Begin an Employee Recognition Award Program

Everyone likes to be recognized for the hard work that they do. An employee recognition award program can create a positive work environment, boost morale and engagement.

Research demonstrates the value of employee recognition. Gallup found that when employee satisfaction with recognition improves, not only does engagement improve, customer satisfaction, turnover, productivity and safety also improve.

Research also shows that not all recognition is effective. One study done in 2013 shows what makes for a meaningful recognition experience.


  1. Create the Objective - First, you need to figure out what the program's scope and goals will be. You want to define the objective of the program. These should be objectives that are meaningful to your organization. For instance, you want to encourage teamwork or innovation. You also might want to set a goal for your program such as improving the safety of the workplace, or acknowledging those who have worked for you the longest.
  2. Set the Budget - After you have decided upon the goals for your program, it is important to establish a budget. Talk to any senior officials or any department who’s in charge of petty cash or purchasing to get clearance for a budget. Keep in mind that this type of program can run on any with little to no cost. See the tips section for award ideas.
  3. Set Program Guidelines and Criteria - The next step in developing a recognition program is to establish program guidelines and criteria. Ask yourself: What form will your program take? Will it be a peer nomination program? Will managers be the ones recognize employees? Will we present recognition formally or informally, face to face or virtually? What does it take to receive recognition? How many people will be awarded? How will we communicate who is awarded? Clearly established criteria will help ensure that your program is seen as fair.
  4. Choose Your Awards- Keep in mind that not all programs need formal awards, especially not expensive awards. The 2013 research cited above, found that 70 percent of meaningful recognition cost nothing, meaning that if an award was given it was nominal. If you do choose to offer an award consider both your budget and the needs and wants of your employees. Get creative. The awards that you give should be sincere, as well as adaptable, meaning that they can work for all members of the work place. They should also be relevant, and tie to the goals of the program.
  5. Understand tax issues - Awards with dollar value are usually taxable. Check with your accounting team. They may need to you to track the awards you give.
  6. Get the support of executives and managers. Employees want recognition from managers and they want to know that managers endorse a program. You need managers to use your program and encourage employees to use peer programs.
  7. Communication - Tell employees about the program. This can be done through promotional materials, bulletin posts, email or the intranet. It is important that employees are aware of the program and understand how it works. Keep employees abreast of deadlines.
  8. Track program usage - Depending on the type of program you have chosen, you will may need to track: 1) who is making awards, 2) who is receiving awards, 3) which managers, teams and departments are actively using your program. This information will help you improve program fairness and communication.
  9. Track results - Finally, you need to know if your program has helped you to meet your objectives!


  • Alternatively you could investigate whether a recognition program is right for your company.
  • Consider any of the following ways to recognize:
    • Personal thank you notes or emails
    • Letters of recommendations
    • Free dress-down day
    • Hold a recognition lunch
    • Company logo apparel
    • Desk clocks
    • Cash
    • Month of free parking


  • There is potential to destroy the culture of a workplace if the recognition develops into a series of competitive contests, focusing on gifts and monetary awards, rather than on the recognized behaviors of employees.

Things You'll Need

  • Someone Assigned to Manage the program
  • Great communication of the program
  • The potential number of award recipients in a set time frame;
  • The types and subsequent costs of the awards;
  • Costs associated with the presentation of the awards;
  • The costs of promotional and informational materials;
  • Administrative costs; and
  • Costs associated with the training of managers and supervisors.

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