How to Create an Employee Recognition Program (With Ideas)

Employee recognition programs are one of the driving forces of a successful employee culture. Recognizing an employee for their hard work decreases turnover and increases an employee’s loyalty and engagement. The world of employee recognition programs can be confusing and overwhelming, so we broke it down to help you understand what it takes to get a program up and running for your company.
How to Create an Employee Recognition Programs (Plus Ideas!)
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Employee recognition programs are a great way to engage and reward employees. However, these programs can do more than just benefit your people. With the right employee recognition program, a company can cultivate an atmosphere of high achievement, purpose, and drive, while decreasing the number of employees looking for new jobs by up to 63%

When you recognize an employee for their work, no matter how big or small, you are letting them know that they are an important part of your company. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the various types of employee recognition programs and as a bonus, share a list of recognition ideas that you can implement in your company.

And if, at all, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task of creating and running an Employee Recognition Program, request a demo of Eddy to see how we can simplify your other HR responsibilities like payroll, PTO, onboarding, etc. so you have the time and energy to improve your employee recognition efforts.

What is an Employee Recognition Program?

Before diving into the details, let’s get clear on the basics. What is an employee recognition program? We like to define it as a planned, legitimate effort to reward and recognize employees in the workplace. While there are many types of recognition programs (which we’ll discuss later), the core fundamentals of any employee recognition program include the following:

  • The recognition program has been discussed and agreed upon by company leaders
  • The criteria for employee rewards or recognition are known (at least to management)
  • The program recognizes employees on a regular, consistent basis
  • Employees know when they are being recognized or rewarded

Without these fundamentals in place, your employee recognition program does not exist. Once these points are established, you can begin to customize your program with the ideas and structure that best fit your company.

Benefits of an Employee Recognition Program

Recognition in the workplace helps your employees feel appreciated and valued. The better they feel about where they work, the better they’ll be as an employee. Increasing positivity among coworkers and encouraging them to notice each other’s accomplishments will only improve the environment and success of the company. A healthy company culture is no longer a perk; it’s the key component to having employee success. 

Engagement

Employee engagement is the level of emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals. When employees feel recognized for the good work they are doing, they will have a stronger desire to help the company accomplish its mission, therefore improving their employee engagement.

Lower Turnover

Studies have shown that around 57% of employees leave their jobs because of a bad manager. This means you could potentially reduce your turnover by 57% just by improving the relationships between coworkers and leadership. Employee recognition is a fantastic way to increase appreciation and communication within the organization, which will improve the chances of an employee deciding to stay. 

57% of employees leave their jobs because of a bad manager.

Boost Morale

Every company has its ups and downs when it comes to achieving their goals, but employee recognition can help to boost morale especially during those difficult times. No matter where the company is as a whole, recognizing the good work employees are doing helps them to want to do better work in the future. 

Attract Talent

Recruiting is already difficult as it is, but documenting and sharing your positive company culture online will attract more talent to your organization, therefore making the process less cumbersome and more exciting! Word of mouth is incredibly powerful when it comes to attracting talent as well. If your current employees feel like your company culture is wholesome and uplifting, then they’re more likely to talk highly of your organization and invite their friends to join the team.

Employee Recognition Program Categories

The vast majority of employee recognition programs share some common characteristics. To determine what kind of program you’ll run, you may want to consider the following categories:

  1. Structured or unstructured
  2. Private or public

Of course, there will be opportunities to mix and match between these characteristics, but most companies will favor one approach over another. To make sure you can answer these questions and determine what’s best for your business, let’s dive into some of the benefits of these common program categories. 

Structured Employee Recognition Programs

Structured, otherwise known as formal employee recognition programs, are the most popular and have been widely adopted by companies large and small. Structured programs are systems that follow rules and guidelines that are well known. Structured programs typically operate from the top down.

For example, in these formal employee recognition programs, a company leader or department head may give an employee a goal or metric to work towards. When the employee hits the goal, they are recognized for their work by their direct boss or another company leader. Structured programs ensure that employees are regularly getting recognized and appreciated which is imperative if you want your employees to be motivated and involved. 

"Structured programs ensure that employees are regularly getting recognized and appreciated. "

Of course, not every structured program has to be tied to a goal. For example, some structured employee recognition programs celebrate things like years of service awards. Others include creating a company wall-of-fame or employee-of-the-month award where the recognition is given based on intangibles rather than purely basing the reward on performance-related goals. 

While structured programs are often created by company leadership, the rewards do not have to depend solely on management decisions. Many companies are adopting peer-to-peer recognition programs. Instead of managers recognizing their employees, coworkers recognize other employees’ achievements. This type of structured employee recognition is excellent because employees get feedback from the people they spend the most time with. The ability for an employee to be publicly appreciated by their peers improves that employee’s work experience. 

