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A complete resource about Company Culture by O.C. Tanner
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Employee Recognition and Appreciation Ideas to Elevate Your Company Culture


Employee recognition and appreciation undeniably help companies elevate their corporate cultures. The very act of appreciation builds relationships with peers and leaders, helps employees feel connected to purpose, and creates positive, peak moments for employees—all which add up to building a company culture that inspires employees and helps them thrive.

Looking for recognition and appreciation ideas that will elevate your workplace culture? Read on.

How recognition and appreciation impact organizational culture

Employee recognition and appreciation is crucial to building thriving workplace cultures. Why? Because when you show appreciation, you boost the 6 most important elements of great company culture.

Global research shows the six elements of company culture that determine an employee’s decision to join, engage with, and remain at an organization (Talent MagnetsTM) are purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. These six areas will determine if you have a thriving workplace culture or not.

If you were to measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for company culture, it would be employees’ perception of the six Talent MagnetsTM at work:

• Purpose
• Opportunity
• Success
• Appreciation
• Wellbeing
• Leadership

The research shows that when employees are recognized for their great work and efforts, it actually improves and elevates all six of these KPIs for company culture.

Talent magnets include: Leadership, purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, and wellbeing.
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In addition to improving the six most important aspects of organizational culture, recognition and appreciation impact corporate culture in the following ways:

1. Employee engagement –  Simply recognizing great work elevates engagement by as much as 50%. Recognition is an easy, low-cost, proven way to build employee engagement.

2. Employee retention – The mark of a great corporate culture is the ability to keep top talent. 53% of employees said they would stay at their jobs longer if their employers showed them more appreciation. And companies like GE Appliances saw risk of attrition decrease 58% when employees received recognition in the past month.

Centra Health also found both monetary and non-monetary recognition decreased employee turnover, with a 1 unit increase in monetary recognition leading to a 19% decrease in odds of turnover, and a 1 unit increase in non-monetary recognition leading to a 27% decrease in odds of turnover.

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3. Attract talent – Another sign of a great organizational culture is attracting top talent. “Appreciation for my work” was  the number one attribute that job seekers across the globe said was most important in their new job. Staff appreciation is an important part of the overall compensation and benefits package employees are looking at for potential employers, and companies should promote employee recognition programs more as they hire people to join their teams.

4. Motivating employees – Great company cultures have working environments that motivate employees to be more productive and innovative. In fact, 76% of employees who feel appreciated believe they can take on anything. When asked “what is the most important thing your manager or company does (or could do) to cause you to produce great work”, the number one response (37%) was “recognize me.”

And when you recognize employees, they are 33% more likely to be proactively innovating and generate 2x as many ideas per month. Employees also said they prefer employee recognition over a 5% salary bonus when encouraging them to be innovative and productive.

5. A best-in-class employee experience – Employee recognition and appreciation have a positive impact on the overall employee experience. No matter what forms of recognition you use, formal or informal, big or small, leader-given or peer-to-peer, the act of showing appreciation positively impacts the interactions, relationships, messages, and experiences employees have every day with their leaders, teams, and your organization.

Recognition helps elevate even the strongest company cultures and can help an organization be a great place to work and impact their bottom line.

10 Recognition and appreciation ideas to improve company culture

While employee recognition and appreciation may seem easy, many leaders and organizations struggle to show appreciation effectively. The most successful employee recognition programs are integrated and embedded into organizational culture.

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How can you use recognition and appreciation to elevate your company culture? Follow these best practices:


1. Recognize both large and small efforts. Successful recognition programs include recognition for all types of great work, from small everyday extra efforts to extraordinary achievements. Be holistic in the types of recognition you offer employees. Recognize personal achievements, big and small, as well as years of service. Appreciate innovation, collaboration, safety, and work anniversaries.

