How to Build a Values-Based Employee Recognition Program


Employee recognition programs are a process by which positive employee behaviors and achievements are celebrated and rewarded. To create a values-based employee recognition program, organizations should decide on their company’s core values and incorporate them into performance reviews. They should also use a simple recognition tool that allows users to give and receive recognition to and from employees at all levels. Organizations should consider factors such as budget, eligibility, and reward options before rolling out a recognition program.

How to Build a Values-Based Employee Recognition Program

According to Quantum Workplace, employees are 2.7x more likely to be highly engaged if they believe they will be recognized in the future. Motivation is a significant driving force for employees, and employee recognition programs serve as a powerful catalyst for increasing motivation levels.

What is an Employee Recognition Program?

An employee recognition program is a process by which positive employee behaviors and achievements are celebrated and rewarded. 

Employee recognition programs can take various forms, such as verbal praise, awards, monetary rewards, public recognition, or employee perks. The purpose of these programs is to create a culture of appreciation and to encourage employees to continue performing at a high level. In today’s workplace, employee appreciation is made easier through the use of recognition software that is readily available to employees across all levels, particularly in hybrid or remote work settings.

Screenshot of Recognition

By utilizing an employee recognition program, organizations can foster a healthy, enjoyable work environment, increase employee engagement, and improve retention rates. 

How to Create a Values-Based Employee Recognition Program

Creating a recognition program based on core values involves several key steps. For those reading and feeling overwhelmed, rest assured that you can craft an impactful recognition program even as you navigate through the steps outlined below. Beginning with the definition of your company’s values is key, so prioritize this step first, and the rest will more seamlessly align into place!

0. Decide the company’s core values. 

For organizations that do not currently have a list of core workplace behaviors, get your top leaders in a room and decide on 5-7 values that align with the mission and vision and capture the culture you desire to create. Check out WorkDove’s workplace behaviors resource to help get you started!

1. Define your company’s values.

Once the core values are decided, it is critical to develop distinct definitions that are clear and to the point. Though the definitions should be brief – perhaps in bullet point form – they should make expectations of the corresponding workplace behaviors obvious. 

Tip: Consider writing definitions that are easy for employees to memorize and know by heart!

2. Incorporate core values into performance reviews. 

To truly embed core values into the culture, they should be used as a measurement tool for assessing employee behaviors. For example, the WorkDove performance review tool utilizes the Performance-Values Matrix where the y-axis measures performance objectives and the x-axis measures core values/workplace behaviors. This ensures employees are evaluated fairly and holistically, eliminating potential bias and providing a well-rounded representation of the employee’s efforts.

3. Utilize a simple recognition tool. 

For maximum efficiency and to avoid extra work for busy HR leaders, high-performing organizations lean on intuitive, user-friendly recognition program software. When choosing a preferred vendor, organizations should consider a tool that allows users to give and receive recognition to and from employees at all levels. Perhaps most importantly, employees should be able to recognize others based on company core values, like Courage or Communication. When core values are the foundation of recognition, it promotes a standard set of behaviors and creates a shared language amongst team members.

The platform should also include ways to celebrate work anniversaries, birthdays, and other personal and professional milestones. In today’s world of consolidation, organizations might consider using a recognition tool that integrates with other systems. For example, WorkDove’s employee recognition software allows you to recognize team members directly through our Microsoft Teams™ and Slack integrations.

Recognition-MS Teams4. Determine the employee recognition program details. 

The list below highlights key factors to consider when building out an employee recognition program:

  • Budget– Determining the budget for your employee recognition program is crucial to cover a range of reward options, such as team outings, employee gift cards, or cash incentives. The budget should be determined before rolling out a recognition program.  
  • Eligibility– How will people be eligible to receive rewards/awards based on recognition? What are the criteria? Is there a limit?
  • Reward Options– Before launching a recognition program, HR and other leaders must choose the types and/or levels of recognition reward options. Will they all be monetary? Will they be individual and/or team-based? Will they be standardized or personalized?


5. Communicate clear criteria and expectations. 

Communication is a vital but often overlooked aspect of a successful recognition program. Employees at all levels of the organization must understand how recognition works, the benefits of being acknowledged, and feel inspired to both give and receive recognition with the promise of future rewards or accolades. If core values-based recognition will be incorporated into the performance review, employees should know ahead of time. This sets the tone for a culture of appreciation from the start of the review cycle, fostering a positive and rewarding work environment.

4 Tangible Ways to Recognize Employees (With Examples)

Recognizing employees for a job well done and core value displays of behavior is a practice typically associated with public praise. It is, however, worth considering those individuals in the organization who may be uncomfortable with being recognized in front of others and would much rather receive an encouraging word in a one-on-one setting. Though this is the exception, managers of employees in this camp should make a concerted effort to give appropriate praise in private. 

The following list details 4 ways to recognize employees with helpful examples.

1. Monetary Rewards

One of the most common ways to recognize employees is through monetary rewards, such as bonuses, cash, or gift cards. This type of reward provides a direct financial benefit to the employee and reminds them that their presence and work are both valued. Some organizations offer an option to donate to the recipient’s favorite charitable organization, connecting monetary rewards and the act of giving back. According to Hppy, in a study by UK-based Genesis Associates, 85% of workers surveyed said they were motivated by monetary incentives (either individual or team-based) in the short term. Offering monetary rewards is a safe bet!

Example: An organization offers a quarterly bonus program based on individual or team performance, providing employees with a financial incentive to achieve their goals and hold one another accountable.

2. Thank-You Notes

A simple, handwritten note expressing gratitude for an employee’s hard work and dedication goes a long way in making employees feel valued for their efforts. 

Example: The CEO of a company personally writes thank-you notes to employees who have gone above and beyond their work expectations, highlighting specific contributions within each card. 

3. Public Employee Spotlights

Highlighting an individual in front of their peers and leaders not only validates their hard work but also serves as an encouragement to everyone watching. Public praise spurs others on to contribute positive behaviors in hopes they will eventually be recognized as well. Employee spotlights can occur on the company’s social media pages, in team meetings, in the corporate newsletter, or in the company-wide Slack channel. We have even seen a plush company mascot be passed around to live on the desk of the recognized employee for a week. Get creative!

Example: A monthly newsletter to employees and/or customers may feature an employee spotlight section, showcasing an outstanding employee and their accomplishments, along with a brief interview to spotlight their background and areas of expertise.

4. Employee Gifts

Employee gifts go the extra mile by providing something meaningful beyond just dollars. These gifts can range from personalized items, like company-branded merchandise, to experiences or even opportunities for professional development.

Example: As a token of appreciation, a company may gift employees with a ticket to a local concert venue for a performer of their choice. 

Embracing Core Values-Based Employee Recognition

Recognizing employees, publicly and privately, reminds employees that they are an important part of something bigger than themselves. When that appreciation is rooted in a standard set of values and behaviors, it gives team members a point of reference for how to work and act in a way that is aligned with the organization’s mission and vision. 

To cultivate a culture where core values are embraced, high-performing organizations choose to partner with employee recognition program software. Simple technology streamlines the recognition and reward process, making it more accurate, reducing potential bias, and making it more accessible for hybrid and remote employees. By leveraging a digital tool like WorkDove, companies can maximize the impact and effectiveness of their employee recognition program, ultimately leading to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

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