Program Best Practices

The 5 As of experiential employee recognition: How to amplify recognition program impact

About the author: Alisha is Manager, Client Implementation at Blueboard.

So you’ve made an investment in employee recognition to address some pretty big connection hurdles in the contemporary employee experience: the ongoing navigation of hybrid work, multiple generations in the workforce, and increasing employee disconnection and loss of productivity. 

This is a big deal—but you find these hurdles persist. Our own research on this connection gap found that despite 77% of employees responding that they want and need connection to meaningful work, only 44% of those say their organization is successful in providing it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. labor market is experiencing some of the lowest productivity rates of people in history right now, a 2.1% decrease despite a 2.6% increase in hours worked. 

Forward thinking execs and HR pros are taking the right approach by investing in these employee recognition programs. But, they can lose steam if they don’t stay top of mind for your people—or, if the impact isn’t clear and shareable. 

Luckily, there’s a secret weapon for workplace leaders when it comes to meaningful, lasting impact to close the employee connection gap for the long haul: Put on your marketing hat! 

Because the most impactful recognition programs gain traction because employees, prospective employees, decision makers, stakeholders, and board members stay aware of them.

A major missing piece of the puzzle in making recognition programs successful: socialization. Program socialization is the internal and external activities that tell the full story of your recognition efforts—all part of the crucial brand building around your program’s impact.

So, what does it actually look like to build an employee recognition and rewards program that stays relevant and exciting for your organization and sets your company apart? There is an integral relationship between a company’s culture and performance outcomes. High performing cultures have clear organizational priorities and strategies for ensuring they are meaningfully aligned and rowing in the same direction. 

Leaders who want to build truly powerful, people-first, and high-performing cultures need to consider “the marketing of it all”. The 5 As of recognition (part of The Blueboard Method™) is a framework to help workplace leaders think like marketers and amplify the impact of recognition through socialization and the power of experiences. In this post, we’ll cover why and how employee recognition, done right, is a super successful driver of performance, loyalty, engagement, and competitive advantage.

The Blueboard Method: A framework for better employee recognition.

The Blueboard Method is one such strategy to set your recognition programs up for success from day one: a step-by-step, tactical approach that shows you how to build a culture of recognition based on the ROI and metrics that matter most to your organization.  

A culture of recognition, grounded in gratitude and appreciation, is a necessary foundation that extends the positive outcomes and benefits of recognition impact because it’s consistent. This consistency, instead of ad hoc recognition, is a key element of successful programs because, by design, it supports recognition across all of the employee experience (EX) touch points. 

Based on our work with hundreds of organizations across industries, The Blueboard Method combines the best, most effective elements of known recognition best practices with our unique experiences-based approach. You can easily leverage Blueboard alongside other platform(s) for particularly powerful recognition moments, too. 

Here’s a glimpse into how to operationalize your recognition efforts and get the absolute most out of them with The 5 As. 

What are “The 5 As” of employee recognition?

The Blueboard Method is built from a known, three-dimensional approach to employee recognition within three tiers:

  • Day-to-day employee recognition and appreciation
  • Informal employee recognition
  • Formal employee recognition

Think of the three dimensions of recognition as making up the base of your company culture of recognition. They’re the foundation of an effective recognition strategy—but this base alone won’t help you achieve the business results you and your leadership team wants, such as:

  • Driving long-term impact from your recognition program efforts
  • Creating an “always on”,  self-sustaining culture of appreciation and recognition
  • Boosting employee performance and behavior change with better, more motivating rewards and incentives
A pyramid that show different types of employee recognition in shades of blue.
This pyramid visualizes the 5 As of recognition as the fuel to keep your recognition program efforts running smoothly—and with consistency. 

While the pyramid is a holistic view of what building a culture of appreciation looks like in every part of your organization, The 5 As are really about success at the individual program level. 

Whether you’re driving a single anniversary, sales incentive, or spot recognition program, or a combination, read on for a deep dive into each of The 5 As of appreciation and how each specifically supports your program goals and outcomes. We’ll show you how to leverage Blueboard—as a partner and platform—to maximize the impact of your employee recognition program, create a consistent culture of appreciation, and drive long-term, visible results for your people and bottom line.

