The Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How of Recognition

The Secret to Complete Employee Recognition Programs

Senior Management

Do employees really care about recognition?  Does your top management care about employee recognition?  Do you find yourself saying we don’t have the time or we don’t have the resources to implement and follow through on an employee recognition program?  Why reward people?

Motivated employees are a company’s most valuable asset. “You can never say thank you enough to employees; a thank you goes a long way,” has been Debby Boyd’s experience as HR Manager at the John Roberts Company. The John Roberts Company from Minnesota is a multi-year winner of the Best Workplace (BWA) in the Americas program.

Several reasons:

Retention – Did you know that back in the day during the Industrial Revolution circa 1913, 71% of Ford Motor Company’s assembly line workers quit within their first five days?  Employee presence is valuable.  Not having them present threatened the assembly line production at the Ford Motor Company, which was their competitive edge. Something had to be done!  This is why traditional tenure-based service awards and recognition were introduced to incentivize employee loyalty. Even today the Department of Labor reports that a reason why 64% of employees leave their job is because they are not recognized.1  

  • Disengagement-71% of employees are not engaged in their current positions.  This means even further loss of productivity.2
  • Employee Engagement-When employee recognition programs are implemented employee engagement increases.3    
  • Productivity-If you are experiencing double-digit turnover in 5 days or even in 5 years-that’s loss of productivity.  That is time spent recruiting, on-boarding, and training.
  • Infrequent, Ineffective Recognition- A recent survey by the analyst firm Bersin & Associates found that while nearly 75% of organizations have a recognition program, only 58% of employees think that their organizations have recognition programs. 4
  • The Bottom Line-Motivated employees who understand how their contributions impact the big picture are more likely to be engaged equally more and better productivity which equals success.5 Good Printers, Inc. in Bridgewater, Virginia, winner 2 years in a row (2011-2012) of Best workplace program, has a recognition program where employees are recognized for “catching” an error before something goes to press.  They also have a program for making a “good suggestion” to improve a process.  Human Resources Director at Good Printers, Sharon Whitfield, notes that these types of recognition programs are “good for employee morale” while also engaging the employees in the sustainability and prevention of waste in their company.  She says recognizing an employee for their contributions “shows that the company appreciates them.”  Sharon commented that recognition has been a part of their culture for over 20 years and has had a positive effect on their retention rate.

A 2013 Employee Recognition Survey by SHRM/Globoforce also concurs with, confirms and echoes what Good Printers already knows and practices. This survey found that recognition also pays off in other ways. HR professionals overwhelmingly say recognizing employees for their achievements provide employees with a clearer understanding of a company’s organizational objectives. Understanding these objectives is often critical towards greater alignment to achieving a company’s financial goals.5


  • Employee Recognition Programs: the basic desire of human nature is to be recognized.  So how do we translate that desire into a workplace environment, so that basic human needs are met as well as meeting business objectives?  An effective Employee Recognition Program will successfully address and improve retention, productivity, disengagement, and do away with infrequent, ineffective recognition programs.
  • What type of rewards work the best?  Not necessarily cash awards.  Monetary and non-monetary awards should be considered.  Cash rewards can sometimes be confused with compensation.6  The whole idea behind a recognition program is to engage employees so that they realize they are an integral part of the success of the business.
  • Employee Recognition is free. What? 71% of respondents in an employee recognition survey responded that the most meaningful recognition they ever received did not have a dollar value. 88% of those same respondents found praise from their managers extremely motivating and 76% found praise from their peers to be very motivating.7
  • Keep the above information in mind when developing your recognition program.  An effective recognition program is made up of several layers.  One layer being formal and informal praise.  Another layer might be gifts and awards.  These awards can range from, gift cards, travel rewards, to merchandise awards, or charity donations, company merchandise, plaques, certificates, a paid day off work, jewelry, such as timepieces, pins, and company stock options.


