How to Recognize Employees Meaningfully

Maggie Wenthe
Maggie Wenthe

Team members applauding an employee in recognition

Employee recognition—it’s supposed to be meaningful, memorable and a professionally rewarding experience for your employees. 

It’s also supposed to be profitable for you as an employer. After all, recognition impacts employee engagement, which contributes to your bottom line.

Did you know increasing employee engagement by just 1% has the potential to unlock $20 million in operating income for a $5-billion organization? According to Aon Hewitt’s Trends in Global Employee Engagement, it does.

But if employee recognition isn’t doing its job—if it’s not noticeably impacting your team and driving results for you—why are you putting all the effort in?

Make employee recognition worth it—for you and for your people. Give them the recognition and rewards they want—and deserve—and get the results you’re shooting for. Here’s how to recognize your employees meaningfully.

Make the Recognition Fit the Employee

Just like motivation, recognition isn’t one size fits all.

Therefore, appealing to your people individually is a must—and that means considering how a strategic balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators might apply to recognition strategy. 

While Jack may be driven by tangible awards—things like the latest tablet model release or a seriously cool fitness tracker—Jill might be fueled by public recognition of her contribution.

The takeaway? Leverage a mix of different types of recognition within your big-picture strategy to get the impact you’re looking for.

Make the Entire Reward an Experience

According to The Participant Study commissioned by the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and conducted by the Incentive Research Federation, there are a number of factors related to the recognition itself that impact its value—factors like:

  • Who presents the award. Is it a direct supervisor or the president of the company? Depending on the recipient, it matters.
  • How the award is communicated. What avenues or channels are used to publicize the recognition, and what is the reach (i.e. who is able to see the recognition)? 
  • Associated career development opportunities. What avenues does the achievement or contribution open up for the recipient?

Use those considerations to make the recognition reward an experience and allow your recipient to eat, sleep and breathe the recognition, from start to finish.

For example, when one of your team members receives $500 in online award catalog award points for her above-and-beyond customer service effort, arrange for the CEO or division manager to present the award at a company meeting.

Feature the story in the company newsletter as well as on corporate social media.

Grant her the opportunity to lead the next project team or attend a training seminar.

And reinforce the fact that the organization is ultimately behind the recognition.

How? By ensuring that, when the tangible award she redeems her points for arrives, it shows up in corporate-branded custom packaging that reflects the organization’s commitment to its employees.

Get the Real Take on Cash (It Might Not Be What You Think)

It’s not king, according to The Participant Study.

It’s not even always preferred. Even if your people ask for it.

On its own, it doesn’t drive performance because it’s viewed as compensation and often spent on necessities—things like gas and groceries.

What is preferred is something that will reinforce the action you’re recognizing (i.e. the action you want repeated).

Something with trophy value (a designer wallet or the hottest Bluetooth speaker on the market, even a cool travel award or experience) that associates the achievement with the award and drives further performance.

Collectively, Make Recognition Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely (EAST)

The Behavioural Insights Team’s EAST approach is trending with recognition experts everywhere, no doubt because it’s a straightforward and logical approach to recognition.

In a nutshell, it’s everything we already know and say, but with a clear, candid approach.

When it’s easy for you to administer (for example, pre-set recognition cards based on your corporate values and available in your organization’s employee engagement platform), it allows you to be timely with your delivery.

And when the rewards are attractive (i.e. they fit the individual) and are promoted socially (on your company’s intranet or social media feed), the impact intensifies. 

Meaningful Recognition Contributes to Overall Employee Wellbeing (And That Means Results)

No matter the type of recognition—peer-to-peer awards, spot nominations, above-and-beyond recognition—your approach is an insightful indicator of the way you holistically care for your employees. In today’s workplace, employees’ social experiences (driven largely by recognition) significantly impact the overall health and wellbeing of your people. Make the experience meaningful—for them, for you and for your bottom line.

Maggie Wenthe

Maggie Wenthe

Maggie strives to help the world understand the power behind personalized motivation that aligns people with business goals to drive powerful results. As the leader of Marketing Strategy at ITA Group, she analyzes market trends to develop world-class solutions that help Fortune 1000 companies motivate and engage their employees, channel partners and customers. She is certified through the Incentive Marketing Association, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, as well as Pragmatic Marketing Level VI. Between marketing and three little boys, Maggie doesn't have free time. But when she can find a few minutes, she loves listening to audiobooks on marketing, business and sci fi thrillers.