5 Key Characteristics of the Best Employee Recognition Programs

Anna Straus, CEO at Sparck January 21, 2020

If you have an Employee Recognition Program in place, now is the time to ask yourself “how can we improve?  What worked and what didn’t? What can we do better?” If you haven’t built a recognition program yet, now is a great time to start!

In a recent IRF survey, 85% of companies agree that 2020 will see a strong financial performance.  As a result, many employers are planning to increase recognition program budgets. In fact, “Employee Experience Manager” is one of the fastest growing job titles in Human Resources.  How cool is that?!

However, many employees feel there is a chasm between employer intentions and what is happening in the workplace, meaning recognition programs may not be aligning with what employees need and desire most.   With a stronger job market, it is essential that employers work to build a positive work environment that attracts, meaningfully rewards, incentivizes and retains the top talent in the industry.  After all, good employees are the lifeblood of any business. 

It's an undeniable fact that human beings want to feel valued.  It reinforces that all the hard work and effort we put into our actions each and every day is appreciated by those around us, which drives us to work harder and be happier.  

The Best Employee Recognition Programs

So what do all of the best recognition programs have in common?

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Telling someone you appreciate them and showing someone you appreciate them are two very different things. Take these examples for instance. 

Telling:  your company is getting ready for the largest product launch in its history.  Jane has been coming in early and leaving late to ensure that it all goes smoothly.  It’s a success! Two weeks later, Jane finds a note taped to her door. “Thank you for your help with the launch.”  Would you feel valued and appreciated if you were Jane?  

Showing:  Jane walks into the office and finds you standing at her door.  You know Jane loves herself some latte, so you made a special trip to her favorite cafe.  “Jane,” you say.  “I can’t thank you enough for all the overtime you put in to help make this launch a success.  We couldn’t have done it without you.”  

See the difference?

Timing is also an essential part of showing genuine appreciation.  Don’t wait two weeks like Jane’s manager! And while we’re talking about timing, it’s important to note that you can show appreciation “just because.”  In a recent survey, over 85% of employees said receiving meaningful recognition at work increases engagement and makes them feel valued. However, only 45% of employees say they’ve received recognition in the last six months.    

But none of this matters if you don’t remember the single most important factor in employee recognition - PERSONALIZATION!

One Size Does Not Fit All

It's the missing piece.  No two employees are alike.  Unless you incorporate a “one size does not fit all” mentality into your recognition program, it will never achieve its full potential.   If you’re going to invest in a recognition program, don’t you want to do it right?

Great news! Taking the time to get to know what makes your employees tick, finding the things and actions that make them feel valued the most and then acknowledging them doesn't cost you a thing!  But how do you do it? 

Ask Questions to Know the “What” and the “How”

First, you need to know what your employees want to be recognized for - not all employees need or want to be recognized for the same thing.   In a Deloitte Greenhouse Survey, only 40% of employees said they want to be recognized for their success, with others wanting to be recognized for their knowledge, expertise or effort.  However, over 72% of employers use length of service as the main focus of their recognition programs, while most employees ranked this close to the bottom of the list.  

But it’s not all about the “what.”  It’s also about the “how.” Unfortunately, a large disparity continues to exist between how employees would like to be recognized and what is happening in the workplace.  In the same survey, 49% of employees responded they liked to receive public recognition. However, 70% of employers continue to deliver accolades privately. 

Personalize the Reward

Again, it’s about about the individual! According to the IRF 2020 Outlook, most employers are planning to invest money in tangible items for rewards and incentives. However, what about the employee who has worked late nights and weekends to meet an important deadline? Perhaps a bit of additional PTO would be more meaningful. But unless you seek to find out what each individual employee values most, you wouldn’t know this. 

Have the Right Support

A recognition program is only as successful as the support it receives.   Lack of executive support and buy-in is the number one reason why recognition programs are discontinued. Much of this is due to a misunderstanding of just how much a recognition program can affect success and the bottom line. 


To help, Sparck offers a FREE Employee Engagement ROI Analysis, which looks at industry specific trends and uses data such as average salary and company size to show what you’re potentially leaving on the table and what an increase in employee engagement could mean for your company. 

Yes, I want my free analysis!

So, bring it on!  Whether you have a recognition program in place or are thinking of implementing one, make it your New Year’s resolution to get out there and get going.  Find out what makes your employees tick. Highlight the things that are working and improve those that aren’t.

Verne McLellan once said, “what the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year." Go out there and make 2020 the best year yet!


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