Do's and Don'ts of Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is a key element of a well-running business. It rewards positive outcomes and reinforces desired behaviors. Successfully recognizing employees can be a challenge. What works for one may not work for another. To implement an effective recognition program, follow these do’s and don’ts.


The Dos


Do Make Recognition Achievable

When introducing a recognition program, it’s important to make rewards and recognition attainable. 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.


Do Set Clear Criteria

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 employee participation.


Do Give Timely Recognition

Give praise and rewards as soon as possible once an employee has met criteria for recognition. Recognition that is given immediately following an achievement reinforces what behaviors employees should continue to demonstrate. You can and should give recognition frequently. There are recognition options that allow you to recognize employees for daily achievements, monthly goal reaching, annual recognition, and more.




Do Follow 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. Be sure that when someone does something special, the reward they receive is special too.


Do Give Thoughtful Recognition

One size does not fit all when it comes to receiving recognition and rewards. Take time to get to know your employees and learn what they value. Take time to think about meaningful rewards and gifts that match their personality, the achievement they accomplished, and whether or not the reward given is one they will cherish.


The 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:


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.


Don’t Let it Lose Its Relevance

Be objective when you set the criteria for recognition. 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. Don’t muck it up by routinely recognizing individuals without putting real thought and meaning behind it.




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.


Don’t Give Meaningless Gifts

Nothing makes receiving recognition feel last minute like getting an award or gift that is not purposeful. In a study by the American Society of Employees, corporate employees were asked to discuss some of the weird gifts they had received as a form of recognition from their manager. The top five for things you shouldn’t give as recognition include:

  1. CDs or other self-produced media performed by yourself or coworkers. Recognition is not a time for self-promotion no matter how passionate you are about your hobbies.
  2. Expired gift certificates or store coupons for groceries. Giving thoughtful recognition means your present it in a timely fashion and awards are something of value to the recipient. Your employees can clip coupons from the newspaper on their own. Gifting them with $1.00 off paper towels is not an effective way to say “thank you.”
  3. Personal clothing items or gift cards to lingerie stores. It should be a no brainer that it is inappropriate to reward an employee with personal clothing items such as undergarments, pajamas, or other suggestive clothing.
  4. Awards or plaques that are misspelled or mislabeled. While it is usually welcomed to receive a plaque or some award to celebrate achievement, having one that doesn’t have the correct achievement labeled on it, or the recipient’s name spelled wrong is disheartening. It can make employees feel like they are just another number when you don’t double check for accuracy when it comes to selecting recognition awards.
  5. Flashy and expensive gifts. Unless part of a specific recognition program platform or competition that is regulated and allows each employee to be eligible, you should not be rewarding employees with lavish gifts such as all expenses paid trips to Jamaica or new cars. If you want to recognize someone in a big, meaningful way that is a bit more special than presenting them with a gift card or plaque, consider making a reasonable donation to a charity or cause the employee is passionate about, or host a luncheon that allows all of your employees to celebrate the company’s successes as a whole.


Don’t Forget the Importance of Saying Thank You

Everyone likes to receive gifts and rewards for a job well done. When given as part of a recognition program, gifts and other incentives can be an effective motivational tool that inspires engagement, productivity, and teamwork. However, 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. Don’t ever forget the power of saying “thank you” to an employee who has done a great job. 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.


Showing employees how much they mean to your organization can be both meaningful and fun. Giving recognition has many perks that can improve your company’s bottom line. Recognition should be given consistently and with purpose. Don’t ruin the effectiveness recognition can have in a workplace by ignoring these simple tips.

Six Steps to Implementing Employee Recognition