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Employee Engagement

Which Employee Recognition Programs Really Work?

Your employees don’t just enjoy recognition, they need it. According to behavioral scientists, esteem is an essential human need, ranking right after food, shelter, safety, and love. That’s why employee recognition programs can be so effective when it comes to engaging workers.

Obviously, many companies already have some kind of employee recognition program(s) in place. Some honor exceptional performance. Others celebrate employment-related milestones, like work anniversaries. And some commemorate personal life events, like birthdays and family additions. 

With so many options, the question becomes: which form of employee recognition resonates most deeply with employees? At a time when many employers are prioritizing the employee experience, the subject deserves a closer look.

Measuring the Impact of Employee Recognition 

Despite the prevalence of employee recognition programs, company leaders often underestimate the impact of them. In a recent Gallup survey, 81% of managers said that employee recognition is not among their strategic priorities.

Yet, that same study found that from the employee viewpoint, recognition initiatives can be absolute gamechangers when it comes to how they feel about their job and employer.

Specifically, Gallup found that, when recognition efforts “hit the mark,” employees are:

  • 73% less likely to feel burned out
  • 56% less likely to look for a new job
  • four times more likely to be engaged
  • five times more likely to see a company career path
  • four times more likely to recommend their employer to others

Which leads to the next question: what does it take to hit the mark?  

Elements of an Impactful Employee Recognition Program

As you probably suspected, there is no single, most-impactful employee recognition program. Any number of initiatives can be effective, provided that they embody certain winning characteristics. Specifically, employee recognition is most powerful when it is:

  • Authentic – When it comes to performance-based initiatives, employees must have reason to believe that the honors are objectively determined, based on true achievements. (For this reason, HR experts recommend creating a detailed recognition policy that spells out how performance is measured and how the recognition process works.)
  • Equitable – If some employees feel that management is playing favorites, it undermines the program’s impact. For example, research indicates that younger workers prefer more frequent recognition and diverse workers are less likely to perceive such things as equitable—something employers should keep in mind.
  • Embedded in Company Culture – For recognition to be meaningful, appreciation needs to be consistent with company values and part of the employees’ everyday routine. Providing managers with best-practices training on providing recognition will go a long way toward making this happen. 
  • Personalized – Not every employee wants to be recognized the same way. For example, before honoring an employee publicly, their manager might ask them if it’s something the employee is comfortable with. Some employees may prefer to receive praise privately from their manager or team.

In addition, the most effective recognition programs don’t always come from the top down. Offering employees regular opportunities to provide peer-to-peer recognition is rewarding to both givers and receivers—and reinforces a culture of appreciation.  

Do Monetary Awards Make a Difference? 

Employers can be quite creative in the way they recognize employees: trophies, thank you cards, pizza parties, gift cards—even catalog points or weekend getaways. That said, according to Gallup’s findings, only about one-third of organizations formally fund their recognition programs.

However, when programs include monetary awards, it resonates with employees who are more likely to say that they feel they belong and call their company a great place to work. So, while it does make a difference, you can still build an effective program without a budget.

At the end of the day, there is no gold standard for how much recognition employers should give, or exactly how to provide it. But we do know that people crave recognition on a very basic human level—and that, by providing it thoughtfully and genuinely, employers can influence their employee’s attitudes and behaviors in a highly positive way.

Check out this blog for some creative ways to show employee appreciation.

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