Set your recognition programs up for success with The 5 As and The Blueboard Method.

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How to extend employee recognition program impact with Blueboard and The 5 As.

The 5 As really shine when you pair recognition with a reward. Here’s how to get more from those important recognition moments at each step of the way. 

Awareness: How to keep your employee recognition program top-of-mind.

If employees don’t know about your recognition programs, and why they exist, those efforts will fail before they’ve had any chance to have an impact. Building awareness around your recognition program is crucial to launch it, and to sustain employee interest, and organizational buy-in, for the longer term. 

Awareness matters when it comes to recognition—and it’s not only the purview of People and HR teams. Of the four main trends a 2023 Qualtrics State of HR report identified, a lack of organization-wide strategy for EX is putting programs, like recognition and rewards, at risk. This finding reflects a call to action for a more cross functional, leadership-led approach to employee experience: one that the entire C-suite can champion and rally around (what the report calls, “talking from the same script”). 

Getting the Awareness stage down is key to creating an employee-experience centric culture. Here’s how to do this with experience-based recognition and rewards through Blueboard. 

An illustration of a person looking at their cell phone to represent Awareness stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.
The Awareness stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.

What is employee recognition Awareness?

This is the crucial first step to set your recognition efforts up for success. Employees, and your entire company, are aware of your recognition program(s), and the related details including duration, any rules and resources, winners, and announcements. When people know their work will be recognized and rewarded on a consistent basis, and how, this creates positive sentiment and aligns your organization with a common goal that everyone can participate in and support. 

How Blueboard powers employee recognition Awareness

Driving continuous engagement with employees to cultivate excitement and participation in the program is the main goal of the Awareness stage. And luckily, experiences as rewards are shareable by design. At Blueboard, we walk clients through a few key questions to help define their recognition program awareness strategy. 

  • How will you announce your programs? Consider how past programs have been announced. Were they received well or is there anything you want to do differently when announcing your recognition program(s)? 
  • What are your top three channels for internal communication? Identify the asynchronous (available anytime) and synchronous (live, in real time) tools and communication channels you’ll lean on to message your recognition program details and updates, such as at your all-hands meetings, quarterly earnings calls, board meetings, Slack or Teams, email newsletters, or company intranet.
  • Where will program documentation live? This is especially important for contingency planning to ensure program knowledge is transferred should you experience admin turnover.
  • What are your current, and past, employees saying about your current recognition and reward programs? From Glassdoor reviews to employee feedback surveys, this is an aspect of Awareness that isn’t always so obvious or easy to pinpoint. Reviewing company reviews, stay and exit interviews, and feedback surveys will give you vital data to improve both internal and public facing employee sentiment. 

Once we’ve aligned on these aspects, our Implementation and Account Management teams support in building an intentional communication strategy and custom socialization assets to knock your recognition program Awareness out of the park, such as:

  1. Your Blueboard experiential rewards program landing page (and related promotions and communications to guide people to the page)
  2. Email templates for essential program touch points and milestones, such as announcing the program, reminding employees of any contests or other opportunities to win recognition, or for when your recipients to receive their reward
  3. A calendar for socializing key program milestones
  4. A cadence for employees to tell their experience reward stories on a recurring basis or a recipient story highlight on internal channels

We recommend committing to two to three socialization methods in the  first six months of your program to support Awareness. In addition, we also provide Awareness best practices, such as: 

  • Posting winners and anniversary milestones, and highlighting recipient stories on LinkedIn
  • Promote our monthly Instagram #blueboarding contest (any Blueboard reward recipient who tags their photos and videos with the hashtag is automatically entered to win another Blueboard experience)
  • List recognition programs as a benefit on your careers site 
An example of a LinkedIn post by a Blueboard employee rewards client sharing their own Blueboard experience and how they recognize employees with experiences.
A fantastic example of how to share and celebrate your employee recognition program publicly on your organization's social channels from an HR leader at AlerisLife.

Awareness best practice tip: Use company-wide socialization channels to announce the launch of your recognition program(s), including the purpose, how it works, how employees can get rewarded, the rewards and benefits it offers, and how it fits in with your overall employee value proposition (EVP).

