What is an employee recognition program, and how to build your own

Employee recognition is key to building and maintaining a happy and healthy workplace. As a leader, simply knowing your employees are working hard is good enough. Still, it’s actually hugely important to show your gratitude and acknowledge specific successes in the workplace, especially so workers know what they are doing well and can continue to grow from there.

Common successes to celebrate or prioritize for your workplace recognition program:

Recognition programs can be used strategically to retain talent and encourage values that are important to the organization. Employees who are recognized for their teamwork and innovation will be more likely to continue to encourage these behaviors, thus setting the foundation for a positive and productive workplace culture. 

10 Employee recognition programs that have set the bar high!

It doesn’t matter if your company is just starting out or is a major player in the tech world; employee recognition programs can be customized to fit the needs of your team and will encourage positive reinforcement as the company grows. Luckily, those who are new to all of this can look to that business, which has been celebrated for its positive work culture, and take a few tips from them.

Here are ten businesses that have taken workplace recognition to the next level:

These businesses have found ways to award employees in ways they actually want, and that also incentivizes them to grow as individuals in the workplace. 

10 Employee recognition programs and events to get the ball rolling 

  1. Employee Appreciation Day: Designate consistent time to appreciate your employees. Remember, it’s the little things; extra workplace benefits can make all the difference. So, set aside a specific day each week or month to host lunch, play games, or reward employees with flexible Fridays or a four-day work week once a month. 
  1. Awards ceremonies: Award hard work by hosting annual (or as many times as you like) award ceremonies that celebrate employees who have put in the work. Standard awards are Employee of the Month, Team Spirit awards, and top marketing or sales associates, if applicable. Take the time to find something your workers will appreciate, like gift certificates, extra PTO, etc. 
  1. Teambuilding activities: Gathering as a team, especially outside of the workplace, to focus on team building is vital to ensuring employee success and engagement. Setting aside dedicated time regularly to foster connection can be done on-site at the office or in the form of a day out together doing activities like volunteering, playing teambuilding games, or doing something physical like a hike or cycling. 
  1. Anniversary events: Like award ceremonies, anniversary celebrations are a great way to punctuate the year and celebrate those employees who have been with the company for a prolonged period of time, like one, ten, or twenty years. Inviting the whole company to join in a dinner or cocktails to honor those who have dedicated years of service. 
  1. Take the team out to lunch: Whether your team has just successfully wrapped up a significant project or has been doing a great job during the day-to-day, you can show them your gratitude by taking the whole team out for lunch. If you're a hybrid workplace, plan an office lunch with screens so everyone can tune in. For remote workers, consider sending gift cards so they can buy themselves lunch while the team gets together. 
  1. Company meetings: Leaders need to take the time to acknowledge their staff, not just individually, but as a collective unit. Host a company-wide meeting, in-person, online, or both if you have a hybrid team, and publicly acknowledge all of your employees and introduce new productivity incentives, such as half days, flex Fridays, and other tangible awards to thank your team for their dedication. 
  1. Celebrate the holidays: Major holidays are often when people spend time with family, traveling to their loved ones, and winding down. Hosting a holiday party will show employees you appreciate all their hard work during the calendar year while presenting an opportunity to give out gifts and tokens of appreciation. 
  1. Company reviews. Taking time to review performance doesn't have to be negative or about what needs to be improved. Leaders can meet one-on-one with their employees to give them positive feedback on their work, encouraging them to keep it up and making sure they are available as team leaders when their teammates need them. 
  1. Performance parties: For companies that are just starting, there are a lot of milestones to be reached. Hosting events or even a casual office party to celebrate your team's performance after meeting a goal, like the first profitable quarter or completing a team project. 
  1. Team retreat: Going away, whether for the weekend or an entire week, is becoming commonplace to promote workplace well-being. Company retreats are a great way to get out of the office and combine relaxation and productivity. While work is part of company retreats, many teams don't adhere to their regular schedule and instead focus on team-building and brainstorming so they are full of fresh ideas when they return to work. 

The majority of big and small companies can implement these programs independently. Still, ensuring you have everything planned to maximize productivity and relaxation is essential for team retreats. Our team at The Surf Office are experts in company retreats and can help you curate an experience that meets your and your team's needs. 

How to build your own employee recognition program

Now that you know what defines an employee recognition program, take stock of your team's talents and projects and build a program that speaks to who you are as a company. By curating a personalized employee appreciation program, you will reap the benefits of truly demonstrating gratitude, such as elevated morale and increased well-being, and also get the chance to define what you expect from your employees and what they should expect from you.  

1. Define your goals as a company

Before implementing your program, define your goals. What do you want to achieve? For example, are your workers burnt out? Do you need to improve motivation and teamwork or increase employee retention rates? You could only have one or all of these issues to address, and a comprehensive appreciation program will help take a holistic approach to improving morale in the workplace. 

2. Ask your employees what they need

Gather input from your employees before taking action. Conduct surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to understand better the types of recognition and acts of appreciation that are most meaningful to them. This input will help you tailor the program to everyone's needs.

3. Create a plan

Create a comprehensive plan that outlines the program's structure, expectations, and actions that display genuine recognition. From there, you can find how much time you will need to successfully implement your schedule, whether once a week, once a month, or several times yearly. Your strategy should consider how employees will be rewarded.

4. Start budgeting

Determine your budget for your recognition program. Consider factors such as the size of your organization, available resources, and the type of recognition you plan to offer. For example, if you have a small budget because you're an early-stage startup, plan for office lunches and day trips that boost employee engagement and avoid more extensive commitments like retreats until you have the funding. 

Ultimately, your budget will guide your decision-making process and allow you to make actionable plans and avoid overpromising, as you'll know exactly what you can do each quarter or year. 

5. Be strategic

Get familiar with recognition strategies and make them a core part of team communication. There are various ways to recognize employees, including:

Establish clear criteria for recognition while ensuring that employees understand what they need to do to benefit from recognition, whether meeting specific performance metrics or demonstrating desired behaviors.

6. Implement the program

Before implementing, communicate with your employees that there will be (positive!) changes in the workplace and give them a start date for when the employee recognition program will begin. Ensure that managers are ready to actively participate in recognizing their team members and understand how to evaluate performance fairly. 

7. Celebrate successes

Celebrate the achievements of recognized employees or teams meaningfully. Hold regular recognition events or ceremonies to acknowledge their contributions publicly.

8. Make it inclusive

Ensure your recognition program is inclusive and accessible to all employees, regardless of their role or level. By doing this, you will be able to be sure that you’re not being biased or favoring certain departments or employees. Managers are just as accountable for a successful recognition program as the employees!

9. Evolve and adapt

Employee recognition programs should evolve to stay relevant and practical. Stay open to feedback and make necessary adjustments to keep the program fresh and engaging.

10. Ask for regular feedback

After implementing the program, set up regular check-ins with employees and managers to see what’s working and if there are any areas for improvement.

Customize your program to fit your organization's culture

Remember that employee recognition is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but no matter what type of program you develop, it’s sure to boost morale. Customize your program to fit your organization's culture and plan for long-term goals, like a yearly company-wide retreat that will bring the benefits of getting out of the office and prioritizing relaxation and team bonding. 

For teams ready to take the plunge, contact the Surf Office to help you plan a curated company retreat.  All of us at The Surf Office are passionate and knowledgeable about the benefits of team building, especially in remote and out-of-office settings. We can help you plan out team-building activities, schedule day trips, and reap the benefits of the employee engagement programs explored in this article.

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