Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR

Osasu is an HR professional and blogger. She has a Master’s degree in Human Resources Management from Georgetown University. She is an active member of SHRM and a contributor to The SHRM Blog, where she writes about important HR topics or blogs about SHRM’s conferences. For fun, Osasu enjoys traveling, reading, or spending time in nature. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or her blog.

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As humans, we need recognition.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, psychological needs, like self-esteem and a sense of belonging, are required for us to operate at our most successful levels. Recognition is a key aspect of these psychological needs. 

The workplace isn’t any different. Employee recognition is the open acknowledgment and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions to their organization; it’s a way of letting your team know how much you appreciate the impact of their work.

Whether you’re considering sending simple thank you cards or presenting elaborate awards, the fact remains that recognition makes employees feel valued and inspires them to perform better at work. When those real, human needs are met, recognition can have real business value and impact on your bottom line.

But where do you start? What kind of recognition program or software should you implement? First, you should take a look at what your recognition program goals are. Next, we have a list of considerations you should be thinking about as you build a recognition-rich company culture.

To see real-world examples of the impact of recognition, check out what our customers have to say!

What are your organization’s recognition needs?


What do you hope to accomplish with your new recognition program? If you have a current program in place, what do you like and dislike about it? By keeping a specific goal in mind, you may find that certain recognition programs will be a better fit for your organization than others.

You need to increase employee engagement

Did you recently send out an employee engagement survey only to receive feedback your team members weren’t feeling appreciated? You’re not alone—about 65% of employees haven’t received any meaningful recognition for their work in the past year.

If your organization needs an employee engagement boost, recognition is an excellent way to get started. Willis Towers Watson found that recognition increases employee engagement up to 60%.

In our survey of how employees prefer to be appreciated, we found a nearly equal split in preference between Gifts (33%) and Words of Affirmation (32%). With this in mind, ask your team: How would you like to be appreciated? By understanding your team’s recognition needs, you get a better sense of how to best engage them.

You need to change or improve your company culture

If you have a rigid, hierarchical company structure, easing your team into a peer recognition program might take more education and leadership buy-in. But it has the benefit of amplifying everyone’s feedback, not just managers’.

If your employees feel that they’re not listened to or that your culture is dictated by higher ups, carefully implementing a peer recognition program might be the way to go.

Plus, those company values you always talk about? If your company culture is really based on a shared set of values, reinforcing those values through praise should be a deep-rooted habit.

You need to improve retention

Employees want to work for companies that value them. An analysis conducted by Gallup shows that “employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”

Plus, a study conducted by Deloitte shows that “high-recognition companies have 31% lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures.” Both findings show that when you recognize your employees, they are more likely to stay at your company.

You need to boost employee morale


According to a Harvard Business Review article, “82% of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. That lack of recognition takes a terrible toll on morale, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability.”

When organizations recognize employees and make them feel like their contributions matter, employee morale will increase. If you’re hearing this type of feedback from your survey or around the water cooler, make sure to keep in mind that your program should nudge managers in the right direction.

You need to drive better performance

Research shows that happiness raises business productivity by 31%.

After all, when you’re applauded for doing something great, you’re more likely to do that great thing again!

Now, imagine the collective impact of employees who go above and beyond on a regular basis and routinely live out your company’s core values!

There’s a correlation between recognition and how committed your employees are to your company’s mission. By specifically tying in performance with recognition, you can reinforce the actions you find value in.

Understanding the types of recognition programs

There isn’t just one type of recognition program! Some take more administrative time while others rely on automated tools and recognition software. Also, think about who is giving and receiving recognition—these are all considerations that may affect whether you reach your recognition program goals.

Top-down recognition

Top-down recognition” is a common approach used by many companies. It’s a more traditional system, where a supervisor or manager appraises and recognizes the contributions of a direct report.

Typically, you will find supervisors using the annual performance review as the time to evaluate and recognize their employees’ performance. Supervisors also use this time to determine the employees’ pay raise, promotions, or other rewards.

However, the issue with waiting for annual reviews is that managers may overlook some achievements and focus on the more recent ones—they can’t see everything, after all! Employees, in turn, find the annual review process untimely and full of biases.

In the traditional recognition program, it is also common to see a management team select who to recognize, without the input of other employees. Obviously, this doesn’t paint a full picture of an employees’ contributions. As a result, other employees may feel unfairly treated and bypassed for the recognition that they deserve.

