The Top 6 Reasons Why Employee Recognition Programs Fail

Anna Straus, CEO at Sparck August 31, 2022

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for 2023 to include new data.

In 2019, the World Health Organization defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” In the following years, the rate of employee dissatisfaction has skyrocketed. 

In an effort to combat burnout and boost productivity, many companies are now implementing strategic employee recognition programs.

However, as most business owners know, success doesn’t always happen overnight. Even when positive, change can often be difficult for many people to adapt to. If company morale is already low, the initial introduction of an employee recognition program may not give the immediate results you were hoping for.

Luckily, if you’ve found yourself wondering how to get your team on board, we have the answers. The top 6 reasons why employee recognition programs fail are:

  • Lack of executive buy-in
  • Budget constraints
  • Low user adoption
  • The program is not being prioritized
  • Lack of ongoing communication
  • No measurement

If you have already identified any of these factors within your own company, know that you are not alone. These issues are commonly seen in the initial stages of implementing an employee recognition program but can easily be solved with a few course-correcting adjustments.


Why Employee Recognition Programs Fail

First things first, let’s take a closer look at why so many recognition programs tend to fail. Most do so for a few reasons. 

There’s no denying that an employee recognition program is crucial for an organization’s success. In fact, the companies that do have a recognition program in place are 10x more likely to use it as a competitive differentiator. 

But we still see countless programs fail time and again. Most do so for a handful of reasons, which we will break down.


Lack of Executive Buy-In 

In most cases, the employees in a company look to leadership as a trusted and valuable source of information in their careers. Especially when implementing something that is altogether new, expect your employees to look to you for a first reaction. If executive leadership shows true support and excitement for your new employee recognition program, the employees themselves will be more likely to feel the same. 

It’s equally important that the executive buy-in within your company is authentically supportive of the employee recognition program. If executive support feels feigned or forced, your employees will pick up on this and assume the program won’t actually bring any benefit to them. 


Budget Constraints 

Ideally, before the initial launch of your employee recognition program, you should gather relevant leadership to discuss the budget for the program. Having a clear outline of how much your organization plans to invest in the program and individual employees provides a firm foundation moving forward.

It’s highly suggested to reevaluate your program budget once every quarter to determine which events have been successful, if any areas would benefit from an increased budget, and what you plan to execute for the next quarter. 

While we know that money isn’t everything, not having a clear outline of how much your organization can spend on each employee recognition event often causes some roadblocks for organizations. Map out your budget and re-evaluate every quarter to see if any recognition events need to be eliminated or added. 


Low User Adoption 

As previously mentioned, low executive buy-in is the main factor behind why employee recognition programs fail. On the other hand, actively involved leadership can combat a different issue: low user adoption. 

If your employees are struggling to see the value in the program, they won’t use it. Simple as that. One of our suggested solutions is for organizations to create a group of Champions that will encourage their colleagues to utilize the platform and keep excitement high.

Leadership should also be vocally supportive and visibly involved in encouraging the use of the platform and educating the meaning behind it. Make sure that your managers and leaders are well-equipped to answer any questions about the platform as well!


The Program Isn’t Being Prioritized 

Businesses of all kinds face new daily challenges and priorities that pull the company’s leadership in a variety of directions. If you implement an employee recognition program but find that it has been pushed to the backburner, the program is likely to never get off the ground. If your company recognizes that the program is failing due to stagnation there are ways to bring it back to life.

Investing time and energy into an employee recognition program provides many more financial benefits to a company than some may realize. Think about the overarching benchmarks of your organization this year.

If you imagine a future of greater profits, an effective and positive company culture, and higher employee retention rates, properly utilizing the employee recognition program will help you achieve all of those things.


Lack of Ongoing Communication  

What’s the key to any healthy relationship? Communication. This includes the relationship between managers and employees. In fact, poor communication can cost an organization $62.4 million per year! Make sure your employees know of any changes that occur within the employee recognition program.

One of the best tactics to ensure your employees feel valued is to simply bring them into the loop on matters that directly affect them. When it comes to the program, communicating the purpose and importance, as well as any alterations, expresses to your employees that you appreciate them.


No Measurement 

You can’t fix what you can’t measure! This is the main concept behind tracking any kind of return on investment (ROI). If you don’t know what’s working well vs. what you need to improve upon, your employee recognition program will become ineffective.

Your employees will be happier and more motivated with an employee recognition program that is tailored around your company and their specific preferences. If leadership can agree on a few main points to improve upon, you can track the overall success or failure of the program and alter it accordingly.


How To Ensure Your Employee Recognition Program Will Succeed

Now that you’re informed of the most common causes behind why employee recognition programs fail, you can actively protect your business from facing those challenges. There are also several ways your company can proactively ensure the success of your new employee recognition program. 

First, get actionable data. Take advantage of the user reports available to you to measure recognition metrics among members of your team. 

Utilize Pulse Surveys - short surveys sent more frequently to get a “pulse” on how your employees are doing over time. To get the most out of pulse surveys, send them out on a consistent basis and measure the responses over time to ensure improvement is being seen. The areas where no improvement is seen are the areas that need extra attention from you.


“We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve.”

- Bill Gates


And lastly, don’t be afraid to make changes. If you see one aspect of the recognition program not working as effectively as you had hoped, this isn’t cause for panic. There are a variety of reasons changes may need to be made to your program over time. For instance, one of your low performing recognition events may be a great idea that will help improve your culture, but the timing of it was simply not right. 

If you believe in a recognition event that is not performing well, assess where your team is at the time and try again in the future. If your company is working on a fixed budget, determine which events are the most important and spotlight these. And remember, meaningful recognition doesn’t always have to be costly. Encourage your teammates to utilize the recognition feed to stay connected and recognize each other in ways that don’t require a budget.


Creating an Employee Recognition Program is a Never-Ending Adventure

As you begin forming a plan around your employee recognition program, remember to focus continually on why this is an important change for your business.

The most meaningful employee recognition stems from personalization, from truly knowing how each member of your team wants to be appreciated. A great recognition program will ensure that  your leadership is not missing the important moments in an employee’s life, and allows them to see what means the most to each person. The most impactful recognition contains these 3 important factors: 

  • The Right Time
  • The Right Way
  • The Right Reward

Knowing each team member’s appreciation style will help to further personalize the experience for your people and the overall benefit to your company. Through our exhaustive research, Sparck has identified the 6 most common appreciation styles in a business setting. We provide a free quiz to help you determine the appreciation style of your employees by simply sharing the link with them. You can take the quiz yourself to find out what form of appreciation you most prefer and then discuss results among your team.

Find Out Your Style

Now that you’re familiar with how to avoid the common pitfalls behind why employee recognition programs fail, you’re likely still wondering how a company might further fortify itself against employee burnout and high rates of resignations. Luckily, we have put our research into one easy to access, and completely free resource. 

Simply download our Sparck 2023 Workplace Report to access a wealth of information around employee retention using the top 5 secrets to reinforce employee loyalty.



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