Creating a culture of employee recognition

Creating a culture of employee recognition
Picture of David Quilty
David Quilty

What is employee recognition?

Simply put, employee recognition refers to the ways in which companies recognize employees’ value and contributions to the company. It does not have to be so specific as only appreciating contributions that bring in monetary value; it can be for achievements, project completions, meeting the needs of other teammates, going above and beyond job descriptions, etc. 

By taking the focus off only the profit and loss sheet, companies can let employees know that they are seen, they are heard, and that they appreciate all their efforts, across the entire organization. And in turn, frequent recognition leads to better company culture, a more positive employee experience, higher employee morale, and stronger employee retention and engagement.

Why is employee recognition that important?

At a time when the voluntary quit rate is 25% higher than before the Covid pandemic started, keeping your employees happy and engaged at work is more important than ever. A recent McKinsey survey found that 34 percent of workers said that “uncaring and uninspiring leaders” was the reason they quit their job, and that 26 percent left because of a lack of support for health and well-being.  

employee recognition

It’s obvious that workers are feeling neglected and ignored, and if companies want to attract, recruit, and retain the best employees, they’re going to have to do better at employee recognition and engagement.

Some additional facts on why companies should have an employee recognition program in place:

  • Even as far back as 2012, research showed that companies with employee recognition programs had 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers that don’t.
  • In a survey called Using Recognition and Other Workplace Efforts to Engage Employees, 68 percent of HR leaders stated that employee recognition has a positive impact on retention, while 56 percent said such programs can also help with recruitment.
  • According to Gallup, only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition for doing good work.
  • A study conducted by Oxford University showed that when employees are happy, they are more productive
  • Organizations with employee recognition programs in place experience 29 percent lower frustration levels than those without. 

What are the benefits of employee recognition?

A successful employee recognition program doesn’t have to cost a fortune to have a lot of benefits. Companies that recognize employees, and reward employees, will have a stronger, more efficient, and more engaged workforce than those that don’t. We know this now. But what are the deeper benefits of employee recognition, that go beyond just retaining employees and keeping them generally happy?

Improves teamwork and work relationships

Positive feedback and recognition help to build company culture, morale, teamwork, and relationships. Peer recognition, especially, helps build rapport between employees and an entire team, which, in turn, helps to motivate employees.

improving teamwork

Creates a culture of recognition that can be depended on

More on this a little later, but employee recognition that happens regularly does a lot for employee morale and employee engagement. When recognition can be depended on – for rewards, bonuses, etc. – employees are more likely to always do their best work and employee performance towards business outcomes should rise. 

Builds company branding and advocacy

Recognizing employees, and making them feel part of a bigger picture, can drastically increase business outcomes as they become invested in the brand and its culture. Employees will work to exemplify company values and share those values outside of work, too. 

Helps employees avoid burnout

When employees feel recognized and supported, they are less likely to be part of the burnout epidemic taking place across companies today. Recent research showed that a lack of recognition and rewards is strongly related to reports of burnout, but on the other hand, the Harvard Business Review found that a strong sense of belonging among employees can bring down absenteeism by 75 percent. It’s important that employees are recognized for their efforts in order to reduce burnout at work. 

Fosters company loyalty

This isn’t just about employee retention; employee recognition programs also help build company loyalty. Employees will be willing to go the extra mile, more apt to not search for new opportunities, and be strong advocates for company culture.

People may take a job for more money, but they often leave it for more recognition.

Dr. Bob Nelson, best-selling author and motivational speaker

Improves employee well-being and mental health

Employee recognition goes a long way towards improving the well-being of your employees. There’s not much worse (at work) than feeling ignored and unheard. Employees who feel valued know that their employer wants to empower employees to do their best work. In addition, positive recognition can help employees suffering from mental health issues, too.

A successful employee recognition program can do a lot for your organization; it increases employee engagement and reduces employee turnover, but it also helps to build company culture, moderates employee behavior, leads to increased productivity, and leads to a more positive environment overall. 

work well being

If you don’t have a staff recognition program in place today, there’s no better time than the present to get started! Let’s take a look at some of the types of employee recognition you should be aware of. 

Types of employee recognition

Business leaders wanting to build a positive company culture need to make the effort for employee recognition. Employees who feel valued will adhere stronger to a company’s core values and put in their best effort each and every day. And while an employee recognition platform can be helpful, but isn’t required to make employees feel appreciated.  Here are a few types of employee recognition that should be implemented in your organization.

Top-down recognition

Top-down employee recognition is exactly what it sounds like – when a manager or senior person recognizes employees who work below them in the office hierarchy. This is very often the most common form of employee appreciation.

Direct-report recognition

Recognition by one’s direct supervisor is called direct-report employee recognition and often occurs in one on one meetings. A thank you, or a nod of appreciation, that is specific and timely has the most positive effect and makes employees feel valued.

Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.

Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

Peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition is a major source of building team morale and engagement. It is when a coworker acknowledges another employee’s work and actions. While most employee recognition comes from senior leaders, peer to peer can be especially meaningful for employees.

peer to peer recognition

Day-to-day recognition

Timely recognition of day-to-day activities provides a constant flow of encouragement for employees’ contributions. Achievements are noticed on an “as it happens” basis, so a team member feels like what they do every day is appreciated, rather than just the things they do on occasion. This type of employee recognition makes employees feel valued and leads to better employee engagement. 

Above-and-beyond recognition

Employee recognition for results and efforts that go “above and beyond” provide social recognition for staff members who go the extra mile on certain projects or goals the company has set up. This can encourage employees to do their best because they will be noticed (and possibly rewarded) for their work.

Leader-to-team recognition

When staff recognition across a team happens, it points out (often to the company, in all-hands meetings) how the efforts of that particular team have contributed to the company. Other employees, maybe outside of that team, see the recognition and will be encouraged to do their best to get recognition for their team, too.

Creating a culture of recognition

Companies that have recognition programs in place tend to have better workplace cultures, as teammates look out for each other, support each other, and get the attention they deserve from upper management. 

Employee recognition is vital to the success of your organization, but you need to be sure you know the why, the how, and the when your recognition programs should be used. 

Determine why you want to recognize employees

Is it to retain your best employees? Is it to attract better job candidates? Increase profits? Encourage the effort needed to grow your business? Determine the “why” of your recognition program before you start, and you’ll have an easier time building one.

why recognize employees

Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.

Sam Walton

Be sure to budget for your recognition platform and rewards program 

Recognizing the efforts of your employees will cost you some time and money; be sure to have the expenses as an item in your budget! You don’t want to start constructing an amazing program only to run out of money to run it, as it will lead to mistrust from your employees as they will feel it is not an important goal of the company. 

Involve leadership in recognition programs 

A lot of employee recognition will be coming from the top down, so be sure you have leadership and management on board with your ideas. If they don’t buy into it, they won’t be willing to implement the program. Ask questions, get feedback, and let them know you are depending on them to make the most of your employee recognition program.  

Keep it as simple as possible

If recognizing employees is difficult, no one is going to want to do it. Your entire workforce will be working within any recognition program, so be sure it’s easy to understand, easy to use, and easy to adjust on the fly, when or if necessary. 

34 ideas for employee recognition programs

Part of every employee recognition strategy must be the development of employee rewards that will make them feel valued and motivated. But even if you aren’t building a formal recognition program, here are some successful employee recognition ideas that companies can use, that provide tangible rewards. 

employee recognition program
  • Say thank you. A lot.
  • Buy lunch for an individual or a team
  • Celebrate birthdays and other important milestones
  • Allocate a reward budget for recognition
  • Share positive feedback with the entire company for public recognition
  • Recognize employees on social media accounts
  • Mention employees in your company newsletter
  • Offer extended breaks or days off
  • Send a card. Handwritten is best!
  • Give company swag as a reward
  • Have a team trophy that can be shared 
  • Publicly celebrate work anniversaries
  • Publish an annual company yearbook that recognizes employees
  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation
  • Give recognized employees a day off to volunteer
  • Deliver personalized gifts and rewards
  • Match donations to an employee’s chosen charity
  • Send a spot bonus! Who doesn’t like a monetary reward?
  • Offer the recipient to have lunch with a leader of their choice
  • Job swaps for the day can be fun!
  • Provide gift cards or discount programs
  • Give a recognized employee their birthday off
employee recognition ideas
  • Bring in food trucks to the workplace
  • Design and print certificates of achievement that can be displayed in the work environment 
  • Offer sabbaticals for long-term, highly-motivated employees
  • Send a personal thanks from senior management
  • Organize interesting team-building experiences as team rewards
  • Send an employee care package
  • Offer time off coupons that be used anytime and don’t count as vacation days
  • Provide professional development opportunities and training
  • Name drop at company “town hall” meetings
  • Create an employee Wall of Fame for employee appreciation
  • Share positive customer feedback regarding specific teams or individuals
  • Implement an employee recognition parking program

These are just some of the great employee recognition ideas to get you started. When developing your employee recognition program, think about the kinds of things you would want if you were on the receiving end. One trick? Ask your employees how they want to be recognized; you may be surprised at what you learn. Send out an employee survey!


Building a culture of employee recognition allows you to provide timely and regular feedback – and rewards – to the employees and teams helping your business succeed. It cannot be a “one and done” type of scenario; it needs to be something that happens regularly and that employees can trust they will be hearing about.

You want the best efforts out of your workforce, and they will expect the best out of you. By promoting positive reinforcement using appreciation programs, you will always be noting employee accomplishments and letting them know just how valuable they are.  

I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish when they are praised.

Sir Richard Branson

Hopefully, you will be able to use and implement some or all the ideas here for your own employee recognition program and show just how much your company values its workforce!

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