The top-down approach can be a less-effective recognition program. It can be difficult for managers to dedicate the time and energy to giving meaningful feedback. On the other hand, peer-to-peer recognition is powerful—it’s nearly 36% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. Keep on reading for alternatives!

Peer recognition


The employee recognition paradigm, which has traditionally figured executive leaders and managers as the parties responsible for praise, is making room for peer-to-peer, direct-report-to-manager, and 360-degree recognition.

The move toward peer recognition programs became more popular as work became more collaborative. The term “peer,” in this context, refers to anyone working directly with an employee, flattening the traditional hierarchical team structure.

Supervisors are sometimes less capable of evaluating and recognizing employees’ contributions, since employees spend more time with peers than they do with their managers.

Plus, direct reports also have meaningful and impactful feedback for their managers! Peers can see the day-to-day impact of their team members’ work and can provide more timely feedback. Instead of waiting for the end of the year to receive recognition from a supervisor, peers can offer more accurate and real-time recognition.

By implementing a peer recognition program, you’re communicating that everyone’s feedback is valued—not just managers’, and not just on employee appreciation day.

Milestone recognition programs

This type of recognition is great for welcoming new hires, celebrating employee birthdays, and commemorating tenure milestones and work anniversaries!

These special days are the perfect time to express to a team member how much you appreciate their work.

However, keeping track of these dates for everyone in your organization takes a lot of admin time, and we recommend utilizing an automated employee recognition software to make your life easier. Without some level of automation, milestone programs can become hard to scale—you don’t want your program to come undone if your admin needs a sick day.

Ultimately, while milestone recognition programs make sense, we would caution against using this model as your primary recognition program. Like annual reviews, once or twice-a-year recognition just isn’t enough to keep your program competitive.

Nomination programs

You’ve definitely heard of this type of recognition—these are your “Employee of the Month” awards! Nomination programs typically allow a group of individuals to nominate an employee or coworker for their contributions or good attitude at a regular interval, usually monthly or annually. These programs are typically thought of as peer recognition, but it’s worth it to think about who is ultimately choosing the winner.

In our opinion, nomination programs alone are not a good way to recognize your employees. It’s inherently biased, favors the most visible or popular employees, and can be demotivating to all the other employees doing great work.

Employee shout-outs


Using shout-outs as a type of employee recognition program is an easy and cost-free way to appreciate your employees, especially for small companies.

Shout-outs can occur during all-hands meetings or through company-wide interactive platforms. You can also celebrate your employees’ contributions through your company’s social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Shout-outs help to motivate other employees to do better when they see that you value the impact of their work. However, keep in mind that while some employees are motivated by shout outs, they can also lose their value over time and become demotivating.

Recognition and rewards

In the early days of Bonusly, we offered two types of recognition programs. Customers could use our platform to give bonuses with or without real-world monetary value.

Right away, we noticed a significant drop-off in user participation when points held no monetary value. Companies that chose not to connect bonuses to real-world value were experiencing noticeably lower engagement rates than the companies that had chosen to apply monetary value to their points.

Our takeaway is that bonuses with real-world value help users measure the value of recognition, creating meaning for both the giver and the recipient.

This idea is backed by research: According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, “employees respond favorably to agile compensation programs that provide raises, bonuses, or other incentives more often than the traditional once-a-year rewards system.”

According to the same report “employees who receive regular small rewards, in the form of money, points, or thanks, are a staggering eight times more engaged than those who receive compensation and bonus increases once a year.”

Integrating rewards can be the factor that makes your recognition program successful.

With this concept in mind, the promise of rewards can also be enough to get your employees over the hump that adopting new tech tools so often presents. We've found that recognition is more impactful when it works with your existing tools, but also can be a powerful driver for change management or new tool adoption.

Integrating recognition into your existing workflows


Complicated tracking and ongoing program maintenance isn’t for everyone. If you’re groaning at the idea of having yet another tool to manage, we get you.

Employee recognition should be frictionless, and that means any tools or apps you implement need to integrate into your employees’ routines seamlessly.

