Companies With the Best Employee Recognition Programs

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Are you looking to improve employee engagement in your organization? Then employee recognition programs are a step to take. Yes, implementing them can be a hassle, and they’ll cost you money, but they will improve employee engagement, productivity, and performance.

According to Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, a global workplace culture research firm, only about 40% of the 3 billion people who work worldwide are happy at their jobs. While lots of factors play into this low percentage, the fact that recognized employees are more productive and happy should be noted.

In this post, we have outlined 10 companies with the best employee recognition programs. Some of these companies have mastered the art of employee recognition, it has become a trademark culture for them. However, let us, first of all, explore the different types of employee recognition. 

Types of Employee Recognition Programs

Employee recognition is like an art, it is as diverse as human nature, and it requires the “different strokes for different folks” approach. The process, however, can be quite technical, with guidelines to ensure the recognition program’s effectiveness no matter what type of program is being implemented.


Here are the different types of employee recognition programs you can implement in your organization. 

Service Awards

Service awards are a type of employee recognition that involve recognizing employees based on the quality of their service to the organization. The most popular examples are the Employee of the Month and Years of Service Award. 

The employee-of-the-month award is a quite common recognition strategy in many workplaces. It is an award that recognizes outstanding performance by an employee in a month, such as meeting or exceeding the company’s standards for excellence. A common reward for the Employee of the Month award is usually a photo portrait of the employee displayed on a wall in the company, called a “wall of fame”.

If you want to brighten up the standard employee of the month award, you can also offer monetary awards or personalized notes of appreciation from the most senior individual in your company.

Another common service award is the years of service award, usually given to employees who have accomplished a specified number of years with the company. It usually starts from the five years mark. However, some companies go as low as the one-year mark. The years of service award usually comes with cash rewards, notes of appreciation from the CEO, plaques, and trophies.


Monetary Rewards 

Easily the most common type of employee recognition, monetary rewards involve rewarding employees with things of monetary value. Even though they’re the most common, they’re not the most favored by employees. 

According to research by the Incentive Marketing Association, 65% of people in a small-reward scenario would prefer the non-cash award, while 80% of people in a large-reward scenario would prefer the non-cash award.  

Some of the popular monetary rewards include 

  • Cash bonuses, which are given after specific tasks are completed. 
  • Stock Options, this option is usually more common with startups. 
  • Gift Cards.
  • Profit Sharing. 


Public Shout Outs

One golden rule for developing happy workplace culture is “praise in public, correct in private.” Public shout-outs are another employee recognition tool you can utilize to build a culture of appreciation and kindness in your company. 

Just like Lars Schmidt’s #randomtweetofkindness, you can also utilize social media to showcase and appreciate the employees in your company who have been top performers. Apart from using Twitter to recognize your employees, you can also feature your employees in your company-wide newsletter or email newsletters. 

Publicly recognizing your employees’ achievements is a great way to help them build their professional networks, which can benefit your company.


Special Celebrations

Celebrating special days is another way of recognizing employees. Celebrating special days that are unrelated to work can be a way to show employees you care about their work-life balance.

Never miss the chance to celebrate the birthdays of your employees. Employee recognition also comes into play when you celebrate special events like an employee’s wedding or childbirth. Work anniversaries are another way an organization can recognize its employees. 


Office Parties

Employee recognition and rewards don’t always have to be monetary. You can boost employee engagement more by giving them real-life experiences and adventures as rewards for hard work than by simply giving them a small raise or gift card.

Having an annual tradition like a holiday party can be exciting for employees. You can celebrate an employee’s hard work and contributions to the company by throwing a small party to surprise them.

10 Companies with the Best Employee Reward and Recognition Programs

Here is a list of 10 companies with some of the best employee recognition programs. This is a limited list because there are other companies with exceptional employee recognition programs. 


1. Airbnb: Workplace as an Experience 

When Airbnb converted its chief HR officer to the chief employee experience officer, one of the outlined objectives was to make the “workplace as an experience” for its employees. Seven years on, how has Airbnb fared in this regard?

Considering that Airbnb was ranked 1st on Glassdoor’s ranking of “Best Workplaces in 2016”, we can say they have fared well in this regard. Airbnb has been able to craft a unique workplace culture by using terms that help employees see value in the service they offer to the company. 

They also offer cash bonuses to their employees and special vacation bonuses. 


2. Zappos: Best Peer-to-peer Rewards

Zappos, a subsidiary of Amazon, has an employee recognition program that is based on peer-to-peer employee recognition. The peer-to-peer employee rewards in Zappos aim to build a culture of appreciation among colleagues and an overall positive team spirit. 

