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How To Create An Employee Recognition Program That Works

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The vast majority of employees say recognition impacts their motivation to succeed at work.

If that doesn’t say every workplace needs an employee recognition program, I don’t know what does, frankly.

Cultivating a positive culture of recognition is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have”.

In this guide, we’re going to look at exactly why employee recognition is important and the essential ingredients you must mix to create an effective recognition program.

What Is An Employee Recognition Program?

An employee recognition program is a business-wide, intentional initiative that facilitates the recognition and appreciation of employee’s achievements, efforts, and contributions.

The goal is to engender the consistent practice of acknowledging individuals or teams for their performance at work.

Of course, while excellent performance is certainly one reason, an employee recognition program can also extend to recognizing commitment to company values, years of service, worthwhile contributions and consistently showing influential attitudes.

By appreciating the different types of employee contributions, you ensure that every team member has the opportunity to be valued and respected.

Types of Employee Recognition Programs

Different types of employee recognition include awards, verbal compliments and incentives.

Here’s what these can look like in more detail:

Monetary incentives

This type of recognition involves financial rewards.

It can include salary raises, bonuses, commission-based earnings, stock options, a rewards program, profit-sharing opportunities or other forms of direct financial payments.

Social recognition

This recognition strategy is often shown via team meetings, company newsletters, or company-wide announcements allowing colleagues to appreciate each other's successes.

Actionable Advice

Implement an award whereby team members (including supervisors and peers) nominate individuals or teams that demonstrate creativity, design or strategic thinking tactics.

You could include a dedicated section in the company newsletter highlighting projects with the individuals or teams.

Peer-to-peer recognition

Employees credit each other in peer-to-peer recognition practices.

Typically through informal channels such as company shout-outs on internal communications platforms, this approach can create a great sense of teamwork and a positive work environment.

The most recognized employee then receives a notification and can see the public platform praise helping to promote a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Manager-to-employee commendations

These often happen through in-person conversations such as employee evaluations, where carefully chosen performance review phrases can significantly impact the outcome and understanding.

It’s also common for managers or supervisors to appreciate the great work of their team members in team meetings or at company-wide gatherings. Employees feel valued, seen and motivated when their managers acknowledge their achievements and hard work.


Self-recognition involves employees recognizing their own skills, accomplishments and workplace growth.

Individual team members proactively reflect on their accomplishments, set personal milestones and enjoy their progress.

Self-recognition is a valuable aspect of self-esteem and can be integrated into an employee recognition program by giving employees the space to share their achievements.

Why Employee Engagement Programs are Important

At its core, an employee recognition program ensures employees feel recognized for their hard work and helps reinforce desired behaviors.

Increase employee engagement and motivation

A successful employee recognition program can significantly contribute towards both increased employee motivation and engagement.

Leveraging sophisticated software built for measuring employee engagement further amplifies this impact, fostering a more dynamic and interactive employee experience.

Strengthens culture

When you align employee recognition with core business values and behaviors, you reinforce them.

This approach works to strengthen a shared purpose and sense of belonging creating a positive work environment where employees align with a common ethos drives excellent business results.

Encourages high performance

Employee appreciation is a strong incentive.

When excellence is recognized, employees instinctively become more motivated to consistently deliver. This culture of recognition and positive feedback boosts employee morale giving you a workforce that continuously achieves.

Enhances business successes

Recognizing employees directly contributes to your business’s successes.

After implementing an employee recognition program, it's common to see a rise in key growth metrics like outputs, customer satisfaction and profitability.

Retain and attract top talent

Employee turnover can significantly impact your business’s bottom line as the hard and soft costs associated with recruitment are expensive.

Recognition is a significant driver of employee retention and will help with attracting and recruiting talent when word gets around that top talent is recognized.

Improves employee well-being

That employees that are consistently appreciated and feel better about themselves isn’t too much of a surprise.

Positive reinforcement like this contributes to enhanced job satisfaction, reduced stress levels and a better work-life balance.

Promotes innovation

Promoting a workplace culture where team members feel they can speak up is invaluable.

When they know that their ideas and contributions are appreciated, they’re more likely to share new ideas that help elevate your business and create a proactive and forward-thinking company culture.

How To Start Building An Employee Recognition Program

Now you know why employee recognition programs are so important, how do you build one?

1. Define your objectives

Your objectives are the "why" of employee recognition program. In this case, the reason you're doing this is to ensure your employees feel valued and engaged with the goals of your business.

To do this, identify clear, measurable goals that align with specific outcomes that support company goals. Ensure inclusivity by tailoring objectives to employee needs and incorporating feedback mechanisms.

2. Establish recognition channels

The channels through which you deliver recognition provide you the opportunity to do so in a way that suits each employee.

Some want the limelight and will relish having their photo hung in the breakroom, others might prefer an honorable mention in an email.

Whether it's through your company newsletter, Slack/IM apps, intranet or a designated VIP parking spot, you might want to choose to invest in some specialist tools like employee recognition platforms to help facilitate this and not take up too much of your already busy schedule.

3. Communicate the program

Communicate far and wide about your program plans and provide instructions. These can include specific guidelines for recognizing someone publicly.

