Employee engagement and retention are top of mind for many HR teams this year, yet many are missing out on an important piece of the puzzle: employee recognition programs. Employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. That’s a harrowing statistic indeed, as only 45 percent of employees are completely satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive. If you want to engage and retain your team, it’s time to turn up your focus on employee recognition. Here’s what makes the best programs successful:

They take employee preferences into account

Every person likes to be recognized differently. Some appreciate public, company-wide recognition, while others prefer praise during a one-on-one. Some like to be rewarded with bonuses or gifts, while others prefer a hand-written and heartfelt thank you note. Great managers will learn their employee’s preferences, and incorporate them into their team- and company-wide recognition activities. For instance, the employee that appreciates public praise may get a shoutout from leadership during the all-hands meeting, while the employee that prefers more private recognition may be invited to lunch with company leaders.

They start early and repeat often

Recognition early on an employee’s lifecycle is great for engagement. Managers and new hires should set goals for the employee onboarding process, and the manager should quickly stop by the new hire’s desk every now and then with some encouraging words. Many organizations include regular check-ins during their new hire onboarding process, which also make for a fantastic time to provide recognition. The manager may even choose to share the new hire’s early contributions and wins during team meetings. This will help the new hire feel appreciated, so they stay motivated to keep up their new hire enthusiasm.

But don’t stop there. Forty percent of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often, but most report an average of 50 days since they last felt recognized at work.

They get the whole company involved

A great way to recognize employees more often is to get the whole company involved by creating a culture of feedback and recognition. Managers will always be the primary drivers, as their feedback ultimately holds the most weight, and they set the feedback culture for their teams. Managers should share key wins with the company leadership, so they too can drive a culture of feedback from the top-down.

Think about it: if the CEO can find time to praise employees, nobody else has an excuse not to join in. Employees say the most memorable recognition comes most often from their manager (28 percent), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24 percent), the manager's manager (12 percent), a customer (10 percent), and peers (9 percent).

There are many ways to encourage peer recognition from a team or a company-wide perspective.

Here are a few to help you get started:

  • Add employee recognition to the agenda for meetings, and provide an open forum for employees to give shoutouts to their colleagues.
  • Install a cork board with note cards to your lobby, kitchen, or team area, so people can write about, and display, their appreciation for others in a central place.
  • Create a weekly email or Slack thread where you ask employees to give each other shoutouts. At Sapling, we call them #wins. Managers can introduce this thread to their team’s each week, and kick off employee recognition themselves.
  • Implement a solution like performance management and feedback platform to allow employees to praise an individual or a group, or even to send generic praise (many of these solutions also integrate with Slack—and Sapling!).

They spread the love

Some employee’s contributions are more visible than others, and some employees are less vocal about their successes. If the manager finds that the same people are getting recognized over and over, they should consider how others are contributing and spread the love. For instance, a top-performing salesperson may get constant recognition, but another may be really hustling to make more cold calls, resulting in a significant jump in sales. Make sure to give them a shoutout for that. It’s important to praise good behavior and hustle, just as much as any outcomes.

Seek out opportunities to praise team efforts, too. For instance, a manager may find that marketing ads performed really well last month, but know that the advertising manager isn’t the only person responsible for the great outcome. They should also provide recognition to the graphic designer who helped created the ad visuals, the digital marketing manager who created the landing pages, and that engineer who added tracking code to the website. Each person played a role in the success of the team.

They tie it into performance management

Performance reviews are completed annually in many organizations, and feedback tends to be skewed by recent successes and failures. It can be helpful to tie in feedback and recognition from the entire year, so the employee and manager can get a better sense of overall performance. Some managers will keep a written notebook or digital meeting notes to keep tabs on employee successes throughout the year, while others utilize technology for this purpose. For example, Lattice integrates historical feedback into performance reviews to provide a more complete picture of the entire review cycle.

Final thoughts on employee recognition programs

Employee recognition is an easy, cost-effective way to improve engagement and retention. But, as with many People programs, it’s crucial to get manager buy-in and participation. They’re at the frontlines of employee retention and need your expert guidance to kick things off the right way. Employee recognition programs enable them to retain the talent they need to lead successful teams, and there’s no better time than now to get started. The talent market is only getting more competitive and your employees have many choices when it comes to where they want to work.


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The Secrets of Successful Employee Recognition Programs