HR Leaders Share How to Design an Employee Recognition Program

How to design an employee recognition program

Implementing an employee recognition program is a tried-and-tested method for boosting engagement, motivating employees, and improving retention. 

Eight out of ten HR managers say their company has a recognition program that helps with employee experience, relationships, organizational culture, employee engagement, and organizational values. 

Moreover, according to Forbes, 37% of employees believe employee recognition is crucial. Employee recognition ranked higher than autonomy, inspiration, and pay raises as the most critical thing a workplace can do to support people's success.

If you want to implement an employee recognition program that actually works, keep reading! We’ve spoken with several HR leaders who shared tips and employee recognition ideas.

What are employee recognition programs?

An employee recognition program aims to acknowledge and reward employees' contributions within an organization. These strategic tools’ purpose is to boost morale, enhance employee engagement, and drive productivity. 

Recognition programs come in various forms, from simple acts of appreciation and verbal praise to more elaborate systems involving awards, incentives, or bonuses. These programs are meant to express gratitude and reinforce a sense of belonging and value among team members, fostering a positive workplace culture.

How to create an employee recognition program that actually works

Creating an effective employee recognition program requires careful planning and execution. Here are the steps you should take to develop a program that engages and motivates your employees:

1. Define your objectives

Start by identifying the specific goals you want to achieve with the recognition program. Are you aiming to boost morale, improve employee retention, increase productivity, or enhance teamwork? Clear objectives will guide your program's design.

2. Align the program with your culture

Melissa Daimler-1
Melissa Daimler Chief Learning Officer at Udemy 
Culture is how work happens between people. It is every interaction that happens, every decision that is made - whether in person or remotely. It is what we do, not what we have.


An effective employee recognition program should align entirely with the company's core values and workplace culture. Recognition should reinforce and reflect the behaviors and attitudes you want to encourage.

3. Determine recognition types

Decide what types of recognition you'll offer. Consider a mix of financial, emotional, private, public, and peer-to-peer recognition to celebrate and motivate your people. 

Adam Horne
Adam Horne Co-Founder at Open Org
The best approach to employee recognition strikes a balance between financial recognition and emotional recognition. Companies should be careful not to recognize and reward purely on a financial level but remember that the most powerful form of recognition on a regular day-to-day basis is public and personal recognition.


4. Allocate a budget

As Luke O'Mahoney, Founder at Sapien, says, “Simple things like a small recognition budget and a comms platform that allows for public recognition are good places to start.” When designing an effective recognition program, be prepared to invest in it. Allocate a budget for monetary incentives and employee recognition software that suits all your needs.

5. Introduce the program to your team

After you’ve decided on the employee recognition program you will use, take the time to introduce it to the whole team. Every employee, from individual contributors to managers and executives, should be aware of it, know how to use it, and understand the reason behind implementing it.

Usually, organizations hold company-wide meetings to introduce the recognition concept and announce the program. But if you want to go more in-depth, consider having recognition training to explain to the team why showing gratitude is an integral part of a positive culture. 

6. Involve your people

A successful recognition program is the one that people want to use. So, if you want your team to adopt it, you must involve them in the program's development process. Gather input and feedback from your people to ensure the program resonates with their preferences and expectations.

7. Use data analytics to measure the program’s success

If you want to support ongoing support from leadership, you need to measure the impact of your employee recognition program on critical business areas, such as retention, engagement, or employee experience. It's important to note that executive buy-in is essential for successfully adopting the recognition system. 

Helder Figueiredo
Helder Figueiredo HR Consultant
In today's fast-paced, digital world, human connections are more valuable than ever. Creating a culture of recognition isn't just an HR initiative; it's a business imperative. Leverage the power of data analytics to understand what truly motivates your employees, but remember that behind every data point is a human story.


8. Choose the right employee recognition software 

When you want to implement an employee recognition program, the easiest way to do so is by getting a recognition software solution like Mirro. Through our platform, people leaders can nurture a sense of belonging and recognition in their teams.

Here is what Mirro can help you achieve:

  • Make giving praise a habit across the organization;
  • Celebrate achievements at work to bring your team together;
  • Know how everyone makes a difference within your company;
  • Embrace your values and make it easy for your people to show appreciation.

