Topic: Employee Recognition


5 Best Practices for Employee Recognition Programs

Insights from

Updated on 

April 22, 2024






Some organizations believe an employee-of-the-month notice and a year-end pat on the back constitute employee recognition program best practices. The truth is, recognition is much more than that. Even a cash bonus, if it doesn’t make the connection to great work, can’t compare to recognition that elevates feelings of accomplishment and belonging.

Some of the end goals of recognizing employees for high effort and quality work include gaining an increase in:

• Engagement
• Motivation
• Productivity
• Satisfaction
• Loyalty

A successful employee recognition program achieves these objectives by not relying solely on years of service awards and dismissing other opportunities for employee appreciation. Employees need to feel like valuable contributors to the organization’s overall success every time great work happens—not just every 1, 5, 10, or 20 years.

Our experience in both work anniversary and performance recognition means we know that making employees wait or jump through hoops to get noticed doesn’t foster a satisfied workforce—it pushes people away.

Following are five best practices for employee recognition programs.

1. Have a Clear Objective

Be as specific as you can be with your objectives. Why does your organization want to implement a program that delivers on employee recognition program best practices? What are some meaningful ways you want to recognize employees? Which benchmarks do you want to improve with your program? Having solid answers to these questions will give your team a much stronger foundation on which to build recognitions and relationships.

Here’s a story that illustrates this point:

NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) had the objective to create a culture of respect to combat tremendous levels of burnout experienced in the healthcare industry. They launched their Everyday Amazing recognition platform “because we at NYP say that this is where amazing things happen, and where amazing works, so we want to celebrate the everyday amazing things that happen here.”

Their program has seen incredible results, such as reducing hospital attrition by three-digit percentage points and skyrocketing overall organizational engagement. It even helped to elevate their Great Places to Work survey responses.

2. List the Milestones You Want To Celebrate

There are many reasons to recognize employees, and you should have no problem coming up with a list of criteria. Here are a few that may jump-start your creativity:

Employment milestones

• New hires
• Promotions
• Work anniversaries
• Retirement

Life events

• Birthday
• Graduation
• Marriage
• Birth or adoption of a child

Meaningful Moments

• Peer-to-peer acknowledgment
• A job well done
• Making a good effort
• Achieving a goal
• Driving positive change
• A big client win
• Administrative Professionals Day
• Employee Appreciation Day
• National Boss’s Day

3. Ask Your Employees for Input

Chances are high your HR executives have opinions on the matter. You’ll want to know if they have buy-in on an official employee recognition program and what types of recognition programs resonate with them. Guide the conversations to account for your company’s capabilities, but beyond that, it’s best to listen to what they have to say.

TD Bank Group wanted to simplify and streamline recognition. They needed simpler tools and technology, flexibility, and more choice in the reward items offered. Their program is now being used by over 90% of colleagues, who are also advocates for using it to improve the colleague experience.

4. Implement Your Employee Recognition Program

It’s not difficult to implement an employee recognition program when you have the right team taking it one step at a time:

1. Test a pilot program before opening it up to widespread use.
2. Customize the platform to suit your company culture.
3. Communicate the purpose of the program.
4. Train users on how (and when) to use the platform.
5. Get the ball rolling by giving out incentives to recognize others.
6. Regularly encourage program use by publicly publishing achievements.
7. Hold managers accountable by setting certain goals and tracking usage of the platform.

5. Measure the Program’s Effectiveness

Without proper measurement, you’ll never really know if your employee recognition program is meeting its objective. Measuring employee satisfaction through a survey is one way to do it. Another is using a system like an Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).

The questions you want to answer may cover topics like:

• Are the rewards adequate, fair, competitive, and appropriate?
• Do employees find the program meaningful?
• What changes should be made to the program?



Examples of Recognition for Employees in the Workplace

There are hundreds of ways to recognize workplace employees and special occasions, but here are just a few to get you thinking about how your organization can do it (note that many of these can be purchased with points from your program’s online reward store):

• Tickets to a local concert or sporting event
• Accomplishments posted on social media
• Customized trophies or awards
• Electronic gifts (wireless headphones, smart TV, etc.)
• All-expenses paid vacations
• Retail gift cards (clothing, food, music, etc.)
• Classes or coaching sessions
• Awards with a special, fun project
• Yearbook publications featuring photos and achievements
• Charitable contributions/donations

For more examples of employee workplace recognition, review the following resources:

7 Creative Ideas for National Boss Day
20 Meaningful and Memorable Employee Appreciation Ideas
22 Awesome Employee Recognition Gift Ideas
24 Winning Employee Appreciation Gift Ideas for Large Companies

Consider Culture Cloud Recognition

The results of an effective program are impressive—78% of employees are highly engaged when they feel strong recognition from their organization (compared to 34% who get weak recognition).

Culture Cloud is O.C. Tanner’s powerfully effective employee recognition program. This platform is inclusive to all employees, no matter who they are and where they work. Here’s what you can do with Culture Cloud Recognition:

• Spark participation with nudges and tips
• See great work go viral with social recognition
• Celebrate company milestones with group point deposits and custom awards
• Set team initiatives and accomplish them with aligned effort
• Celebrate life’s big events and meaningful moments
• Reward healthy habits using wellbeing incentives
• Foster face-to-face connections and co-creations that encourage ongoing progress
• Empower employees to give with a self-service budget tool
• Gather feedback to help benchmark, track, and adapt to employee sentiment

Keep great employees longer and help your culture thrive. Get started on implementing these suggested employee recognition program best practices and request a Culture Cloud demo today!

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related Resources

The Top 5 Questions about the ROI of Employee Recognition

Get answers to common questions about the ROI of employee recognition.

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Here are six reasons why O.C. Tanner is the ideal employee recognition partner—based on client survey data and testimonials.

Large Multinational Energy Company: Reducing Attrition With True Appreciation

Moving from transactional to true appreciation helped this energy company impact attrition.

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