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You can’t deny that employee rewards and recognition (R&R) programs consistently lead to more engaged, productive employees. Or can you? 

While a Deloitte study revealed employee engagement, productivity, and performance may be 14% higher (1) for companies that implement a recognition program than for those that don’t, not every reward and recognition plan is equally effective. In the time of the Great Reshuffle, compensation-based rewards and lackluster appreciation may not be enough for employees. 

Don’t settle for basic. Instead, consider the benefits a well-designed reward and recognition program could yield for your company culture — especially a program that’s employee-driven and set up with your DEI initiatives (2) in mind. 

Employees need and deserve holistic R&R designed with their needs at the forefront, which we’ll discuss in this post: We’ll cover how to develop an R&R program from start to finish, including our top suggestions for recognition and rewards to implement in your workplace.

  1. Study from Deloitte’s Talent Survey, 2020
  2. Study by Achievers and Workplace Intelligence, 2021

How to design a holistic rewards & recognition program


Recognition and rewards programs are meant to celebrate employee successes in a public, inclusive atmosphere, rewarding them with monetary and non-monetary incentives for meeting goals or demonstrating core values. But how do you design one that’s effective — and, well, not boring?

1. Start with employee input


Employee feedback can give you a wealth of insight into the changes you need to make in your workplace, and they’re your best asset in helping you design an R&R program.

If you already know how to create a feedback culture and have one set up within your company, then you probably have a few reliable channels for gathering input from your people, such as:

  • Ask for input in a team meeting where you can benefit from collaborative brainstorming.
  • Gather individual feedback in 1:1 meetings and ask employees to get specific about what kinds of recognition and rewards matter to them. Some people may prefer more open recognition during team meetings, while others prefer private praise. It shouldn’t be either/or, though — a healthy mixture of both kinds of feedback serves most organizations best.
“Speak to your employees to determine what constitutes going above and beyond. Often what management thinks is ‘above and beyond’ will vary wildly from what employees want to be recognized and rewarded for.”

— Dragos Badea, CEO of Yarooms

2. Determine your criteria


While rewarding employees for showing up and doing their work is valid and should be a part of your reward program, if those are your only criteria, you risk employees becoming disillusioned by the whole program. Instead, you need to be as specific as possible about what employees need to do to earn rewards, like:

  • Reaching specific objectives and targets. For example, hitting a sales quota or recruiting a predetermined number of employees. These may change based on your company’s needs from quarter to quarter, and you should tailor your criteria to help you meet those needs.
  • Showing that they understand their core responsibilities both individually and as a part of a team. Be sure to provide these in detail for employees to review regularly.
  • Consistently embodying organizational values and encouraging others to do the same.

Next, decide which metrics you’ll use to measure your program’s success. If you want leadership to run more1:1 meetings, how will you keep track of them? Are you aiming for higher scores on your eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score) or better results on your employee engagement surveys? Deciding what your parameters are from the jump will help you keep track of progress and track success.

3. Specify your rewards

“We use a mix of rewards and recognition. For example, our top-performing business executive gets to decide the menu of the food that we order every two weeks, as all the staff gets together to recognize and appreciate each other. This way, the executive gets the recognition, and the staff gets their biweekly treats.” 

— Radhika Gupta, founder and HR head of One Digital Land


Depending on your company budget and employee feedback, choose what kinds of rewards you’ll offer. They could include:

  • Monetary incentives, like bonuses, raises, and equity
  • Non-monetary benefits, like extra days off and flexible working hours
  • Personalized gifts, trips, special perks, and access to local events
  • Individualized awards to celebrate specific employee contributions
  • Special team events like dinners or parties
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4. Tell your employees about the program


It’s time to launch your reward and recognition program by announcing it company-wide and explaining how it works. 

Make it clear to your employees how often and via what channels you’ll recognize high-achievers. If you’re implementing a peer-to-peer recognition program, you’ll need to provide details about how employees should shout out their colleagues or nominate peers for social recognition. And when team leaders can set a positive example by being active participants in this endeavor, all the better. 

For rewards, employees need to know exactly what the criteria are and how often rewards will be distributed. Will every staff member who hits their targets or receives a top score on their performance review receive a bonus? How do you determine how much every employee gets from your profit-sharing program? Anticipating these questions ahead of time will help to build mutual confidence in the process

Photo of two employees, one smiling at the other, sitting at a table and holding papers
No recognition and rewards program is truly effective without employee feedback

5. Gather feedback 


The most effective executives and managers know that asking for feedback as a leader is as important as giving it. For example, after you’ve experimented with a system for recognition, employees may suggest that they prefer to nominate peers anonymously rather than have managers select them; or they may opt for a setup where different employees get to pick a candidate for recognition every month. 

The idea is to let employees come up with creative ideas that have traction and get more participation month after month.

6. Evaluate the program


Leadership and stakeholders should assess if your reward and recognition program helped you meet the objectives you set quarterly or biannually. If you met your goals, what do you think made that possible — and if not, what needs to change? Were your recognition and rewards metrics useful, or do you need to adjust them? 

On the qualitative side of things, a reliable way to know if your program is working well — besides asking employees in surveys and meetings — is considering whether it could operate on its own without managerial involvement if it had to. While employees need recognition from upper management, too, their willingness to own your recognition system independently is a good measure of their engagement.

While we don’t encourage employees to contribute to rewards out of their own pocket, it’s a good sign if employees show excitement about the unique way your company approaches rewards. When employees are eager to nominate candidates and offer their own ideas for improving your rewards program without prompting, you’re on the right track.

