How to Leverage Your Employee Recognition Program

Over the past few decades, employee recognition programs have become integral in the workplace as companies increasingly recognize its benefits.

For many years, employee recognition programs took top-down approaches, typically with one annual event taking center stage. However, those strategies no longer suffice with workers now expecting more from their employers across the board. 

For recognition to yield results, it must be strategic and in touch with the needs of today’s employees. Companies who create a Culture of Recognition by prioritizing these efforts will see faster, more meaningful results.

Relationship Between Recognition and Engagement

Employee recognition programs acknowledge and reward personnel for their talents, efforts, and performance. However, all of these elements rely on one key factor: engagement. Engagement influences how employees perceive their job, their colleagues, and the company as a whole. 

To modernize your recognition program, start by defining your engagement priorities, such as:

  • Attracting and retaining top talent
  • Enabling more robust, authentic connections between employees
  • Enhancing morale and well-being
  • Improving productivity

For a growth-oriented organization, these are all high priorities. A strategically-designed employee recognition program can help achieve all of them.

Using Recognition to Connect Individuals and Teams

Employees must have a healthy frame of mind for the organization to operate efficiently at all levels. They crave meaningful social interaction. If they work in a vacuum and rarely interact with colleagues, their engagement will decline along with their productivity.

One way to avoid this is by using an employee recognition program to help employees form meaningful connections. 

Incorporate Peer-to-Peer Recognition Programs

Top-down recognition, where management and leadership carry the responsibility, is where many companies start their reward programs. This structure has limitations when used by itself, such as:

  • Upper management are not always in a position to identify individual efforts
  • Praise may focus only on major projects rather than on day-to-day efforts
  • Top-down recognition can feel inauthentic to employees who rarely interact with company leadership otherwise

What if you could make recognition continuous and involve employees in the process? The recognition would be more meaningful to recipients because they know it’s from colleagues who respect them and appreciate their contributions. Continuous recognition that builds employee connections is the whole point of a peer-to-peer recognition program.

Increase Channels for Recognition

Successful employee recognition programs celebrate small wins that spur the team forward, not just the more prominent achievements.

Consider setting up multiple channels dedicated to appreciating work wins – for example, community channels on Microsoft Teams or Slack. These collaboration chat tools give teams opportunities to connect in meaningful ways daily. At the same time, they can help build and support a company culture of recognition.

Embed Recognition into Company Culture

While peer-to-peer recognition has some unique advantages, it also calls for the goodwill of employees toward each other, which can be a challenge.

The goal is to help employees reach a level where they’re comfortable and willing to congratulate and openly appreciate each other’s efforts. An employee recognition program focused on culture will break down the team and structural barriers and increase the sense of belonging.

Increase Employee Retention

Any competitive edge you can gain in business is invaluable – particularly in attracting and retaining top talent. Hiring the best talent and keeping them happy in today’s labor market is especially critical. The average cost of replacing an individual employee is higher than often realized, at one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. 

Many organizations focus solely on salary, bonuses, and perks to attract and retain high-quality employees. But employees today also greatly emphasize the work environment and sense of community. They want to be recognized for accomplishments and have opportunities to learn and grow.

Personalize Recognition to Create Authentic Moments

Each year, organizations may hold an employee recognition event. And each year, their employees know what rewards to expect. One way to increase employee involvement in the recognition process is to choose specific rewards for specific individuals.  

Suppose an employee up for a reward loves professional basketball. They would never forget an expenses-paid trip to see their favorite NBA team in action. Someone who is about to become a parent might enjoy a gift card to a baby store – or perhaps a food delivery service so they can take a week or two off from cooking.

The goal is to increase an award’s “trophy value.” Trophy value is the ultimate impact of an award or incentive over time. A higher trophy value doesn’t have to mean a reward that costs more but one that the recipient finds more meaningful.

Empower Managers to Spot Key Moments

Forbes reports that when asked whether they’d rather have a different manager or a pay raise, 65% of employees chose a new manager. Gallup data indicates that one out of every two employees has quit a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.

Managers have a pivotal role to play in employee recognition. But due to structural barriers, managers and employees are somewhat segregated. By training managers to spot recognition opportunities, reward programs can help break structural barriers by allowing management and employees to interact more meaningfully.

Ensure Rewards Enhance Well-Being 

Employees are happy in a healthy and positive working environment. Fortunately, a robust employee recognition program is a powerful tool for enhancing well-being and morale.

Physical, mental, and emotional well-being is essential for basic human functioning. As you structure various employee recognitions, ensure they address all aspects of well-being.

You might include reward options such as gym memberships and aerobics classes for physical well-being; drawing lessons or online educational courses to stimulate mental well-being; and bonding activities such as backpacking trips or group cooking classes for emotional well-being and connection.

A vital part of successful recognition programs is choice. Give your employees a choice in well-being rewards. You’ll automatically increase the trophy value.

Understand the Contemporary Workforce

The U.S. workforce contains five generations for the first time in history. In descending order by size, these include:

  • Millennials (1981 to 2000) – currently 37%* of the U.S. workforce
  • Generation X (1965 to 1980) – 28%
  • Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) – 27%
  • Generation Z (2001 to 2020) – 6% 
  • Traditionalists (1925 to 1945) – 2%

*estimated to reach 75% by 2030

How these individual generations approach work and its role in their lives impact the engagement activities and recognition programs that resonate with them. Start with the generational makeup of your employees and fine-tune from there as much as possible based on surveys of employee interests.

Start Recognizing Today

Maintaining an up-to-date recognition program is a powerful tool for keeping your workforce functioning optimally. It can give them a sense of community, boost their morale, and instill a greater sense of purpose. 

Rewards do not have to be expensive or grandiose. Even small, meaningful gifts have a considerable impact. Choose the right partner to get the most out of your reward and recognition efforts. Xceleration helps organizations like yours build and carry out strategic, effective recognition programs. Reach out to us today to create a thriving culture of recognition that will pay dividends for many years.

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