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How to Create an Employee Recognition Program Your Employees Will Actually Enjoy

Rewards and recognition programs boost employee morale and improve retention. Learn how to create an effective program.

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Employee recognition isn’t the latest workplace trend—it’s something your workforce wants and desperately needs to achieve your business goals. 83.6% of employees believe that recognition for their contributions drives them to succeed, and 77.9% state their productivity would improve with more frequent recognition. 

This guide provides everything you need to set up a successful employee recognition program in your workplace. We’ll help you understand the types of recognition you can give and the rewards your employees can receive thanks to their hard work. Whether you’re entirely new to employee recognition programs or want to revamp your existing model, we also provide a robust strategy to follow to start singing the praises of your staff. 

What is an employee recognition program?

An employee recognition program is a formal strategy or system for acknowledging your employees and how they contribute to your company. Recognition programs often enable managers to recognize members of their team, but they can also be used for peer-to-peer or cross-functional recognition. 

Companies can design employee recognition programs that highlight a variety of achievements, whether it’s meeting quarterly goals, making progress on an employee development plan, or exemplifying corporate values. Employee recognition programs are valuable for their impact on employee morale, performance, and retention and are therefore essential to your organization’s success as a business. 

Types of employee recognition

How you deliver recognition to your employees may depend on the size of your business, your budget, or feedback on their preferences. Some options include: 

Types of employee recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition

Peer recognition is a powerful way for employees to motivate each other and work towards shared goals. There are negative consequences when this is missing from your teams; Gallup data highlights that when peers only share recognition a few times a year, they’re three times more likely to feel disengaged and 24% more likely to struggle at work. 

Incorporate peer feedback into your employee recognition programs by sharing guidance on how to praise and recognize peers in the workplace through nomination forms or other mechanisms. 

Example: Benepass’s Beneperson of the Quarter is a peer-nominated recognition program that highlights exceptional individuals who exhibited our company values during a given quarter. Recognized employees receive a monetary contribution to their lifestyle spending account so they can spend it on an item of their choice. 

Automox runs a similar program, Automox Perks. The program is a peer-nominated monthly culture award that awards employees who display Automox's five company values. Awarded employees receive $200 on their Benepass card to spend as they wish. 

Social recognition

Social recognition happens when you share your employees’ amazing work publicly through channels like social media, blog posts, or conferences. Some examples might include: 

  • Celebrating an employee’s work anniversary and thanking them publicly for all they’ve achieved in their X years at your company. 
  • Highlighting the results of a specific employee win. For example, you might use the company’s LinkedIn page to call out their participation in a recent charity event or product launch. 
  • Introducing team members to the public with a heartfelt thank you from the CEO. 

Go one step further with your social recognition program by incentivizing your employees to post these messages.

Example: You might offer a reward to each employee who praises another on social media and ask them to tag the company’s social account in the message. 

Internal recognition 

Internal recognition can be even more powerful than social recognition, as there’s less focus on incorporating brand messaging into your voice. Some ideas for making your employees feel appreciated internally include:

  • Creating a wall of fame, physically or digitally, where you post a picture of your top contributors as part of a weekly or monthly award. 
  • Sending thank-you notes and shoutouts to colleagues for their help, support, or exceptional performance. You might use email, team meetings, town halls, or similar to distribute the good news. 
  • Distributing internal marketing, such as newsletters or employee spotlights, highlighting valuable work and providing an example to peers about what they could achieve and experience. 

Milestone-based recognition

Many companies also provide rewards for reaching certain milestones, including work anniversaries or birthdays. Instead of giving employees a gift basket they’ll never use, consider providing monetary rewards that send the message you want employees to treat themselves. 

Example: Benepass employees receive a birthday benefit on their Benepass card to spend on anything that will make their day more enjoyable. In the past, employees have used the funds to attend a comedy show or purchase a nice dinner. 

Types of rewards for employee recognition benefits

Words of praise can boost employee morale and drive team members toward positive behaviors and quality output. But why not lean on extrinsic motivators to incentivize them to do their best work? Consider incorporating the following recognition ideas into your program: 

Monetary recognition

Monetary recognition can take the form of providing specific cash rewards for employees who meet the criteria of your recognition program. For example, you might offer employees a $50 stipend to spend on any item of their choice as a reward for reaching their one-year work anniversary. 

Tip: With a flexible benefit platform like Benepass, employees receive the joy of recognition while enjoying the freedom to tailor the reward to their individual preferences. While it might be tempting to simply provide a spot bonus through payroll, this won’t feel special to employees and they won’t even notice the extra $50 on their paycheck. Other avenues such as gift cards won’t be as easy to personalize to each employee. 

Experiential rewards

Support your employees in checking off items from their bucket lists by offering a range of activities for which they could redeem their reward. You might offer: 

  • Sky-diving 
  • Yoga class 
  • Cooking lessons
  • Sports season tickets 
  • Spa days

Benepass tip: Make sure you offer an inclusive selection of activities for everyone in your organization. You might provide some family-friendly options, those suitable for people with disabilities, and online rewards for your distributed team members. 

Product-based rewards 

Some reward and recognition programs link directly to product catalogs such as Amazon, so your team members can select a suitable reward in return for their hard work. However, keep in mind that even the largest of catalogs might not be inclusive of all employees’ preferences. 