For example, Slack channels use hashtags to separate chat channels - #organizationalvalue and #teamwins are just a couple of ideas for this one.

Company-wide announcements keep team members informed about the program and enable each other to share success stories.

4. Ensure employee data is current

Employee data must be relevant and correct to recognize milestones.

Ensuring that employee data is current involves a combination of systematic processes and the use of technology to perform regular audits, integrate HR systems and verify data around key milestones.

5. Monitor and reinforce your program

Your program will change over time, so be prepared to iterate as you go.

It’s important to gather feedback from your teams, too. What do they like about the program and are there any integrations they’d like to see? After all, appreciation is only as good as what your employees actually want.

To improve your employee recognition program, measure the impact over time on key metrics such as performance, employee retention, engagement, and workplace satisfaction as a whole.

Remember, your program is an initiative that should evolve based on your business’s changing organizational needs.

Employee Recognition Program Best Practices

There are some ways to effectively implement an employee recognition program for the best chance of success.

These include:

Tailoring to individuals

Recognize that each one of your employees is unique with different appreciation preferences, so it’s important to match recognition strategies with individual personalities.

Showing personality

Be careful not to be generic in your appreciation.

Strive for thoughtful and genuine language that showcases specific efforts and add a personal touch from their manager or supervisor if possible.

Sending automatic reminders and prompts

A successful employee recognition program is one built on consistency.

Set automated reminders and prompts to drive continuous recognition. It helps managers to acknowledge milestones, special efforts, or positive behaviors timely. It also makes it a lot easier for you to ensure that recognition becomes a regular practice.

Implementing diversity and inclusion

Your recognition program must be inclusive and recognize a diverse range of contributions.

Take care to celebrate accomplishments from all teams and departments in your business. Recognize cultural variances and think about how recognition aligns with diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Ensuring a transparent process

Clearly communicate the criteria for appreciation so your teams know how and why recognition is given. It’s essential to maintain fairness and consistency to stop any perception of favoritism.

To sum it up, by showing genuine appreciation, you can develop an employee recognition program that genuinely resonates with your team and fosters a positive and inclusive work environment.

Employee Recognition Ideas

To spark your creativity, I’ve come up with a list of employee recognition ideas you can add to your program (you can thank me later).


  • Event tickets
  • Cooking classes
  • Balloon rides
  • Weekends away
  • Dance classes
  • Spa days


  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Wireless keyboards
  • Fitness trackers
  • Tablets or e-readers
  • Wireless speakers


  • Performance-based bonuses
  • Long-service incentives
  • Profit sharing

Company trips

  • Team-building retreats
  • Theme parks
  • Company picnics

Learn from the best: These companies do employee recognition programs right

While we've given you some good ideas and an understanding of employee recognition programs, let's take a look at what they look like in action.

Salesforce: Embracing Family Spirit

Salesforce is distinguished for its "Ohana Culture," embodying a family spirit within the workplace.

Their recognition programs, like the "Salesforce Ohana Award," allow peers to nominate each other, fostering a sense of community and appreciation.

The "Salesforce MVP Program" is another hallmark, recognizing individuals who contribute significantly to the Salesforce community. These programs emphasize the value of unity and mutual respect among employees.

Google: Peer Recognition and Personalized Rewards

Google excels in offering innovative and inclusive employee recognition. Their approach allows employees to award each other with bonus points, which can be exchanged for various rewards.

This peer recognition system not only motivates employees but also promotes a culture of mutual appreciation and respect.

Additionally, Google's personalized celebrations of employee milestones further enhance their recognition program's impact, making it uniquely tailored and impactful.

Adobe: Continuous Dialogue and Development

Adobe's "Check-In" system replaces traditional performance reviews with a focus on ongoing dialogue and development.

This approach underscores continuous improvement and personal growth, moving away from the typical annual review model.

Their "Adobe & You" program is a points-based recognition system, where employees earn points for excellent work, reinforcing the value of continuous engagement and personal achievement.

HubSpot: Celebrating Core Values

HubSpot's recognition program, "HEART," stands for Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable, and Transparent.

This peer-to-peer program encourages employees to acknowledge colleagues who embody these core values. By aligning recognition with company values, HubSpot not only appreciates individual contributions but also strengthens its organizational culture.

Celebrating career milestones and achievements with public acknowledgments and awards further amplifies this unique value-driven recognition approach.

Employee recognition is the key to a positive work environment

Employee recognition programs are becoming increasingly integral to organizational success, evolving beyond mere acknowledgments into dynamic tools that foster a culture of continuous engagement, diversity and innovation.

As we advance, these programs will leverage technology and data insights to create more personalized, impactful experiences, playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of work and employee satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

The impact of recognition on employee motivation and engagement and the necessity for these programs in cultivating a positive workplace culture is undeniable.

Organizations must understand the importance of tailoring recognition to individual needs, embracing diversity and inclusion and ensuring a consistent and transparent process.

These programs are not just beneficial; they are essential in retaining top talent, boosting performance and enhancing overall employee well-being.

If you want some more advice on how to implement a program, you can join with IceHrm.

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