When evaluating recognition programs, these are the questions you should be asking:

  • How much administrative time is required?
  • Can this tool include all of my employees regardless of where they’re located, the type of work they do, and how they communicate?
  • Does it integrate with the tools we’re already using, like HRIS and chat systems?
  • Is it intuitive enough that launching a new program doesn’t interrupt or cause a strain on employees’ routines?
  • Does it allow for timely recognition, given soon after the action took place?
  • Does it reinforce your company’s core values?
  • Is there a mobile app or kiosk for non-desk workers? What are its mobile app ratings?
  • If you’re looking into a third-party tool, does it have good reviews on Capterra and G2?
  • Are there case studies, independent reviews and success metrics (such as consistent participation and adoption) for the program?
  • Can the tool scale with your company as you grow or expand to different locations?
  • Does it offer rewards that will be of value to all employees?
  • Is processing any taxes associated with the program going to be easy for our finance department?
  • Does the program offer analytical insights to track how well the program is going and also indicate areas of opportunity or risk within your employee base?
  • What are the security and compliance standards for the program?

If you prefer using one login to track and issue rewards, send and store program-related communications, amplify employee accomplishments, then look for platforms that support single sign-on (SSO) like Bonusly. You’ll save valuable time that can be reallocated towards making your recognition program successful.

You'll also want to keep in mind the qualities of effective recognition to ensure any program you adopt is truly impactful. 



What’s next?

Let’s get your recognition program started! If you’re still looking for more information, check out these 12 Unique Examples of Employee Recognition in Action to see what other companies are doing, or you can chat with one of our recognition and rewards experts to understand what solution is best for your company, and how Bonusly can be customized to fit your unique business needs.

Ready for next steps? Tour Bonusly or schedule a demo.

Every day we learn about innovations and trends that directly affect our lives, and the workplace isn’t exempt from those frequent changes that cause us to continually adapt the way we work. Those changes also have an impact on how employees interact with one another. So as HR professionals, we’re expected to stay current with the changing world of work and prepare for what those changes mean for our own workplaces.

In this article, we’ll review seven important HR trends for 2020 that you can leverage. We will also share quotes from HR influencers and experts along the way:

Focus on employer branding

An employer brand works in a way that is quite similar to the way a corporate brand works. A corporate brand describes a company as a whole, including its products and services, while an employer brand describes a company’s reputation as a place to work. So if a company has a positive employer brand, it means that employees feel like the company is a great place to work, and that’s what job candidates see, as well. In today’s competitive job market, a positive employer brand is necessary to attract and retain top talent.

Employer branding is particularly important to job seekers, employees, and stakeholders—it is how they truly view your company. An employer’s brand is created through the company’s employee value proposition (EVP), which includes factors like work environment, the company’s culture, mission, and values, compensation and benefits, training and development opportunities, and quality of work. 

These statistics show that:

  • 84% of job seekers say the reputation of a company as an employer is important when considering a job
  • 50% of job seekers say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation, even for a pay increase
  • 55% of job seekers abandon applications after reading negative reviews online

Today’s job seekers have more access to information than ever before. To attract and retain the best talent in 2020, smart organizations will focus on employer branding.

My company sells toilets. It's not very sexy, but everyone needs them!  And, since we are not just competing for talent with other companies that sell toilets, branding is absolutely critical for meeting our strategic goals. In 2020 and beyond, we'll see more companies—including smaller companies and companies that aren't considered magnets for talent—developing an employer branding strategy by embracing who they are—those unique qualities that make each individual company great.  
Tracie Sponenberg, Chief People Officer at The Granite Group

Many organizations think that employer branding is about what employees tell others about the workplace culture and environment, but it's more complex than this.

For example, how candidates are treated during the recruitment and selection process will impact an organization's reputation. If job candidates aren't treated in a respectful manner (this includes a timely and thorough process), then people will not view this organization as an employer of choice. If you don't treat people well while they are considering joining you, why would anyone believe that you will then be a good employer and provide a great place for them to work?
Dr. Melanie Peacock 

Upskill employees for the future of work


In July 2019, Amazon announced a new initiative called Upskilling 2025—a $700 million investment to train and equip their employees with critical skills before 2025. The aim is to have their employees move into highly skilled and better-paying roles within or outside of Amazon. Amazon’s announcement sparked conversations around investing in human capital and preparing for the future of work.  

According to Gartner, Inc., approximately 80% of employees do not have the skills needed for their current and future roles. Also, 67% of business leaders believe that their companies will no longer be competitive if they are not significantly digitized by 2020.

As more company processes are becoming increasingly automated, opportunities for upskilling and professional development are also increasing. Through upskilling, employees will be able to move into roles requiring higher skills when their current roles become obsolete. This way, organizations can motivate and retain their employees, especially those in blue-collar and administrative positions.

