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How to Start an Employee Recognition Program

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Stephanie Davis

No matter how small your small business is, it’s worth considering implementing an employee recognition program.

A boss giving praise to an employee in a conference room in front of other employees. Everyone is smiling, happy, and engaged.

Today, people have more options than ever before when it comes to choosing an employer to work for and it can be tough for small business owners to stand out from the competition. While you may be able to attract talent easily, you need a plan in place to establish a company culture and ensure that they stay your employees and decrease turnover.

What is an Employee Recognition Program?

Short answer: an employee recognition program is a set plan to show your employees that you value the work they do for your business. By following a set program, it will be easier to treat all employees the same and ensure that you are showing recognition regularly. The two common types of employee recognition programs are performance-based programs and service programs. Performance-based programs will focus on rewarding employees for reaching specific goals related to the work they produce for your business. Examples include feedback from customers about excellent customer service, successfully launching a promotion, or increasing the traffic to your business. Service programs recognize employees based on the number of years they have worked for a company. Some companies choose to celebrate in increments of five, such as five years, ten years, etc., while others may choose to give a smaller call out annually and celebrate the larger milestones as they arise. While there are examples to follow, an employee recognition program can change and adapt based on the type of business you are running.

Why You Should Have an Employee Recognition Program

Most people appreciate knowing that the work they do matters and want to receive some type of praise for it. By following an employee recognition program, you can boost employee engagement and morale within your small business. Additionally, employees who feel valued tend to have increased productivity, which ends up being a win for your business goals. With positive benefits like these, it’s easy to stay motivated to create work environments that make your employees happy and focused on their goals.

Common Types of Employee Recognition

While bonuses and other monetary incentives are commonly associated with employee recognition, similar to employee engagement and salary, there are other methods to consider in your employee recognition program.

  • Public appreciation events. Whether you host an annual company picnic or keep it simple with pizza and wings at the office, having a public celebration can be a nice way to show your employees that you care. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always reach out to your employees directly and ask what they would like to do to celebrate, especially if only one employee at a time is being recognized.
  • Promotion. In many cases, your employees are going to be looking to grow, and having the means for growth can be a great way to ensure employees want to stay at your business. Promotions will likely vary based on the type of business you operate. For restaurants or retail, you may consider having a lead server or assistant manager and manager positions. When operating in an office setting, it may be a little easier to create a cookie-cutter growth path such as moving a specialist role into a senior specialist.
  • Private feedback. Not every employee will want the attention on them when honoring them with a workplace achievement. Honor their wishes and find some way to ensure you still recognize them for their work. Consider using weekly one on one, or frequent performance reviews to share feedback.

How to Start an Employee Recognition Program

Now that you have that what and why behind employee recognition programs, it’s time to figure out how to implement a program in your small business.

  • Be clear on the criteria and program eligibility. Nothing will derail your employee recognition program quicker than having unclear criteria. You will want specific measures so your employees know exactly what to expect. As a small business owner, you will need to decide how long the program will run, what criteria employees need to meet to be eligible, and what the awards will be for each level. You’ll also want to decide how employee performance will be measured and evaluated. Will it be time-based, such as hitting quarterly goals, or will it be goal specific, such as closing 20% more sales? Making those decisions upfront will help the program move smoothly.
  • Communicate with your employees. Communication is needed with any relationship, including the working relationship with your employees. Let them know all of the details you previously decided in regard to the program and be open with them on feedback. Since communication is a two-way street, you’ll also want to get feedback from employees on what they think of the new program.
  • Stay organized. When celebrating multiple employees, you want to have a smooth and fair process. You won’t want any of your employees to feel slighted and that they didn’t receive the same attention or celebration as another employee. Additionally, you need to be organized with the celebrations. If you choose to celebrate service awards, you will want to stay on top of those anniversaries so you don’t let an employee slip through the cracks and forget their service date.

Bottom Line

Having an employee recognition program has many benefits for your small business. Similar to employee wellness programs, you have the flexibility to choose what works best for your business. Employee recognition will look different across businesses, but it’s important to come up with something to show your employees that you care.

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