employee recognition planning - free thank you cards from gThankYou!

Employee Recognition Starts with a Simple ‘Thank You’!

An effective employee recognition program shows your workers you value their hard-work and contributions to your business.  Workers who feel valued are more satisfied, engaged and productive. Employee recognition helps attract and retain talent. In short, it makes your company more prosperous.

This is the first of two posts on the topic of creating an effective employee recognition plan. The second will profile successful employee recognition programs in different business sectors.

“Employee recognition can be given in many ways—through saying thank you, giving praise, providing opportunity, or showing respect. Many studies on the workplace have shown that being recognized for achievements, knowing that one’s contributions matter to the organization, and the opportunity for growth and professional development have a considerable impact on employee satisfaction and commitment.”  University of Washington, “UW’s Employee Recognition Program,”

Read on for tips for kick-starting your employee recognition planning process!

1. Establish Your Guidelines for Employee Recognition

Businesses are not all alike and workforce needs can vary dramatically by industry so it’s important to determine just what employee recognition means in your organization.  Not sure?  Then it’s time to develop a mission statement and be explicit about what you want to achieve.

Here’s an example of an approach from Canada’s HR Council’s article,  “Guidelines for Employee Recognition”:

  • Employee recognition needs to be a common practice in your organization. For the greatest effect, incorporate recognition as a normal aspect of day-to-day life in your workplace.
  • Recognize employees for both individual and group achievements. When recognizing a group of individuals, it’s important to distinguish each person for their own contribution. Group recognition contributes to team building and informs the group that together, they are valuable to the organization.
  • To be effective, employee recognition must be sincere and heartfelt. Employees will sense if their efforts are acknowledged only out of duty or if comments are lacking in sincerity.
  • Acknowledgement of effort and accomplishments must be timely in order to be effective.
  • Remember that each person has their own preferences for how they want to be recognized—what one appreciates could be a real turn-off for someone else.
  • Remember that recognition can be either formal or informal. Formal initiatives can be put in place on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis, with informal recognition taking place when it’s merited.

2. Determine Your Strategic Approach to Employee Recognition

When developing a strategic plan, you’ll need to specify the why, how, who and when of employee recognition in the context of your budget and business goals.

Here’s an example of the types of questions you’ll want to ask and determine with management from Virginia’s Radford University.

Questions to consider as you establish objective criteria:

  • Purpose—What do you want to achieve through employee recognition? What are the business goals you want to support?  Be specific.  Can you support wellness and safety initiatives too? Are managers trained in recognition?  If not, be sure to incorporate training goals.
  • Funding—How much can leaders spend to recognize employees, and how should they budget for it? Be sure to budget for measuring your programs.
  • Recognition approaches—Should employee recognition be formal, informal, or both? Do you encourage peer-to-peer recognition, and if so, how?  What’s most successful in achieving your goals?
  • Awards—Will your program include monetary or non-monetary rewards, or both?  What’s the role of service awards? What about paid time off and other life-balance benefits? Under what circumstances should leaders use each type of reward?

3. Develop a Tactical plan

Once you’ve established objective criteria, then the fun part is determining the tactical plan.  Pull others into the process and you’ll build engagement and buy-in with coworkers.  Here are some ideas from Radford University to start your creative juices flowing!

  • Brainstorm with your staff—Seek their input on goals to work toward and/or ways to make the particular employee recognition program a success.
  • Involve employees in the process–Get employees involved with determining what they want and what will motivate them.
  • Make recognition meaningful–Make sure management is on-board and willing to write thank you notes, deliver public thank you’s and make your efforts sincere, personal and meaningful.  Your gifts should be perceived as valuable whether that’s time off or tickets to go out to eat with your family.
  • Make it fair and unbiased—State the program objectives and eligibility for participation; describe the process for selecting employees for recognition; state objective criteria upon which award decisions will be made; describe awards and the manner of presentation; describe the method for informing employees about the program; and estimate expenses.
  • Set a schedule—Create a calendar for your recognition plan and to help keep on top of execution.  You’ll want to determine the intervals at which progress is going to be measured. For example, if a recognition program is slated to run for three months, you may want to announce the rankings every two weeks to keep the program at the front of everyone’s mind.

4.  Measure it!

If you are going to go to all this effort to build engagement and drive business goals, then you’re going to want to measure how effective your efforts are.  That way you can learn what’s working well and what’s not for next year’s planning and budgeting purposes.
If you have a recognition program in place, consider using these planning tips to evaluate and improve it.


Radford’s webpage suggests several books that are particularly well suited to creative ways to recognize and engage employees.  Enjoy!

Stay tuned for our next post, in which we’ll share examples of successful employee recognition programs that can help you make yours more effective.

For more great tips and best practice insights into building a vibrant culture of appreciation, be sure to download our free e-book, “The Ultimate Guide to Employee Gift-Giving”.

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