How to Build an Effective Employee Recognition Program

Organizations that want to improve their sales and reduce employee turnover metrics often look for ways to improve the relationship between the company and its employees. Engaged employees drive success in the long term. But how do you acknowledge the efforts of your teams effectively? What should companies do to improve rapport year over year?

One solution is to implement a formal employee recognition program in your organization. Today we will look at the ins and outs of establishing employee recognition: the benefits and challenges of implementation, the types of rewards that excite recipients most, and how software can make the whole process easier. 

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is the use of programs, incentives, and activities to increase employee motivation and employee engagement. It is often administered by the human resource department in a company, or by a relevant department head. Employees who experience regular recognition for their efforts are often happier at their jobs and exhibit more desired behavior than those whose good work goes unnoticed. 

An employee recognition program can take many forms, including public recognition, a celebration of individual and team achievements, monetary compensation for satisfactory employee performance, or other forms of tangible and intangible rewards. Each recognition program should be finely tuned to drive desired employee engagement, increase employee retention, and foster better company culture.

Why is employee recognition important 

Employee sentiment is not just a nice idea. Good company rapport can mean the difference between retaining your most valuable employees and starting from scratch when they seek greener pastures. This is why more companies view employee recognition programs as mission-critical to improve the long-term welfare of the organization.

Employee recognition must be a carefully crafted and thoughtfully implemented program within your organization. It should accurately reflect corporate values and strive to treat each employee as an individual. Some programs may be tied to larger company functions such as performance management or recruitment.

Good employee recognition awards may feature either formal recognition (such as a “years of service” award or an employee performance review) or informal recognition (a thoughtful gift card and token of thanks for a job well done). It may be individual in nature, or a company-wide initiative such as an employee appreciation day. 

There’s no faking a good employee engagement program. Employees pay close attention to how the company recognizes their most valuable or tenured employees, and respond accordingly. That being said, personalization is tricky to achieve at scale. As your company grows, opportunities for individual recognition become more challenging. However, with the right solutions in place, you can make every employee and recipient feel like experiences were crafted just for them.

What are the benefits of employee recognition?

Employee recognition isn’t just great for your staff; using gifts to praise stellar service and important milestones offers the following benefits of employee recognition for corporations:

Reduces turnover: Employees who feel that their contributions are valued and recognized often spend longer in their jobs than their less-valued counterparts. And it doesn’t take large, sweeping gestures on an ongoing basis to secure this kind of employee loyalty. Small touchpoints throughout the year to reward employee achievements or small wins are just as impactful to retention as larger or higher-value rewards.

Increases productivity: When employees feel good about their company and their contributions to the team, they are more likely to bring their best efforts to daily tasks. Therefore, creating regular employee recognition experiences can pay dividends throughout the year that far exceed the investment in giving. 

Improves recruitment efforts: Happy employees talk. They also recommend their company to job seekers. This is why staff member recognition impacts the recruitment efforts within your company. For starters, candidates who hear positive stories about staff appreciation and recognition are more likely to consider accepting employment offers. It's a positive reflection of company culture and provides an element of social proof for the organization.

Some companies choose to formally recognize referrals with a gift card or monetary reward as an incentive or a gesture of thanks for promoting the recruitment of new talent into the organization. A gift card or other reward may keep employees more engaged with the growth of the company, and reinforce the idea that great new talent is often acquired organically through connections with current employees. 

Creates team cohesion: Employee recognition can have benefits at every level of the organization. When peer groups experience wins together and receive recognition for their efforts, it increases employee morale, reinforces company values, and fosters a more cooperative environment for everyone. This is especially true when incentives involve experiences such as incentive travel or local team off-sites. Team-based recognition and rewards can bring teams closer together, help them gain recognition with peers throughout the organization, and raise the profile of valuable departments that sometimes operate behind the scenes. 

Personalizes the brand relationship: Employers are becoming more aware of the importance of personalizing the relationship between companies and their employees through a recognition process. As younger generations enter the workforce, they focus beyond the basic offerings such as compensation and perks like an employee benefit program. They want to know the company values their presence in the workplace and makes strides to engage with them. An employee recognition strategy are one way that companies can forge this personalized brand connection with their staff. 

