Topic: Employee Experience


‍The Superpower of Symbolism at Work

Insights from

Updated on 

February 12, 2024

Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable said, “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”  

Symbolic awards represent the hard work, effort, and dedication one puts into their craft. And symbolism in employee recognition awards tells the stories of the accomplishments and contributions of your employees. Custom awards with symbolism can reinforce your company’s purpose, brand, and workplace culture, and help employees feel they belong to a workplace community. Let’s look at a few of symbolism’s superpowers.

Employees are 3X more likely to remember a recognition experience when it includes a symbolic award.

Symbolism strengthens workplace connections

Research from the O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2023 Global Culture Report found that thoughtful, high-quality symbolic awards that reflect a company’s culture produced a higher emotional impact in employees than cash, gift cards, and generic awards. And when a recognition experience includes an award with symbolism, employees’ feelings of connection with their team, leader, and the organization increase:

A chart showing how symbolic awards increase connections to teams, leaders, and the organization by over 200%


Symbolism improves great work and employee retention

Employees are more likely to do great work and stay with the organization when they receive symbolism during key career milestones.


The probability of great work when symbolism is included in a recognition experience at key career milestones has increasing impact as time goes on.
The probability of great work when symbolism is included in a recognition experience at key career milestones.



The probability of retention when symbolism is included in a recognition experience at key career milestones has significant impact.
Probability of retention when symbolism is included in a recognition experience at key career milestones.

Symbolism impacts workplace culture and business results

When organizations use symbolism often and early in an employee’s career with them, they can improve not only the recognition experience but also the employee’s perceptions of the organization, and even business results:


A chart detailing the impact of starting symbolic awards early in an employee lifecycle. Increases are seen across the board in inclusion, recognition, revenue, and growth.


How can organizations successfully integrate symbolism into their employee recognition efforts?

  1. Incorporate symbolism early and often. Give a small, meaningful symbolic award when new hires start at your company. Help connect them to your company history, brand, purpose, and culture from day one. Then continue to use symbolism and custom awards in other forms of recognition to reinforce their meaning and connection.

  2. Create custom awards that reflect your company culture. Don’t just use generic, impersonal certificates or trophies. While it doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive, symbolism in awards should be thoughtful and reflect your company’s history and culture, the products and services you offer, or the tools and equipment employees use. Take the time to design meaningful symbols that tell the story of who your organization is and what your employees are accomplishing. Making them collectible or creating various levels of symbolism can also enhance their meaning.

  3. Use symbolism for a multitude of reasons. Don’t limit symbolism to recognizing service anniversaries. Symbols can be used to recognize everyday effort, above-and-beyond work, safety, top performers, new product launches, and hitting business performance targets. Many types of symbolic awards, given often, can be a powerful part of building an integrated recognition culture.
BHP uses thoughtfully designed custom awards that incorporate symbolism to connect their people to their company history, purpose, and workplace culture.


3 custom symbolic BHP pins that represent key moments in the company's history. The symbolic pins are given to employees on their career anniversaries.
Learn more about symbolism’s superpower and how you can use symbolic awards to create a thriving culture in our 2023 Global Culture Report.
About The AUTHOR:

related Resources

Thriving Together: Cultivating a Supportive Work Environment for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Get expert insights to help you create a workplace environment where employees feel valued and supported in their journey towards holistic wellness.

Achieving Equitable Flexibility: The 5 Elements at the Core of Successful Workplace Flexibility

Learn about flexibility in the workplace, including the ways employees define it and the impact it can have on key business outcomes.

Why You Should Invest in Employee Experience Now

Why should you invest in your employee experience? A better workplace culture, more innovation, higher productivity, and greater success.

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.