Employee Recognition Ideas That Actually Help Retain Your Team Members

Jane Sarles Larson

Employee smiling

Smart companies know the importance of employee recognition and engagement as evidenced by the 75% who have formal programs in place. While many of these programs have been around for years—maybe even decades—organizations should ask themselves, "Is our program getting stale or accomplishing our goals?"

For organizations looking to freshen up their program, or create something brand new, consider these ideas for designing a winning employee recognition program.

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1. Harness Emotional Energy

First, tap into your employee's emotional energy. This may sound hard to do at first blush, but it's really about meeting people's basic need of having a sense of belonging or a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Okay, that does sound hard. But at its basis, it's about employee engagement and the emotional affinity employees feel for a company. Forbes and Strategy Business have some ideas on how managers can nurture those feelings by starting with a solid foundation for your recognition program. 

  1. Make sure employees feel valued. No one wants to feel like their opinion doesn't matter. Give people a voice; help them feel connected to the organization which in turn enhances morale and retention.
  2. Encourage stress management. Understand workload levels, deadlines and personal situations your employees are working through. Be supportive, offer solutions to overcome barriers and lend a hand where appropriate.
  3. Provide autonomy. Scientific studies have proven that people thrive when given autonomy at work. While it doesn’t mean giving free rein, it does mean offering your employees latitude in decision-making responsibility in the projects they're working on.
  4. Monitor team mood. Sophie von Stumm, Goldsmiths University psychologist suggests a "focus on good mood as a performance booster." This doesn't mean ignoring negative emotions, but rather integrating both positive and negative emotions with a positive outlook as you either solve problems conveyed by dissatisfaction or leverage opportunities uncovered by having an open mind.
  5. Be kind. Always say please and thank you. Asking employees, rather than telling them to do something, builds on autonomy and a sense of trust. And thanking someone for doing good work, making a deadline or achieving a sales goal is good business. Yep. Your mother was right on this one.

“We’ve never thought that you should have to come to work and assume a mask and look like you’re a bunch of little lead soldiers stamped out of a mold. We give people license to be themselves.”

— Herb Kelleher, Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines

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2. Communicate Regularly

Refreshing an existing employee recognition program, or starting a new one, naturally creates a lot of buzz and excitement around the office. Clarity in messaging is key because if people don't understand what the program is all about and how it aligns with corporate values and priorities, you are wasting your investment and missing out on an opportunity to enhance morale and retention. According to Workforce, even "a mediocre program well communicated is more useful than a great program poorly communicated."

  1. Be clear. Employees need to understand how they'll be recognized—and how they can recognize their coworkers. Talk about the selection process and "what's in it for me" to keep the program foremost in your employee's minds.
  2. Don't overlook the old standbys. Use email, voice mail, brochures, flyers, posters and intranet notices. It's pretty hard to over communicate when trying to get the attention of busy employees. Use multiple mediums to get the word out.
  3. Offer recognition ideas. In your communications, you should also provide ideas on ways to give and receive recognition. Align ideas with your corporate values. If "team work" is one of them, you might define this recognition opportunity like this: "Nothing gets done unless we work together with a positive, professional attitude."
  4. Talk to employees. Seems simple, but an intentional conversation with employees about how they think the program is going can be very insightful. What do they like best about it? What's standing in the way of getting on board? How can it be made better? If the answers are solid, you've gained a perspective to make it better that you might not otherwise have had.
  5. Personalize it. Even in today's hyper technology-driven world, a hand-written note recognizing a specific achievement goes a long way. Be sure to make it timely, describe what the employee did and why it was important to the organization. Besides the note, consider further acknowledgement in either one-to-one conversations, or department or company-wide meetings. Consider the employee's personality and what public recognition is most appropriate.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

— George Bernard Shaw

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3. Support With Technology

Nothing will stymie recognition program design like manual processes or a poor technology platform. Giving and receiving recognition can't be hard—and it can't be a mystery. You need to think about the demographics of your employee base, too. Are you a startup company employing mostly millennials or a financial services company with a multi-generational workforce? Will you need to do training or is the technology intuitive?

  1. Make your platform easy-to-use. Don't expect anyone to read a manual on how to use the new program platform. Business News Daily suggests that "all tools should be self-explanatory, or worst case, make it extremely easy to access an explanatory video."
  2. Use it to measure it. In a survey conducted by SHRM, only 50% of companies with a documented employee engagement strategy measure success. Metrics can include participation rates according to how many recognitions are given and received, allocated rewards budgets used, awards redeemed, etc. When measuring employee performance itself, take a reasonable approach and measure things your employees directly influence.
  3. Provide instant appreciation. As we mentioned earlier, acknowledging people for specific achievements in a timely manner is important in keeping employee momentum going. Technology systems take manual processes off the table and enables people to thank or complement one another for their work successes easily.
  4. Care for employee interaction. A collaborative recognition platform is a good way for employees to interact with one another while giving managers a quick way to stay connected to their team with a simple comment or thumbs up for great work. Creating ways for people to feel a sense of belonging is enhanced with technology that keeps the human element in mind.

“Technology is best when it brings people together.”

– Matt Mullenweg, Online social media entrepreneur

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4. Reinforce With Memory Makers

In The Power of Moments, the New York Times bestselling authors ask, "Why would we leave our most meaningful, memorable moments to chance when we can create them?" What if a manager knew how to create an experience that would delight employees? Reinforcing desired behaviors should contain a strong dose of making great memories your employees will remember for years to come. And it's good business to do so. It's interesting to note that the IRF found the "presence of reward programs resulted in an average 22% gain in performance (as compared to organizations offering no reward program)."

Verbal and written recognition are impactful, but incorporating rewards as well to reinforce certain behaviors can have even more positive effect in getting the best work from your team. Some best practices include:

  1. Offer each team member a budget. Most companies operate on tight budgets, and the idea of giving each team member a budget to use in recognizing their colleagues feels like a pretty big expense. But the return in participation in the program and the building of goodwill towards the company pays off in higher morale and retention.
  2. Provide multiple earning opportunities. When employees have multiple earning opportunities to pool points, they tend to stay engaged over a longer period of time as they strive for a bigger reward.
  3. Give team members the power of choice. Each person wants something different as acknowledgement for a job well done. Therefore it makes sense then to enlist an online awards platform for employees to choose their own reward.
  4. Select meaningful rewards. Depending upon the situation, consider a specific reward for your outstanding employee like a travel experience where they can build relationships with other top performers and key management.

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”

― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Author


Employee recognition begins with connection. Talk with your employees, treat them with respect and deliver on the promises your organization has made for them. Remember, as long as you care about your employees, it's never too late to reenergize an existing recognition program or start a new one. Why wait?

Download our latest ebook to find out how to create and sustain a successful employee experience, Improve Retention and Engagement by Enhancing the Employee Experience.

When's the last time you really considered the value of your employee experience? Download our ebook.

 

Jane Sarles Larson

Jane Sarles Larson

As the Research Manager for ITA Group’s Marketing Strategy, Jane is on the forefront of market research and thought leadership. Her interest in neuroscience and how it applies to human behavior and engagement has led to the development of ITA Group’s approach to motivation called Motivology. Her 30+ years of international advertising, sales and marketing experience is second only to her knowledge of dark chocolate.