Peer-to-peer recognition programs are being adopted quickly by leading companies such as Google.  At Google, they decided to do more than just reward a single employee every month. Within their peer-to-peer recognition program, any Googler who is nominated for their work by a peer receives a small bonus. This additional recognition helps more Google employees feel appreciated and valued, even if they don’t win a “big award.”

Unstructured Employee Recognition Programs

Unstructured programs focus on spontaneity. Rather than having strict rules or clearly defined guidelines, unstructured programs allow company leaders to reward employees for any number of things at any time. Unstructured recognition can often come across as more genuine. These programs create continual opportunities for employee recognition and can act as a rallying cry or energy booster when things are slow. This is in contrast to structured programs that can sometimes feel rigid or routine.

There are almost limitless examples of ways to recognize an employee in an unstructured program. Sometimes, the recognition will be a small thing like shouting out an employee in the company Slack channel, or dedicating a post on the company’s social media about an employee who went above and beyond. Other times, leaders and managers will be empowered to give cash bonuses, trips or vacations, and other coveted rewards to employees based on the results of an informal contest (i.e. “The next salesperson to close a deal gets a trip to Vegas!”) or a random act of kindness.

The focus of an unstructured program isn’t the size of the reward. No matter how you decide to recognize your employees, big or small, the key is to ensure that the employees feel noticed and appreciated for the contributions they make to the company.

The focus of an unstructured program isn’t the size of the reward.

Combining Structured and Unstructured Programs

When choosing between a structured or unstructured employee recognition program, keep in mind that the choice is not binary. There are elements of both that you can and should incorporate into your business.

O.C. Tanner is a prime example of unstructured and structured programs working together. As a company, O.C. Tanner keeps things fresh and distinctive by combining these two types of programs. The company will do informal or unstructured recognition by rewarding employees with things like custom trophies or social buttons whenever they are impressed with someone’s work, but they also have created a work environment that encourages great peer-to-peer recognition. Their attention and detail in appreciating their employees make it a great place to work, gaining them a position in the Fortune 100 best companies to work for. 

Learn a proven, 7-step process to managing underperforming employees.

Private Employee Recognition Programs

Deciding if you want to publicly or privately recognize an employee is another important consideration when implementing an employee recognition program. Private recognition allows a company leader to have a more intimate, one-on-one experience with the employee they wish to recognize. By hearing praise in a private setting, an employee has the chance to have a personal discussion with their leader and build their relationship. These private recognitions can help an employee feel more important, cared for, and loved. This also allows for more frequent and more genuine interactions between leaders and employees. 

Private recognition can take place in numerous ways. It can be as simple as praising an employee during their weekly one-on-one meeting with their manager or writing a thoughtful thank-you note and delivering it to the employee’s desk. It can also be as special as a one-on-one dinner with the CEO.

However it’s done, the key is to make sure it feels uniquely specific for the employee. If the employee walks away thinking that the leader says the same thing to everyone then they will not value this private recognition. However, if the leader has tailored their recognition/reward specifically for the employee, the employee will feel loved and will grow in loyalty for the company.

Public Employee Recognition Programs

As nice as it can be to be recognized privately, some employees love the spotlight of public recognition. Publicly recognizing an employee is a great opportunity to boost morale for both the worker and the company. By shining a light on a talented individual who went above and beyond in some capacity, you are able to communicate very clearly to your entire organization the type of work your company values and rewards. This will hopefully inspire other employees to want to strive for such recognition, while also resulting in a slight ego boost to the employee being recognized.

Here at Eddy, we do our fair share of employee recognition. We try to combine both unstructured and structured elements in our program while also recognizing employees publicly and privately. However, when it comes to our favorite form of employee recognition, we all agree that it’s the Eddy Award.

The Eddy Award is a public form of recognition that is given out six times each year. The award is given to an employee at a meeting attended by the entire company. The Eddy Award goes to someone who shows commitment and dedication to Eddy’s core values and who goes above and beyond our expectations. When the winner of the Eddy Award is announced, that employee gets to spin a huge wheel. The wheel contains all sorts of prizes that range from a pair of custom Nikes, to an all-inclusive date night, or even big wads of cash.

Along with the prize, the award winner gets to sign the Eddy Surfboard and keep an Eddy Award Trophy on their desk until the next award winner is selected. We love this employee recognition because we get to come together and celebrate an upstanding worker in our company. By making this a publicly celebrated award, we get to show our appreciation for the winning employee and get to cheer them on as they spin the wheel, sign the surfboard, and accept their trophy.

We also want to point out that public recognition does not need to be limited to employee performance. In fact, in many cases, it’s important to venture outside of work to publicly recognize an employee. For example, at Eddy, we love to celebrate (publicly) an employee’s birthday by making them a cake or a favorite dessert! We also love celebrating employees who recently were married, had a baby, or accomplished something amazing in their personal life. This allows us to combine home and work achievements helping to establish an incredible sense of community.

