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4 Elements of Great Employee Recognition Programs

Kimberly Lyons
3/16/18 1:04 PM

A common understanding is employees appreciated by their organization feel more positive and contribute more to their organization’s success. Yet it’s not unusual to find that little time and effort has gone into establishing a formal employee recognition program. The efforts may be well intended but the execution leaves something to be desired by manager and employees alike.

If you’ve ever wondered why some employee recognition programs take off while others seem to limp along, take a look at the common elements of a great employee recognition program below.


No decent employee recognition program is a well-kept secret or hidden. The whole point of recognizing employees is to public acknowledge their successes. At the very least, employee recognition should be announced to the entire team or department.

If possible, recognition should also span throughout the company hierarchies. As shown in a recent Gallup workplace survey, almost one-quarter of employees surveyed said any recognition from the CEO or another high-level leader is the most memorable recognition they could receive. If recognition is left strictly between employee-manager, then the opportunity for positive experiences with top-level leadership is eliminated.

Establishing a recognition-rich environment within your organization is one of the best ways a company demonstrates how it values its employees. When employees are recognized and rewarded they know the effort they put into their jobs is not going unseen.


Not only should your employee recognitions be public, they should also be timely. If employees are only recognized once or twice a year -- Christmas and work anniversaries are the most common time periods for employee recognition -- employers are hard-pressed to use that time for rewarding real accomplishments. Major employee achievements could have already faded from memory by the time either yearly occasion comes around.

Honoring employee achievements in the moment has a greater impact. The exact format for recognizing employees will vary depending on organizational culture and industries. However all organizations should attempt to ensure their employee recognition events are not unusual occurrences.

Additionally, recognizing employees for their successes close to when they take place provides an ongoing, constant stream of positive news. You can then share the positive information with your other employees. It reiterates on a recurring basis that an employee’s hard work is recognized and incentivizes your other employees to be open about their own goals and successes.


We hear about the benefits of consistency. Being consistent helps with everything from parenting advice to weight loss tactics to improving sales performances in the office. Winston Churchill might chose to be right rather over consistent, but consistency is how most of us achieve our goals in life.

The same goes for your employee rewards program: consistently reward employees for their achievements. Employee recognition should on some level be a regular occurence. If your recognition program is unorganized and scattered with events here and there it rapidly loses any positive goodwill it was meant to generate. Infrequent employee recognition can be negatively received by employees who are periodically unrecognized for their achievements, especially if they share common successes with the lucky few who are being recognized.

Additionally, be consistent about how your organization recognizes employees and the criteria for recognition. If you establish an open action plan with goals for all, then you should reward every participating employee that meets those goals -- not just the employee who got there first.


Below are two statements on the same employee:

“Rachel is a great, hardworking teammate, and she always does her part.”

“Rachel not only beat her total personal sales goal for 2018 already, she personally netted over 35% of our total sales for the last quarter.”  

Which statement of recognition do you think is more appreciated?

Rewarding employees for specific accomplishments and features is far more impactful as a recognition strategy than generic comments. Canned recognition efforts filled with the usual buzzwords can fall flat at the exact moments when they should be lifting your employees up. If your congratulations reads like a form letter where the name of an employee could be swapped out with any individual in the company, the recognition effort loses its good intentions.

Instead, have your rewards go towards specific accomplishments. If you run into the lucky scenario where a high performer consistently lands a series of wins, then highlight one specific example of how they rock. If you want to demonstrate how much you value your employee, than make sure you value that specific person -- not a robot.

The details of your recognition and rewards strategy - the who’s, what’s, how’s - require you to dig deep into your own company culture in order to find out what works best within your company culture and values. No matter how you build your recognition program, you should keep these four elements in mind. It takes time and effort to build a truly thorough recognition program but the rewards are happy and driven employees who know their hard work won’t go unacknowledged.

Download: Six Ways You Can Get to Know Your Employees 

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