Types of employee recognition programs and rewards 

There are many opportunities to create employee engagement, drive excellence, and recognize efforts that go above and beyond. Here are a few ideas for programs your employees will find enticing:

Departmental or company announcements: Not every employee recognition is attached to a tangible benefit. Sometimes the simple act of social recognition for achievements can have a powerful effect. For large organizations, this could take the form of recognition in a company newsletter or a quarterly all-hands presentation.

Milestone recognition: The time-honored “years of service” award is a popular and well-received form of employee recognition. Often these programs can be administered by third parties and may even offer employees a choice of rewards, available through a curated catalog. 

Sales bonuses or spiffs: Spot bonuses and other forms of spontaneous recognition are most welcome and have immediate positive impacts. Spot bonuses may come in the form of a check/bonus or can be delivered in the form of a gift card to be used immediately.

Incentive travel: Larger rewards such as incentive travel are more expensive to administer, but have excellent brand marketing ROI. Often companies who use this form of employee recognition have great reputations outside of the organization, driven by employees who have enjoyed receiving these types of rewards. Incentive travel does not have to be manually administered to be impactful. In fact, travel gift cards, such as an employee reward for hotels and airfare, can create a personalized experience for each employee while reducing the manual labor of administering programs.

Company-wide recognition events: Planning annual or seasonal recognition events for your entire staff is a great way to foster positive workplace culture. These events may be as simple as a company BBQ or holiday party, or a formal end-of-year celebration focused on individual employee or team recognition, years of service, special achievements, and more. Group employee recognition ideas vary, but the focus should always be on peer praise, employee satisfaction, and improving employee happiness.

Gift cards: For a large-scale employee recognition initiative (for instance company-wide holiday bonuses or departmental rewards) a scalable gift card solution can deliver huge benefits without being time-intensive or costly. Many studies report that gift cards are one of the most desirable forms of employee recognition across organizations, with 73% of workers saying they prefer gift cards as a reward for hard work.

While any of these employee recognition efforts are sure to generate good rapport with your employees, not every kind of employee recognition idea is easy to administer. Gift cards are highly favorable to almost all recipients while being highly personalized and easy to administer.

How to choose the right employee recognition software 

There are many options to choose from when selecting your employee recognition platform. Each has different features and use cases, so it’s important to fully research your options and choose a card platform that checks the most boxes for your organization.

In general, your employee recognition platform should be:

Flexible: Your chosen employee recognition platform should offer robust options that allow for flexibility in your programs. It should be accessible to multiple departments that offer different types of employee praise and recognition and should be able to support creativity in your gifting program. For larger organizations, the gifting platform can become a useful tool across many departments, and for many internal and external applications. For instance, HR might use employee recognition in its retention and recruitment programs, sales might use the platform for rewarding outside sales referrals, and department heads may use gift cards for smaller, spontaneous outreach with their subordinates. A flexible platform opens many possibilities beyond employee recognition programs. 

Easy to use: Gifting programs are a team lift. Especially for growing and large organizations, many stakeholders may be involved in the process of planning, delivering, and administering employee recognition programs. Therefore, having an easy-to-use platform is imperative to the success of your program. Adoption rates for gifting programs are higher when the rewards program is easy to use. Find a platform with an intuitive UI to ensure all of your stakeholders are able to begin creating programs without a lot of training or barriers to entry.

Highly personalized: Personalization is one of the best features of gift card programs. Therefore, choose a software platform that has plentiful card options for retailers located around the world. Personalization can mean sending the perfect gift based on someone’s interests, or sending a targeted gift card that the recipient can enjoy close to home. A good gift card catalog can offer you both.

Fully integrated: While stand-alone gifting platforms can serve the purpose of smaller programs and organizations, the power of integration sets platforms apart. With full-scale integration into other vital programs such as financial planning, accounting, payment, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs, reporting and planning between different functions becomes much easier. It also streamlines the process to reduce redundancy, eliminate errors, and increase communication between departments. 

Well supported: Customer support is an important part of any software platform, and it becomes especially important during the implementation stages of an employee recognition program. Be sure your chosen provider can back up a great platform with quick, responsive customer service for questions your users may encounter along the way. It’s also important to find a platform with good development support for novel use cases, bug fixes, custom integrations, etc. 

Get started with an employee recognition software that understands your needs. Check out WeGift for a free demo of our first-in-class platform today. 

