How to Build Successful Employee Award and Recognition Programs

According to a report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, only 24 percent of respondents say that employees in their organization are engaged.

That’s especially concerning, considering that they also found that “a highly engaged workforce can increase innovation, productivity, and bottom-line performance while reducing costs related to hiring and retention in highly competitive talent markets.”

On the bright side, the report finds that recognizing high performers is considered to have a powerful effect on employee engagement.

At 1338Tryon, we help you build an employee engagement program with strong promotional marketing. A well-made employee recognition program can be your ticket to engagement and the business success that follows. 

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Why Does Public Recognition Matter?

People need to know that their work is valued and important. Private recognition can be nice, but public recognition sends a strong message. It shows that everyone should appreciate a valuable contribution.

On top of that, in order for everyone to benefit from recognition, and not just the employee being recognized, it’s important for other employees to see that value is rewarded. It’s also a great way for them to get a clear picture of what valuable contributions look like.

Why Informal Recognition Isn’t Enough

An informal recognition fails to make crystal clear what kind of contributions are valued. If it’s done in private, then the recipient may feel somewhat encouraged. But they won’t feel as encouraged as if all of their co-workers were there to congratulate them with you.

Additionally, the other employees would have no idea that someone’s good work garners acknowledgement and rewards. As a result, they would have less incentive to perform exceedingly well so that their future work could also be rewarded.

Types of Rewards

Prism Diamond Award

Recognizing employees can take several forms. Employee awards might include a token of some kind that reads “Employee of the Month,” a gift card, special privileges, public praise, and more.

Some employee recognition programs use cash, though this can be a mistake in some situations.

Why Not Cash?

Using monetary awards has a few downsides. The most obvious is that it costs money! For businesses on a tight budget, one more expense can be difficult to stomach.

On top of that, cash awards are impersonal. They’re an obvious first thought, which is exactly the problem. They don’t show any degree of attention to the specifics of the employee or the work they’ve recently done.

If your employees are already well-paid, then a cash reward isn’t likely to affect them that much. You can achieve a stronger effect with social rewards and some personal attention.

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Traditional Awards

Faceted Crystal Circle – Medium

Traditional and time-tested rewards include a token of recognition of some kind. A medal, a plaque, or a statuette can be a great way to take nebulous approval and make it concrete. 

The more clearly a token shows that you have put time and resources into it, the stronger the message that your praise is sincere and you take people’s work seriously. 

Gift cards can also be a tool in your belt to motivate employees. If the employee to be recognized loves a particular store or restaurant, a gift card to their favorite place can be a two-fold reward, not only giving them something they can enjoy using but also showing awareness of who they are as a person and what they like.

Giving the employees some power to express their preferences is a great way to make them feel that the recognition program is oriented towards them. Have a special meeting and invite employees to brainstorm together what kind of recognition rewards they’d most enjoy.

Each workplace is different, so this is a powerful way to take advantage of any idiosyncrasies of yours. A coveted parking space or break room privilege might really motivate your employees, but you have to ask them to find out!

Items With Emotional Value

Moleskine® Soft Cover Ruled X-Large Notebook Black

You can also take advantage of the natural prestige that exists within the office. An admired figure like a boss or CEO can really make recognition strike home by adding brand voice to it. They can choose a product like a branded notebook, hat, or even bag to drum up excitement.

Try getting the CEO or another person high up in the business to write or otherwise deliver a brief message thanking the employee for their excellent work. This can be included alongside a personal gift, like a beautiful (and useful!) Moleskine notebook.

Marc Jacobs The Tag Tote 27 (Black)

Related: 8 Corporate Gifts for Your Employees

Criteria for Employee Recognition Programs


Recognition programs need to be as clear as possible. A well-designed program can motivate people before, during and after the recognition itself. It can motivate both the recipient and all the other employees.

On the other hand, a few design flaws in employee award programs can dilute their effect and waste their potential.

First, make sure that your program recognizes people at well-known intervals. Every time you reward someone’s good work, it will help remind everyone that someone will be rewarded again next time, and it could be them!

Try to reward people for discretionary good behavior. If you reward someone for something that no one else can do, the other employees might feel like they can’t compete, so they might as well ignore the rewards program.

For example, if you reward someone for an amazing feat of computer programming, other employees without those skills might not feel included.

On the other hand, if an amazing programmer goes the extra mile to help their whole team on a project, that would be a perfect opportunity for a reward. Everyone will feel that teamwork is appreciated and that they might be rewarded next month by being a great team player in the coming weeks.

On top of that, try to find a variety of things to reward. When employees see that they can be rewarded for good behavior of all kinds, it motivates them to behave well in every way, rather than in only one narrow domain.

Motivate Your Workplace!


We hope this review of employee recognition programs has been helpful. To find great awards to give your employees or learn more about personalizing your workplace, check out our website!

Related: Case Study: Employee Appreciation Gift