Employee Awards Criteria

Award and recognition programs encourage employee engagement, motivation, retention and teamwork.
Award and recognition programs encourage employee engagement, motivation, retention and teamwork. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Employee award programs are a way to say thank you to workers who deserve it. Awards are not an expense; they are an investment that rewards and reinforces desired employee behaviors and results the organization values. Kouzes and Posner, in their book “Encouraging the Heart,” write that “what gets rewarded, gets repeated." Award programs also build employee engagement by showing workers they are valued and make a contribution to the organization.


The purpose of an employee award program must be clearly defined and communicated. For the program to be successful, its purpose must be tied to organization or department goals, mission or values. The program should focus on the behaviors and types of performance the organization wants to encourage. For example, an award program for a customer service call center would focus on factors, such as the number of rings required to answer a call, the duration of the call, or the number and type of complaints about call center staff.


An employee awards or recognition program may include several award categories, each of which has its own criteria and reward structure. Whenever possible, awards should be based on measurable criteria. An exemplary performance category identifies a particular type of noteworthy performance, such as making suggestions to improve the quality of products or services or doing something that saves the company money. Spot awards recognize effort above and beyond the call of duty -- for example, working with a customer on a difficult problem until it is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. With peer recognition awards, employees thank their coworkers for helping them with projects or problems. Longevity awards, usually given in five-year increments, recognize employees’ years of service to the organization.


Eligibility criteria for awards programs must be clearly defined, including who is eligible for each award category. The criteria must be specific to avoid confusion or misunderstanding. Some award categories may be limited to certain departments or employee classifications, while other categories may be open to all workers. For example, only full-time employees with at least 90 days of employment are eligible for exemplary awards, while all employees are eligible for peer recognition awards.

Nominating Process

Develop and communicate a process by which employees may be nominated for awards, including the time frame for nominations and awards announcements. Determine who can submit a nomination, if the nomination process is confidential and what information is required for the nomination.

Decision-Making Authority

Who will review the nominations and make the award decisions? Will the decision maker be an executive, a manager, a human resources representative or a committee? Each award category may have its own decision maker. Each decision maker should have criteria and examples for evaluating the nominations. Peer recognition awards may be managed at the team or department level and presented in a regular staff meeting.


Clear, concise and frequent communication is essential for an effective employee awards or recognition program. Employees need to know the criteria for the award, the nominating process and time frame. They need to know exactly why they are receiving an award.

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