Employee Recognition

4 key elements for a recognition program that will thrive in your hybrid workplace

If you’ve been tuning into our recent webinar conversations then you know that hybrid work and how to adjust your people programs accordingly has dominated the dialogue.

This past week we continued our deep dive by partnering with our friends at 15Five for a roundtable discussion on employee recognition, appreciation, and values as it relates to the hybrid workplace.

We were joined by employee recognition thought leaders:

Megan Purtell, Learning & Development Admin, Shake Shack.

Mary Beth Ferrante, Managing Partner, WRK/360.

Jennie Yang, VP of People & Culture, 15Five.

During the webinar, we learned how Shake Shack is using Blueboard to ignite an employee recognition culture during the company’s explosive growth. Combined with best practices and steps from our panelists at 15Five and WRK/360, the session provided actionable insights for adapting your recognition efforts.

Watch the recording below and continue reading to discover the 4 key elements for creating an employee recognition platform that will be a success in your hybrid workplace. 

What’s the state of employee recognition in the hybrid workplace today?

As companies were busy pivoting at the start of the pandemic there was a pause in recognition. People thought originally that the shutdown wasn’t going to take as long as it did. This has resulted in a gap in employee recognition, causing many employees to feel under-appreciated and unseen for the valuable contributions they’ve been making behind the scenes at home, or while working apart from their managers. 

We learned in the webinar that 50% of employees would stay with their employer longer if they felt more appreciated, which means that companies are more vulnerable than ever to an employee exodus over feeling under-recognized.

There is a need for effective employee recognition programs right now. So where do you start?

It all begins with creating a culture of employee appreciation and that ignites your company values, and that caters to the needs and desires of the employees themselves. Megan provided an under the hood glimpse into how her team at Shake Shack built out an employee recognition program that delivered on 4 key elements: Choice, Inclusivity, Shareability, and Equity. 

1. The power of choice in a hybrid company.

“We’ve gone with Blueboard for our anniversary program because they have so many opportunities for our team to pick something that means something to them. A new passion that they want to try, maybe it’s a hobby that they have had for 30 years, or it can just be something fun they can do with their families. Everyone wants something different, so we found that letting people choose how they want to be recognized and rewarded is so engaging.” - Megan Purtell, L&D at Shake Shack

The first element of an effective employee recognition program is choice. Mary Beth from WRK/360 shared that it’s all about creating a program that is less transactional and more transformational. When you limit how people get to celebrate, you remove the best part of a celebration - people getting to be who they are. People feel most seen and acknowledged when they get to enjoy the thing that fills their cup.

That is what Megan created for her team at Shake Shack. By partnering with Blueboard, Megan shared how Shake Shack employees have been able to “go fishing on a lake down in Florida, go horseback riding, take language lessons,” and a variety of other activities that ignite their personal hobbies or interests.

2. The need for inclusive employee recognition programs.

“A recognition program that offers the power of choice inherently lends itself to being inclusive: letting people be who they are and not forcing something upon them. They get to celebrate who they are and in return, the company gives them shout outs and support.” - Megan Purtell

There are a couple of places to start when it comes to introducing inclusivity into your employee recognition programs. First off, update your new hire onboarding efforts to include a discussion about company culture and inclusion. From there, capture through new hire surveys the employee’s preferences regarding how they like to be celebrated (do they like public shout outs, or 1:1 thank yous? Do they want you to celebrate their birthday, or would that make them cringe?). 

Next, turn to the front-line managers. As Jennie from 15Five pointed out, hybrid managers matter. Your team leaders are responsible for being stewards of your company values, and for weaving them into the recognition moments they create for their teams.

An inclusive rewards program is one where everyone feels invited to the table. And company value awards are a powerful way for all employees to have a chance to be recognized for their contributions. Everyone in the company has the ability to demonstrate your company values in the way that feels most authentic to them. Which means everyone, from the CEO to the marketing intern are eligible to participate. Company values awards don’t just measure what you work on, they measure how you work

How exactly do company values awards work? Typically companies run either quarterly or annual values awards programs. To ensure these aren’t just a popularity contest, thoughtful nominations are collected either company-wide, or within your leadership & executive teams. Once winners are decided, it’s time to celebrate! Companies often announce company values awards winners across wide-reaching forums (like company all-hands, retreats or holiday parties), and reinforce through digital forums like the company intranet or newsletters. 

