10 Dos and Don’ts of Employee Recognition

Feb 24, 2022 | Incentives & Recognition, Recognition Programs

Employee recognition is a key element of an engaged culture and business. It rewards positive outcomes and reinforces desired behaviors. Successfully recognizing employees can be a challenge. What motivates one may not work for another. To implement an effective employee recognition program, follow these dos and don’ts.

The 5 Dos

1. Do Make Recognition Attainable

When introducing a recognition program, it’s important to make employee rewards and recognition something that one can actually earn. You will need to create recognition criteria based on your company’s structure. Everyone in the company should be eligible to receive recognition, and you should never exclude any employee or group of employees.

2. Do Reinforce Core Values

Many companies miss the opportunity to tie their core beliefs or values to their recognition program. Give all of your employees specific information on how they can achieve recognition. Before launching a program, go over what behaviors or actions you want to reward. Clearly define how these actions will be recognized and what rewards they can earn. Communicate the criteria clearly and encourage manager communication to the teams for improved participation.

3. Do Give Timely Recognition

Timing is everything. Give praise and rewards as soon as possible once an employee has met criteria for recognition. A 2021 Incentive Research Study found that neurotransmitters* in the brain are triggered in human brains every time a recognition is received and again when it is redeemed!

Recognition that is given immediately following an achievement reinforces what behaviors employees should continue to demonstrate. You can and should give recognition as it occurs.

4. Do Use the Three S’s of Recognition

When it comes to effective recognition, always be:

  • Sincere: Say what you mean and mean what you say when it comes to showing appreciation for your employees.
  • Specific: Know what you are giving recognition for and encourage others to demonstrate the same behaviors you are recognizing.
  • Special: Make the type of recognition unique to the achievement you are recognizing.

5. Do Remember the Importance of Thank You

Recognition isn’t just about who can earn the biggest prizes or get the most expensive recognition gift available. At its core, recognition is about showing appreciation.

Extend your appreciation by using ecards or on-the-spot notes. Ask if you can thank them publicly in front of their peers or make a social media post highlighting their achievement. Showing appreciation doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming; it just has to mean something to both you and the recipient.

The 5 Don’ts

Everyone wants to receive appreciation for their contributions to the workplace. When done correctly, recognition can boost spirits and raise the level of employee engagement. However, when done incorrectly, it can backfire in a big way. Here are a few things to avoid when giving recognition:

1. Don’t schedule it

Recognition isn’t something you put in your calendar reminder. Eventually you people will realize that their recognition is just another task in your day.

Don’t design the program around subjective reasons such as a calculated rotation for when an employee receives recognition. Employees see this process and are far less engaged in the recognition process when it feels like it’s something they’re receiving because “it’s their turn.” Your employees want to recognition for the real work they are doing and the contributions they are making.

Recognition done poorly can have far worse impacts than not doing it at all.

2. Don’t Choose Favorites

Anyone who meets the criteria for recognition should receive a reward. Only recognizing and rewarding the same set of employees over and over will send a message that you aren’t concerned with what the others are contributing to the workplace.

3. Don’t forget peer to peer and manager discretionary recognition

Sometimes a simple “thank you” is enough. In fact, when asked, employee studies have shown that people most often say that they just want to be recognized for the work they do. Of course, certain behaviors may warrant a larger thank you in the form of a special gift or points. Be sure that the award is commensurate to the behavior and remember that a thank you does not have to be monetary to be genuine.

4. Don’t Criticize Under-Performing Employees

You should always strive to give praise and recognition in public, but criticism is private. Only share criticism with employees during a one-on-one meeting when you can speak candidly about why the employee is struggling. It is never okay to call out an employee publicly for not meeting criteria for recognition such as placement on a leaderboard or achieving salesperson of the month. Recognition is meant to be a motivational tool that inspires employees to go above and beyond their normal scope of work. While it can be discouraging to have employees doing “just enough,” it is not acceptable to single out individuals in front of their peers.

5. Don’t Use Cash

Recognition programs and variable comp programs are different. Decades of research and studies support the idea that non-cash rewards are more social (than monetary incentives) in nature and feel like a gift. Gifts lead to a feeling of appreciation from the recipient. This appreciation creates the desire to reciprocate. And because cash is thought of as more transactional, the drive to reciprocate is low. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the more an employee remembers receiving a non-cash reward, the more effort they put toward their job. And considering turnover of an employee can cost a company up to 250% of their annual compensation figure (Cost of Employee Turnover, William G. Bliss), employee loyalty is one of the most important advantages of non-cash rewards.

In today’s virtual world, we need to open lines of communication now more than ever. Showing employees how much they mean to your organization can be fun! Giving recognition has many lasting benefits for employees and employers, so much so that it can even improve your company’s bottom line. Recognition should be given consistently and with purpose. Remember these simple Dos and Don’ts and you will be well on your way to a meaningful recognition program.

** Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters, meaning they are chemical messengers in the brain which communicate via neurons. Serotonin is associated with feelings of happiness, focus and calm, whilst dopamine is associated with feelings of rewards, motivation, and being productive.

Richelle Suver

Richelle Suver

Richelle Suver is a leader in performance improvement and marketing services in North America. Richelle oversees One10’s go-to-market strategy and its Incentives & Recognition business segment which includes global rewards as well as technology development for One10’s propriety performance improvement platform, PerformX. Suver brings a seasoned background to One10, having held leadership positions in marketing, sales and product management for enterprise recognition and incentive technology solutions. She is an active member of the Cincinnati chapter of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and a member of Women in Business Networking (WIBN), in which she was named Top 25 Women to Watch in 2013. Over the last 20 years, Suver has published articles and spoken on incentive and recognition best practices.