As we’ve already noted, experiential rewards support Awareness because they are the only form of recognition with rewards that compound in value over time. In fact, research shows that people are much more likely to tell stories about their experiences than they are to gush about the blender they bought. What’s more, just hearing about other people’s experiences, and the joy they felt and still feel about them, is a positively contagious activity. 

When employees see posts, photos, and videos in your company Slack channels, or hear how much fun their peers are having learning to snowboard, taking a helicopter ride above their home town or city, or engaging in a cooking class, they’ll be motivated to find out more about how they can do the same. 

All of this is increased socialization and media generates a consistent drumbeat of Awareness, keeping your recognition program top-of-mind for your people, fueling engagement, and boosting your employer brand.

An illustration of a person celebrating being recognized to represent Acknowledgement stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.
The Acknowledgement stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.

Acknowledgement: How to make each recognition moment meaningful.

To make employees feel truly seen and valued and to reinforce positive behaviors, you need to tie each moment of recognition and reward to an authentic message of Acknowledgement. Acknowledgement at the organizational level is key, especially for bigger milestones and rewards. 

To do this, one of the most impactful aspects of the employee experience to leverage is the manager-employee relationship. The pivotal role of the manager in acknowledging employees cannot be overstated. Authentic messages of recognition from a direct manager play a big role in how recognition and rewards are received. In addition to recognizing individual contributor employees, Acknowledgement is an important part of upskilling and empowering managers—recognition is a vital part of their managerial toolkit. Show managers that their acknowledgement has an important impact on how employees feel, and that doing so on a regular basis deepens and strengthens their relationship. Make managers aware that giving acknowledgement to others is part of growing their own career.

Make sure to encourage and empower every manager to do this with training and automations. Some helpful tips include:

  • Being recognized publicly can make recognition extra sticky, but it’s important to note that this will depend on the individual’s preferences. Managers should check in with employees about their recognition preferences; while some might love more fanfare, others might not feel as comfortable in the limelight. 
  • Pre-experience: Suggest that managers send an email to employees before they go on their Blueboard reward experience with a positive, encouraging message to have a good time, remind them how to truly unplug especially if they’re taking time off for their experience, and thank them again for their contributions.  
  • Post-experience: Follow up after a reward is redeemed either personally in your next 1:1 or publicly at your next team meeting (keeping in mind their communication and recognition preferences as noted above, of course).

What is employee recognition Acknowledgement?

For acknowledgement to be meaningful, this element of The 5 As is the direct action of recognizing someone. Importantly, this should recognize specific, desired employee behaviors and outcomes, and tie them back to company core values and recognition program goals. While acknowledgement doesn’t need to be paired with a material reward, a meaningful reward will amplify the impact of the gesture. 

How Blueboard powers employee recognition Acknowledgement.

There are so many valuable ways to acknowledge good work. At Blueboard, we recommend a variety of Acknowledgement methods. Sometimes, a simple “thank you” is enough. A handwritten note. Or, you can use our free appreciation e-card sender and choose the most appropriate message that fits your reason for acknowledgement (yes, there’s a card for, “just because, you’re awesome all the time”). There’s truly no occasion too small for acknowledging someone and their contributions. 

For Blueboard clients, another words-based tool in their arsenal is peer-to-peer (P2P) recognition based on company core values (see the example below). Regardless of how, these informal acknowledgements help to build a muscle for delivering positive Acknowledgement on a consistent basis—which is key to the success of your recognition efforts. 

A screenshot from Slack on how to recognize employees with our peer-to-peer tool, where you can select a company value, and write a message about the person you're recognizing demonstrated that value.
An example of how to recognize employees with our peer-to-peer tool, where you can select a company value, and write a message about the person you're recognizing demonstrated that value.

One of the simplest ways Blueboard makes people managers’ lives easier: automations that can give them a heads up when a key milestone (like a work anniversary) is coming up. These automations ensure managers have plenty of advance notice before an employee milestone to prepare a thoughtful message of Acknowledgement in the ways that make the most sense for that employee. 

