4 Companies That Have Nailed Their Employee Recognition Strategy


Leading companies understand the invaluable efforts of their workers and the importance of acknowledging it regularly. In this article, we offer four examples of exceptional employee recognition strategies:

  • Zappos’ peer-to-peer rewards program
  • Recognition as part of change management at GE Healthcare 
  • The thoughtful use of thank you notes at E.ON
  • Apple’s considerate paid-time-off reward for a global workforce

Strategic employee recognition is now widely recognized as a useful tool to engage, motivate, and appreciate the workforce. Organizations now realize this, and they are increasing their investment in recognition tech, with 32% of companies having dedicated recognition budgets in 2019Opens a new window compared to 21% in 2015. 

But are traditional methods such as work anniversary celebrations and personal milestone acknowledgments enough? Leading companies across the world use strategic employee recognition to reinforce their employer brand as well as boost productivity. Let’s look at four examples of exceptional employee recognition strategies that illustrate how this HR element can play a significant role in organizational success.

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What Is Employee Appreciation? Definition, Strategies, and Ideas, With ExamplesOpens a new window

4 Standout Examples of Employee Recognition

Several organizations have some form of the recognition program, but the results aren’t exactly as expected. Less than half of companies are fully satisfied with the outcomes of their employee recognition strategies as per the report cited above. 

By inspiring from companies known for employee centricity and workplace experience quality, HR teams can transform their recognition models. Here are four companies to inspire you on this journey. 

1. Zappos offers a four-pronged employee rewards program

Zappos is a multinational e-commerce chain with a sizeable workforce. The company is also known for its culture focus, with an independent entity called Zappos’ Insights built to share the company’s core values with a global audience. 

Zappos’ rewards program Opens a new window is layered, but it stays in sync with the company’s motto of “doing more with less.” Their strategic employee recognition approach is based on a peer-to-peer formatOpens a new window , with employees sharing low-cost, high-frequency rewards with each other

Employees can earn “Zappos Dollars” for training participation, either as learners or volunteers. These dollars are redeemable in the office via branded vending machines. Employees can also donate these dollars to a Zappos partner charity.

Their employee recognition strategy is unique in that it factors in personalized needs according to the office location. At the company’s Las Vegas premises, getting a covered parking spot can be a challenge. Once a week, employees can nominate a colleague for a special parking spot that is designated as a “reward.”

Apart from this, there are also peer-to-peer bonuses and HERO awards, with a Zappos HERO Cape thrown in!

2. GE Healthcare embeds recognition into a cultural refresh 

GE realized that continued engagement would be key to sustaining the impact of organizational change. That’s why, after the company restructured its manufacturing site between 2010 and 2014, it doubled down on its engagement and recognition efforts.

Continuous communication was integral to employee recognition, resulting in the creation of an Employee Forum for continued collaboration. 

There were also weekly meetings that took a creative spin on regular employee-manager check-ins. A wall-mounted dashboard highlighted performance and achievements. Friday meetings were held at the site’s restaurant, in a comfortable environment for employees.

Finally, employee recognition was formalized as part of monthly team briefs, and six-word success stories of employees’ were publicly presented as posters.

GE’s strategic employee recognition Opens a new window was part of its holistic change management plan, ensuring employees felt secure after a major organizational shift. 

3. E.On strategically used the simple thank you note 

Effective employee rewards don’t always have to be expensive or effort-intensive. The German utility company E.On applied this principle to optimize its staff engagement levelsOpens a new window . The company introduced a Buzz recognition program that encouraged personalized recognitions via digital and physical thank you notes. 

This employee recognition strategy cut across organizational hierarchies, with recipients getting “thank yous” from managers and peers alike. Leadership teams were also brought into the scheme, with senior executives personally recognizing close to a thousand employees. And the results speak for themselves:

  • E.On’s staff motivation score increased from 61% to 69%
  • The number of employees “feeling valued” increased by 39% to 52% 
  • Employee understanding of E.On’s business vision also rose from 57% to 75%


This example illustrates the broader impact of intelligent reward mechanisms.  The sheer personalization and employee centricity of their rewards made the outcomes exceptional. 

4. Apple ensures paid time off for everyone 

Apple has always enjoyed a pretty high ranking when it comes to workplace experience. In 2018, Indeed named Apple the best private-sector employer in the U.KOpens a new window . LinkedIn ranked it the sixth-best company to work for in the U.S.Opens a new window Of course, part of this experience management plan is Apple’s stellar employee recognition strategy. 

For example, during the holiday season, Apple surprised its employees with an extended holiday so that the entire workforce could take a week’s break. Instead of just one day off on Thanksgiving, Apple decided to offer paid holidaysOpens a new window for three days in a row. 

In addition to this, Apple thoughtfully customized the reward as per an employee’s location and job role. Workers in a different part of the world would get paid time off during an equivalent holiday. Retail workers who continued to put in efforts during the holiday season (a peak demand period) would receive a similar reward at an alternate time. 

Two key elements stand out in Apple’s strategic employee recognition: 

  • First, Apple understood and recognized the efforts of the entire workforce as integral to the company’s success. This directly links individual job roles to the broader business model.
  • Second, the reward was tailored to meet regional, cultural, and personal requirements. Employees could enjoy their reward and feel valued regardless of the location of their office.


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Closing Thoughts: Why the Time for Smarter Rewards Is Now 

In a competitive job market, where top talent is ready to switch roles if they see a genuine value addition elsewhere, a smart employee recognition strategy can make a big difference. These leading companies are prepared to show that they genuinely care about their workforce

Rewards and recognition are a great investment for companies of every size, motivating their employees to become “growth partners.” Inspired by these examples of strategic employee recognition, you could rewire your engagement plans for continued success in the near and the long term. 

Have you considered a new employee recognition strategy for 2020? Share your plans with us on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We would love to hear your perspective!