Employee Recognition

10 Tips for Crafting Engaging Employee Recognition Programs

Can you believe how fast the year has flown by? You know what that means: it's time to start planning for the new year. Maybe it’s your first time designing an employee recognition program, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro looking for ways to innovate.

Regardless of past experience, the process can be overwhelming given the number of factors that need to be considered:

What makes an employee recognition program truly impactful?

Should you keep your existing recognition program, or try something new?

What do those other, newer options even look like?

To make the planning a bit more streamlined, valuable, and—dare we say it—fun, we’ve put together 10 key tips to consider when crafting an innovative employee recognition program. You can use it as your guiding light during the planning process and as always, if you have questions along the way shoot us a note at

1. Customize your employee recognition programs.

When you’re saying “thank you” to employees, it’s important to customize the communication, celebration, and reward to their specific accomplishments.

Let’s say one of your employees successfully wrapped up a project that made a huge impact on the organization. This is an opportunity for the employee’s manager to give truly meaningful, personalized recognition instead of defaulting to the standard gift card. Not only are gift cards an impersonal way to demonstrate gratitude, but they’re also a wasted investment on your end. Consumer Reports found that one-third end up never being used.

If you’re looking for a personalized employee recognition program, Blueboard makes it easy to find something for everyone. We offer everything from flying trapeze classes to farm-to-table cooking lessons. No matter what your employee’s interests are, this type of custom reward is guaranteed to be impactful. In fact, research by O.C. Tanner shows that employees crave more personalized recognition and ranked "Recognize Me" as the #1 driver of increased motivation in the workplace (even ahead of getting a raise or promotion).

2. Let employees choose their own reward.

It’s important to offer variety within your employee rewards catalog to ensure there are enough interesting options to choose from. For instance, Blueboard offers unique rewards like Ninja Parkour lessons, Join a Band, or other bucket list-worthy, hand-curated experiences like becoming a super spy for the day that employees might not otherwise seek out on their own.

There’s also a link between variety and motivation when it comes to employee recognition. Think about it: would you feel inspired to give your best performance for the same ole’ prize every single time? Probably not. That’s why we recommend mixing up your employee rewards catalog and populating it with a variety of choices so employees don’t get bored and can pick a reward that’s personal to them every time.

3. Focus on people-first types of recognition.

There are certain types of employee recognition that are low maintenance for HR leaders and managers because they’re easy to “set and forget.” Points-based reward programs are an example of these, which our Co-founder Kevin Yip shared his opinion on in a recent blog post. These types of programs, while easy to manage, are usually not the most engaging or impactful option for employees, which means they're not putting your people first.

On the flip side, an experiential reward program gives your employees a reward that clearly demonstrates how valued they are. While it may be tempting to choose the “easier” option of the two, maintaining a people-first attitude will ultimately deliver more powerful results. Check out our recent findings from post-experience engagement surveys online here, showing you the impact that more personalized employee rewards can have on your employee engagement rates.  

4. Encourage inclusive employee recognition.

Inclusion is crucial when it comes to the employee experience. That’s why innovative HR teams keep inclusion top of mind when developing their recruiting, onboarding, and culture-focused practices. Inclusive recognition is an important part of the experience as well, and it should be adoptable across your entire organization.

Unfortunately, there are certain types of employee recognition programs that inadvertently create silos in an organization. For instance, peer-to-peer recognition programs tend to be unevenly distributed and favor more cross-functional and highly visible teams, like marketing or sales. This leads to other back-of-the-house roles, such as finance, legal, and even your peers in HR being left out of a key part of the employee experience. Try rewarding culture champions with the help of our company values awards guide.

That’s why it’s crucial to have a flexible, customizable program that meets the needs of a diverse workforce — regardless of age, gender, race, position, or which office location they work in (i.e. remote workers!). It’s equally important to make sure both employees and managers are educated on your organization’s recognition program so they know how to recognize qualifying behaviors and can help drive adoption across all teams.

5. Make employee recognition efforts an authentic reflection of your culture.

Your employee recognition programs should be an authentic reflection of your company’s culture and values. If your organization prides itself on being empathetic and close-knit, it doesn’t make sense to implement a program that’s transactional and impersonal.

Or, if your leadership cares about demonstrating that they value their employees, it would be disingenuous to have a program that doesn’t consistently and meaningfully recognize its people for the great work they put out. So as you craft your employee recognition program for next year, ask yourself:

"Does this align with our organization’s values, and is it consistent with the other aspects of the company’s culture?"

A best practice can be to create a representative employee task force to share their opinions on the employee rewards and recognition program, to ensure your community is bought in and inspired.

