By Gitta Haßenbürger & Janneke Roelofs, HR Auditors, Top Employers Institute
By Gitta Haßenbürger & Janneke Roelofs, HR Auditors, Top Employers Institute

Inside the mind of the HRD: Rewards & Recognition

Although 2020 was a year that changed everything for most businesses, some changes were more obvious than others. The rapid move to working from home and the acceleration towards doing business online captured the headlines. Behind the scenes, however, many of our Top Employers have been engaged in a quieter, but no less significant, revolution. Employers are using reward and (in particular) recognition to transform themselves from managing the employee experience to understanding and supporting their broader life experience.

Maslow, reward, and recognition

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a familiar concept for many HRDs. It is very relevant to the changes we are currently seeing in rewards and recognition. Each of its levels, from basic physiological needs at the bottom to more sophisticated needs of self-actualisation at the top, must be achieved in turn.

In the scope of Rewards & Recognition, there are similar forces at work. Among Top Employers, extrinsic rewards, in the form of competitive pay and benefits, have long since been established as the basis for attracting and keeping talent. Employees, however, now want a more holistic approach, with intrinsic drivers, such as career development, meaningful work and a sense of purpose, coming increasingly to the fore.

It is in these upper levels where recognition for great work done comes into its own. Recognition is the act of publicly acknowledging people for who they are and what they do and so the importance of leaders, managers and other workers recognising each other’s achievements can only make any workplace feel more inclusive and drive engagement and productivity. Recognition is relational, personal and spontaneous. The need for recognition may be intangible, but its value is priceless.

Recognition for all

Top Employers know that in a best practice environment, anyone should be able to give recognition to anybody else. This has become crucially important during the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders, managers and employees have inevitably started to see one another from very different perspectives by understanding their life at home a little better. This in turn is driving HR policy in a number of other areas, such as wellbeing and family-friendly policies, and recognition acts as the catalyst in making these and other HR priorities easier to achieve.

Our latest research surveying 1 691 Top Employers worldwide shows that nearly all participating organisations have a well-thought through Rewards & Recognition strategy in place. These are tailored to the needs of different employee groups, but a truly best practice strategy can link, for example, recognition of an employee’s career development to their commitment to D&I or tie a team’s sense of corporate purpose directly to the sustainability agenda. So recognition, when delivered well, effectively becomes the means through which best practice is delivered.

Peer-to-peer is here

How do Top Employers deliver best practice rewards and recognition? The pandemic has brought with it the impetus for a quicker and more agile approach to both, with technology front and centre of this revolution.

Peer-to-peer recognition is increasingly popular among Top Employers. Leaders and managers are accustomed to giving recognition at pre-determined key moments in the year. But research suggests that employees, and particularly younger ones, would prefer real-time recognition. Therefore, a growing number of Top Employers are starting digital-led programmes to support both formal and informal peer-to-peer recognition.

The pandemic has made the need for encouragement more obvious. With leaders physically disconnected from their direct reports, there is a real risk that good work from team members would otherwise easily go unnoticed and unrecognised. Peer-to-peer recognition means that organisations can make sure recognition filters down to all levels of the workforce.


Olam operates a formal peer-to-peer recognition programme globally, with a strong level of local implementation to suit differing customs and sensitivities.

Allied Technologies has a mobile recognition programme for employees in Brazil that aligns recognition with their organisation competencies.

Computacenter has an interactive, social reward and recognition mobile app, accessible by all employees worldwide.

All three organisations have reported higher levels of interest and engagement through their peer-to-peer platforms.

In summary, recognition is an increasingly potent weapon in the drive to keep teams motivated and engaged. Even so, it is no one-size fits all policy. It is a culturally sensitive topic where the local interpretation is very important. In some cultures, value is placed on acknowledgement while in others gratitude is more closely to financial reward. What is clear, however, is that the rewards employers pay and, increasingly, the new opportunities for recognition will make a lasting impact on business performance in the long term.

Top Employers Institute is the global authority on recognising excellence in people practices. We help organisations accelerate their people practices to enrich the work of work.

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