And the best part? Company values awards are often paired with exciting rewards that show real gratitude for the investment they’ve given to you. If you’re looking for meaningful ways to recognize these culture champions, check out our menu of experiential rewards

And as Megan underscored: “You need to commit some funds to this, it’s as important as any other initiative to accomplish your company goals.”  When a diverse group of people are being recognized and feel like they belong, your culture and workplace become an inclusive space where everyone is engaged.

3. Employee rewards that are exciting to share and socialize.

“Organic conversations are sprouting over Microsoft Teams and on Zoom calls as employees are getting to share what they did with their Blueboard rewards. It helps build connection between our employees because it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh you also chose this or I never knew you liked that too!’ Now we’re building these relationships and connecting dots across the board, even when we’re working remotely.” - Megan Purtell

The element of shareability is especially relevant when it comes to the hybrid workplace and maintaining your culture. When we're not all together, we need the ability to connect over shared experiences and bond as humans. Dropping a gift card on someone’s desk doesn’t create healthy buzz, and honestly isn’t even feasible given the current state of the workplace. For employee recognition to succeed in the hybrid workplace, your employee rewards need to be exciting and worthy of sharing.

We love experiential rewards because employees are genuinely excited to talk about their adventures, or share their photos and videos with coworkers. These actions create a ripple effect across the whole team that expands beyond the reward recipient. At Shake Shack, Megan shared how employees are posting photos and talking about favorite memories from their Blueboard rewards on Microsoft Teams, helping employees connect and celebrate digitally, as well as to build anticipation amongst the rest of the employee population who can’t wait to get rewarded themselves.

Blueboard integrates with team connectivity tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack to make it easy to share a feed of Blueboard reward activity so everyone can engage. Leveraging email, newsletters, and town halls are all additional, creative, ways to highlight these recognition moments company-wide.

4. The importance of equity (employee rewards for all).

“And really the last part I would say is to build your recognition programs with equity in mind: giving everyone the chance to participate. Our anniversary program is for every single person that works for us. So your 1 year, 5 year, 10 year milestone means just as much as everyone else's. We’re including both corporate and hourly workers, those that work the grill and contribute in such a big way - they’re a part of it too. They’re giving their time - that’s meaningful, that’s impactful, and that’s really something to be recognized.” - Megan Purtell

Megan underscored that a successful employee recognition program is designed to be equitable. In the context of hybrid work, this is especially important. An equitable culture where employees feel seen means creating space for everyone to contribute and bring their best work first.

It’s vital to avoid missing opportunities to “see” people and relate to their needs. We suggest having an employee recognition committee that’s representative of your hybrid workforce (half remote, half in-person for example) so those employees and their personal preferences can be better understood.

Another big consideration is the equity of the rewards themselves - are employees across the globe given a consistent menu of rewards to choose from? Or are some left out, or given rewards that don’t match up?

Blueboard delivers experiences in all 50 states, across 70 countries, and has hundreds of different personalized experiences - think options like virtual language learning, a salt-cave massage, or a bucket list trip to get Scuba certified. Having this many options for your employees ensures your programs are equitable and valuable for everyone across the team.

And we also want to make the process of sending rewards easy for you. You might remember Megan’s story from the webinar, about being forgotten on her birthday? No one wants to feel left out. So we built an Anniversary Engine, our automated delivery tool, to take the pressure of manually sending work anniversary awards off your plate, so that no one is forgotten on their anniversary date. 

So where do we go from here?

Start with these inspiring takeaways from our panelists for how you can go forward to create employee reward and recognition programs that will succeed in the hybrid workplace:

Treat people like they are your most important asset. People deserve to be recognized. Don’t let the best work of someone’s life go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Go on a fact-finding mission. How has recognition been happening? What have been the meaningful moments in the past? Get to the root of what recognition looks like for your people, that will shape what the future of employee recognition will look like for your organization.

Make people feel seen. What fills their cup? What fills your cup? Get to know what energizes your team members.

Blueboard is the world’s leading experiential rewards and recognition platform, and we’re excited to help you craft a successful employee recognition program (whether anniversary awards, spot recognition or company values awards, or even meaningful incentives for your Sales team). Find time for a demo here and see firsthand how you can add choice, inclusion, equity, and shareability into your employee recognition efforts.

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