To remain competitive in 2020, more companies will need to focus on digitizing the workplace. This will also emphasize the need for HR to identify the skills gap, and for businesses to invest in their human capital and prepare them for the future of work.

A key consideration needs to be the timing of the development.  What does just in time training actually mean? Just in time for who?  Employees may be ready for, and want, further development long before it is offered to them. Focusing only on the organization's needs and timing for when and how employees should be upskilled is a recipe for trouble.  As such, clear and ongoing communication between managers and employees is critical. This will enable strategic and well thought out development strategies that meet the needs of both employers and employees.
Dr. Melanie Peacock 


Have a holistic approach to employee wellness

The concept of employee wellness is one that has evolved within the past few years. Traditional employee wellness programs have typically focused on employees’ physical wellness. Those programs focus on providing employees with access to exercise facilities, nutritional information, or other forms of preventative healthcare measures such as flu shots and annual health assessments.

While those benefits are useful for maintaining employees’ physical health, they do not acknowledge every aspect of employees’ lives. According to research conducted by Aetna, 70% of employers believe that they provide good health and wellness benefits, but only 23% of employees agree. So what could be missing? A more holistic approach to wellness benefits.

A holistic employee wellness program recognizes every aspect of an employee’s life—physical, emotional, financial, or social. For example, the 2019 “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association shows that 60% of adults say money is a top source of stress. If a company introduces a financial wellness program, they will be reducing employees’ financial stress as a direct result of the education and guidance offered. Similarly, access to mental health counselors and resources will support employees’ emotional well-being in the workplace. 

For 2020 and beyond, employers need to focus on holistic wellness benefits for their employees. Otherwise, employers run the risk of dealing with increased absenteeism and reduced productivity when employees’ personal challenges creep into the workplace.

A few years ago, when our healthcare premiums were skyrocketing, we revisited our wellness program and completely overhauled it, focusing on all aspects of our team members lives, including physical, emotional, financial and social. Plus, we tied it to our strategic plan—which resulted in significant cost savings in healthcare premiums, and more engaged team members.

In 2020, we will see many more companies go beyond the "physical" part of wellness, and encourage their entire team to bring their whole selves to work. That will mean talking about things that were previously considered taboo in the HR world, like mental health. To truly succeed as a business, we must support our team. And we've neglected areas like mental health and financial wellness for too long.
Tracie Sponenberg, Chief People Officer at The Granite Group

Encourage inclusive leadership development


Employees want to feel like they matter and have a sense of belonging to an organization. We need more leaders who can make that happen, and this is known as Inclusive Leadership. According to a Harvard Business Review article, “inclusive leadership assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.” 

Inclusive leaders are known to help employees feel more engaged and drive high performing teams. Deloitte’s research shows that inclusive leaders drive a 70% increase in employees’ feelings of inclusion, which in turn leads to a 17% increase in team performance, a 20% increase in decision-making quality, and a 29% increase in team collaboration.

Inclusive leadership development programs transform business leaders into inclusive leaders who can demonstrate these six traits: (1) commitment to diversity and inclusion, (2) courage to speak up and challenge the status quo (3) awareness of personal or organizational blind spots and biases (4) curiosity about others (5) cultural intelligence and (6) ability to empower others and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

As more companies continue to focus on creating diverse teams, we will need more inclusive leaders to manage those teams. 

As we enter a new decade, no skill is more important to cultivate now than inclusive leadership, especially as the line between work lives and personal lives continue to be blurred. When I say inclusive leadership, I don’t just mean re-wording company mission statements to include the words diversity and inclusion. I mean creating spaces for open dialogue, making concerted efforts to encourage multiple perspectives to be heard and, more importantly, soliciting input from representatives of every stakeholder in your company when making decisions.
Tayo Rockson, CEO of UYD Management and Author of Use Your Difference To Make A Difference

Diversity and inclusion has been an ever present ideology in the workplace. Inclusion will continue to be an important trend in 2020. In order for diversity programs and initiatives to be successful, organizations have to be inclusive. Diversity does not exist without inclusion. When employees feel included, they feel a sense of belonging which in turn, drives increased positive performance results, and creates collaborative teams who are innovative and engaging. When employees feel included, they are more likely to be positively engaged within the organization. Higher employee engagement drives higher levels of productivity, retention, and a company’s overall success.
–Anthony Paradiso, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Owner and founder of AllThingzAP, LLC


Organize continuous performance reviews

If you can recall going through the annual (sometimes, distressful) performance reviews, which typically determine your pay raise or whether you get to keep your job, then you might appreciate this new trend. Discussion around the topic has recently increased within the HR profession.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more companies are giving up the annual and formal performance reviews. Many employees find them untimely, disrespectful, inaccurate, and full of managers' biases. Besides, 25% of employees feel that the reviews do not help to improve their performance. In other words, annual performance reviews are a less effective way to assess performance.

