A solid employee recognition program can make almost everything in an organization better.
When employees are consistently recognized, they’re more motivated and productive, according to research from Gallup. Recognition boosts engagement and makes employees feel valued for their contributions, which leads to higher employee retention rates.
Even better, a little recognition goes a long way. Harvard Business School researchers found lasting spikes in motivation, performance and retention when employees received symbolic awards – such as congratulation cards, public praise and certificates.
What is an employee recognition program?
You don’t want to leave employee recognition to chance. Build an employee recognition program – a defined plan to motivate employees to do great work by rewarding them for efforts and dedication – to help maintain high behavior standards and a positive company culture.
Benefits of an employee recognition program
Employee recognition programs help improve almost all elements of the workplace. Specifically, employers with dedicated programs report improvements in:
- Loyalty. Employees stay where they’re appreciated.
- Recruitment. Happy employees refer candidates. Plus, candidates can sense a positive workplace when they’re being recruited.
- Engagement. Employees are more engaged with their work and colleagues when they know their efforts are appreciated.
- Morale and motivation. Employees are more likely to feel good about work when they’re praised for their contributions.
- Productivity. Employees who feel valued work harder toward common goals.
- Happiness and delight. Appreciation makes people happy.
- Company culture. Employees who feel appreciated help build and promote a more positive workplace culture.
To gain the benefits of an employee recognition program, here are best-practice ideas to implement it:
1. Celebrate milestones
Recognize and celebrate professional and personal milestones. Give awards and small rewards for work anniversaries, promotions, lateral moves, new certifications, etc. Spread the word and celebrate employees’ personal milestones such as birthdays, weddings, births and achievements in their passions such as sports, arts and beyond.
2. Host quarterly awards
Hold regular, more formal award events to recognize team accomplishments and outstanding individual contributions. Invite employees to nominate colleagues for special awards for above-and-beyond work or going the extra mile for co-workers.
3. Give VIP parking
Designate a few VIP parking places close to a door. Ask managers and employees to nominate deserving colleagues. Divvy up the special spots one month at a time to employees with the most nominations.
For remote or hybrid employees who are nominated, announce the accomplishment on your internal communication or recognition app, then send them a special treat such as a roll of quarters or gift card for parking or tickets to a drive-in movie theater.
4. Dole out the treats
Make sure front-line managers have a budget to show appreciation to their deserving teams, and give them ideas to tie random treats to days of the week. For example, bring in popcorn or snack mix for “Munchie Monday.” Try a “Twisted Pretzel Thursday.” Put out fruit for “Fit & Healthy Friday” and offer a Yoga or meditation break.
The same can be done for remote employees: Send them the package for a special week.
5. Make services more accessible
Show employees you appreciate all they do at work by helping them free up personal time. For instance, arrange on-site dry cleaning pick-up and delivery. Connect with local companies to offer employees discounts on services such as house cleaning, lawn care and car washing.
6. Offer personalized praise
Give front-line managers stationery, stamps and some templates to write a few personalized thank you notes to employees a few times a year. Ideally, they should mail the notes to their homes, but leaving notes at their work stations is good, too. Even better: Send a note to employees’ family members, thanking them for their support so employees can bring their best selves to work.
7. Bring in a masseuse
To help curb some of the stress work can cause, bring in a masseuse or two to the office from time to time. Let employees schedule a free 10- to 15-minute chair massage at their convenience.
For your remote employees, send gift cards that can be used for “treat yourself” events such as the massage, a yoga session or another local indulgence.
8. Make a wall of recognition
Dedicate a wall in a well-traveled area where employees can share messages of appreciation toward each other – perhaps on a chalkboard-painted wall, with sticky notes or a row of whiteboards. Encourage employees to get creative: Write messages, draw pictures, hang photos and invite others to chime in on what they’ve posted in praise of each other.
To keep pace with remote and hybrid employees, replicate this kind of recognition on your internal communication or appreciation app.
9. Maximize social media
Ask employees to submit “shout-outs” about colleagues who’ve gone above and beyond, and promote their stories on your internal intranet (perhaps a specific praise channel) and your company social media platforms. Add photos and ask for details on what makes the employee so great.
10. Give them time
One of the most appreciated ways to show appreciation is with time. Give employees extra personal time for their professional efforts. When appropriate, hand out “coupons” for hours off for outstanding contributions. Surprise an entire team with a day off after a major win. Or let employees leave early when they’ve hit goals.
11. Help employees network
Show your appreciation for employees by giving them the time and opportunities to network within your organization. The stronger the relationships they build with each other, the more engaged they will be at work. Plan lunch-and-learn sessions with speakers on outside interests such as personal finances or local history. Organize monthly breakfast networking time.
12. Bolster Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Give employees more control to organize, build and maintain ERGs. Encourage them to look into what works in other organizations so they might try new ERGs. Give equal funding to each group to improve the group’s profile, increase membership and help them have fun.
13. Focus on feedback
Employees will feel understood and appreciated when their feedback is sought and used. Hold regular town hall meetings to share the state of business and celebrate accomplishments. Do quarterly surveys to gauge sentiment on engagement, workload and any new initiatives. Most importantly, react and respond to feedback so employees know their insight is needed and valued.
Tips to build an employee recognition plan
Now that you have ideas to recognize employees, make sure you have a plan for an employee recognition program. Here’s what’s critical:
- Get leaders’ buy-in. The C-Suite usually likes numbers. Show them the benefits of an employee recognition plan through payroll savings associated with low turnover, productivity increases associated with engagement, quality improvements related to motivation, etc.
- Set goals. Define what you want to achieve with your program – for instance, improve employee satisfaction by 10 points or increase employee retention by 50%.
- Secure resources. Whether you have to set a new budget or adjust the existing one, determine the resources – people, money, time, etc. – you’ll need to keep the ball rolling.
- Create guidelines. Define how the program will work. For instance, note nomination and reward criteria. Lay out what front-line managers must do quarterly.
- Do a tech grab. More than likely, you’ll want some kind of technology to execute the plan. Work with IT to either build on what you have or identify the system that works best for your organization.
- Measure success. Determine your goals and criteria for success. Then make sure you have the measurement tools in place to track progress.
Connect the dots
Employee recognition programs are important. Research proves it: Employees who are praised and recognized by their boss have about a 70% engagement rating. Employees who don’t get regular praise and recognition clock in with a 28% engagement rating, according to another Harvard Business School study.
So take steps now to make sure yours is set up to succeed.