Some of Blueboard’s Acknowledgement best practices, key questions to ask, and other considerations include: 

  • Train managers and recognition program admins to personalize the “why” behind an employee receiving a reward.  Give them, guidelines on how best to write Acknowledgement messages such as the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI)™ framework.
  • Encourage managers and team leaders to incorporate acknowledgment of Blueboard experiences ino frequent team interactions. This can be done by sharing a photo, playing a video at the next team meeting—any way to call attention to why the reward was received by the recipient.
  • Give people guidelines on how best to write Acknowledgement messages. Be sure to include tips for extroverts and introverts (a best practice for everyone: tie the recognition to a specific behavior). 
Here’s a shout out I gave one of my team members that explains the “why” behind the recognition.

Of course, make sure to provide feedback to managers on how to use Blueboard to acknowledge employees and detail why they received the reward—and recognize and reward your managers as well!

An illustration of a person with a thought bubble above their head to represent the Anticipation stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.
The Anticipation stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.

Anticipation: How excitement makes an employee reward feel even more valuable.

It feels really good to look forward to things—and that’s scientifically proven, as we get a dopamine rush when we experience something new

And, it’s worth noting: Anticipation is the first of The 5 As that requires a reward to exist. Building on the excitement of the Awareness stage, Anticipation takes the knowledge that recognition as a reward is possible a step further, as we begin to let our imagination run wild and envision what it would be like to achieve the reward. We start to see ourselves snorkeling in the crystal blue waters of Hawaii, marveling at Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel, or luxuriating in a Michelin-star meal. 

What is employee reward Anticipation?

When we look forward to something ahead of actually participating or experiencing it—like a birthday party, the weekend, or catching up with a friend—this creates feelings of anticipation. Anticipation is a key component of consistent recognition; when employees know they’ll be recognized in specific ways, they are excited about what they will (or could!) receive. This builds buzz for your recognition efforts, and keeps employees engaged and motivated to perform.

How Blueboard powers employee recognition Anticipation.

At Blueboard, we offer experiential rewards, exclusively. And experiential rewards support Anticipation by nature. As mentioned above, when you earn an experience, you get to start planning before you actually experience the experience: What will you choose, who will you go with, and will you take the opportunity to celebrate a special occasion (like a marriage proposal, which is a popular way Blueboard reward recipients choose to do with their experience!). 

With our Choose App, for example, employees can browse and choose a reward to work towards before they earn it, which harnesses Anticipation to increase motivation to win (we call this the “pre-glow” here at Blueboard). They’ll have no shortage of amazing experiences to dream about, as we’re the largest marketplace for employee recognition and rewards, with 70 curated menus in countries all over the world.  

Once they win, they simply redeem their reward, and our celebrated Concierge team helps them plan and then takes care of all the details so they can focus on joyful anticipation (read: not dealing with any of the potential logistical headaches) and showing up. 

Anticipation also contributes to the long-term positive associations that accompany the memories your employees make as they enjoy an experiential reward—like in Terri’s Alaska adventure, a Blueboard experiential reward she chose to celebrate her 15-year work anniversary with Guidewire. 

So how do you set your recognition program up for the best success at the Anticipation stage? Here are some of the tried and true best practice tips we offer Blueboard clients. 

  • Socialize experience offerings when announcing your programs. Create a clear program guide that outlines the cadence and levels of Blueboard rewards that employees can anticipate receiving.  
  • Use interactive elements to build Anticipation, such as a leaderboard that tracks top-performing employees or teams.
  • Use engaging, compelling, and on-brand employer messaging about the value of personalized experiences and where they might go (along, with friends and family) to drive the most anticipation. Share stories, photos, and videos of past employee Blueboard experiences to create moments of anticipation and excitement for others.
  • Showcase the types of Blueboard experiences that are offered across different tiers of rewards and how they align with people’s passions, interests, and hobbies. Create a recognition portal where employees can browse rewards and experiences that others have taken.
  • When admins get a “heads up” email that someone is going Blueboarding, send them a reminder to take photos and respond to the post experience survey. That way, you can capture visuals and feedback to help you feed program Awareness and adjust the program as needed.

An illustration of a person taking a pottery making class as a way to represent the Activity stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.
The Activity stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.

Activity: Why experiences > things when it comes to employee rewards.

