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Measure for success: employee recognition 101

8th Sep 2022
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Measuring the long-term success of a company-wide employee recognition programme is critical to ensuring everyone’s time, efforts, and money are spent wisely.  

The success of a recognition programme can be seen most clearly by looking at employees. If they are happy, engaged, and staying with the organisation, then this suggests the programme is working well – but it’s only possible to know why if organisations are monitoring what is and isn’t working. 

It’s not only employees, but also managers, leaders, and the business as a whole that stand to benefit from a successful recognition programme. The sooner organisations start measuring their programme, the sooner they can ensure this success. 

What to measure 

The first step to measuring an employee recognition programme is to set up criteria for the recognition itself. In other words: what actions or behaviours merit recognition and rewards across your organisation? Some common examples include length of service; demonstrations of leadership; and innovative thinking – but this can be anything to suit each organisation’s unique needs and values. 

The next step is to set up specific goals, or KPIs, for the recognition programme as a whole. For example: 

  • Programme adoption – This one is simple, but crucial: an employee recognition programme needs employees to use it, and the more the better. Measure the frequency and reach of recognition to get a sense of how the programme is used and if there are gaps or discrepancies in reward distribution. 
  • Equity - A successful employee recognition programme is an equitable one. Rewards should be distributed fairly and without bias across age, race, gender, and seniority. This is one of the most important areas to measure, as any imbalance detected may reflect wider issues or biases within the organisation. 
  • Award thresholds – It’s important to recognise all achievements within your organisation – whether big or small. Utilising different award levels based on the scale of each task will allow organisations to measure which tiers are being used. If some are used more than others, this may indicate an area for improvement.  

These are just a few examples - organisations will need to take the time to evaluate which criteria work best for them before beginning to measure their employee recognition programme. 

How to ensure recognition success  

When it comes to measuring a recognition programme, it’s important to know what ‘success’ actually looks like. First of all, ensure the programme is accessible, easy to use, and has leadership buy-in – all of these factors will encourage maximum participation across the organisation, which is key to the long-term success of the programme.  

Additionally, Workhuman’s recent research with Gallup identified five key pillars that are critical to the success of any recognition programme. Namely, recognition should be fulfilling, authentic, equitable, embedded in company culture, and personalised

Fulfilling: There’s no “magic number” for how many times to recognise someone – individual preferences will naturally vary. The good news is that there’s no such thing as too much recognition - as long as it’s “genuine and appropriately given.” Employees who feel fulfilled by recognition are four times as likely to be engaged, and 44% more likely to be “thriving” in their life overall.  

Equitable: Recognition can reflect the state of inclusivity and equity at an organisation - or it can reveal underlying attitudes and biases. When employees see that recognition is consistently imbalanced, this can have a negative impact on their experience, and undermine the recognition programme as a whole. At the moment, only about 26% of employees strongly agree that they receive equitable recognition – so this needs to be an area of focus for organisations going forward. Measuring the recognition programme will help uncover any issues or biases that need addressing.  

Authentic: Recognition is much more meaningful when employees can clearly see the reason behind it. Tying recognition to specific achievements and goals can help. Spontaneous, in-the-moment feedback also works well. When employees feel recognition is authentic, they’re more than 5 times as likely to see a path to grow in the organisation, 6 times more likely to agree their organisation cares about their wellbeing, and 5 times as likely to recommend their organisation as a great place to work.  

Personalised: Just like the right amount of recognition varies depending on the employee, so too do preferences for how and where recognition is received. Twenty-nine percent of employees prefer recognition in private, 7% prefer it in public, and 64% prefer a mix of both. 

Getting recognition “right” for every individual employee may seem like an impossible task, but there is one way to solve this: ask them. Leaders that take the time to understand what works best for their own employees – for example by utilising employee pulse surveys – will be able to tailor the perfect recognition programme for their organisation, and will reap the rewards of an engaged workforce in the long run. 

Embedded in culture: Simply having a recognition programme isn’t enough. For the best results, recognition needs to be fully integrated into company culture. A culture of recognition affects the entire employee experience. One way to create this culture is to make recognition public. Another way is to tie recognition to company values explicitly – meaning that employees specifically reward one another for embodying defined values at work.  

Invest in recognition 

Despite the research showing that recognition improves business outcomes, 81% of leaders say recognition is not a major strategic priority at their organisation, and 64% say there is no budget allocated specifically to recognition.  

A successful employee recognition programme requires effort from everyone - especially the most senior leaders who have the power to provide guidance and set the tone for the rest of the company. When organisations invest in recognition, it sends a clear message to employees about what they prioritise and value – the humans that make the work possible.  


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