Dos and Don’ts of Effective Employee Recognition

September 29, 2020

HR leaders generally agree that employee recognition programs are good for both companies and their employees. This belief is reflected in the steady uptick in company-sponsored employee recognition programs over the past several decades.

The difference between a good employee recognition program and a great one hinges on just a few simple best practices that can make a big difference in the results. Almost all employee recognition programs have some positive effects on the workplace, but strategically crafted recognition programs can magnify and focus the benefits. For example, great recognition programs can help unite global workforces, transform company culture, and fundamentally improve the way your team interacts.

In this article, we’ll explain what you should and shouldn’t do to build a top-notch employee recognition program for your organization.

DO Recognize Repeatable Behavior

One of the first things to understand about employee recognition is that its effectiveness is rooted in one of behavioral psychology’s most fundamental theories: behavior which is rewarded will be repeated.

How should your company begin rewarding exemplary behavior? There’s no simpler way to lay the foundation of a strong recognition program than by rewarding desirable behaviors with sincere words of praise. Employees who earn praise from their leaders and peers will appreciate it and be likely to repeat the behaviors that led to it.

Behavior which is rewarded will be repeated.

So what does this mean in terms of how you should nurture the beginnings of your recognition program? Encourage leaders and team members to constantly watch for repeatable behaviors in their colleagues that contribute to the company’s success—and to praise them right away.

Your organization’s mission, values, and vision can help everyone know what kinds of behaviors to look for. For example, in a company that values teamwork, an employee who always takes new teammates under their wing by making friends with them and answering questions about their new job deserves to be recognized for it. In contrast, if your company values a healthy work-life balance, a co-worker pulling crazy hours to meet a one-time deadline is not necessarily a behavior you want to encourage repeating through recognition.

DO Give Monetary and Non-Monetary Recognition

One important decision leaders face when designing their employee recognition programs is whether or not recognition should be accompanied by a tangible reward—money or a gift with monetary value.

On one hand, delivering recognition together with a tangible token of appreciation adds impact to the exchange and can be extremely effective in driving home the message that the employee is appreciated. Recognition is also usually more memorable when there’s a gift to remember it by.

On the other hand, non-monetary recognition costs nothing and, as a result, can be offered as often as possible. It enables more frequent expressions of appreciation between colleagues and helps build a true culture of regular employee recognition.

The bottom line? To get the most from your program, your company should practice both monetary and non-monetary recognition.

Many companies have found that the monetary rewards employees value most are the ones they can choose themselves. One simple way to facilitate this is to reward exemplary behavior with redeemable points from an employee recognition provider that can be exchanged for a gift of the employee’s choosing.

In addition to managers rewarding great employee behaviors with points, allocate an appropriate amount of points for employees to distribute to their deserving peers each month. Also, be sure your provider makes it easy for employees to continue to offer recognition even when the monthly points run out. This way, you can promote both frequent and high-impact recognition through the same initiative—and you do need both for your program to succeed.

What do employees want besides money?

DO Celebrate Publicly

Recognition exchanged privately between two colleagues is good, but when it’s exchanged publicly in the workplace, other colleagues have the opportunity to chime in and amplify the original sentiment, brightening everyone’s day. This helps keep team members connected and feeling grateful for one another’s hard work.

Public recognition can take place in person or online. In smaller companies, that might look like congratulating someone at a company-sponsored lunch or striking a special gong that is only used to celebrate major accomplishments. Larger companies with multiple offices rely more heavily on virtual recognition so they can include everyone. In these cases, public recognition might happen during a company-wide social feed, where colleagues can see who’s been recognized for what and pile on the praise with their own likes and comments.

One final note on this best practice: although public recognition is an important part of a great employee recognition program, make sure your employees know that it’s also okay to recognize one another in private. Some employees are more comfortable away from the limelight.

DO Unify Your Program Across Departments and Teams

Especially in larger organizations, employee recognition programs sometimes emerge within individual departments or at some office locations but not others. Although these programs might be a nice initiative for the team members involved, a network of fragmented, mismatched employee recognition programs does not contribute to the kind of cohesive, consistent culture an organization really needs to succeed.

When designing your employee recognition program, you’ll be able to drive the most positive results if you implement an initiative that spans the entire company. Not only is this fairer to your employees, it provides you a tool to easily implement company-wide cultural initiatives that touch the entire organization through a single program.

In addition to these proactive recommendations, there are a few common pitfalls that you should avoid when structuring your program:

DON’T Manage the Program Internally

Some of the monetary reward recommendations above might sound a little daunting if you’re planning on managing your employee recognition program yourself. They would require a great deal of manual tracking across departments and locations, negotiating corporate discounts on your own, and other time-consuming tasks that can be better and more easily accomplished by enlisting the help of a third party.

The best employee recognition programs are supported by a software solution that handles all these processes and takes the pressure off of your HR team so they are free to focus on more important tasks.

DON’T Waste Your Budget on Markups and Expired Points

Working with an employee recognition provider can be a great way to support your company’s program, but these providers are not all alike. Here are a couple of tips that will help you choose a provider that helps you get the greatest value from your budget:

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  • Don’t settle for a provider that says your points expire after a certain period of time or pockets the points left in an employee’s account when they leave the company. Otherwise, you’ll pay for points you never use.
  • Be sure your provider’s rewards catalog is free of inflated prices so that employees can buy their rewards for the equivalent cost they would pay in a store.

DON’T Let Recognition Be Your Only Form of Feedback

Despite all of the benefits of effective employee recognition, remember that other forms of employee feedback are also essential for creating the most nurturing employee experience possible. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of employee recognition programs is that they pave the way for managers to deliver frictionless constructive criticism: when employees have been praised for all the things they’re doing right, it’s easier for them to listen when areas for improvement are brought to their attention.

Unlike recognition, constructive feedback is better delivered in private. Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports are an easy opportunity to have those conversations, and one-on-ones also facilitate alignment on employee goals and engagement. A complete culture of recognition will also include annual or semi-annual performance reviews that offer the employee and manager a chance to collaborate on long-term goals.

Recognition Can Be Transformative

When you commit to developing a strategic employee recognition program, you capitalize on an opportunity to do much more than just make your employees feel good. Keep these guidelines in mind as you structure your program and you’ll be well on your way to developing an outstanding culture of recognition that enables employees to thrive.

About the Author

Katerina Mery is a marketing specialist at Fond, a rewards and recognition company dedicated to building places where employees love to work. She authors articles about how to leverage recognition programs to drive company success. Learn more at www.fond.co.

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