Zappos employees are called ‘Zapponians,’ and some of the peer-to-peer programs include 

  • Zollar Program: Zollars (or Zappos Dollars) is play money that Zapponians can share. Zollars is earned when employees volunteer to help out, and it is then used to redeem merch from the Zollar Store. 
  • Master of WOW Parking: Another peer-to-peer employee recognition program in Zappos.  It deals with rewarding employees with a premium parking space. 
  • Coworker Bonus Program: Zapponians can reward one another with a $50 coworker bonus. They can give each other a maximum of one bonus per month, but they can receive more than one as long as they’re given by different people.


3. Typeform: Use of Merit Money 

Typeform, the Barcelona-based survey company, uses merit money in its employee rewards program.

Merit money is a form of peer-to-peer employee recognition in which employees earn points or “play money” from their colleagues as a form of acknowledgment or appreciation. These points are then converted into cash or gift cards. The entire transaction is done through an app or software.

In Typeform, the play money is called “typecoins,” and the system is administered by Bonusly. Employees are given typecoins at the start of each month, which they can use to reward other employees for helping them in different ways. The typecoins can be converted to Amazon, Uber, or Starbucks vouchers. 


4. Walt Disney World: Legacy Awards

Walt Disney World is an old establishment and has quite a legacy. Hence employee recognition for them is serious. If you visit the Walt Disney studio in Burbank, you should come across the Legends Plaza, where there are different bronze plaques of handprints. These handprints are from different individuals who have had an impact on Disney Parks and films. 

There are different employee recognition programs at Walt Disney World, such as:


  • Disney Legacy Awards

This is the highest honor given to employees of the Disney Corporation. Employees are nominated by their peers for the award. And recipients of the award receive a miniature version of the statue in the Legacy Plaza as a plaque. 


  • Disney Legends

Instituted in 1987, this is awarded to pioneer members of Disney Parks. The recipients have their handprints showcased in the Legends Plaza of Disney Studio. 


  • #CastCompliment 

This is another employee recognition program from Disney. Essentially, it’s a way of recognizing cast members in Disney. If a cast member is recognized using the hashtag #CastCompliment will have their names recorded formally, so the leaders of Walt Disney can take note. 

In the past, if a cast member was acknowledged in any correspondence to Disney, Lee Cockerell, Disney’s former Executive VP of Operations, would make a copy and send it to the cast member.

Being an organization with thousands of employees, employee recognition can seem like a tedious duty. However, Disney has tried to maintain the employee recognition culture for years. 


5. HP Inc: Reward for Good

HP Inc. has about 118 office locations across the world. Monitoring employee rewards and recognition programs in companies this large can be a bit challenging. However, HP tries to maintain a workplace culture of recognizing its employees. During the pandemic, they organized fun office events such as virtual dance parties and even cooking classes taught by a Michelin-star chef.   

According to Trapper Yates, Head of Global Compensation at HP, “memories are more powerful than money, you don’t remember where you spent your last bonus, but you always remember that good deed that was done to you by your manager who cared enough to do something special and recognize you.”

The company also rewards its staff, who can clock in volunteering hours. Each employee’s 10 hours of volunteer work per quarter can earn them a Good Card worth $50.


6. Unilever: Unilever’s Heroes Award

Unilever is one of the leading consumer goods companies in the world, and they are operational in more than 190 countries. Different employee recognition strategies are implemented for each country where Unilever is operational. However, there is a reward development plan for each country.  

The Unilever Heroes Award is a global program that honors employees who have made an exceptional contribution to the company during the cause of a year. The awardees are invited to the exclusive grand event, Change Leaders Conference, where about 400 Unilever senior managers gather annually. 


7. Southwest Airlines: Southwest’s “Attitude of Gratitude.”

In 2021, Forbes named Southwest Airlines one of America’s Best Employers for the sixth time, placing it in the top 100 companies in the Large Employer Category.

The core of the employee recognition program of Southwest Airlines is Southwest Airlines Gratitude (SWAG). SWAG dominates every form of employee reward at Southwest Airlines. Employees earn SWAG Points to redeem items in the SWAG Shop which contains concert tickets, gift cards, and thousands of merchandise.  


8. Google: “Best Place to Work in America.” 

Before the infamous walkout of 2018, if you randomly googled “best place to work in America,” Google was likely to pop up. Google was ranked #1 on Fortune’s list of Best Companies to Work For from 2011 to 2017. Google also topped the list for the Comparably 50 list and Business Insider 50 list. 