  • Create an Employee Recognition Program that is based on the company’s culture. A program that may work for one company may not work for yours. In order for the program to be successful it must be in keeping with the core values and fit your particular work environment.  In creating a program seek input from senior management as well as input from employee groups and examine programs from other companies.   One resource that is available to you is the Printing Industries of America publication, “The Best Recognition and Rewards Practices of the Best Workplaces of the Americas (2006-2011)”.  There is a section where the best recognition practices of the best workplaces in the Americas are shared. 
  • Create an Employee Recognition Program-In creating your employee recognition program, Debby from the John Roberts Company shared this advice; sometimes companies try too hard, just go back to the basics, start with a simple thank you.  Debby also shared how the John Roberts Company used a simple thank you to enhance their recognition program.  She described how all employees have access to thank you cards, so that any one of them can write one to thank one another.  It could be a co-worker thanking another co-worker for assisting them on a project or a manager thanking a staff member for stepping up in the absence of another staff member. The accumulated thank you cards can then be exchanged for a gift card.
  • Get Buy-In- Must get support and buy-in of an Employee Recognition Program from senior staff/management. Sharon shared that while their recognition is successful, there are a few managers and employees who are not as engaged in their recognition program as others. She emphasized employers “gotta make the time” to develop recognition and reward programs for their employees.
  • Engage Employees-Employees must also be empowered to recognize.  94% of HR leaders who say peer-to-peer recognition is effective, is suggesting that companies benefit more when employees are personally recognized for the work they do rather than simply the time they’ve been employed.8
  • Employee Recognition Programs-have programs in place where all have equal ability to be rewarded/receive recognition.  Below are examples of types of programs:
    • Length of Service Awards-Remember the story about the Ford Motor Company?  There were certain types of awards that were tied to length of service, such as gold watches, pens, plaques, ribbons, certificates. Most employers today still have length of service awards, but the rewards may vary from monetary incentives to vacations!
    • Employee of the Month-must have set criteria to determine who earns this award.
    • Rewards through a point system where points can be redeemed through a catalog of merchandise.
    • Special programs that recognize superior or specific performance, such as implementing a suggestion that improves a work process.
    • Recognition events. Group rewards for achieving certain company-wide goals-this is where the entire staff is recognized by rewarding them with certain perks, such as additional dress down days, or a picnic on company premises or a leave early day.
    • For more details on the how and to see actual programs and how they work, take a look at the Printing Industries of America publication, The Best Workplaces of the Americas, Best Reward and Recognition Practices section.  There are several print companies that give actual examples of programs they use.

How do employees want to be recognized?

  • Keep it simple.  Praise and Prize.  Employers get more out of their workforce when employees are encouraged. When asked whether negative or positive feedback has a greater impact on improving employee performance, 94% of survey respondents say positive feedback. Just six percent of those surveyed say negative feedback has a greater impact on performance.9
  • Employees don’t want to just hear “good job.” They crave tangible rewards to go along with that praise.  83% of HR professionals who responded to the SHRM/Globoforce survey say employees in their organization are more motivated by recognition that includes a reward than recognition with no associated reward. Employers get more out of their workforce when employees are encouraged. When asked whether negative or positive feedback has a greater impact on improving employee performance, 94% of survey respondents say positive feedback. Just 6% of those surveyed say negative feedback has a greater impact on performance.

A national poll  conducted by Maritz Research  accentuates the same opinion. Their findings determined the following:10

  • Verbal praise- While 70% of employees receive verbal praise-which is the most prevalent form of recognition-only 49% of them want it. Moreover 21% of those who actually want verbal praise still aren’t getting it.
  • Only 27% want to be recognized by non-monetary employee incentives, such as award merchandise, gift card or trips.
  • Only 27% who want to be recognized by a symbolic award such as a plaque or trophy are recognized that way
  • Only 29% who want to be recognized by a cash bonus are recognized that way.
  • Only 30% of those who want to be recognized by a recognition event are recognized that way.
  • Only 40% of who want to be recognized by written praise are recognized that way.
  • Debby Boyd, HR Manager from the John Roberts Company states that the easier the program the better.  Recognition does not have to be complicated.  She said that what they’ve done at John Roberts is enhance their recognition program every year.  For example, they reward gift cards to employees who accumulate a certain number of thank you cards and the number of thank you cards determine the monetary amount of the gift card.  She said that through the years they’ve discovered that gift cards to certain retailers weren’t as popular as some others and so an enhancement and way of simplifying that program was to stop all the running around to different retailers consuming a variety of gift cards, now they just buy Visa gift cards.  This way the employee can spend the card wherever he/she chooses.  Simple.  

No time like the present to develop, plan, implement, and execute an Employee Recognition Program.  Once the Program is ready to launch it is important for the success of the program to have some type of a formal kick-off meeting.  This meeting/event/publication-however you choose to launch it, should show the energy, creativity and buy-in that you want the program to have.  It should explain to all employees, regardless of their level of involvement how this program will be executed and why and how they play a part in its success. 

