What is and how to start a successful rewards and recognition programme
People Ops

What is and how to start a successful rewards and recognition programme

What is and how to start a successful rewards and recognition programme

Implementing an employee rewards and recognition programme within a company ensures that the right people are recognised and rewarded for their achievements. Whether this comes in the form of a large monetary bonus, or a simple and genuine verbal ‘thank you’, there’s no doubt that regularly honouring employee accomplishments is vital to company success.

Positive reinforcement not only improves employee motivation, but also sets an example to staff members, demonstrating the work and attitudes that are valued by the company. Regular rewards and recognition will also have a beneficial impact on staff retainment. A survey by Glassdoor found that 53 per cent of employees would stay longer at a company if they felt more appreciation from their boss, while 81 per cent said they are motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.

But what, exactly, are rewards and recognition? What’s the difference between them? And how do you start a successful rewards and recognition programme? Read on to find out more…

What is the difference between rewards and recognition?

Although the two may sound alike, there are crucial differences between employee rewards and recognition. Rewards tend to take the form of a tangible gift, given to an employee, team or even an entire company to celebrate their achievements. This could be something like a monetary bonus or a gift card for a popular retailer. Recognition, on the other hand, is giving verbal or written praise or thanks for work well done.

As rewards often need to be budgeted for, they tend to be given out at a specific time. For example, when the company hits its yearly goals or when a team project is successfully completed. Recognition, meanwhile, is usually cost-free and can therefore be carried out more frequently and spontaneously. If an employee comes up with a great idea for a project or delivers an impressive pitch, giving verbal or written recognition for this is a simple and effective way to praise and encourage their good work.

While rewards will be given out by managers and executives, recognition needn’t come from the top down. It can be employee led, with staff members encouraged to praise their peers for their achievements. This can further motivate employees and provide a sense of team spirit and support. An online platform with employee access can be used for this and can be a great way to publicly recognise staff accomplishments.

Despite the key differences between employee rewards and recognition, the concepts share motivations and outcomes. They can both be given to employees who have achieved great results through their work, whether this be on a small or larger scale. And both are a great way to provide positive reinforcement, motivation and encourage the retainment of staff.

How to start a rewards and recognition programme

A successful rewards and recognition programme can take different forms. Traditionally, managers would have to work through stacks of paperwork to establish which employees deserve recognition. Today, automated online systems make it far easier to keep track of employee achievements and deliver rewards and praise to the right people at the right time. Here’s some things to keep in mind when implementing a rewards and recognition programme…

1. Align with company values and needs

It’s important to align a rewards and recognition programme with the vision and values of the company, as well as the wants and needs of the business. Depending on these values, employees might be rewarded for the effort they put into work, or the enthusiasm they show. But rewards can also be given for softer, less tangible attributes such as creative thinking or showing integrity. When starting the programme, managers need to make clear the behaviours and performances they are looking for from employees and highlight why these are being rewarded in particular.

2. Get the timing right

Timing is crucial when it comes to rewarding and recognising employee achievements. If an employee has performed well or shown behaviour that is valued by the company, they should be given recognition as soon as possible. This will help them to recognise what they’ve done right and encourage them to repeat this action in the future. While work anniversaries or birthdays are a great time to show appreciation for employees, giving spontaneous and regular recognition for their achievements can be just as powerful. These needn’t be grand gestures of praise but can be small and unique moments of gratitude that become a part of everyday company culture.

3. Make sure everyone is involved

The most successful rewards and recognition programmes have the capacity to recognise the achievements of all employees within an organisation – not just certain workers or departments. While top achievers can be easy to recognise, there are also those whose hard work may not be as obvious. Rewarding these underdog employees can help them gain confidence and encourage them to become louder members of a team. Remote workers’ achievements also need to be acknowledged to ensure they remain engaged and feel connected to the company.

Although tangible rewards will usually come from the top down, a rewards and recognition programme can allow employees to nominate one another to receive these benefits. Regular recognition for achievements can also be given between peers, encouraging team collaboration and motivation. With a rewards and recognition programme that is public and collaborative, managers can ensure there are fewer issues around transparency and favouritism.

4. Choose the right words and ideas

While some employees enjoy being publicly praised during a large meeting, others might find it uncomfortable. That’s why it’s important to ensure a rewards and recognition programme is tailored to suit the range of people and personalities within a company. Making employee rewards personal – such as a voucher for their favourite retailer – implies that real thought has gone into the gift. This will ensure the worker feels valued and can help to improve relationships with managers.

