Creating an Employee Recognition Program That Fits Your Company Culture

An employee recognition program is a great way to increase your bottom line, but which recognition options would best fit your company culture?



It’s easy to have tunnel vision on metrics when it comes to your company’s bottom line. But when you take a step back to consider what positively feeds into the bottom line, an employee recognition program may top the list.

Importance of Employee Recognition Programs

Recognizing employees for a job well done stimulates motivation to work harder, increases employee engagement, boosts job satisfaction, improves employee morale, and enhances retention --- all of which improves your bottom line.

But just as each workplace culture is different from one organization to the next, recognition programs need to be tailored to fit your company culture and workforce. What works for the business next door may not work perfectly for you.

Methods of Employee Recognition

Successful employee recognition programs can vary in multiple ways. Employees can be recognized publicly or privately, with or without a reward. Rewards may be non-monetary in nature (e.g., time off, personal development opportunities, or words of appreciation), cash rewards (e.g., cash bonuses, gift cards, or company shares), or cash equivalents (e.g., merchandise, an experiential trip, or class).

While your company budget will primarily dictate the amount of monetary rewards provided, employee rewards are typically determined by how recognition is earned.

Different Types of Employee Recognition Programs

There are several types of recognition programs for workplaces. The most popular programs to consider include:

  • Top-down: a manager, supervisor, or a more senior-level manager recognizes someone who works below them in the workplace hierarchy
  • Peer-to-peer: any employee can nominate or praise a peer, not just a manager or other superior
  • Value-based: employees are rewarded for behaviors tied to organizational values
  • Performance-based: employees are rewarded for behaviors tied to business objectives
  • Tenure-based: employees are rewarded based on years of service to the organization

Let’s dive deeper into the different types of recognition programs and how they can be incorporated to reward and motivate employees.

Top-Down Employee Recognition

In a Gallup workplace survey, employees responded that the most memorable recognition came most often from their manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%).

Simply put, there is no equivalent to being recognized by a manager or senior-level leader to encourage employees. This yields a memorable, positive impression on workers for years to come that underscores why recognition is important.

Recognition Ideas for Employees

Even if you do not have a formal program in place, here are some simple employee recognition ideas supervisors and upper-level managers can do to help employees feel valued and motivated:

  • Give a shout-out on the company’s intranet
  • Post about the employee on the company’s social media platforms
  • Praise them at a company-wide (or department-wide) staff meeting
  • Buy them lunch
  • Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries
  • Send a handwritten thank-you card
  • Give them company swag
  • Send a spot bonus
  • Buy them a gift card or membership
  • Organize team-building experiences as rewards
  • Mail a care package
  • Provide special parking
  • Create an employee of the month program
  • Boast about them in front of and behind their backs -- even if a particular compliment never makes its way back to the employee, it will foster a desire in others to increase their efforts

Helping employees feel appreciated is not just for onsite employees; remote employees also need positive feedback and other meaningful employee recognition efforts. For more employee appreciation ideas, please contact your certified Stratus HR expert.

Peer-to-Peer Employee Recognition

While the more traditional form of employee recognition is top-down, there are benefits to opening up the opportunity to give and receive praise from everyone within the organization.

Peer-to-peer recognition has workplace benefits like collaboration and improved employee relationships. When an employee is recognized for a job well done, that employee is more likely to go and recognize someone else, keeping the cycle of recognition-giving going. Teamwork and peer support can thrive in a positive workplace environment.

Value-Based Employee Recognition

Value-based recognition programs reward employees for behaviors that exemplify an organization’s core mission, vision, values, and goals. This type is very targeted and scalable to reinforce behaviors based on the overall organization, department, or role.

Employers can implement a value-based recognition program to reinforce the brand and business goals, such as initiative, accountability, leadership, teamwork, honesty, and integrity.

Performance-Based Employee Recognition

Performance-based employee recognition programs reward employees for behaviors tied to measurable and trackable business objectives such as:

  • Demonstrating exemplary performance
  • Driving innovation
  • Enhancing workplace safety
  • Improving customer care
  • Increasing workgroup efficiency

The type of objective can vary depending on the employee’s role or department, but it should be clear and trackable. While career planning, managers and direct reports should collaborate on identifying SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed) goals.

By leveraging analytics and performance, employers can easily measure, manage, and improve performance, as well as demonstrate return on investment.

Tenure-Based Employee Recognition

The modern workforce may be shifting from awarding tenure to awarding behavior, but there are still ways to recognize employees who want to feel like they are building a successful career within a company. Remember, service awards do not need to be traditional milestone recognitions.

Ultimately, there are two main goals in rewarding someone for their tenure: to thank them for their service and dedication, and to motivate other employees to achieve the same milestone.

Employers can increase employee retention by recognizing employees early on in their careers for reaching one- or two-year milestones. Significant achievements should be recognized and rewarded, no matter how long that specific employee has been working for the organization. Although the initial goal may be to celebrate tenure, be sure to make it about celebrating careers.

Summary of Best Practices to Recognize Employees

A cookie-cutter approach will come up short in creating a meaningful and successful employee recognition program. Employers should be thoughtful and tailor their employee recognition efforts to fit their workplace culture, industry, company values, and employees’ roles.

For more ideas or assistance with creating an employee recognition program, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly.


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