According to Lazslo Bock, who was the HR boss at Google, there was constant innovation and experimentation at Google to keep things fun in the workplace. Google was one of the first companies to put ping-pong tables in the office space as a means of experimenting with the working space. The company also started providing perks like free haircuts, laundry services, and even free gourmet for its employees. 

Apart from the various perks available at Google, the company gave a lot of its employees a sense of purpose in their various positions. In a report, 73% of Google’s employees surveyed said they found their jobs meaningful. Many of them felt like they were contributing immensely to the global society.  


9. SalesForce: Badge of Honour

Apart from a being world leader in bringing organizations closer to their customers, SalesForce is also a trailblazer in employee recognition. 

According to the Great Place to Work 2021 Global Employee Engagement Study, about 90% of Salesforce’s employees consider it a great place to work, in contrast to 57% of employees at a regular US-based company. 

Some of the employee recognition programs put in place in the company include regular shoutouts and badges on Slack. Custom badges are also made for recognized employees. 

Fortune rated Salesforce #2 in the 2022 list of Best Workplaces in Technology (Large). They were also rated #4 in Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2022.  


10. Cisco: Best Technology Company to Work For in The World


No matter how limited, this list will be incomplete without the mention of Cisco. 

Here are a few achievements of Cisco as a workplace

  • Number 1 in Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® 2022
  • Number 1 in Fortune Best Workplaces in Technology™ 2022 (Large)
  • Number 3 in Fortune Best Workplaces for Women™ 2022 (Large)
  • Number 13 in PEOPLE® Companies that Care 2022

In the Great Place to Work® 2021 Global Employee Engagement Study, 96% of Cisco’s employees consider it a great place to work in comparison with 57% of employees at a regular company in the US. 

These results are not achieved by wishful thinking, as Cisco spends about 1% of its payroll on Connected Recognition, which is its employee rewards and recognition program. According to Gabrielle Thompson, who was the Senior Vice President of Total Rewards and Acquisitions at Cisco, “Recognition is an investment in people. It’s going to retain talent. If you’ve got the right talent, you’re going to drive revenue growth. It’s an initial investment with a future payoff.” 

Employee Recognition Programs Best Practices

Engage Executives in the Process

If you want to create a successful employee recognition program, you should involve the leaders and executives in the process. Leaders are expected to display exemplary behavior in the office, including recognizing and appreciating employees. 

For the employee recognition program to hit the right spots, there should be maximum support from the top executives and leaders in the company. That way, managers and executives will display interest and participate. There should be a concerted effort by leaders in the company to recognize and reward exceptional staff. 


Carry Your Employees Along

One important guideline in carrying out employee recognition is carrying your employees along. 

Employee engagement is the major goal of an employee recognition program, and one way of tracking employee engagement is through employee engagement surveys. In carrying out these surveys, you can measure the impact of the recognition program. 

You can also use the surveys to get feedback from your employees to help you prepare for the recognition program. You should also give your employees a voice when it comes to deciding what kinds of rewards you offer in the program.


Align Company Values with Employee Recognition

When employee recognition programs don’t reward behaviors that align with company values, it can be confusing to employees. Always ensure that employee recognition is always aligned with company values and objectives. 

Rewarding behaviors that align with company goals is a form of reinforcing existing priorities. These goals and objectives should be seen as a defined direction for the organization and should provide a level of stability for the employees. 

When employee recognition programs are channeled towards company values and objectives, it helps employees set their sights on these objectives. 


Use a Variety of Rewards and Recognition Programs

There are two types of recognition, which are monetary and non-monetary recognition. Always ensure to offer a variety of rewards and recognition programs.

Not every employee will be interested in cash bonuses. In the same way, not every employee will be interested in a plaque. Hence, it’s necessary to carry out employee surveys to get insight into the types of rewards that will appeal to your employees. 

When you’re giving rewards like gift cards, or merchandise, ensure it’s one that the employee will enjoy. For example, giving someone a Starbucks gift card when they don’t drink coffee is not the best idea.


Managers Should Always Be Involved

When rolling out an employee recognition program, managers should always be in from the get-go. In addition to the top executives being aligned with the program, managers should also align with it.

Managers should be trained on how to implement an employee recognition program in their departments and among their team members. They should also be responsible for employee recognition, which will help them to appreciate the efforts of each member of their team.


It’s time to give your employees the recognition they deserve.

Whether you’re looking to set up an employee recognition program in your company or just want to know what the best practices are, we’ve got you covered. We’ve reviewed some of the companies with the best employee recognition programs and discussed some of the best practices for setting up an employee recognition program. Let us know which company you are taking a cue from in the comment section below!

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