If you offer travel stipends, you’ll already know how important it is for your employees to rest and recharge their batteries. So, extra paid time off (PTO) is the perfect accompaniment for employees who have gone the extra mile (no pun intended!)

If you’re worried about how PTO will fit into your existing vacation schedule, consider setting rules for when employees can take their additional allowance. For example, they must use their PTO within six months, or else the days expire. 

How to create a comprehensive employee recognition program

All HR initiatives require careful planning to ensure your employees feel invested in the program and that it achieves the results you’re aiming for. Follow these steps to launch a successful employee recognition program: 

8 steps to creating a recognition program

1. Gain executive buy-in

Ideally, employee recognition should happen throughout all ranks and areas of your business. But when your employees see their managers and C-suite leaders actively engaging in your recognition program, this will do wonders for overall participation. 

2. Set objectives for your program 

Gallup research highlights a hard truth: 8 in 10 leaders don’t strategize recognition—it’s not their top priority. Turn this statistic around by setting goals and objectives for your employee recognition program. Some examples include aiming to: 

  • Improve employee retention by X% this year 
  • Boost recognition program participation by X% this quarter 
  • Forge stronger relationships between team members  

3. Determine a budget for your employee recognition program 

Employee recognition programs aren’t just for large corporations with bottomless budgets. Even startups and SMEs can commit to offering public or internal praise to their employees for free when they excel in their roles. 

Nevertheless, if you’re hoping to tie attractive rewards to your program, it pays to understand how much budget you must dedicate to your recognition efforts. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of companies don’t have a recognition program budget, according to joint research conducted by Gallup and Workhuman. Treat recognition like any other HR initiative and factor it in when planning your annual budget. 

4. Introduce the program

Communicating your program to your employees will maximize participation. Put together an announcement, tutorial, and accompanying documentation to show people: 

  • The benefits of giving and receiving employee recognition
  • How they should use the platform, including log-in and password instructions as required 
  • Guidelines on how to give meaningful feedback 
  • How to spend their rewards 

Provide resources for frequently asked questions so employees know exactly where to turn if they have challenges during rollout. 

5. Deliver authentic feedback 

With the launch of AI tools designed to speed up our workflows, keeping your pulse on what genuine recognition looks like is essential. Praise should come from the heart, include examples of how the employee has produced great work or exhibited company values, and never sound like something a robot has generated. 

The art of giving praise and recognition should transcend the use of tools or processes, and we must also remember the humanness behind any formal frameworks we use. Best-selling author and Leadership Keynote Speaker Jacob Morgan explains: 

“Recognizing employees should be a regular practice, but sometimes it loses its special touch. We get caught up in processes and formulas, making recognition feel impersonal. To genuinely recognize employees, focus on the people, not just the process.”

6. Set recognition program rules 

Aid participation in your employee recognition program by providing ground rules on acknowledging each other’s contributions. These will vary depending on your goals but may include: 

  • Criteria: Consider when you will recognize employees, whether it’s for achieving certain employee development goals, displaying company values, or reaching various milestones. 
  • Recipients: Determine who is eligible for rewards and, if applicable, how you’ll encourage employees to reward people in adjacent departments rather than their closest allies. 
  • Frequency: Decide how often you want employees to collect rewards. Will you make this a weekly or monthly occurrence where team members reward each other retrospectively, or will you encourage them to give recognition actively in the flow of work? 

7. Scale your program

Scaling your program will depend on the current size of your organization and any plans to expand soon. Choosing to roll out your program across a global workforce provides a consistent experience for employees in any location but requires consideration about admin controls, rewards availability, data security, and currency exchanges.

8. Measure the results

Circling back to those goals and objectives you chose, measure the success of your employee recognition program by tracking your progress toward them. Use metrics such as pulse survey answers, exit interviews, platform sign-up rates, or other statistics relevant to your goals. 

Give your employees the recognition they deserve with Benepass

Nectar’s research of 800 U.S. employees highlights that over half of companies have formal employee recognition schemes in place. The other half could be missing out if employee engagement is a top priority for them, and they want to create a supportive company culture where everyone thrives. 

If your company wants to enjoy these benefits, the Benepass Rewards and Recognition program is a great way to acknowledge your employees for their efforts. And best of all, you can offer them the flexibility and decision-making power to choose personalized rewards that make sense to them. In action: You provide the monetary rewards, and your employees choose how to spend them. 

Getting started is a simple process of: 

  • Choosing what qualifies as recognition gifts—for example, anniversaries, birthdays, achievements, employee awards, etc. 
  • Coding your customized package into the Benepass platform (we’ll handle this!) 
  • Connecting Benepass to your payroll system to automate enrollment. 
  • Showing your employees how to use Benepass Rewards and Recognition from day one. 

Ready to give your employees the treats they deserve? Book a demo today or contact sales@getbenepass.com with any queries. 

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Rebecca Noori

Rebecca Noori is a freelance HR Tech and SaaS writer who is obsessed with our world of work. She writes about everything from employee benefits and performance management to upskilling and productivity tips. When she's not writing, you'll find her grappling with phonics homework and football kits, looking after her three kids.

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