Going into 2020, the focus will be on making performance feedback an ongoing discussion, not an annual or semi-annual event. Instead of having one person determine an employee’s performance at the end of the year, employees will receive more accurate and real-time feedback. Continuous feedback will be a more practical approach, especially with millennial or Gen Z workers who prefer immediate feedback.

Companies are shifting from traditional annual processes to a cadence that matches the speed of their organization. We’re seeing this in many facets of the HR strategy. For example, we're getting more frequent in hearing the voice of employee beyond the annual survey to add accountability and real-time feedback to better the employee experience.

At the end of the day, one of the biggest trends I see with what I do at WorkTango is that companies are moving away from the annual engagement survey, getting more frequent and real-time insights to add accountability and serving that insight to leaders as opposed to keeping the data within HR.
–Rob Catalano, Chief Engagement Officer at WorkTango

Create meaningful work


A big misconception among employers is that all it takes to attract, motivate, and retain talent are monetary rewards, benefits, and trendy perks. However, research shows that employees are looking for more—they want to engage in meaningful work. Employees no longer wish to earn good money while doing something that has no purpose.

In 2017, BetterUp Labs surveyed 2,285 American professionals across 26 industries to understand the value of meaningful work. They found that “more than 9 out of 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work.” In a similar survey of 2,000 U.S. workers conducted by ServiceNow (see findings captured in this infographic), respondents said that they spend 40% of their time doing mundane tasks, and 58% of those respondents wish they could do more meaningful work.   

The big question is, “what is meaningful work?” Employees will consider their work to be meaningful if it contributes to a greater purpose and helps them find meaning in life. So instead of doing routine tasks that make them feel underutilized, employees want to do work that allows them to live up to their potential and connect to a bigger purpose.  

As more workers continue to gain control over their career paths in 2020 and beyond, companies will have to do better at creating meaningful work to attract employees who can commit to organizational goals.  

HR needs to treat all employees as talent, because each person is talented in some form or fashion. When you treat your people as talented, you establish the base of making their work meaningful. That has to be the first step. We tend to only treat certain roles or levels as "talent." But it's everybody, and we should change our approach.
Steve Browne, Vice President of Human Resources at LaRosa's, Inc.



Even if you can’t offer an opportunity for an employee to use their unique skills and passions in their day-to-day work, you can still create an opportunity for them to share with the organization. Consider internal lunch and learns, webinars and networking events where employees are given the opportunity to share their skills and passions with others. More opportunities to connect and share with others also leads to better engagement.
Claire Petrie, Sr. Manager, Talent Acquisition at Unifrax 

Drive employee engagement

Employee engagement remains a relevant topic for today’s organizations and HR professionals because most employees are disengaged. Gallup’s data shows that only 15% of employees worldwide and 34% of employees in the U.S. are engaged. 

Engaged employees show a strong commitment to where they work and what they do—they understand the impact of their work, pursue organizational interests, and are less likely to leave their organizations. Research shows that engaged employees produce high-quality results and contribute to organizational success. Engaged employees feel a sense of pride in where they work, feel recognized, supported, and treated fairly.

Engagement must take front seat on HR's agenda, and fast. It's no longer an option whether to make it a priority. HR must stop looking at engagement as a series of tactics—instead, look at it as the core purpose to everything they do, and as a strategy to improve productivity, increase retention, boost performance, and therefore propel customer experience.

Employee engagement has a business case. HR has to master understanding and, more importantly, articulating it to the business. 
Hanadi El Sayyed, Founder and CEO of &humans Consulting



Overall, to be successful in 2020, business leaders and HR professionals must foster work environments that encourage employee engagement. Employee engagement should be a priority for every company because the cost of turnover can be expensive. The good news, however, is that there are data-driven ways to improve employee engagement, and it starts with collecting data to know your company’s engagement status.

What are your employee engagement plans for 2020? If you need more ideas, check out this resource: 

Looking for an employee engagement solution? Try Bonusly for Free!