When we talk about employee recognition tied to a reward, we’re often talking about monetary awards like gift cards or cash bonuses. The 5 As framework doesn’t account for these types of rewards; instead, it asks C-suite leaders to go further and consider how to give employees something invaluable: the gift of time. And that’s through an activity, like an experience. 

In original research conducted by The Starr Conspiracy and Blueboard to better understand the impact of recognition with experiences versus things (material goods), companies that leverage experiential rewards have nearly 4x more impact on employee experience.

When an organization can sponsor an employee’s chosen Activity as part of a meaningful recognition moment, that organization is investing in that employee’s whole self. It is showing that that employee, along with their good work, is truly valued.

Note that Activity is the only A that requires an experiential reward to exist. 

And we haven’t even touched on the swag-to-landfill pipeline and environmental impact of rewarding employees with things over experiences. Sadly, despite a $242 billion investment in corporate swag (think branded hats, mugs, and lanyards) Coresight Research reveals that a staggering 40% of these items end up being literally thrown away.

What is employee reward Activity? 

With status quo recognition—monetary rewards like cash and gift cards—the focus is on the temporary gratification of the dollar amount, which keeps the impact more transactional and timebound. Do you really remember what you bought with that gift card for a grocery store? Probably not. When recognition is activity-based (think taking a pottery class, learning a new language, or taking a trip to see your favorite sports team) the emphasis is more on the experience of the activity and the memories that linger.  

How Blueboard powers meaningful employee memories with Activity.

As the world’s largest experiences marketplace for employee rewards, our Curation team scours the globe to select the best experiences and service over 70+ countries worldwide, with local menus supporting businesses throughout the US and major metropolitan cities in India, Brazil, Greece, Mexico, Italy, UAE, Argentina, Japan, and more. 

Every person who gets a Blueboard experiential reward is paired with a Blueboard Concierge who handles all of the logistics. This includes all planning, and 24x7 support ahead of and during every experience that’s redeemed. Partnerships with local providers make it possible for employees to make memories while supporting the local community. Plus, employees have the ability to share experiences with loved ones (which also facilitates memory making). 

You may wonder: Will my people want experiences, and will there be something that resonates with everyone?

The short answer is yes. While what’s meaningful to experience looks a little different for everyone depending on their interests and preferences, whether you’re an adrenaline seeker or prefer to lay low on a sandy beach listening to ocean waves, the Blueboard experience menu truly has something for every type of person. 

Bruce J. enjoys the “Soaring High Over Kauai” experience, a gift from their employer, Refined Technologies, to celebrate their work anniversary. “The helicopter tour of this beautiful island was awesome.”

Capturing and recording the reward helps support individual employee memory-making—which supports long-term employee motivation—and organizational buzz, which supports your overall program, getting others excited and keeping the program top of mind. Which brings us to the final A: Afterglow.

An illustration of a person sitting in a chair and looking at a photo of their experience as they remember it to represent the Afterglow stage of employee recognition with The 5 As.
The Afterglow stage of employee recognition with The 5 As

Afterglow: Continue momentum post-recognition and build positive employee sentiment and employer brand.

The final of the 5 As, and arguably the most tangibly impactful, extends the overall, lasting power of recognition—on the employee and on your business.

What is employee reward Afterglow?

Speaking of memories: the positive feelings, photos, and videos that capture an activity (like an experience) are what we call the Afterglow. And that’s due to the unique power of experiences: long after the actual activity is over, the memories live on through these forms of storytelling. Otherwise known as socialization, the ways employees share their rewards (experiences and activities) is the key factor in amplifying recognition program successes both within your organization and beyond (thinking social media, local news coverage, and anecdotal, word-of-mouth sharing).

At Blueboard, we define employee recognition Afterglow in two parts:

1. The Employee “Afterglow” refers to the long-lasting positive effects of a personal, meaningful employee reward. 

This is the warm fuzzy feelings your employee has towards themselves, their work, and your organization after being recognized and rewarded, At Blueboard, we help companies reward employees with experiences because experiential rewards extend Afterglow better than any other type of reward: Experiences—quality time doing things we love to do with the people we love—become memories, which gain value in our minds over time. 

