Employee Recognition Program: The Complete Guide [2021 Updated]

Employee Recognition Program

We know it’s not easy to retain your employees, but the Employee recognition program can help you.

According to research, not getting enough recognition is one of the primary reasons for employees to move on to greener pastures. 

Timely. Regular. Instant. 

That’s how your employees want to be recognized and appreciated. 

Feeling overwhelmed? 

Let us help you get back into the game.

Here is our in-depth all-in-one guide to creating an employee recognition culture and make your team happy at work.

What Is Employee Recognition?

One of the biggest mistakes that HR managers and leaders make when it comes to employee recognition is confusing it with rewards and incentives.

But recognition doesn’t mean rewards. It’s an open acknowledgment and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions to an organization.

That’s it!

It’s all about telling them that you notice and appreciate their efforts and work. It could be a simple high five or a thank you note or a simple message on social media.

You don’t need to spend money on gifts or incentives for them. They just want to see that you noticed their work.

According to Officevibe study, 82% of employees think it’s better to give someone praise than a gift.

Dale Carnegie defined it best:

“People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.”

Why Is Employee Recognition Important?

According to studies, a lack of recognition is one of the most common reasons why employees leave an organization.

According to Cicero, 69% of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.

As companies struggle to find top talent, the simple act of recognizing an employee in a meaningful and memorable way is the missing link that can transform the productivity levels, lower employee turnover, and create a sense of belonging to the company.

83% of HR Leaders say an employee recognition program benefits organizational values.

Ian Fuhr, founder and CEO of the Sorbet Group, says:

“If you do not treat people with the respect they deserve, do not expect any kind of commitment to your productivity goals and target.”

When asked what leaders could do to improve engagement, 58% of professionals endorsed giving recognition.

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That’s why an employee recognition program is so important for your company.

Here are some reasons why you should build the best employee recognition program:

Attracting talent. The best talent is looking for a workplace culture that recognizes and appreciates their people.

Employee Retention. Gallup found employees who are not adequately recognized are 2x more likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.

Culture. Employee recognition is an effective way to improve the relationship with company leaders.

employee happiness

Performance. Recognition is more effective than a salary bonus at encouraging people to give their best at work.

Employee Recognition and Appreciation Ideas

Recognition and appreciation will vary from organization to organization, and how you appreciate employees will depend on your unique company needs. 

It could be a company-sponsored outing, a thoughtful email, or a gift card to their favorite store.

Here are some employee recognition ideas :

Public Recognition: Appreciating on social media, certificate, award, etc.

Private Recognition: From a Boss in 1-to-1 meeting, from a peer, private email, etc.

Bonus: Gifts cards, incentives, surprise gifts, etc.

Promotion: Increase the team size or scope of work.

In this In-depth guide, you’ll discover 20 creative employee recognition and appreciation ideas. 

Here are some examples from Springworks:

Peer to Peer Recognition:

Small Bonuses

Public Recognition

Now that you’ve got an understanding of what recognition is, why it’s important, and how it looks, you’re probably curious about how to build your own successful employee recognition program!

Check out the next section:

How to Build a Successful Employee Recognition Program

Want to have a recognition program for your organization that actually works? Here are employee recognition program best practices:

1. Define Your Vision

  • Do research about the benefits that a recognition program can bring to your company. Read all the tips, tricks, and best practices and implement them into your program.
  • It’s important to have a cost estimation (including hidden costs) of recognition programs.

2. Build a Team

Your next step is to build a team to help you implement the program. Appoint a few people who will be responsible for the implementation, managing, and establishment of a recognition program.

When building your team, look for people with the following characteristics:

  • Good knowledge of the program benefits.
  • Positioned as a team leader.
  • Should have an interest in the program.
  • Believes in company values. 

3. Understand the Characteristics of Recognition

Next step is understanding the characteristics of recognition program:

Timely: It is considered a good practice to recognize someone as soon as the deed is done.

Frequent: Don’t wait for a huge milestone or achievement to give recognition. Celebrate small wins.

Specific: Specific recognition helps employees understand exactly which of their efforts contributed to their company’s goal.

Value-based: Think about how a contribution lines up with your company values.

4. Define Clear Program Criteria

If you’re starting a recognition program, you should be clear about what behaviors or actions you’d like to see from recognition programs and how they impact business objectives.

Answer some of the important questions first:

  • What type of behaviors should be rewarded?
  • How the said behaviors should be rewarded?
  • How often should employees be rewarded and appreciated?
  • Who should recognition come from?

5. Hear Employees Voice

Make the process fun! Encourage your employees to better understand the types of rewards they’re most interested in.

Brainstorm ideas with your team. Once you’ve drafted ideas for creative rewards, send a survey to employees and ask everyone to rank the options.

Make employees aware of the program, how to use it, the benefits and encourage them to give their feedback and inputs.

6. Measure Program Effectiveness

Your recognition program impacts many different areas of an organization, including the productivity, business results as well as the brand value. You must measure the effectiveness of the program.

Use data from your recognition program to inform other business decisions. Research if any team or employee is isolated, review how teams are connected, and facilitate collaboration where needed. Once you’ve collected actionable data, make improvements where possible.

Employee Recognition Tools

Employee recognition doesn’t need to be a manual process – there are some fantastic tools out there that will help you.

What makes for a good employee recognition tool? It should:

  • Meet your team where they’re at
  • Provide rewards
  • Share people analytics
  • Scale easily


EngageWith is an employee recognition and rewards tool. It makes recognition fast and legitimately fun for everyone.

Employees can appreciate and recognize peers, juniors, or managers by giving them Kudos or Shout outs for a job well done. It builds stronger working relationships and a greater sense of belonging.

It can also be used to celebrate and reward/gift employees on their birthdays and milestones like work anniversaries.


Officevibe is a great tool for measuring employee sentiments. Send weekly surveys to measure employee satisfaction and engagement, while offering useful and actionable advice on ways to improve it.

Culture Amp

Culture Amp’s library of survey templates and listening technology allows for feedback throughout the employee experience so you see what’s working and what’s not.


Achievers’ award-winning employee voice and recognition solution create a workplace environment that accelerates employee engagement and performance — every single day.


We love Slack. It’s our go-to communication and collaboration tool for nearly everything, and we frequently use it to give recognition. Every time someone receives a small bonus, the entire company sees it pop up in our #random channel.



How do I start an employee recognition program?

In this guide, you’ll get all the best practices to build a modern employee recognition program and motivate your employees.

How important is employee recognition?

When you recognize and appreciate employees’ good work, it confirms their work is valued by others. And their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve their performance.

What is the best way to recognize employees?

Here are 20 powerful ways to recognize employees who are doing a great job.

Final Words!

“Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.” – Mary Kay Ash

Recognizing an employee is a sign of respect, and is a very important part of keeping your team engaged. And using a specially-designed employee recognition platform like EngageWith can be an effective way for teams to feel valued, perform better, stay engaged, and more.

We invite you to take a demo to learn more about how you can build a recognition-rich company culture.

culture of recognition

Free BONUS: Want to boost employee engagement at your office? Get a free ebook of 25 employee engagement ideas and activities (Includes examples from real companies)

Originally published April 13, 2020 3:56 PM, updated Jan 08 2021

1 Comment

  1. Great blog indeed!!!
    Rewarding your staff shouldn’t be a challenge – it should be a privilege. With the right tools to hand and an understanding of what your employees value most, you’ll be in a far better position to reward your staff in ways that suit them.

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