At the start of the Covid pandemic, BASF knew they had to keep showing appreciation for their people to prevent burnout, keep employees motivated, and help them stay connected. So in addition to recognizing major accomplishments and their regular metrics, BASF encouraged leaders to recognize additional behaviors and efforts employees were taking as they pivoted to remote work. Things like:

• Embracing a positive attitude or lifting team member’s spirits
• Using collaboration tools effectively to keep the team connected
• Supporting team members in staying safe
• Being resourceful and creative
• Taking care of family obligations and still doing great work
• Quiet heroes who are working behind the scenes to make success happen

By recognizing accomplishments both large and small, BASF was able to help their people stay connected to their strong company culture, even while teams were apart.

2. Make recognition an everyday part of the culture. Recognition and appreciation can’t happen only once a year during an annual award or performance review. Nor can it be reserved for Employee Appreciation Day. Recognition has to happen daily or weekly in order for it to be a meaningful, normal part of your culture. And after times of crisis, like 2020’s global pandemic, ongoing, daily recognition is needed more than ever.

Ocwen’s culture of everyday recognition helped their employees thrive during the 2020 pandemic. Their Applause program already offered recognition for various achievements, including:

• eCards (for peer-to-peer recognition)
• Spot Award (for instant recognition)
• Customer Service Awards (recognize excellence in customer service)
• Performance Awards (recognize consistent and outstanding performance of individuals or teams)
• Special Mention Awards (given by the Senior Executives to recognize individuals who deliver exemplary performance)

Ocwen’s leaders use recognition from the employee’s first day at work, and their Assistant Manager of HR says, “Today, we can proudly say the Applause program is part of the DNA of Ocwen.”

Because of this everyday, ongoing recognition, employees shared on a mid-pandemic survey that their morale is high, employees are more productive than even before the pandemic, and gave positive feedback for the organization’s response to the crisis.

“What applause has ensured is that even if we are working from home, employees and leaders haven’t stopped recognizing. Despite the shift in where we are working, recognition is one consistent thing. It hasn’t changed. This would not have been possible earlier with a different platform. Recognition will continue, even as we move to the new normal.” —Manager, Human Resources

3. Include peer-to-peer recognition. In order to strengthen collaboration, teamwork, and appreciation in your culture, recognition can’t just be top-down. Your recognition program must allow peers to appreciate each other and join in on the celebration.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) wanted to integrate and align recognition with their culture and connect it to their new brand. They designed a new online, multidirectional recognition strategy with tools that would enable every employee to appreciate their peers and celebrate important career milestones.

BDC’s updated recognition tools and practices helped them reinforce the strong culture they already had, while making it easier and more accessible to appreciate one another’s accomplishments. BDC says this positive impact on their culture has led to an increase in employee engagement and retention.

“Appreciating our peers is increasingly embedded in the way we do things. It is becoming common practice.” —Karine Clément-Debrosse, Senior Advisor, Employee Experience at BDC

4. Encourage leaders to frequently recognize. In order to make recognition an everyday part of your culture, leaders must recognize frequently and often. Gallup recommends recognizing every 7 days, but employees should hear positive feedback from their leaders at least monthly, whether it’s formal recognition, a heartfelt thank you, or positive messages in conversations about their work.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) made sure leaders kept recognizing their people throughout the 2020 pandemic crisis. Their Recognition Lead, Karl Frunz, sent an email to all leaders reminding them and encouraging them to use their recognition program to help employees feel seen, keep them connected to one another and the company culture, and boost morale during difficult times.

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5. Make recognition experiences personal. 70% of employees say recognition is most meaningful to them when it is personalized. Generic, transactional, or automated recognition isn’t meaningful and won’t have any impact on building great organizational cultures. In order for employees to feel truly valued and appreciated, recognition must be personal, genuine, and sincere. Give thought to what type of recognition you are giving and how you give it. Keep in mind the preferences of the individual and what is most appropriate for the accomplishment. Above all, be thoughtful and plan ahead.

Dow Chemical needed a global employee recognition program that didn’t have a one-size-fits-all feel. So they created customized recognition strategies that were flexible to meet the needs of their local cultures, while still being part of one cohesive Dow platform.

Because of their personalized approach to recognition, employee engagement in their recognition program went from 11% to 84% in the first year, and they are now a leading company when it comes to corporate culture.