Eddy saves companies thousands by helping them manage their people, payroll, and process.

Who Gives the Recognition?

Recognition is typically given from the top of the organization to the bottom, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. When it comes to employee recognition, the more the better, so we’re going to discuss other ways recognition can be given.

Manager-to-Peer

Typically, managers are in charge of recognizing their team members for the good work they do. This has worked well as the managers or leadership positions are the ones who make the most decisions within the organization. They are also in charge of monetary rewards like raises or bonuses. They typically have more experience in the field than their team members do and can give them advice on their career goals.

Peer-to-Peer

Positive feedback from your own peers can be just as powerful as feedback from your upper management. You tend to work more closely and more frequently with peers versus management, so there’s more opportunity for peers to notice the small things.

Positive feedback from your own peers can be just as powerful as feedback from your upper management.

Peer-to-Manager

Managers appreciate recognition as well and that can be done from their own team. It’s always helpful for managers to hear about things they’re doing well as a leader from the actual employees they’re leading. Sometimes it’s only those people who are able to express how much their leadership has meant to them.

Peer-to-Team

Sometimes it’s the team as a whole that really impacts an employee. These employees should have a chance to express their gratitude and praise for their entire team and the work they’re able to accomplish together. 

Team-to-Peer

Nothing compares to having your entire team recognize you for the hard work that you’re doing for the organization. Team-to-peer recognition typically results in an award (could be weekly, monthly, or yearly) that is given to one member of the team who was exceptional during that period of time.

How To Create an Employee Recognition Program

All of this information sounds great, but how does one create their own Employee Recognition Program? It’s true, there are many different ways a company can organize their recognition program based on the size of the company and the structure within it, but we’ve created 10 easy steps for you to follow as you develop your Employee Recognition Program.

1. Develop a Case for Recognition

For your first step, your focus should be on helping your leadership team to see that, for your company, the costs inherent in an ERP will be outweighed by the benefits. The best way to do this is by assessing employee based improvements that could be made at the business and then taking a look at how an ERP might be able to address some of your specific needs. 

And while you’re at it, get your hands dirty doing some research. With a quick search, you’ll find some great research-based information available on the beneficial effects of employee recognition in improving employee engagement, morale, productivity, and purpose, as well as reducing things like turnover. As you prepare your case, apply these studies to your business and make projections with real numbers to show leadership what could be possible.

2. Define Recognition Program Objectives and Criteria

Determine what you will consider success. Steps 3 and 4 will help you find your action steps and your specifics on how the program will actually work and what it will look like; in this step, focus on what you want your ERP to accomplish for the company and for your employees. What measurable improvements do you want to focus on? How will you measure them? Set benchmarks, goals, green flags that will help you know you’re on track, etc. You can incorporate some thoughts on this as part of your first step, but you’ll want to work with your leadership on this to really flesh it out.

3. Use a Multifaceted Rewards and Recognition Program

Which kinds of recognition work? All of them. But some work better than others, and variety in both why and how employees receive recognition enriches the experience boosts outcomes. Being recognized for something they have worked hard and intentionally to accomplish helps an employee feel skilled and valued as a professional. 

Recognition for simply being there, on their birthday for example, increases the sense that their leadership is aware of them and helps them to feel valued as a person. Recognition for something like a group or team success helps an employee to feel that they are an important part of a community, fosters a sense of pride in the company, and helps them see that their contribution to the success and purpose of the company is indispensable. 

As you build out your model, keep in mind the many different facets of life as an employee and as a person and design your ERP around them in order to address those needs. Remember, the most effective ERPs are the ones that actually improve quality of life for employees.

4. Give Employees Voice and Choice

Have you ever given a gift you thought was great, only to be disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm from its recipient? Maybe it was something that would be an exciting addition to your own collection, maybe it was a book you love that they had just never heard of. Well, it turns out, a great piece of advice in both gift giving and employee recognition is that if you want to know what they care about, ask them. 

Getting feedback can often sound like an instant headache, but it doesn’t have to be. The place where feedback gets messy is usually when the invitation for feedback is too open ended and results in suggestions that are off topic, not well considered, or are just not feasible requests for the company. 

To fix this, thoughtfully narrow down your options (based on the principles in step 3) and then consider the best way to present specific options to your employees. Perhaps some parts of the program should be multiple choice, maybe some can stay open ended and still productive, maybe a mix. 

Whatever the case, inviting feedback again reinforces their understanding that what they care about matters and gives employees a sense of ownership as they actively and truly contribute to the development of the program. And the more voice they have in the process, the greater the guarantee that all your time and resources being put into the program won’t result in the equivalent of a t-shirt that just hangs in the back of their closet with the tags on for years and leaves you without your results.

