5 ways to ensure the success of an employee recognition initiative

Over 80% of organisations polled by SHRM reported to having some kind of employee recognition programme in place, ranging from rewards and recognition to service awards and many other initiatives in between.

By: Paul Heaton on

However, with Gallup reporting that global workplace engagement levels have little-improved over the last 40 years, it seems clear there are reasons as to why recognition initiatives - designed to improve long-term engagement - aren’t having the desired results.

What are the key reasons some programmes aren’t proving impactful? What can organisations do to ensure initiatives, both existing and future plans, provide real culture change and tangible business results?

Here are five things all good employee recognition initiatives have - and a lack of might be the reasons a programme is failing, too.


One of the most effective ways to ensure engagement in the recognition initiative itself is to make sure it doesn’t live in isolation of day-to-day business activities.

When recognition programmes are launched that don’t integrate with communication tools, employee emails and even annual appraisals, the scheme can quickly become another thing that employees need to remember to do.

When the programme is integrated, for example, recognitions are shared via email and onto a social wall, recognition activity becomes evident across all business touchpoints for employees. Showing gratitude naturally becomes part of the daily conversation, and through that frequency, real culture change can begin to develop.

Easy and automated

Most recognition programmes are designed to make a managers life easier by giving them a tool that easily shows the great things going on within their own teams in a way which they can instantly give recognition for. However, for recognition schemes that rely on manual processes, such as written nominations or have long-winded processes, uptake of the programme is going to be limited.

From a managers point of view, they’re already busy with their own targets to meet. Adding additional ‘work’ into the mix to seek approval to give a certain employee a reward for doing great work is often going to fall down the to-do list.

And equally, for employees, any software that’s launched or initiative with a complicated process is instantly going to turn them off from the scheme.

Dedicated managers

The most powerful recognition an employee can receive is from their direct line manager and that’s why it’s vital managers are heavily involved in any recognition scheme taking place. Whilst peer-to-peer recognition programmes are extremely effective at creating positive feedback loops, it’s still important that people leaders engage too - both in the giving of recognition and rewards.

Manager activity can show employees the ropes and how recognition can be delivered - and what for. But it also suggests in the very early days that this is an initiative that’s here to stay. Not a flash in the pan idea that ‘someone from upstairs’ has decided to launch. Everyone gets involved, activity peaks but is then sustained for the long-term, and dedicated managers have a large role to play in that process.

Great internal comms

Like any business activity that will affect the way a workplace goes about its daily business, great internal communication will be needed to provide a reason, promote the plan and continuously remind employees of the upcoming change.

The same is true of launching a new recognition initiative - though the message is an entirely positive one.

If you can highlight the benefits to employees of using a recognition system, show them the ropes and create excitement about the launch, then participation will be high from the offset. Simply sending employees an email with a link to create an account with no forwarning won’t cut it.

Recognition activity used formally

Alongside a recognition initiative integrating with day to day business conversations and activity, it can often prove fruitful to include activity and achievements within the programme in more formal settings, such as annual appraisals or even promotion discussions.

There a couple of reasons for this. First, it signals again to employees that what happens within the initiative is important for the company and reflects directly on that individual. This should be seen in a positive light by both employer and worker. The employer has direct access to potentially hundreds of positive moments where that staff member was recognised by their peers for great behaviour or accomplishments. And for the employee, they know that every time they contribute positively to the long-term goals and aims of the company, it’s recognised by their higher-ups.

Read more: The power of employee recognition in 5 stats

It gives additional meaning and individual purpose to the recognition programme as it keeps a record of contribution throughout the working year, providing real insight into the behaviours and micro-achievements of all staff members.