6. Understand individual recognition preferences. The best way to make recognition personalized is to understand how the individual employee likes to be recognized. Do they like private or more public recognition? Recognition in front of their teams or senior leaders? A big celebration or a quiet lunch? What type of award or gift would thrill them the most? When both an organization and its leaders make the effort to understand individual preferences, culture scores increase:

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Siemens was looking for a way to give every employee an individualized recognition experience. Their SHINE program allows employees to recognize in any way, any time, and provides a selection of awards so the recipient can choose a gift that is most meaningful to them. 

“At Siemens we continuously strive for a very inclusive culture. It’s more important that we give employees an individual recognition experience they need and want, rather than expecting everyone to be engaged in the same way.” —Nicolette Barnard, Head of HR Pacific Region, Siemens

7. Publicize recognition throughout the organization. Recognition can only elevate culture when it’s shared and spread across the organization. Publicize recognition and share stories of what employees have done. The best recognition programs have a social recognition element to them, like O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud Wall of Fame, where employees can not only see each other’s great work but also like and comment on it. This fosters a culture where employees celebrate each other’s successes and accomplishments together.

CEAT needed a platform that provided more visible recognition. Their CHAMP program allows peers to immediate recognize one another for their contributions, but also has a Wall of Fame feature to give employees instant visibility across the organization for their achievements. The social wall serves as a motivator for doing great work and reminds leaders to give their people recognition on a regular basis, which helps build their culture. 

“We wanted a dedicated platform for rewards and recognition, and a framework which makes instantaneous rewarding a habit—something that gets engraved in the DNA of the company and all our employees.” —Arjun Singh, Vice President of Human Resources, CEAT

8. Continually improve recognition programs and technology. The future of recognition blends tech and touch. Great employee recognition software should make the act of giving and receiving recognition easy, but too much reliance on technology can make the recognition experience feel transaction. Make sure your employee recognition program is using the most modern technology and is integrated with other systems. Effective recognition technology, like O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud platform, not only provides a streamlined way to show appreciation, but also helps to build and elevate your organizational culture.

Banner Health needed a system-wide, online recognition program that could be accessed by team members across their 200 locations as well as by patients to give recognition to caregivers. Partnering with O.C. Tanner, they created their MVP program, a centralized platform where everyone can recognize a team member with eCards that directly link to company values.

“Today we are seeing this becoming part of the fabric of the organization, rather than some add-on project, some add-on tactic. It’s now starting to filter out into the organization as an expectation of the culture at Banner Health.” —Peter S. Fine, CEO and President of Banner Health

9. Use recognition champions. Leaders and employees all need to be reminded and encouraged to recognize. Select a few recognition champions to build awareness and remind people about the importance of recognition in strengthening company culture. These recognition ambassadors serve to ensure recognition is frequently given and never forgotten.

Centra Health has a Recognition Champion program where champions are strategically placed across the organization to bring awareness and encourage employees to recognize. Champions are from outside of HR and are certified. They participate in quarterly conference calls where they can stay connected, share best practices and success stories, and take part in activities that encourage others across the organization to recognize.

10. Provide meaningful awards. Awards play a significant role in the recognition experience, so choose awards that appeal to employees and connect back to your culture. Gift cards and dinners out are nice, but do they help employees remember their achievements or connect their accomplishments to your organization? The most effective award strategy combines a personal gift (ideally of the employee’s choosing) with a memorable, symbolic gift that represents your organization and your culture.

Working in fast food can be tough, and Taco Bell wanted to bring a culture of recognition and celebration to their restaurants. But they didn’t want a traditional service award program; they wanted something unique to the Taco Bell culture and awards that would connect their people to their company’s culture and history. O.C. Tanner helped them develop symbolic awards that represent legendary Taco Bell symbols. These symbolic awards are paired with a Yearbook filled with peer and leader comments and photos, making the service anniversary recognition experience memorable and meaningful.

“Symbols mean a lot to people. People love to display them because it communicates to others that this really means something to me and has great value to me.” —Frank Tucker, former CPO
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