Employee recognition

6 Reasons Recognition Awards Fail to Achieve Results

George Dickson
February 3, 2016
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Recognition awards like plaques and trophies are quickly losing popularity as a means of showing employee appreciation, making room for more modern and effective recognition techniques. ūüŹÜ

What makes these methods, like a trophy, less effective? And what steps do you need to take to improve on them?

Here are six basic reasons recognition awards can fail to achieve their intended results and some easy fixes you can implement.

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Why old recognition techniques don't work 

1. People get left out

Rewarding an employee for the contributions they make is crucial, but awarding only one employee for their contributions is a big mistake. By singling out and rewarding one employee as an achiever, you're subtly implying that others who weren't recognized as lesser than. This can be worse for engagement than having no awards at all.

On the other hand, awarding a team for their work fails to recognize each member's individual contributions.

So how can you avoid both of these pitfalls?


Increase the volume of the recognition given within your organization!

The math is really that simple. The challenging part is developing and implementing a system that can increase the volume of genuine recognition within your organization.

Fortunately, there are some outstanding modern tools and techniques you can use to achieve that with a minimal cost and effort investment. Peer-to-peer recognition is an incredibly effective and low-cost way to instantly expand both the volume of recognition given within your organization, but also its reach.

2. The timing's not optimal

Recognition's most effective when it's given in the moment, and when the behavior, achievement, or contribution are still top-of-mind.

As TalentCulture's Meghan H. Biro mentions in her popular Forbes article, 5 Ways Leaders Rock Employee Recognition,

...as much as possible, be timely. Catch people doing exemplary work and acknowledge their efforts.

Getting an award for your work a year after the fact can be impactful, but it won't have a positive impact during the weeks and months between the contribution and its award.

3. Their cost exceeds their value

Employee awards have both an actual value and a perceived value.

The actual value is the time, money, and resources you've spent in order to provide that award. The perceived value is the value an employee sees in receiving the reward.

In a surprising number of cases, the perceived and actual value of a recognition award are miles apart.¬†‚úąÔłŹ

You don't want to come off as cheap, but it's hard to justify dropping significant resources on employee awards, especially if there's no clearly-defined ROI associated with them.

This puts you in the awkward position of trying to find recognition awards that balance meaning and affordability. Add each employee's unique perception of value into the equation, and there's actually a really challenging puzzle to work out.

The value of genuine recognition never wanes. In most cases, the recognition an employee receives for a contribution outweighs the value of any reward given along with it. The reward is a useful addition, but not the real driving factor.

Roy Saunderson shared some great points on this topic:

Recognition is often invisible in nature and yet priceless in value. You can give recognition without giving a reward. You should never give a reward without giving recognition.
-Roy Saunderson

4. Administration and distribution are challenging

Administrating recognition awards manually can be an enormous task and requires a significant amount of managerial overhead. For most physical employee recognition awards, you'll need to take time out for:

  • Planning
  • Budgeting
  • Locating vendors
  • Choosing awards
  • Customizing
  • Ordering
  • Stocking
  • Choosing nominees
  • Distributing

This is really just a cursory list of all the things it takes to put together an internal program for employee recognition awards. There are third-party providers that can make distributing awards easier, but depending on the provider, there can still be a good deal of work and additional cost involved.

Adopting a peer-based approach to recognition can dramatically reduce the cost and administration factors associated with an employee recognition program. Peer recognition can also ensure that recognition is given fairly, frequently, genuinely, and timely. 


5. Success isn't measurable

HR and people operations are evolving, just like sales and marketing, to become more data-oriented practices.

Human capital decisions made on gut instincts are becoming a thing of the past.

One of the most important goals behind any recognition award program is to improve employee engagement, but most employee award programs aren't easy to measure in terms of how they impact employee engagement.

If you want to build a successful program, it's paramount that you have the capability to measure its impact. How else would you know if the resources you're investing into recognition aren't just being wasted?

6. They aren't meaningful

If it's not effectively expressing recognition for an employee's contributions to an organization, keeping them on staff, or motivating them, what can you actually do with an "Employee of the Month" award? Depending on its construction, it could be a useful paperweight or filler for an otherwise empty spot on the wall.

It's crucial for any recognition award to provide a true sense of value or meaning. That value doesn't need to be monetary, but any award that doesn't will only become disregarded desk clutter. Think about ways you can recognize great work, and provide meaningful rewards for it.

The takeaway 

Although the old style of recognition awards may be a relic, there are a number of ways you can modernize your employee recognition program and make it more effective. Start by analyzing yours for any of these deficiencies, and improving those elements in meaningful ways to improve engagement.

Check out our latest guide for more inspiration!

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