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Why Values & Rewards Drive Employee Recognition

8/30/17 11:06 AM

Employee recognition programs have been proven to boost employee engagement, which is linked to higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased profitability. But makes a recognition program successful?

Recognition programs can vary from top-down to peer-to-peer and from informal to formal. Top-down recognition requires consistent involvement by upper management and direct managers. Some studies show that recognition from a CEO is more meaningful than from a manager or peer, while others argue that this type of recognition can appear insincere or forced. For example, Paul White, author of The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation explains, “When employees do not believe that others are genuine or sincere in their communication of appreciation, reactions include cynicism, lack of trust, disbelief, skepticism, resentment.”

To avoid insincerity, be sure that the program aligns with company values/mission, is widely promoted and encouraged, and comprehensively adopted by management. Gallup's data reveal that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized. Regardless of the messenger, all forms of recognition should be reinforced by company values, and come from a genuine place of gratitude to avoid forced or mechanical perceptions. The rewards offered should also represent the employee’s preferences. For example, if all employees are rewarded with the same gift card or generic award, the recognition itself can lose its luster and become less powerful as a motivation and engagement tool.

A recognition program is a manifestation of company culture. The best recognition programs align with company values and mission. That involves branding the program to reflect the company’s most valuable mantra or statement. Does the company value customer service and honesty? Creativity and coaching? Empowering people? Start with values when developing the tagline or foundation of a recognition program. From values, develop a list of related behaviors to be recognized. For example, a restaurant chain which values customer service and positive attitudes may recognize teamwork or a great attitude as key behaviors.

Goals of recognition programs

  • Creating and retaining a positive work environment
  • Creating a culture of recognition for employees
  • Attracting and retaining employees
  • Uplifting employee morale
  • Motivating and reinforcing high performance
  • Awareness and support of the organization’s mission and values
  • Encouraging loyalty between employees, their leaders, and the organization

A 10% improvement in employees' connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 4.4% increase in profitability.


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Only about 40% of respondents to a SHRM survey have online award redemption available for employees to choose rewards. That means of businesses that have built a recognition program, a select few allow employees to choose things that they actually want after achieving a goal or completing a reward-worthy task.

Employee Recognition Reward Ideas



  • They do a great job of creating incentive and therefore increasing work performance
  • Bonuses are simple and uncomplicated in terms of the actual program
  • Who doesn’t love some extra cash in their paycheck?


  • Can be expensive, not always effective. More on why cash isn’t necessarily king.
  • Can create jealousy and even resentment toward the boss
  • They can cause added stress on employees



  • Everyone’s included. No one is left out
  • Easy to make sure they are affordable for the company (know what you are expected to pay upfront)
  • They’re a good bonding experience and a nice way to build office morale


  • May be difficult to please everyone (different interests, different opinions on what is a reward)

Gift Card Rewards


  • There are a wide variety of brands to choose from
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Because you choose the amount, you can afford to give them to everyone or spend more on prizes for a few top earners


  • You usually have to deal with a third party, making the system slightly more complicated than giving out cash

Wellness Programs

Gift cards to healthy grocery stores or meal delivery or cooking subscriptions like Blue Apron

Payment for flu shots, pharmacy co-pays and other medications (good way to keep the office healthy and employees out less)



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