaching your monthly goal” can go a long way in making a team member feel valued.

In-the-moment recognition can be public or private, depending on the preferences of the employee you are recognizing.

5. Public or social recognition

Public recognition congratulates or recognizes employees in front of their peers and superiors. Being told you did a good job in front of others, even if it’s just a quick shout-out at the beginning of a meeting, can give employees a sense of pride for what they’ve accomplished.

Other ideas for public recognition include awarding an employee of the month, sending praise in a team email, or acknowledging successes or milestones on social media.

6. Customer service awards

Customer service awards recognize outstanding achievement and customer satisfaction. Do your employees go out of their way to ensure your customer needs are met?

When you hear from a customer or client that they received excellent service or were delighted to work with one of your employees, be sure to acknowledge this praise. You might publicly thank them for their hard work, give them a small reward or acknowledge their progress in a one-on-one meeting.

7. Peer-to-peer recognition

Build trust and camaraderie with peer-to-peer recognition. Peer recognition programs encourage team members to join in on congratulating and recognizing the people they work with when they see a job well done or want to give thanks.

Having team members support each other in this way builds trust across the team and adds to a positive workplace culture. Team members aren’t competing; they’re working alongside each other, encouraging one another to do their best work because when one team member has a win, everyone does.

8. One-one-on meeting recognition

One-on-one meetings are an ideal time to prioritize recognition. Although giving and receiving constructive feedback is a huge aspect of the one-on-one meeting process, all feedback and no praise can make your direct reports feel like they can’t do anything right. They‘ll begin to question your abilities and lose confidence, which will lead to decreased morale, engagement and productivity.

Build time into your meetings to recognize an employee’s accomplishments and give ‌

positive feedback in every meeting.

9. Increased time off and work-life balance

Give your employees something each of them can put to good use. Rewarding employees with additional time off, such as being able to leave early, having an extra day off or a late start to the day, will give them an invaluable resource – time. They can use this to spend time with family, work on a hobby, or rest and rejuvenate themselves.

For larger achievements or milestones, consider giving an employee an additional vacation day they can use whenever they want. Extra time is a reward that means so much to employees without costing the employer all that much in comparison to other types of gifts and financial bonuses.

10. Referral programs

Referral programs reward employees for either referring top talent to fill job openings or for bringing new clients/customers to your business.

These types of reward programs are usually upfront about what the reward is for finding the lead, such as a bonus or gift card. You might reward simply for the lead or only if that candidate is hired or the customer recommendation results in a sale.

In either case, it’s a great way to get your team members thinking about the company they work for rather than just their role. It’s a win-win because employees are more involved with the company, while the company receives solid leads that come from someone trusted.

11. Acknowledging important dates

Recognition programs are more than acknowledging goals and achievements. A comprehensive recognition program also recognizes important dates and milestones in an employee’s life. This can include acknowledging birthdays, weddings, welcoming new family members, and achievements employees might make outside of work, such as running a marathon or furthering their education.

When recognizing these personal milestones, be mindful of the employee’s preferences. Would they want the whole team to know it’s their birthday? Or would they prefer to be acknowledged in a more private way?

12. Employment milestone recognition

This kind of recognition acknowledges important work anniversaries and years of service. This is often a more formal type of recognition.

You might recognize early work milestones, such as one, two or three years with your company, with a small token of appreciation. Larger milestones, such as 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 years, require a larger acknowledgment.

Be sure to award people with something they truly want – nobody needs another expensive paperweight. (Put that clock back on the shelf and think about what the employee’s interests are outside of work.)

How and when to recognize employees

How and when you acknowledge an employee‘s performance can impact the success of your program. Choosing the best time is most connected to an employee’s personal preferences. Not everyone likes to be called out in front of others, even if it’s for praise, a birthday or an achievement.

Get to know your team members on a deeper level so you can understand their own personal communication preferences. These preferences will help dictate when and how you recognize them.

The timing of your recognition is important, too. The sooner you recognize an employee for an achievement, the better. This is why smaller, in-the-moment recognition is so powerful. The employee gets recognized immediately after a job well done, which is an encouragement to keep going above and beyond – immediate positive reinforcement.

The benefits of employee recognition programs

Successful employee recognition programs are an incredibly powerful tool for businesses, leaders and HR professionals. They provide numerous benefits in both the short and long term.

“Recognition and employee engagement are so critical to the operations and culture of a modern workplace they can only be ignored at great peril,” says Wendi Pomerance Brick, author of The Science of Service.

Recognizing the effort your team puts in is essential to employee engagement and retention, as well as the overall efficiency, effectiveness and well-being of the workplace.

Here are some key benefits of an effective employee recognition program:

  • Makes each individual feel like they’re making valuable contributions to the company’s overall success.
  • Improves engagement because employees can directly see the importance of the good work they do.
  • Allows employees to clearly identify where their specific efforts have made a difference.
  • Shows team members their importance in the organization, which inspires commitment.
  • Helps build a foundation of encouragement and enthusiasm, promoting a positive company culture and trust across the organization.
  • Contributes to a positive reputation for the company, which can help bring in both clients and job applicants.
  • Reduces high employee turnover costs.
  • Improves employee retention because no one feels like their hard work goes unnoticed.
  • Encourages employees to take more pride in their accomplishments, and become more motivated and productive. 

These benefits and more are in our ultimate guide to employee recognition.

Tips for building a recognition program

How can you make your employee recognition program a resounding success? Here are a few key tips that’ll help.

Spread the recognition around

The best employee recognition programs are designed with every employee in mind. They should highlight successes and achievements of all sorts, not just a select few employees.

Go beyond obvious metrics, such as the number of sales or direct output of work, to acknowledge the strengths of various employees. Maybe someone is always putting in extra effort to help their co-workers. Maybe there’s someone on your team who always ensures the shared spaces are tidy. Maybe there’s someone on the team who goes out of their way to greet people as they enter your office space.

Look for people’s strengths so the recognition program can reward and encourage the various people that make up your team.

Build a culture of recognition

Build recognition into your company values. Recognition works best when it’s infused within a company’s culture. This means it’s not just one leader or boss rewarding and recognizing accomplishments – anyone can participate and acknowledge the success of their team members.

Encourage peer-to-peer recognition, and ensure the whole team understands why it’s so important to recognize one another. For a team to work, you need to build each other up. Team achievement is contagious and as employees begin to recognize one another, they’ll continue to want more of that positive reinforcement, leading the entire team to go above and beyond in their work.

Continue to improve your program

No program is perfect, and as you continue to fine-tune it, be sure to ask for direct feedback from team members. What’s working? What isn’t working? What do they want to see more of?

Your team is the most valuable resource you have when developing your program, as it’s all for them. They should be your top source for how to improve and fine-tune your recognition program.

Looking for more ideas? Here are 19 ideas to build a better employee recognition program.

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