2. The Admin “Afterglow” refers to how recognition program administrators are empowered to capture the memories employees create during their Blueboard experiences. 

By harnessing the power of Afterglow, recognition program admins can extend the impact of employees’ positive feelings, weaving them seamlessly into their company culture and brand. Post-experience content and data can be used strategically to ignite a viral wave that amplifies the recognition program, elevating their employer brand, values, and culture of appreciation to new heights. 

This dual Afterglow not only enhances employer brand visibility and reach, giving organizations a competitive edge in attracting top talent, but also provides invaluable data and analytics into employee sentiment, enabling admins to make data-driven decisions and foster an environment where employees thrive.

How Blueboard powers employee recognition Afterglow.

At Blueboard, our platform is designed (and evolving) to support employee and admin Afterglow, starting with our experiential rewards themselves. Experiences are proven to have a longer-lasting impact on employee recognition than material objects like company swag. These rewards are ideal for long-term Afterglow because after an employee enjoys their experience, the impact of that experience continues in a ripple effect. They help to create a constantly spinning flywheel of amazing stories that employees will share and continue to keep “alive” even after they redeem and go on their experience. 

Employees tend to share about their experiential rewards internally to show they are making an impact on the business (with peers/managers) and externally with the ones they love or care about (with their networks). Memories gain value over time in the employee's mind with positive associations linked to your company, deepening their sense of connection to your organization. 

Our Implementation and Account Management teams will help you build out socialization tools and strategies to support Afterglow and continued Awareness, including: 

  • Photo and video capture for easy internal and external sharing
  • Integration into internal messaging to share these artifacts
  • Blueboard feedback survey to benchmark impact on the individual employee

Some of our recommended Afterglow best practices: 

  • Encourage managers to check in with employees after they’ve been recognized and have redeemed a reward! What did they use their reward on? Who’d they share it with? How did it go, how did they feel?  Use the insight you gain into their choices and experience to build more meaningful connections.
  • Share the artifacts they captured internally and externally to continue building buzz for your program. This also contributes to building your employer brand through showcasing your unique recognition culture.

Innovative companies drive results with Blueboard rewards and recognition. 

By thinking like marketers, and activating The 5 As specifically, organizational leaders can maximize recognition program investment and drive critical impact like:

  • Improving talent acquisition and employee retention 
  • Creating a great place to work that employees feel connected and loyal to, and
  • Elevating your company's brand visibility and reach 

As a recap, The 5 As of recognition empowers companies to: 

  • Keep your employee recognition program top-of-mind with Awareness.
  • Make each recognition moment meaningful with Acknowledgment.
  • Capture the  excitement that makes an employee reward feel even more valuable with Anticipation
  • Deliver rewards with experiences that have meaningful, lasting impact with Activity.
  • Build on the momentum of experiences and cultivate  positive employee sentiment and employer brand post-recognition with the Afterglow

But do the 5 As really support creating an effective recognition program your employees will truly love? These recipient photos and feedback—the Afterglow in action—speak for themselves. 

Dominic J.L., enjoys the “Cheer on the Padres” experience, a Blueboard reward from their employer, Nutrabolt. “My fiancée and I had a great time! All the food we got and souvenirs were the best.”
Craig D. and family take in the Eiffel Tower as part of the “Bake Your Way Through Paris” experience, a Blueboard reward from their employer, Included Health. “Best part of the trip was our hotel and our various cooking classes, especially the macaron making class: my girls loved it.”
Samantha W. and their now-husband enjoy a sunset cruise as part of the “Build Your Own Experience”, a Blueboard reward from her employer, USI.  “We loved the entire experience, we were treated to a sunset cruise while on Maui for our honeymoon. I love that the experience provider selected was an organization that donates to environmental conservation, so not only did we enjoy our experience but it had a positive impact as well.” 

Instead of stock photos, these Afterglow artifacts can bring a career page to life, arm your  marketing department with compelling visuals and stories to champion and cultivate employer brand on social media, and give your CEO, HR team, and shareholders a wildly effective way to attract (and retain!) the best talent. 

Ready to level up your recognition with experiential rewards from Blueboard? Connect with our team to get a demo.

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