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A beginner’s guide to designing employee recognition programmes

8 min read
Employee recognition programmes drive engagement and bottom-line business results. Here’s how to design one with your people in mind.

Employees want to be recognised in ways that are as unique as they are – and getting recognition right in a new world of work means taking a tailored and specific approach to your employee recognition programme.

If you’re designing a new employee recognition programme at your organisation or planning to revamp an existing one, we can help. We’ve taken a closer look at employee recognition programmes, why employee recognition programmes are important, what makes employee recognition programmes great, companies that have the best employee recognition programs, and how to get started designing an employee recognition programme at your organisation, below.

What are employee recognition programmes?

Employee recognition acknowledges the hard work and accomplishments of the individuals and teams within your organisation.

Employee recognition programmes enable leaders to recognise members of their team, peers to recognise one another, as well as cross-team recognition.

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Why are employee recognition programmes important?

When recognition efforts are thoughtful and genuine, they strengthen the relationship between employees and your organisation. They also help reinforce behaviours that align with your company’s values, mission, vision, and strategy.

Employee recognition programmes also:

  • Drive employee engagement: Employees who are highly satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive from their managers tend to stay at consistently high levels of engagement over time.
  • Support employee retention: Employees who feel their work is recognised are less likely to transfer out of their team or leave your organisation. Conversely, if people feel they’re not valued, they won’t be motivated to perform – and they’re more likely to leave.
  • Foster a culture of inclusion: Making employees feel seen and and that they belong is another top driver of engagement.
  • Encourage high performance: Recognising employees for good work can help keep high performers motivated, engaged in the company vision, and wanting to stay and contribute. This is crucial because not only is top talent hard to come by, it’s also expensive to recruit and hire.
  • Make for happier employees: People want to feel like they’re contributing to their organisation and team goals. So when managers and leaders take the time to demonstrate how much of a measurable impact someone is having on the business, it makes people feel good about what they do.
  • Support a better customer experience: Employees that are recognised – and happy in their jobs – provide a better experience to customers, which helps with customer satisfaction, retention, and bottom-line business results.

What makes an employee recognition programme impactful and successful?

The most impactful and successful employee recognition programmes aren’t necessarily those that are the most creative or fun, it’s the ones that are consistent, highly visible, and specific to the employee (and action) being recognised.

Here’s what makes recognition programmes impactful and successful:

1. Recognition is most impactful to employees when it’s done consistently

Showing your appreciation is not a one-and-done type of activity. For it to make an impact, recognition should occur with appropriate consistency – not over-done as to lose its efficacy or sincerity – and as close to the event being recognised as possible.

2. Employee recognition programmes must be visible to be effective

This doesn’t necessarily mean publicly visible, some employees won’t respond to being the center of attention in a public forum, but visible to the individual receiving the recognition. For example, simply saying thank you in person or sending kudos in an email will achieve the desired effect for some. For those employees who appreciate public recognition, sharing the kudos in a public Slack channel or on a team call are also great options.

3. Recognition needs to be specific to your employees’ preferences as to how they like to be recognised

In other words, match recognition to each individual’s preferred style. Not sure what your employees’ preferences are? Simply ask. Whether it’s during one-on-one conversations or via a team survey, get to know your people and what motivates them; this is a critical component to developing the manager-employee relationship and cultivating trust.

4. Recognition should be specific to the action you are praising

Tell employees what you appreciate about their contribution to the company. Be as specific as possible and explain why their work stands out and/or highlight the value of the impact they have brought to the business.

How to get started designing an employee recognition programme

Now that you know the value of employee recognition programmes, it’s time to take action and build one at your organisation. You might be tempted to start with a quick keyword search; one that will likely reveal lots of conventional employee recognition ideas – happy hours, food trucks, employee of the month awards, and the like – but are they what your employees want?

While these types of recognition are appreciated by some employees, they more often miss the mark.

Here’s how to get started instead:

  • Communicate often: Whether your employees work in the office, from home, or a hybrid of the two, be sure to communicate about recognition with intention and regular frequency. Doing so reinforces the connection your employees feel to your team and your organisation.
  • Establish channels for recognition: Leverage the tools you already use to communicate, such as email, Slack, and team video calls, to recognise employees – no matter where they’re (or you’re) working.
  • Empower employees to recognise each other: Employees that are most satisfied with their organisation’s employee recognition programmes are those that are not only aware of how to recognise people, but also who can do the recognising. Your people might not know they can recognise their peers for their good work. Encourage them to recognise their peers via the same channels leaders do.
  • Encourage visibility: For example, send an email kudos and CC the person’s manager to increase the visibility of the recognition. The same goes for tagging employees (and their managers) in a Slack channel.
  • Celebrate key moments in the employee journey: Send gifts on employees’ work anniversaries and birthdays; have treats delivered via a meal delivery service.
  • Host inclusive gatherings: Such as a virtual team lunch where everyone gathers via video call and expenses the cost of their lunch.
  • Reward employees with paid time off: Whether it’s a mental health/recharge day or just a surprise day off, PTO is a sure way to make employees feel appreciated.

Keep in mind that non-monetary recognition can have the same effects on engagement and satisfaction as monetary awards. The key to making an impact when you’re recognising employees is to do so in a way that’s specific, relevant, and timely. Indeed, these are goals you should aim for with all feedback – and definitely with recognition.

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