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2 Types of Employee Recognition That Will Make a Real Difference

leading Aug 11, 2022

Employees are the most important component of a successful business, but they often aren’t treated as such. Only 13% of employees surveyed received daily or weekly recognition, 20% received quarterly recognition, and 46% received annual recognition or no recognition at all.

These numbers are concerning, especially when you consider how beneficial weekly kudos is to businesses. Employees who are regularly recognized are more productive and less likely to quit. Unfortunately, most company recognition programs recognize tenure, an outdated concept.

While structured rewards can work, you can’t rely on them solely. Spontaneous, unstructured bonuses must be included in your recognition program to grow a more focused team.

If you want to celebrate more milestones with your employees, you need to recognize their achievements, hard work, and growth consistently. Here’s how your company can do just that.

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How To Appreciate and Recognize Your Employees

Although there are many different ways to recognize your employees, most of these strategies are separated into two types: structured and unstructured. Here are the pros and cons of both.

1. Structured Recognition

87% of company recognition programs use a structured employee recognition system. This strategy follows a structured timeline, meaning employees know when they’re about to be recognized. Employers will usually commission for service awards plaques to show their appreciation.

The most common structured recognition methods include:

  • Employee of the Month/Year
  • Milestones (Work Anniversaries)
  • Top Performer Award
  • End-of-Project Reward
  • Retirement Recognition

How Structured Recognition Benefits Employees

Structured recognition programs are typically offered by the leadership team, so employees feel appreciated by the higher-ups. Recognition is often given in front of the whole office. If they aren’t, a plaque or trophy is displayed in the office or on their desk, meaning everyone is aware.

A great, structured recognition program fosters long-term relationships with employees and assures them that they will be rewarded if they work hard enough. Since they’re offered at pre-stipulated times, structured recognition strategies are seen as more fair or without bias.

How Structured Recognition May Not Benefit Employees

If a structured recognition strategy is poorly implemented or doesn’t include unstructured recognition methods, it can feel impersonal or “forced.” Employees will think you’re giving them an award just to check a box, which leads to poor morale, jealousy, or spite.

Most structured recognition strategies include few rewards, which can cause a competitive or toxic environment. At best, most structured strategies become boring or predictable. At worst, they don’t recognize the hard work of other incredible employees that missed out on an award.

How to Implement a Structured Recognition Strategy

It’s okay to keep the structured recognition methods that include milestones, top performers, etc., but include dates or projects that don’t include a long tenure or top earners. For example, you can give “most growth,” “1-year” milestone, and “Employee-of-the-Week” awards.

Avoid awards that could come off as discriminatory. Although adding a “Perfect Attendance” award sounds positive, it could unfairly target employees that were ill or late for legitimate reasons. Always try to recognize your staff in front of others, as it means a lot more to them.

2. Unstructured Recognition

47% of employees want to receive rewards spontaneously, but 85% of employees want management to reward them for a job well done when it occurs. Unstructured recognition is spontaneous, automated through technology, and occurs more frequently than structured.

The most common unstructured recognition methods include:

  • Daily or Weekly “Thank Yous”
  • Virtual or Physical “Wall of Fames”
  • Reward & Recognition (R&R) Gamification
  • Gifts That Aren’t Formal Plaques
  • Peer-to-Peer Endorsements

How Unstructured Recognition Benefits Employees

The best part of an unstructured strategy is its flexibility. Managers, employers, and employees can show their appreciation any way they want, making the gesture more personalized. Spontaneous feedback is very effective at improving short-term performance across teams.

Through gamification and technology, employees are encouraged to offer recognition and support in fun, exciting ways. Employees can receive real-time feedback, badges, scores, and points by logging into R&R tools, which motivates them and keeps engagement high.

How Unstructured Recognition May Not Benefit Employees

The success of an unstructured recognition strategy is dependent on how interested the managers and employers are. Some strategies start off strong but soon fizzle out because no one is making an effort. When they are making an effort, easily noticeable biases may form.

If managers and employers recognize their employees too frequently, it could bring down the value of said feedback. Without a structured recognition strategy, unstructured recognition may not be taken seriously by some employees. Or, some employees may not like spontaneity.

How to Implement an Unstructured Recognition Strategy

With an unstructured recognition strategy, timing is essential. Employers need to give their employees an award as soon as the “good thing” happens. These gestures don’t have to be large every time. Even a small “thank you” can help employees acknowledge their importance.

Recognition isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some employees like written letters, while others prefer grand gestures. Understand what your employees prefer, and be specific.

Remember, the idea is to personalize your rewards. This could mean featuring your employees on a photo calendar and offering that as a gift or giving them something they’ve expressed they’ve wanted for a while.

Let them know why they’re being rewarded. Use technology to offer peer-to-peer recognition and automated rewards.

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In Summary…

A company that favours an unstructured approach tends to benefit from improved engagement, increased morale, and a higher ROI. However, that doesn’t mean structured awards should be left off the table, as they’re a welcomed sight to senior employees who’ve put in their time.

Set up an awards ceremony once a year, twice a year, or once every quarter, depending on your industry. This will give your staff something to look forward to and a goal to work towards.

Spontaneous awards can be the icing on the cake. To make your unstructured reward strategy fair, make sure you award every single person in your office at least once a week. Big rewards, like gifts, should be offered once a month or every three months, depending on cash flow.

It’s essential to experiment with each recognition strategy to find the right one for your staff. Everyone is different, and you may upset your team if you don’t listen to them. Ask your staff how they prefer to be rewarded, so other employees won’t assume you’re playing favourites.


Zoi Kotsou

Copywriter - Content writer - Content Strategist

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