Rewards vs. recognition


Recognition and rewards work to celebrate employee successes, motivate team members, and boost employee engagement — but applying one or the other means following different strategies to get there.

A table comparing recognition and rewards, outlining the differences between the two in the top two columns, and showing how they work together in the bottom row.

Employee reward ideas


Rewards allow companies to motivate and incentivize deserving employees with tangible incentives when they accomplish specific goals or achieve milestones. Your reward programs could incorporate:

  • Monetary incentives — These could include spot bonuses, profit sharing bonuses, annual performance bonuses, salary raises, and even offering opportunities to invest in company stock.
  • Non-monetary reward options — Try balancing out your monetary incentive programs with non-monetary options, like extra days off, free local experiences or trips,  time off for volunteering, or development and training opportunities.
  • Personalized gifts — These could come in the form of company “swag” like planners, tote bags, or laptop cases with employee names. Personalized gifts are also great ways to commemorate a special occasion for an employee — like a gift basket for someone who’s going to welcome a child into their family, adopt a pet, marry, or move to a new city.
  • Creative awards — This is a fun and cost-effective way to reward employees, especially if you have a regular employee appreciation event. They can be as formal or casual as you want, as long as they reflect your core values. Some ideas for awards are “The Creative Problem Solver,” “Team Player of the Year,” and “Excellence in Communication.” 
  • Special team events — Appreciating employees as a team is just as important as doing so individually. Trivia nights, trips to escape rooms, cooking classes, or tickets to sporting events are a few ways to reward teams for their effort.
Photo of employees at a work event, three of them bringing their drink glasses together in celebration
Acknowledging employee achievements is fundamental to a healthy work culture

Employee recognition ideas


Recognizing employees involves acknowledging and showing appreciation for their effort, behavior, or a specific result achieved by them. If you’re not sure when and how to give employee recognition, here are some simple yet thoughtful ideas for your employee recognition program:

  • Birthday celebrations — This can be as simple as asking your team to sign a birthday card for a colleague or as creative as having team members decorate an employee’s desk with encouraging notes. 
  • Virtual praise wall — This is a popular and flexible way to recognize employees for specific achievements. You can ask team members to write notes to each other that can be as specific as: “Thanks to Amelia for stepping up to help me with that new client.” Or, they can speak to how certain individuals display company values, for example: “Tim is always open to learning more from colleagues, and he has a great growth mindset.” 

You can also give your team members the opportunity to celebrate colleagues by letting them submit nominations for monthly recognition or setting up a channel in your company group chat or intranet where your people can share shoutouts. Using a platform like Leapsome means you don’t have to design it yourself — our tools for continuous feedback and praise and integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams make employee recognition quick and easy. 

  • Feature employees on social media — Whether you do this in a structured way, with a monthly “Employee Spotlight” or by mentioning staff contributions in a post, social recognition on LinkedIn or Twitter can mean a lot to your people and boost their professional reputation.
  • Donate to a charity of their choice, in their name — This is a unique, thoughtful, and highly personal way to recognize employees and throw in a bit of philanthropy, too.

Besides having a structured, consistent system for employee recognition, creating a culture of spontaneous and ongoing feedback is also crucial for people-first companies. You can discuss this with managers and team leaders during your leadership performance reviews, and you can even provide dedicated training around creating a culture of praise and recognition for your leadership team.

Upgrade your R&R with Leapsome


When you put in the effort to do it in a scalable and measurable way, implementing an R&R program can be gratifying. It’s not just good for your company’s reputation and bottom line — it also helps remind executives, managers, and individual contributors alike that there’s a crucial human element to keeping your business thriving.

And as a people management solution, Leapsome’s here to streamline the complete process of maintaining employee satisfaction and motivation from month to month and year to year.

🚀 R&R is easier with Leapsome 

Take advantage of Leapsome for comprehensive compensation management planning and scaling, including monetary rewards and employee recognition.

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FAQs about employee reward & recognition programs

What is an employee reward & recognition program?


An employee reward and recognition program is a system that an organization sets up to celebrate employee successes in an open forum and reward them with monetary and non-monetary perks for meeting goals or embodying core values. 

An employee reward and recognition program goes hand-in-hand with compensation management, as they’re both part of a company’s strategy to attract, motivate, reward, and retain talented employees. 

And if your HR or people ops team is looking for a platform that can help you streamline your compensation planning — and, along with it, your recognition and rewards — you should learn more about Leapsome’s new compensation management tool.

What are the types of employee rewards?


Common types of employee rewards include:

  • Monetary rewards, like bonuses, equity, and raises
  • Non-monetary rewards, like flexible hours, extra days off, and access to fringe benefits and perks
  • Personalized gifts, like putting together a gift package for an employee that just welcomed a child into their family
  • Special experiences, like trips or access to local events
  • Creative awards for employees that perform well, live your values, and overcome challenges

What is the importance of employee recognition?


Employee recognition is crucial for creating and maintaining a happy, engaged professional team. Companies that take the time to engage their employees also tend to have higher productivity, profitability, and lower turnover. 

Employee recognition also has the benefit of increasing employee awareness and appreciation of company goals and values, and it can help boost a team’s sense of purpose. And it’s not just top-down — recognition is also about team members encouraging colleagues.

What is an example of an employee recognition program?


Here are some examples of regular employee recognition programs you can try — but experimenting with several is the best way to see what works best for your people:

  • Birthday celebrations
  • A virtual praise wall to celebrate employee achievements
  • Peer-to-peer appreciation, where individual employees recognize each other for accomplishments and contributions
  • Employee shoutouts on social media spotlighting a specific employee every month
  • Team appreciation events like work outings or celebratory dinners
Written By

Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.

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