Why gift cards are a great choice for employee recognition

Gift cards often receive very positive feedback and are cited as one of the best methods of fueling an employee recognition program. They’re an easily and instantly recognized form of appreciation. Employees truly enjoy receiving them, and they offer many benefits to the organizations that use them. 

Some of the best reasons to use gift cards within your employee recognition programs:

High desirable: Over 80% of employees report that they enjoy receiving recognition in the form of a gift card. Their flexibility makes it an easy employee experience for recipients to collect and enjoy their rewards, and many times they can apply these rewards to the items or services they desire most. Employees enjoy feeling appreciated, and everyone loves getting a gift - especially one they can pick out for themselves. 

Easy to send: Gift cards are one of the easiest items to send to your employees through any communication channel. Most organizations have delivery information centralized within their employee management systems for traditional sending (for instance, by email or mobile phone delivery). For multi-channel delivery such as a Slack channel or internal social media send, a platform makes it quick and easy to deliver codes to as many recipients as you need. 

Better for data analysis: Gift cards sent through a platform can create their own reporting and audit trail. With the right system in place, you can review the success of your program through open metrics, time to collection, card selection trends, and more. The data produced through a gift card platform can help you craft better programs for future internal and external applications. 

Globally available: Gift cards work in every city, on every continent, and their desirability is consistent no matter where your recipients live. The ubiquity of gift card options and services makes sending to a distributed workforce easier than almost any other form of incentive. With a platform, your giving can be fully localized so that everyone gets options that are familiar, useful, and appreciated.

Easy to customize: Gift cards offer employers more flexibility to customize the experience for their employees. With plentiful options for brand-specific and non-specific debit cards (for instance, American Express or Visa gift cards accepted by most retailers) you can always offer something your employees will find useful and delightful. With a platform, you can even provide credit toward multiple gift cards, allowing employees to fully customize the experience for themselves. 

Great ROI: Because gift cards are so flexible and desirable, they rank high on ROI. Where some forms of employee recognition can be hard to measure in terms of return, the data produced by sending electronic gift cards offer a much clearer picture of how your spending impacts your business outcomes. This is true for both employee recognition programs and every other type of program your company runs. 

Low overhead: Gift cards don’t rely on shipping, packaging, or manual processing. They require no storage space or maintenance, are available digitally on-demand, and can be delivered at scale by a single user with just a small time investment. This means that gift cards can deliver better outcomes than most other types of employee rewards with virtually no overhead. 

Why choose WeGift

There are plenty of options available for teams ready to integrate gift cards into their employee recognition programs. Not every platform is created equally, and depending on your program, some platforms may offer more advantages than others. WeGift offers a balance of simplicity and robust feature availability to meet every marketing, HR, and operations team where they are. Your programs can be as simple as a quick send, or a fully automated gifting program with extensive reporting features. The flexibility of the platform means that WeGift can grow with organizations as their employee recognition and other programs evolve over time.

Some of the top features our users love include:

Simplest quick-start platform: Get a simple gift card program up and running with just a credit card and a few selections. You can be ready to send any number of gift cards within minutes using an easy workflow and automatic bulk delivery to your recipients through a variety of channels (Slack, email, social media, mobile phone delivery, etc.) 

Fee-free sending options: Users can begin sending gift cards with a simple workflow, paying only the face value of cards sent. This allows anyone to get started with a gift card sending campaign quickly and easily, without the need for complicated integrations or setup. For more functionality, a robust service tier is available through the same easy-to-use platform. 

Largest selection: A great gift card program relies on having options for every interest and experience type. The WeGift platform partners with thousands of gift card brands and retailers to provide the most extensive selection of options around the globe. 

Discount savings: Maximizing the ROI of your employee recognition program is even easier when you save on the gift cards you send. Bulk gift card buyers enjoy up to 25% discount off the face value of the cards they order, meaning more of your budget goes into providing value and experience for your recipients.

Balance recapture: Over 30% of gift card balances go unclaimed in the US. Being able to recapture the unused balance on a gift card (even those leftover cents from a successful purchase) means less wasted budget and more impact on your programs. Balance recapture is customizable, so it can be used for time-expiring offers, or simply to regain unused portions of cards from previous sends.

Could your employee recognition program benefit from the ease and flexibility of a corporate gift card program? If so, check out WeGift for a free demo of our first-in-class platform today. 

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