6 Steps to Build an Employee Recognition Program That Works

Updated: Nov 24

Employee recognition programs are a set of well-defined rules that a company follows to reward an employee's success and performance. It is more of an appreciation tool that you use to let your employees know that their hard work and dedication will bear fruit.

Most companies do not have specific rules for recognizing their employees' achievements. Employees expect more than just an award for their accomplishments or a pat on the back saying, "You have done a great job," although that's also a good way to show gratitude. They become more loyal to the company when they are admired and continuously rewarded through the right channels and recognition programs.

Why employee recognition programs?

Employee recognition is not a one-time activity, but an ongoing process that should be done on a regular basis. There's no doubt that frequent praise from bosses and colleagues can lead to better performance and higher engagement. According to a study by Gallup, employees who experience appreciation are more engaged at work and achieve better results. Employees feel motivated to get their work done and feel that their work is important. Employee recognition can have a positive impact on key human resources functions, such as

  • increases employee engagement and motivation

  • decreases turnover

  • increases the sense of belonging

  • contributes to a positive corporate culture

For a company to build a successful employee recognition program, take a look at the steps we have prepared based on best practices;

You should customize your employee recognition program based on the feedback from your line managers and employees to make the best impact on their engagement and motivation. The recognition can be monetary but it is much more than that such as 72% of Millennials prefer experiences over material rewards.

1. Set clear goals

Write down your goals from the beginning. You should know what benefits a particular recognition program will have for your employees and your company. You also need to know the ways in which you want to recognize your employees. This could be a social media post, awards or trophies, retail gift certificates, yearbook publications with photos and a list of accomplishments, tickets to a concert or sporting event, or a surprise party to celebrate accomplishments.

You should determine what benchmarks you want to compare your accomplishments to. One way to do this is to conduct employee engagement surveys to measure the level of employee engagement in your organization on a regular basis. You can compare data after you have implemented your new employee recognition programs to monitor progress. It's always important to collect data so you can build a strong employee recognition program based on long-term relationships.

2. Establish criteria for recognition

Employee recognition criteria should be communicated throughout the organization so employees know what behaviors will be rewarded in the future. This will give your team a sense of what to prioritize and what goals to strive for, as they will have a clear idea of what attitude your company values and expects from its employees. In addition to some numerical goals like revenue or new customer acquisition that directly contribute to sales, some criteria can be simple personal milestones or achievements. A few examples of criteria for employee recognition programs might be;

Employment milestones: These include new hires, promotions, work anniversaries and retirements.

  • Life events: Birthday, marriage, birth of a child, etc.

  • Educational attainment: Completion of an education or training, earning a bachelor's or MBA degree, defending a dissertation, etc.

  • Special moments at work: these include moments such as reaching a specific goal, receiving the highest customer rating in a month, employee appreciation day, an award for a job well done, encouragement from colleagues, winning a big client, boss day, employee of the month for a specific accomplishment, etc.

The list could go on and on! The Human Resources department should work with managers and employees to determine what is best for the company to include in the employee recognition program. It is especially important to involve supervisors in the development of your programs as they have direct contact with employees, particularly if many employees are in the field or work remotely. You should find a fine balance between the recognition tools for encouraging your team and overwhelming them with so many items to manage.

3. Give employee recognition a personal touch

Understand each employee personally before recognizing and rewarding their performance. For some employees, recognition does not necessarily have to do with money or gift cards. Find out what's most important to them and then act on it. For example, if an employee has long wanted a promotion or a specific project, you can assign that project or promotion as recognition for their efforts.

4. Align company values with a recognition program

For a recognition program to be successful, it should be aligned with the company's goals, mission, vision and culture. There should be a match between what is promised and what is delivered by managers, otherwise there will be trust issues among employees that will lead to dissatisfaction. According to a survey conducted by SHRM of companies that practice successful employee recognition programs, the majority of employees believe their programs are aligned with the company's values and culture.

5. Make sure recognition events are frequent and regular

Employee recognition programs work best when they are consistent and frequent. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, employees who are not recognized within 50 days become demotivated. Do not hesitate to immediately praise your employee for a job well done. Praise can come from colleagues or the plant manager right on the spot, but formal recognition should be done publicly and during meetings to highlight the best performance. HR Managers are experts at organizing such programs! This will help build a positive image of the company and attract more employees and customers.

6. Work with your employees to develop recognition programs

The biggest mistake companies make is assuming that every employee will find a medal or bonus as recognition for their efforts. Some employees may find a gift card or vacation more appropriate as a reward for their efforts. According to a Harris Group study, 72% of Millennials prefer experiences over material rewards. According to psychologists, experiences leave a more lasting impression than money or material things. Companies need to involve their employees when coming up with ideas for potential rewards. This is the best way to involve employees in decision making and they will not feel left out.


Employee recognition programs do not let even the best achievements go unnoticed. Let your employees know right away that you recognize their performance and mention what exactly you are praising them for. It's time for your HR department to develop a solid employee recognition program that aligns with your company's values and culture. This way, you can show that you truly care about your employees.


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