How to Start a New Employee Recognition Program


Fostering a positive employee experience should be a top priority in performance management and HR departments across the globe.

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After several shifts within the workforce in western markets, many employers want to look for ways to boost employee retention. Not only do businesses have to optimize their customer experience for their brand, but now, fostering a positive employee experience is a top priority in performance management and HR departments.

Employee recognition programs are a great way to show your employees that you care about them and value their presence in your company. They help to create a positive work environment and boost employee morale, which creates a space where employees want to be.

Here are some crucial steps to take when starting a new employee recognition program in your company!  

Define Your Why and Set Program Goals

First, it’s important to define your why. Why are you creating a program and what do you hope to achieve? Employees can quickly see through programs that are designed to be more beneficial for the business than it is for them. If your motivation is purely to improve numbers within the company, take a step back and put yourself in the position of your employees.

The best way to start an employee recognition program is by getting feedback from employees about what they’d like to see in the program. You can ask yourself what the goals of the program should be and then ask your employees which areas they think would make a more meaningful impact.

A new employee recognition program should be an ongoing process that can be adaptable over time and isn’t just a one-time event. It should be something that employees look forward to and engage with on a regular basis. Gather employee feedback at regular intervals throughout the year to measure the ongoing success of the program.  

Get Leadership Buy-In 

The next step in starting a new employee recognition program is to get leadership buy-in. This can be done by presenting the program proposal to leaders and decision-makers, and showing them how it’ll benefit the company and employees.

Company culture is a buzzword among human resource teams that many business leaders and managers may not fully understand. It may require a bit of education and convincing, depending on their willingness to enact change, but there are many resources out there that can help back up your proposal with facts and evidence.

Know what management’s main concerns are going to be when presented with a new program. Will they be worried about how much it’ll cost, or will they resist the program because of poor past experiences with similar programs? Have a list of answers prepared as you head into meetings with a strong case!  

Determine Your Budget 

Once you’ve gained buy-in from the decision-makers in your company, your next step is to determine your budget. If you know this will be the main concern before going in to meet with your company’s leaders, it might be best to have a budget laid out for them to review.

Decide how much money you’re willing to allocate towards the program each year and what type of rewards you want to offer your employees for their hard work. Will they accrue points toward rewards of their choice, or will they get certain rewards such as extra PTO days for meeting specific goals?

If your budget is limited, but it’s obvious that a recognition-based program is necessary to boost morale, before the budget can be adjusted, look into alternative funding sources to get the ball rolling. Sometimes all it takes is a quick influx of funds to try something new, realize its potential and see the lasting effects. From there, you can work through your budget to evaluate the ongoing costs it’ll take to keep the program afloat.  

Draft a Recognition Policy

It’s time to determine how employees will qualify for all of the awesome rewards you’ll offer after they reach goal posts in the recognition program. This will vary depending on their role and individual duties within the organization, so make sure you carefully outline each department’s eligibility and requirements.

It’s also important to make sure that no matter what each employee’s responsibilities are, they have an equal opportunity to earn the same amount of rewards as people in more advanced roles. For example, an entry-level position shouldn’t have to work harder than senior-level employees that have been with the company for several years in order to earn the same amount of points toward a branded swag item.

Once you’ve determined how the policy operates across departments, train each team lead and manager to make sure they know how to hand out points and rewards and monitor each person’s progress to make sure each employee is aware of the opportunities available to be recognized for their hard work!  

Choose a Delivery Mechanism

Company policies will play into how you set up the types of recognition you’re able to give out to employees. However, there are many ways to deliver recognition, and some of the most common are:

Acknowledge an employee in front of their peers. 

This can include company-wide shoutouts/announcements either in writing or during team meetings, or can even be personal messages where fellow employees are able to commend one another for specific situations where they excelled at their job.

Great managers will stay on top of their team’s achievements and progress, encouraging them and offering praise when due. But often, they’re too busy, or too generic in their recognition, extending it to entire teams and not individuals.

A peer-to-peer recognition system allows people who know on an intimate level how hard their co-workers have been working. They may have been on the receiving end of valuable help and want to be able to say thank you in a tangible way. Make sure to include this type of recognition in your program!

Give an award or certificate.

For employees who’ve achieved industry-level certifications, made strides in their careers, or have been with the company for extended periods, consider creating milestone awards or certificates to acknowledge their loyalty and accomplishments!

If there are industry awards that already exist, create an ongoing list of employees who could be nominated and stand a chance at winning, and make an effort to submit their names regularly. Don’t forget to let them know they’ve been nominated!

Give a gift card or other token of appreciation. 

These types of awards have been a standard in recognition programs, and they aren’t going away any time soon! If your team is trying to reach a short-term goal and motivation is lacking, offering gift cards, branded apparel or other useful workplace items can help incentivize everyone as they work together by providing a little friendly competition.  

Choose Your Engagement Software

There are many software options available created specifically for employee engagement and recognition. Many also include performance trackers that help you keep track of each employee’s journey and performance within the organization.

Look for software that allows you to record continuous constructive feedback between your quarterly or annual reviews, so employees can refer to where they need to improve or what they should keep doing without having to go months on end questioning where their performance level stands.

Many employee engagement platforms will allow you to plug into tools you’re already using such as Microsoft Teams, or Slack. This allows ease of use and encourages even more engagement within the recognition program to make sure it becomes a part of your company’s daily practice!  

With questions about how to choose and implement an employee engagement software? Read the story of how dots. did it here.

Kick Off the Program

Once you get input from company leadership, as well as clear communication on the process of how to nominate employees among all departments, it’s time to launch your new recognition program!

Creating or revamping an existing program can take time and effort. It may be wise to start your program with a pilot group. If you choose to start with the whole company (for >200 employees), evaluate after six months to make sure the methods stick and are worth continuing.   


When done correctly, a recognition program has the potential to create a sense of belonging for those just starting out at your company, and promote deeper engagement levels among employees who have shown strong dedication in the past.

By knowing your “why”, setting goals, providing robust training and feedback opportunities, and offering desired recognition and rewards, your new program can take your business to higher levels of productivity and company loyalty!  

Did you find this article helpful to boost a positive employee experience? Lets us know!

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