Show recognition through Mirro, an employee recognition software

Employee recognition program ideas (from HR leaders)

You must mix and match several methods to make your recognition program successful. And because we want to give you the best recognition program ideas, we’ve spoken with several HR thought leaders who shared their insights.

Use both private and public recognition

Public recognition means showing gratitude in a way that is accessible to others. You can show appreciation at in-person events, through emails, social media posts, company-wide announcements, or employee recognition software like Mirro.

In contrast with public recognition, private appraisal entails recognizing an individual’s accomplishments exclusively in a one-on-one context. You can do so in a personal conversation, an email, or a handwritten note. This form of recognition demonstrates to the person that you've taken the time to reflect on their contributions and efforts, as Amy Waninger, CEO at Lead at Any Level, shared with us.

Amy Waninger CEO at Lead at Any Level
Provide recognition in private first. If you want to recognize someone’s effort or impact publicly, first ask them if they are comfortable with your doing so. In either case, be sure to send a note to the person's direct supervisor so the recognition can be included in their next performance review.


Practice saying thank you

Recognition should flow naturally rather than be a formality like an "employee of the month" program, which often risks bias or neglect. Instead, it's about genuinely thanking people for their contributions and embracing small, impactful gestures. 

Matt Bradburn
Matt Bradburn Founder & CEO at The People Collective
Recognition is something that should come naturally; it’s not about an employee of the month program (which will almost certainly become biased or neglected). It’s about thanking people for their work - in private and public. It’s the little things that count more than the grand gestures. A top tip for managers and leaders - practice saying thank you. Be specific about what you’re thanking them for, the impact it had, and why you’re pleased. Try doing it once a day at first; it will be a touch forced, but within 2 weeks, it will come naturally to you.


Bring company values to life

Employee recognition programs can bring your company's core values to life. By highlighting specific examples of people living up to these values, you recognize their efforts and convey a strong message across your organization, reiterating them as guiding principles that influence workplace culture.

Shelby Wolpa
Shelby Wolpa People Leader Advisor
Employee recognition programs are a powerful way to bring company values to life. By highlighting specific, real-time examples of how employees embody your values, you can reinforce those values and motivate everyone to do their best work.


Start at the top

Starting from the top is crucial when implementing an employee recognition program. People managers should take the lead by openly praising and encouraging others to follow suit. This top-down approach sends a clear and powerful message throughout the organization that recognition is not only endorsed but also actively practiced by those in leadership positions.

Luke O_Mahoney
Luke O'Mahoney Founder at Sapien
Starting at the top, senior leaders need to praise publicly and encourage others to do the same. Structurally and strategically, it is also important to consider the role of People Managers in the business. Do they have what they need in order to prioritize recognition continuously? Do they have sufficient time to focus on their people, or are they bogged down with delivery as an individual contributor? Assuming time is available, what mechanisms do they have at their disposal?


Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

Recognition doesn’t always have to come from the top. In fact, it should come from both colleagues and managers. Adopting recognition platforms that allow employees to recognize a team or colleague publicly can foster an environment where everyone feels their contributions are valued and cherished. To ensure the inclusivity and success of your recognition program, make sure it supports peer-to-peer recognition.

Molly Johnson-Jones
Molly Johnson-Jones CEO & Co-Founder at Flexa
At Flexa, we have a #kudos channel on Slack where people recognize when their colleagues have done an amazing job on something. For bigger things, we try to ensure that we move salaries as people develop (rather than waiting for those difficult negotiations), send gifts when people have gone above and beyond, and always encourage peers to celebrate other's achievements rather than eyeing them with envy.

Bring employee recognition to life

Employee recognition is the best practice to thank your people for their hard work and motivate them to push even harder. Whether you want to adopt a comprehensive recognition program or discover simple yet effective ways to express gratitude at work, we hope this article gave you the insights you need to put into action.

At Mirro, showing gratitude is embedded into our culture. Our recognition platform is tailored to assist you in cultivating a culture of recognition. If you want to leverage recognition software to motivate your people, book a demo with our consultants and let us work our magic.


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