5. Plan an Effective Launch and Implementation Plan

Your plan for launch should be crystal clear to everyone in the organization and the implementation of your program should be painless. If it isn’t feasible to start when you originally wanted to, move the date. If it can’t be easily understood, don’t be afraid to just cut out whatever’s making it complicated. 

It is absolutely crucial that you do these things long before you are approaching launch so that you don’t lose employees’ confidence by promising one thing and delivering another or continually pushing the date back four or five or six times. When the time comes, you want everyone in the organization to be able to simply prepare for and look forward to the program, not be stuck in muddy details. Steps 6 and 7 will help with this.

6. Align Your Organization on Recognition

Get everyone on board! One of the worst situations for your shiny new ERP is to not have your employees or especially your leadership taking it seriously. This can lead to a jadedness and loss of interest in the program, and that is very difficult to come back from. Luckily, following the previous steps should set you up for success here, but this step is important so that you can remember to take the companies’ pulse and ensure you’ve created something people will get behind and that they can see how it reinforces existing values they are familiar with. 

Also use this step to ensure that the support and understanding is universal so you won’t have any inconsistency across different departments or managers with some teams being abundantly rewarded and others feeling left out or undervalued by comparison.

7. Make Recognition Programs Visible

Do it like you mean it! You’ve worked hard to create a positive, exciting ERP that can lift the whole organization, so show it off! 

Different types of workforces may want to receive their communications about the program in different ways, such as kiosks for frontline employees, emails for administrative staff. Certain teams may enjoy Slack, but the program should be visible to all members of the organization. 

This will help everyone to remember the program, the ways they can receive recognition, and company values as well as magnify and perpetuate the excitement of seeing company progress through their peers.

8. Plan for a Consistent Delivery of Your Program

Related to step 7, your method of delivering recognition is worth consideration. It needs to be consistent. The most painless and seamless way to do this is to embed your delivery plan in your existing processes as much as possible. 

Collaboration tools like slack, suitable already existing meetings (keywords – “already existing,” please don’t schedule more meetings), and automation systems that take advantage of tools already in place are all worth looking at to find easy access points where you can slip in your ERP delivery plan. Also, decide to use multiple methods of communication to introduce your program, and consider having managers cover some practical guidance in smaller circles with their teams.

9. Measure Your Program’s Effectiveness

Remember earlier how you leveled up your gift giving by asking your friend what kind of gift they would like? Well, can you guess the best way to know if your employees are feeling motivated and encouraged by your ERP? You got it. Ask. 

You will be able to see things like performance, productivity, and turnover on your own, and you should absolutely keep detailed measurements and records of all of those. But if you want to know how the program is affecting things like employee engagement and morale, take advantage of things like interviews, survey tools, and feedback sessions, and just ask. These measurements will not only help with step 10, but can also help inform all sorts of business decisions as they are seriously and thoughtfully considered.

10. Revisit and Revise Regularly

Change the program. Now that you have a perfectly planned, executed, and functional ERP, change it. You will never know every effect of every aspect of your plan until it has been implemented, so use all of your data and input and observations and adjust. 

You shouldn’t be watching to see IF you will need to change anything, do yourself a favor and watch eagerly to see WHAT you should be changing. Get excited to see what’s working and what isn’t so you can start fine tuning and expanding and honing the program. 

If something is working great, double down. If a part of the program has very little returns or is mostly ignored, cut it loose. This is the best part. Now you get to watch this program magnifying the business and improving the quality of life for your employees and enjoy finding ways to enhance those effects over and over again.

19 Employee Recognition Program Ideas

Now that you know all about the different parts of what makes employee recognition so important, we’ve compiled a list of great employee recognition programs you can implement into your own company!

  • Peer-to-peer recognition
  • Paid time off as a reward
  • Lunch with manager and/or CEO
  • Social media shoutouts
  • Weekly email recognitions
  • Enacting a company wall of fame
  • An invitation to an executive meeting
  • Awards of cash or gift cards
  • Employee of the month program
  • Tickets to exclusive events
  • Years of service rewards or recognition (ceremony can be involved)
  • Monthly or yearly top performance awards
  • A (surprise) party for your top performers 
  • Home delivery for small gifts of appreciation
  • A bonus system for great work
  • Job promotions or greater work responsibilities
  • A gifted personal parking space
  • Personalized trophy or button
  • Or even a simple thank you card or conversation!
Feeling overwhelmed yet? If so, we’re here for you! Request a demo of Eddy today to see how we can simplify your current HR responsibilities like onboarding, time tracking, PTO, etc. so you can devote more of your time to rewarding and celebrating your hardworking employees.

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