Employee Recognition Programs Throughout History

The concept of recognizing one’s employees for a job well done is nothing new. Back in grandpa’s day, all the kids were raving about those gold watches. Stick around at a company long enough, and one day you might find yourself the recipient of an inscribed timepiece of your own. But is a nice wristwatch enough to motivate workers who put in an average of 34,000 hours of work? Or will they mentally clock out years before if their work environment isn’t fun, engaging, and generally not awful to be around?

Bersin by Deloitte reports 87 percent of employee recognition programs out there reward employees based on years of service. These gold-watch-type tenure-based programs, though, Bersin found, have virtually no effect on organizational performance.

Employers with a “recognition-rich culture,” on the other hand, took notice of hundreds of moments of good employee work a year and had 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rates, which saved them thousands in attrition-related costs and kept their employees happy and hard working.

So what does this mean for HR professionals and other company leaders?

Employee recognition trumps employee awards. In other words, programs that praise good employee work frequently outperform those that only formally do so over the course of years. That means companies that show daily appreciation for their employees do better than those who focus their efforts on pens and watches at the five, 10, and 20 years of service milestones.

Here’s a quick run-down of other lingo you might encounter when researching the most effective employee recognition programs:

Recognition rewards: Meaningful expressions of appreciation like event tickets, books, experiences, gift cards, baked goods, complimentary meals, and other more tangible ways of recognizing great work. Example: You did a great job on your marketing presentation and I know you’re a big Dolly Parton fan, so I’m rewarding you with a free trip to Dollywood.

Recognition awards: Items that fall more in line with the gold watch mentality. Pen and pencil sets, plaques, Employee of the Month certificates, and the like that recognize consistently good performance, usually over an extended period of time.

Employee recognition software: A digital way of doling out recognition gifts and awards either through a website, an app, or both. Back when the dinosaurs roamed the cubicles, one might place post-its or gold stars on the cave wall to keep up with who was performing well. Nowadays employee recognition software lets employees rack up points for good work and later exchange them for recognition gifts. Check out this buyer’s guide if you’re thinking about investing in these types of Millennial-driven employee recognition programs.

Peer-to-peer recognition: In contrast to most recognition programs, where bosses bestow awards and gifts upon their employees, peer-to-peer recognition harnesses the power of coworkers to recognize employees. In one study, a strong link was found between peer-to-peer recognition and improved employee evaluations on manager-led annual performance reviews. Not only do bosses recognize employees with recognition points, but those they work with can, too, which has proven to be more effective in reinforcing positive behaviors than manager recognition alone!

Check out this example of a 1,500 person company that created a culture of recognition.

Our money’s behind what Bersin termed a “recognition-rich culture,” or an environment where employees, their peers, and their bosses work together to recognize the exemplary work of everyone. It’s a trend driven by a rapidly changing workforce with a different set of expectations about what fuels employee engagement. For them, it’s about more frequent feedback, stronger connections, and clarification that their contributions are making a difference.

Please take a demo of our software for a spin to see how we’ll help you expose and reward the good in your culture, people, company, workforce. We may not be a gold watch, but we are the new gold standard when it comes to enriching your company culture through employee recognition.