A complete guide to employee recognition programs

All you need to know to get started with employee recognition programs, including recognition ideas, strategy and the best software tools to support you

What we'll cover

Employee recognition programs can be one of your top tools in the war for talent. Done right, they increase employee retention, build workplace morale and have a major impact on productivity.

If you’re new to employee recognition, don’t worry – the principles are simple. Ultimately, your employees like to be thanked for all the work they put in. If you do this, they will be happier and work more productively. 

You might have some form of employee recognition in place already, such as bonus schemes. Right now, however, it pays to go a little deeper with your employee recognition processes. Here’s what you need to know about recognition and rewards in the workplace. 

Employee recognition programs: what are they? 

There are quite a few definitions of ‘employee recognition’ floating around right now. We like Perkbox’s for its simplicity: 

“Employee recognition is when a company acknowledges its staff for great work.”

It’s that easy. An employee recognition program is any set of processes you have in place to facilitate this. This could be: 

  • Peer to peer gifting schemes
  • Employee award ceremonies
  • Formalized career pathways and regular salary review schemes
  • Target-based financial bonus schemes

Why do you need employee recognition programs? 

‘Underappreciation’ has always been a key driver of high employee turnover and low employee engagement. If you take your employees for granted, they are more likely to leave and less likely to perform well at work. 

On the other hand, a simple ‘thank you’ just once per month to your employees doubles employee engagement, halves risk of them leaving and triples the likelihood of them sticking with you in the long term. 

And if that’s the impact of one ‘thank you’, imagine how much positivity a fully thought-out employee recognition program can do!

When you make the effort to thank your employees for their hard work, you: 

  • Create a positive work environment where everyone feels valued 
  • Incentivize staff to go the extra mile and boost their performance
  • Reduce absenteeism – and, just as importantly, reduce presenteeism
  • Increase employee engagement, job satisfaction and productivity

Why employee recognition programs are so important now

Recognizing your employees keeps them with you. And that’s more important than ever. 

‘Lack of appreciation’ has consistently been named as a major reason behind so many people quitting their jobs right now. In fact, a recent survey found it to be the second most popular reason for quitting, behind inadequate pay. 

With a record number of open vacancies in the US right now and major competition to fill them, you can’t afford to be letting talent go – particularly when employee recognition programs are so effective for relatively little input. 

It’s the small things that make a difference, now more than ever. 

Ideas for employee recognition programs 

Different types of recognition are appropriate for different occasions. Only recognizing employees at key workplace milestones (e.g. anniversaries, promotions) isn’t enough. 

Instead, aim to create a staff recognition program that works as well for everyday acts of recognition as it does for those big occasions. You could try: 

  • Monetary rewards: this doesn’t have to be a big end of year bonus or salary increase! Smaller, more everyday options include extra days of PTO and meals on the company or a personalized t-shirt with your logo design.
  • Public recognition: shout outs on the company app, wall of fame, on social media or at a company award ceremony are all good options here
  • Private recognition: creating a peer to peer gifting system builds camaraderie and good feeling. Keep a stock of vouchers, chocolates and bottles of wine that employees can send to their colleagues to thank them
  • Celebration of lifetime events: show you care about your employees as people by celebrating their life milestones – cakes and collections for weddings, birthdays and new family additions are always appreciated

Use these ideas as a foundation to build on. Add in the big work milestones – the salary increases, the bonuses, the promotions – and you’ve got a program that makes your employees feel appreciated every day, not just on special occasions. 

How to create an employee recognition program 

According to Gartner, a well designed employee recognition program can increase productivity by around 11%.

To achieve this, it’s worth spending a little time establishing what your (and your employees’) needs are here. Gathering requirements early will help ensure the effort you spend on your employee recognition program pays off in the long term. Flawed requirements trigger 70% of project failures, so it’s worth spending the time here. 

Here’s a quick five step plan for doing this: 

1. Survey your employees

Different things work best for different workforces. For example, a stable, long-term workforce might appreciate recognition of birthdays, marriages and kids, but a workforce made up of short-term contractors might be less invested. Create a survey to gauge opinion on how your employees want to be recognized. 

2. Find the tools that would work for you

For remote and mobile workforces, an employee app with recognition features might hold the key to success. Take that survey info on how your employees want to be recognized, and get started on figuring out which tools you need to do that in your specific environment. 

3. Identify your stakeholders

This shouldn’t be difficult – every department in your organization has an interest in retaining top talent and improving productivity. Put together a committee with representatives from each of these groups to guide the implementation, perhaps headed by your HR/People Team experts.  

4. Define your budget for employee recognition

In an ideal world, you’d have an infinite amount of cash to show your employees just how brilliant they are – an HR manager can dream, eh? 

Unfortunately, we live in the real world and this might not be – no, definitely won’t be – achievable. Resources are finite, so you really need to make your case — finding a senior sponsor will help you maximize your chances of a decent budget. Remember: senior execs are broadly numbers people. Show them the real, tangible difference employee recognition programs have on productivity, retention and engagement for best results. 

5. Identify your metrics for success

Once implemented, how can you tell your employee recognition program is working? 

Identify some changes you’d like to see, and set some progress targets around these. You might want to see fewer people leave, for example, or fewer ‘lack of appreciation’ answers on those all important exit interviews. Keep tabs on your progress towards these and tweak your approach as necessary. 

The best employee recognition apps

Here are some of the best employee reward and recognition apps out there right now. 


Our Colleague Recognition feature is an easy way to make your employees feel valued in a meaningful, personalized way. Anything worth remembering, recognizing or celebrating can be posted to your company news feed in seconds! 


Nectar is an all-in-one employee rewards platform that incorporates social recognition, awards, challenges, milestones, discounts, and other kinds of perks.

Reward Gateway

Reward Gateway’s employee recognition features are part of a wider employee engagement suite. With a focus on continuous recognition and celebrating daily success, there’s plenty of scope to build out your program.


Bonusly is simple. You give out points for good performance. Your employees can redeem these for a reward of their choosing – or hard cash, if that’s what they prefer. 


Motivosity’s ‘Thanks Matters’ card is an innovative way of rewarding employees. Like Bonusly, you assign points for great performance. These points directly translate into cash, which employees can access via a special Visa debit card. 


Kazoo’s employee recognition features sit nicely with the app’s overall employee engagement focus, and emphasizes a diverse rewards scheme that works for each employee – choose from experiences, custom swag, gift cards, charity donations and more.

Final thoughts on employee recognition programs 

‘Recognition all day every day’ should be your goal here. It’s about the atmosphere it creates as much as the award certificate or gift voucher your employees go home with at the end of the day. 

Keep your employee reward recognition program simple, meaningful and relevant. It’s not always about the big gestures. Remembering a birthday, putting in a good word with the boss or simply taking the team out for dinner after a difficult deadline can have a huge effect on morale – don’t dismiss their importance. 

Blink makes it easy to recognize great performance. Book your free demo today!

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