Evolution of Employee Recognition Program

Employee Recognition Program remains to be a dynamic ever-evolving solution to build more contented and productive workforce and workplaces.

The concept of reward and recognition for good performance has been around for centuries. Ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome provide the earliest evidence of the concept being used for exceptional achievement. Since then, the concept of employee recognition program has continued to evolve, with greater emphasis on non-monetary rewards, social Recognition, and peer-to-peer Recognition. Today, companies are increasingly using technology to create more personalized and impactful recognition experiences for employees.

Journey of Employee Recognition

A peek into the past

The modern workplace recognition system, however, really started to take off in the first decade of the 20th century. During the Hawthorne experiments in 1932, Elton Mayo created one of the earliest examples of a formal employee recognition program. While studying the impact of working conditions on staff productivity, Mayo discovered that supervisors’ appreciation and attention were critical in increasing worker motivation and production.

Companies started to pay bonuses and other incentives to employees who reached or surpassed performance targets during the World War II, which led to the expansion of employee recognition programs. Following the war, businesses started implementing more formal recognition programs with standardized criteria for awards and ceremonies to recognize top performers.

In the 1980s, the emphasis on employee recognition evolved from monetary compensation to more symbolic awards like plaques, certificates, and open recognition ceremonies. This was brought on, in part, by a rising understanding of the significance of employee engagement and the function that rewards play in fostering it.

Over the years, employee recognition has evolved into a more comprehensive program that includes formal and informal methods, such as performance-based rewards, social Recognition, and experiential rewards. It has become more strategic and data-driven, emphasizing creating a culture of appreciation and aligning recognition efforts with business goals. 

Nowadays, businesses use technology to create more inclusive and holistic recognition experiences for employees. Digital employee recognition programs enable immediate recognition and increased accessibility to recognition programs for hybrid and global teams.

The Decade of 2000s

In the first decade of 2000, most employee recognition programs focused on conventional, top-down strategies. The programs prioritized material rewards like bonuses, promotions, and certificates. Companies frequently had formal recognition programs that were only available during annual or quarterly events and were connected to specific performance measures. On the spot, informal recognition was less frequent and more likely to occur when supervisors or peers singled out an employee for praise.

The Gallup Organization suggests that despite the popularity of recognition programs, they might not always be successful. In the year before the study, 65% of respondents said they had not been recognized for their work. It was observed that the U.S. economy lost between $250 and $300 billion annually due to disengaged workers. 

Consequently, there was a rising understanding of employee engagement’s significance and the part rewards play in fostering it. Employee recognition was at least seen as the “proper” thing to do by the majority of firms. Even though its primary goal remained to encourage and reinforce superior performance and increased productivity. Several businesses began implementing more social and hands-on forms of appreciation, like team-building activities and special thank-you notes. With the introduction of online platforms and tools for organizing and tracking recognition initiatives, technology was also beginning to play a more significant role in Recognition.

Era of 2010s

Employee recognition program saw substantial changes between 2010 and 2020. Companies started putting more of an emphasis on non-cash rewards, including social Recognition, chances for professional growth, and work-life balance. They came to understand the importance of fostering an appreciation culture.

Observations from the time

Knee-jerk reactions

Provide chances to get to know your employees better, and thereby come up with a personalized rewards program that’s perfect for each one of them.


A move ahead

Building a structural framework for understanding recognition practices and their practical application in the workplace. With the development of mobile and social media platforms during this time, technology became even more critical in employee recognition. Recognition became more digitized and prompt, making recognition programs more accessible to teams working remotely or internationally.

Another significant development was the change from periodic or annual ceremonies to continuous, memorable appreciation. Peer-to-peer recognition platforms were widely adopted by businesses so that staff members could acknowledge one another’s contributions in real-time. Additionally, companies have begun to use data analytics to assess how recognition affects employee performance and engagement and to guide the creation of recognition programs.

A shift in approach

Employee recognition has developed over the past few years, with an increased emphasis on individualization, personalization, and empowerment. Companies have shifted toward decentralized, flexible recognition systems where staff members have more control over when and how they acknowledge colleagues.

Open communication

Creating Virtual recognition ideas: Digital nurturing

Utilizing artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technology to boost recognition programs’ effectiveness and efficiency is becoming more and more critical. It is essential to create a virtual recognition program that caters to hybrid as well as the global workforce. This involves applying machine learning and data analytics to give more individualized and targeted recognition while also understanding employee preferences and behavior better.

Making recognition a habit

Habit development is the process by which new habits "become automatic".

Regularly recognizing your staff and developing it as a habit will promote engagement and support to create a positive workplace environment. In tune with the rationale, recognition must be spontaneous and closely linked to the whole employee experience to improve the physical, mental, and emotional welfare of employees. Numerous businesses now routinely incorporate recognition into their health and employee support programs

2023 & ahead

An international perspective

A mutual management

In response to the dynamic workplace culture, there is a tendency toward a corporate model of participation. Traditional recognition programs are being replaced with “Managed Mutual Recognition Programs,” which integrate alternate and flexible modes.

We see a need for contextual adaptive recognition programs pertinent to the fluidity of the workplace, the organization’s changing ethos, and the workforce’s overall health. Programs will be more closely in line with company culture and values, giving workers a greater sense of belonging.

How does the future of Recognition look

The future of employee recognition program is likely to be more dynamic, personalized, and impactful, with a focus on creating a positive employee experience that drives engagement, productivity, and retention.

Futuristic Recognition will be Value-oriented

The programs will be intentional in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. They will incorporate principles such as cultural sensitivity, fairness, and accessibility, emphasizing collaborations and experiences. Peer-to-peer Recognition will become more widespread, with employees empowered to recognize and reward their colleagues more frequently and in more diverse ways.

Treat the employee holistically, as a person, not just a worker

Employee Recognition programs will become more tailored and personalized. With data analytics and artificial intelligence, the program will deliver recognition in a way that is most meaningful to individual employees aiding well-being with personal and professional growth. The programs will be inclusive and empowering, focusing on creating a culture of appreciation that drives employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance.

Accelerate towards Digital-first programs

Technology-enabled recognition will continue to play an essential role in employee recognition. Data-driven and integrated programs will adopt virtual and augmented reality, chatbots, gamification, and other innovative solutions to create more engaging and interactive recognition experiences.

The future of employee recognition is promising, and exciting changes are likely to continue. The bottom line remains to build a more contented and productive workforce.