Employee Recognition

6 Reasons why employee recognition programs really work

employee recognition programs

Ah, employee recognition programs. If you work in HR, or have a hand in managing a workforce, odds are you’ve had to take plenty of flack about your continued drive to get a recognition and reward system in place, right?

In between skyrocketing overheads, crazy VAT and all sorts of other expenses, the upper echelons at South African companies can be a little precious about their purse strings, and rightfully so TBH. They want to know that employee recognition programs really work before they reshuffle the deck to find space in their already overstrained budgets. 

As such, the important question at this time is do recognition programs actually work? The short answer is yes. 

The long answer is yes, BUT you have to understand the characteristics of an effective employee recognition program, follow best practices, give employees a voice, ensure effective launch and implementation of said program, keep measuring its effectiveness and revisit and revise regularly. 

Pheeeeeuw, tall order much? Nah, let's break it down and eat the elephant bite by bite. 

Here’s how you can establish an employee recognition program that really works: 


1. Understand the characteristics of an effective employee recognition program

According to a recent survey of South African employees, 57% believe they are more productive when they feel valued by management, but only 27% reported that their company was willing to improve the employee experience. In fact, a whopping 33% felt that a positive employee experience was not a priority. That's some clashing numbers right there. 

If you want employees to feel appreciated in a work environment a well-tailored system of rewards and recognition that go beyond an 'employee of the month' poster is imperative. Here are the characteristics shared by recognition programs that have proven to be effective in the South African context: 


  • Timeliness. To keep the association between contribution and recognition strong, you need to act fast - the ideal program allows for near instant recognition to promote positive behaviour. 
  • Regularity. There is no need to wait for a major win to start doling out praise; celebrate the small victories and do so regularly to keep your staff motivated. 
  • Specificity. When you are specific about a person's contribution (e.g. ‘your timeous completion of the research helped your team to crack a tough deadline', instead of a generic 'good job!’) it is more clear and sincere and provides your team with very valuable, useful feedback. 
  • Visibility. Public recognition amplifies the impact of the praise and has the added bonus of providing other employees with the opportunity to learn from their peers’ positive behaviour. 
  • Inclusiveness. An inclusive program that allows for peer recognition as well as top-down praise removes needless bottlenecks in the process and provides the whole team with a better understanding of what kinds of contributions are valuable to the enterprise in its entirety. 
  • Habit-forming. A program that allows for values-based recognition is ideal for aligning team members to a shared vision. By reinforcing your values by means of praise you lay the groundwork for positive habit forming. 

Read more here 👉 10 Steps to building a successful employee recognition program


2. Follow best practices for best results

Whatever form of recognition you end up choosing, be ready to follow best practices when it comes to implementation. Your team needs to be clear on the behaviours that will be rewarded in accordance with your business objectives and organisational values; there should ideally be tangible rewards at play; the regularity of recognition should become a habit, and everyone should be able to contribute. 

Read more here 👉 How employee recognition creates a productive work environment


3. Give employees a say in the matter

In the end, it will always boil down to brass tacks, namely what exactly you will give your top performers to thank them for doing a great job. The types of recognition and rewards employees appreciate will differ from one business to the next, so if you want your employee recognition program to work, you need to give your staff a say in the matter. Hashing out these details actually makes for a great brainstorming-slash-team-building experience, to leverage it as such - get the whole gang together and figure out what they want. Lunch with the CEO? Movie tickets? Spa treatments? Amazon gift cards? Find out what makes them tick and use it to your collective advantage.


4. Launch and implement the program effectively

A healthy company culture is based on a whole lot more than just handing out gift cards to celebrate a year of service, or dressing up for an evening of recognition awards now and again. This is why an effective employee recognition program requires a proper launch and thorough implementation if you wish to foster a culture of authentic recognition. 

Here are the three golden rules you should follow for successful implementation: 


  1. Get your leadership aligned to the purpose of the program; everyone should buy into it from day one and use it consistently. 
  2. Make the results of the program visible for peer reinforcement and use the data to improve overall communication. 
  3. Embed the delivery of your program in your existing processes by integrating it with your team's preferred communication platforms. 

5. Measure for effectiveness regularly

Get feedback on the effectiveness of your employee recognition program by checking in with your team regularly. The only way to know whether your efforts are having the intended effect is to ask, so find an effective way to do so. 

Read more here 👉 4 Ways to measure your employee recognition program like a pro


6. Don’t forget to revise and revisit

If you check in with your team and find that that the program has not, in fact, been received as well as you had hoped, it’s time to revise and revisit. It helps to have certain key outcomes in place from the start, so that you know exactly what you’re measuring. Identify your company’s primary opportunities for improvement from the start, and use this as your yardstick to determine where you need to tweak your recognition efforts. 

Not all that imposing when you break it down like that, right? So, in summation, here are the crib notes for the time-starved peeps who skipped to the bottom of the article. If you want your employee recognition program to work in South African in 2019/20 and beyond, you have to: 


  1. Understand the characteristics of an effective program
  2. Follow best practices for best results
  3. Give employees a say in the matter
  4. Launch and implement the program effectively
  5. Measure for effectiveness regularly
  6. Revise and revisit continuously

Ready to get the ball rolling?


We have the perfect resource just for you. It's the A-Z of creating a recognition program from scratch. Simply click below to get started 👇

employee recognition