6. Measure your employee recognition efforts.

Measuring the impact of your employee recognition program is just as important as creating it. Unfortunately, just 1 in 10 companies are actively doing this, while the other nine are in that “set it and forget it” category — virtually washing recognition dollars down the drain.

There are a few KPIs we believe are especially important to track. For instance, at Blueboard, we offer post-experience employee surveys to gather employees’ thoughts on the reward they received. We also encourage our clients to track employee recognition sentiment, which can be gauged via your annual employee engagement surveys. If you need further guidance, we put together a webinar on how to calculate your recognition ROI to help you prove the results of your program, with access to a few handy planning calculators.

7. Make employee recognition shareable.

You’ve invested in your people through meaningful employee recognition, but what will that give you in return? Beyond the quantitative metrics mentioned above, it’s also important to measure the qualitative impact — how recognition efforts impact mood, culture, and daily engagement.

Employee recognition stories, which includes content from reward activities that are captured and shared, are a great tool for building internal adoption and your external employer brand.

Say an engineer just celebrated his two-year anniversary with a Blueboard reward and took a dim sum cooking class with his partner. The fun photos of his dumpling creations (some impressive, some not so much) are great assets for sharing internally as a tool for building adoption and excitement, as well as externally to build a more positive employer brand.

Internally, you can leverage photos to post in dedicated communication channels, like a #Blueboarding Slack or Facebook@Work channel, or on your company’s social media platforms. Some of our clients have dedicated Instagram channels or digital photo walls across their office to share employee recognition stories, motivate more employees to participate, and build awareness of the company’s achievements.

Externally, you can encourage employees to post their employee reward stories on social media with a branded hashtag to enable employees to show how your company is building a culture of recognition.

Glaukos employee recognition programs

Additionally, you can leverage recognition stories content for review and ratings sites like Glassdoor or The Muse. Photos and videos of your top performers are a great way to show your culture to future candidates, and to set a benchmark for what success looks like at your organization.

8. Give employee recognition an extended lifeline.

An often overlooked portion of the recognition lifecycle is the afterglow stage, or the period of time after the recognition moment when the employee has redeemed their associated reward.

Most reward programs have a pretty short life cycle: the employee goes above and beyond, their manager employee recognizes them, and there’s a 2-3 week timeline where the recognition moment is top of mind. This is the time where you see the employee more actively engaged from the recognition experience — they work harder, they’re more collaborative, and they’re more focused on the task at hand. But after that timeline, the employee slips back into their baseline state.

So how can you extend the employee recognition lifecycle? By offering employee rewards that promote afterglow — the ability to create strong memories that the employee can keep with them for life. Blueboard employee experiences offer both of these qualities.

Anticipation starts as soon as the employee receives their reward, browses the catalog, chooses their optimal experience, and works with our Concierge team to plan all the logistics. After their experience, employees come home with memories, stories, and personal learnings from their activity that they can share with friends and coworkers. Any time they recount these memories, they’ll associate back strong feelings with the company, extending that engagement lifeline. You can learn more about the lifeline of experiential employee rewards from our co-founder and CEO Taylor Smith here in this webinar recap.

9. Provide an employee recognition program that’s globally consistent.

As we discussed in point #4, employee recognition programs should be inclusive. This can be especially challenging when you have global employees in remote offices.

At Blueboard, we’re serving employees across all 50 states and in over 25 countries, through one centralized platform built for scale. Experiences are universal (it’s been proven that employees value them over other monetary rewards) and to make employee rewards that much more relevant to the employees receiving them, we’ve built an in-house Employee Experience Curation team to plan exciting experiences on a local level.

A catalog of localized experiences means increased excitement at the regional office level and greater consistency across your organization.

10. Employee recognition that stems from the top.  

As with most company-wide people programs, employee recognition should be supported by managers and senior leadership. Having your CEO or executive team involved in your recognition program reinforces to all employees that it’s an important part of your culture, and that the company believes in celebrating their top people and the milestones they’ve achieved.

Encourage your leadership team to work recognition stories into your company-wide meetings, potentially reserving a slide to celebrate recent achievements or top performers.

Additionally, appoint a member of your executive team to become an Executive Sponsor for your employee recognition program. Executive Sponsors can help shape your program to better support macro company goals (i.e. for spot awards programs, making sure the behaviors deserving recognition are worthy and aligned), and be a voice for the program during C-level planning meetings. Mostly, an Executive Sponsor will be a champion for the great work you’re doing and can help you navigate the higher-ups to gain more company-wide program support.

Build your best employee recognition program yet.

Now that you have some guidance, let’s get to it! We’d love to hear how these recommendations shaped your employee recognition plans. Reach out to if you have any questions along the way, or drop us a note in the comments section below. And be sure to check out the full suite of products Blueboard offers to power meaningful recognition programs, at scale, for your company.

Blueboard employee recognition program products

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