How to Create Impactful Symbolic Awards for Employees
Insights from Sandra Christensen, Vice President of Awards at O.C. Tanner
Insights from Sandra Christensen, Vice President of Awards at O.C. Tanner
Symbolic awards are back, and better than ever.
But when we say symbolic awards, we don’t mean these:
We mean these:
Traditionally, symbolic awards for employees were reserved for commemorating rare achievements, like employee of the month, years of service or top performance awards. These types of awards were usually generic, nondescript, and impersonal.
Today’s symbolic employee recognition awards are thoughtfully created to reflect a company’s history, purpose, values, culture, and community. They also represent the employee’s hard work that went into the achievement.
“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”
— DAN GABLE, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST
A symbolic recognition award is a special award given to show appreciation and recognize an employee’s accomplishments. They symbolize the hard work and contributions of employees. Effective symbolic awards for employees are thoughtfully designed and reflect the company culture, history, and values of an organization. These types of trophies and awards do not have to be elaborate or expensive to have impact, but they must be meaningful.
See how successful companies use symbolic awards as part of an integrated recognition strategy.
Employees want recognition awards because appreciation at work can:
The influence of recognition is substantial. Heartfelt, genuine recognition and leader acknowledgement, combined with the right employee recognition awards to celebrate success, can inspire employees and make them feel irreplaceable.
The impact of symbolic awards is powerful:
Giving symbolic awards strengthens connection and belonging. It shows employees are part of your organization—your culture, your purpose, and your community.
See more stats on the impact of symbolic recognition awards in our Global Culture Report.
Here are some employee recognition awards ideas that incorporate symbolism:
1. Swag boxes. Swag boxes—a collection of company-branded gifts that reflect your culture—are a fun and creative award. You can use these during onboarding and for company celebrations to strengthen belonging and community.
2. Careerscapes. Career celebrations have changed a lot over the years. Celebrate your employees’ achievements over time with awards that symbolize not only their years of service, but everything they’ve accomplished in that time. Careerscapes are collectible trophies that tell the story of an employee’s career. Designed to grow with employees, each icon symbolizes an employee’s years of service, accomplishments, and celebrations during their time with you. Make recognition personal by showcasing all the unique ways employees have contributed over their career.
3. Numerals. Celebrate employee years of service in a memorable way with a numeral that represents their years of service with you.
See more employee award ideas and how you can celebrate your employees’ service anniversaries with symbolism.
4. Custom award. Sometimes awards for employees need to be more custom, depending on the achievement or event. O.C. Tanner can help you create a beautiful custom symbolic award to use in awards ceremonies and recognition moments.
Want to use these awards in your organization? Find out how with Culture Cloud™.
You can find your company’s symbols in your company’s story and company culture. For some organizations, designing a symbolic award is as easy as using your logo or products. For others, it requires thinking about which aspects of your company and culture have meaning to employees. Here’s how you can find and create your company’s symbols:
They should reflect your organization and serve as a tangible reminder of employees’ accomplishments and contributions. Generic certificates, plaques, and off-the-rack trophies won’t build the connection and meaning that symbolic awards can.
BHP’s symbolic awards represent their company history, purpose, the tools and equipment they use every day, and their future.
These symbols should connect to organizational purpose, your history, and values. If you need help with designing or creating symbols, find a partner who can help you create a collection of iconic awards that define and honor your culture.
It could be a company-wide event, a brand refresh, a new year, introducing a prestigious award, or celebrating a company milestone. Start giving out your beautiful awards, and then expand symbolism out to other recognition opportunities. Begin with onboarding, and end with retirement.
Need help crafting the perfect symbolic awards? Contact us to create your own collection.
Don’t wait until an employee has been with your company for 5 years to give them symbolic employee recognition awards. Start on day one. Onboarding is the perfect time to introduce new employees to your company’s history, purpose, values, and culture. Giving new hires a small but meaningful symbol of your company, along with a welcome eCard through your company’s recognition program like Culture Cloud, is a great way to introduce them to your recognition tools and appreciation culture.
Fun company swag, custom buttons or pins, zipper pulls, or anything else new employees can wear or use on their first days at their new job will build community and immediate connection to your company.
Research shows when symbolic awards are given early there is a substantial impact on how employees feel about their company culture, inclusion, recognition, and even business results.
See how CIBC uses a symbolic pin, along with a custom backpack and points from their recognition program, to help new hires feel appreciated and part of the company.
Symbolic awards can be used to celebrate a variety of achievements, not just top performance. Use symbolism to recognize employees’ great work and efforts throughout the year; large and small accomplishments, team successes, safety, and innovation are all worthy of a symbolic award.
You can make symbolic awards collectible or create various levels of awards to add meaning. And they don’t have to be expensive or made of gold to be impactful—the most important aspect of an effective symbolic award is that it connects the employee and their accomplishment back to your organization and makes the recognition moment memorable.
Timely appreciation that details specific employee contributions and connects to your organization’s purpose will bring your symbolic awards to life.
Ritchie Bros. uses symbolism, as well as a VIP experience, to reward excellence
All acts of appreciation contribute to a positive workplace culture and strengthen belonging and connection in the long term; however, symbolic awards amplify the impact of employee recognition. Start using them today.
Contact us to see how you can use symbolic awards to celebrate service awards, company milestones, and so much more.
Sandra Christensen VP, Awards, O.C. Tanner
With over 32 years of experience in employee appreciation award development, Sandra Christensen leads the global awards merchandising and award design and development production teams at O.C. Tanner. A designer herself, Sandra has spent her career creating meaningful, lasting symbols of accomplishment. Her expertise and direction have resulted in the successful launch of countless custom award initiatives for leading organizations, including many in the Fortune 100.