Creativity is also key when implementing a successful rewards and recognition programme. Managers should enjoy finding unique ways to honour the achievements of workers in different departments and give genuine recognition where it’s due. Rather than sending the same email of praise to all staff, a handwritten note or sincere verbal ‘thank you’ will have a far greater positive impact. Finally, it’s crucial to keep recognition and criticism as separate, without using one to soften the blow of the other.

Rewards and recognition ideas

A rewards and recognition programme should be personalised to suit the needs, vision and budget of the company in question. However, there are some popular perks that can be used by any organisation to show their appreciation of their workforce. Here are some ideas…

1. Cash bonus

A monetary bonus is perhaps the most universal employee reward – it’s something that will be appreciated by any receiver. Bonuses tend to be given out at the end of the year, but can also be awarded when a company, department or team target is met, or when a work anniversary is reached. The bonus amount needn’t be huge but should be relative to the size and turnover of the organisation.

2. Retailer gift card

Some companies might choose to give out gift cards rather than cash to ensure the amount is spent on something worthwhile. By choosing a voucher for an employee’s favourite retailer, managers can demonstrate the thought behind the gift, helping to build their relationship with the staff member.

3. Time off

Granting an employee extra time off can be beneficial to both them and the company. If a staff member has been working particularly hard, giving them a day to recharge and refresh will improve their mood and ultimately their performance in the long run. Impromptu time off can also be awarded, such as a late start or early finish to the working day.

4. Dining out

A manager could choose to reward an employee by taking them out for lunch. This is a great way of showing appreciation and getting to know them better. Team lunches or dinner can also be effective in building relationships and improving collaboration. Covid permitting!

5. Verbal Recognition

Verbal recognition of an employee’s achievements can take various different forms. Some employees might prefer to be called in for a one-on-one meeting of thanks, while others might relish in being praised in front of their peers. Either way, it’s important to make the recognition genuine and personalised to the achievements of the employee.

6. Travelling trophy or medal

A trophy or medal can be awarded to an employee who has performed well or displayed the values of the company during a particular time frame. Once that period of time has ended, the trophy or medal can be passed on to another high achieving staff member. This scheme can also be collaborative, with employees nominating one another to receive the accolade each week or month.

7. Gourmet food hamper

A fancy food hamper from an upmarket supermarket or deli can be a unique way of showing gratitude to an employee. It’s important to tailor the contents of the hamper to suit the employee: for example, if they are vegetarian or vegan ensure it contains no animal products, if they are teetotal ensure it contains no alcohol. If an employee has a love for a particular cuisine, rewarding them with a hamper that reflects this will emphasise the personal nature of the gift.

8. Charitable contribution

Contributing to a charitable organisation will have a positive effect that reaches far beyond an employee or team. Managers could choose to make a donation to an employee’s favourite charity in their honour. Alternatively, they could arrange a day of voluntary work for an employee or a team, allowing them to choose the charitable organisation or event. This will give employees a day off from their 9-5, while enabling them to make a positive social or environmental impact on their local community.

9. Commuting perks

If an employee drives into work, offering them a premium reserved parking space for a week or a month is a simple way of improving their commute. On the other hand, if an employee takes public transport into the office, they could be rewarded with a free travel card for the same time period.

10. Special responsibilities

If an employee has demonstrated their talent and abilities, managers could give them the opportunity to work on a special project outside of their usual responsibilities. This will not only make the employee feel valued, but will allow them to grow in confidence and improve their capabilities. Introducing employees to senior execs or prominent customers will further demonstrate their importance to the company.


The idea of rewards and recognition may sound simple, but there are many elements that contribute to a successful programme. It’s important to distinguish between rewarding and recognising employee success, deciding which is appropriate for the situation at hand. While rewards tend to be tangible – and must be planned and budgeted for – recognition is usually free of charge, and can therefore be far more regular, spontaneous and encouraged between peers.

When starting a rewards and recognition programme, managers should ensure it is aligned with the values and goals of the company, highlighting the performances and behaviours they are looking for in employees. Achievements should be praised as soon as possible, with spontaneous and genuine recognition becoming a part of company culture. The programme should also be transparent, providing all employees with an opportunity to be praised – whether it be from their managers or peers. Finally, rewards and recognition should be personalised and sincere, rather than carbon copied for every staff member. An HRIS can ease this process, ensuring the right employee is being rewarded or recognised at the right time.

Ultimately, by implementing a rewards and recognition programme, organisations can ensure their employees feel valued and motivated to perform at their best, resulting in significant positive outcomes for both their staff and their business.

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