  • As mentioned in the HOW make these programs visible and public to the entire company. So the WHEN and the WHERE are crucial pieces in successfully executing an effective Employee Recognition program.
  • Employee Recognition such as length of service awards, certificates of recognition can be done in a company wide forum such as company, department meetings, company picnics, holiday celebrations, you get the picture, some kind of public forum. Recognition can also be placed in a company newsletter, website, Facebook page, whatever that can be done to get the word out to as many as possible.
  • Daily recognition can be given in the form of not only verbal recognition, but there are also other tools you can use to recognize daily,  such as recognition cards citing thank you, great work, you make the team better, etc., even t-shirts.  Physical items that an employee can showcase in their office or display on their uniform is effective so that everyone is aware and can be engaged.
  • Employment Anniversaries and Birthdays- are a time for a form of personal recognition. Again this can be through cards sent via the USPS to an employee’s home or monthly recognitions in the form of an office/departmental social event
  • Provide a common place for awards to be placed.

Keep in mind that if you already don’t have a culture of recognition it will take some time, so don’t give up!  Be consistent in your message, consistent in the how, consistent in the what, where and the when and the why, then you will be on your way to improving employee recognition and engagement which equals to all around success, especially in the areas of productivity and retention for your organization. 

Ideas for recognition:

  • Wellness Theme
    • Offer reimbursement for gym membership or fitness/wellness type classes, i.e. Zumba, Pilates, Spin
    • Offer recess breaks (3pm is a good time-27% of workers admit to wasting time at work between 3pm-5pm)12 The recess break may include walking, hula hooping, shooting basketball, etc.
    • Charitable Interest Theme
      • Offer a volunteer day off.  Offer employees a paid day off to do volunteer work.
      • Offer to make a donation to an employee’s favorite charity as a reward.
      • Length of Service Awards
        • Offer certain rewards after completing a specific number of years of service so that employees know what to look forward to.  Check out our The Best Practices of the Best Workplaces in America….for more ideas. Some employers offer all inclusive European vacations!
        • Employee of the month-must have criteria to determine.  Good Printers posts a picture announcement in their local paper for each employee of the quarter.  A neighborhood newsletter like the Patch, would be a great place to post the announcement in that employee’s home neighborhood.
        • Quality awards-again must have criteria to determine
        • Casual days/Theme Celebrations
          • Depending on work environment a group reward could be an extra casual day during the week.  This summer the John Roberts Company, according to Debby Boyd, HR Manager, said that   as a way of recognizing the entire company, they are having a “Baseball Day”.  They do have a dress code, but on this day the employees are allowed to dress in their favorite baseball team jersey, hot dogs will be grilled, snacks like potato chips and other tailgating cuisine will be offered as they give away baseball tickets to a few lucky winners. There are a variety of rewards that you can offer your employees.
          • Tap into other resources for more ideas.  Log onto for other recognition ideas, such as recognition weeks designed for specific professions and also available on this site are resources such as certificate of achievements.

Check out the “The Best Practices of the Best Workplaces of the Americas”, published by Printing Industries of America.


Cited Sources

  1. The 2013 Guide to Recognition, Achievers.
  2. The 2013 Guide to Recognition, Achievers.
  3. SHRM/Globoforce, Employee Recognition Survey Spring 2013 Report, Driver Stronger Performance Through Employee Recognition.
  4. Globoforce Scorecard Report, “Recognition Strategy”.
  5. SHRM/Globoforce, Employee Recognition Survey Spring 2013 Report, Driver Stronger Performance Through Employee Recognition.
  6. The 2013 Guide to Recognition, Achievers.
  7. 2013 Employee Recognition Study, and
  8. SHRM/Globoforce, Employee Recognition Survey Spring 2013 Report, Driver Stronger Performance Through Employee Recognition.
  9. SHRM/Globoforce, Employee Recognition Survey Spring 2013 Report, Driver Stronger Performance Through Employee Recognition.
  10. This poll was conducted in October 2005 and released in January 2006. It features responses from 1,002 randomly selected, full-time employed adults (502 male employees; 500 female employees) age 18-65 from throughout the U.S
  11. Gouveia, Aaron, “Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Wasting Time in the Office”, The Houston Chronicle, March 18th 2013. 

Other sources

Cherrington, Dr. David J, DBA, SPHR, “Recognition Programs and employee motivation,” interview posted HR Compliance Library, Wolters Kluwer, 46,360.

HR Compliance Library, Wolter Kluwer, 46,238, Overview: Employee Recognition and award programs

Published on Thursday, September 26, 2013 (updated 05/31/2014)