Most executives acknowledge that a rewards and recognition (R&R) program is the backbone of employee engagement and culture. But very few care to address the elephant in the room – identifying and choosing the right technology to deliver and drive the program!

The traditional concept of giving incentives and rewards to employees has now evolved to serve a multi-generational workforce. Enterprises must leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) and analytics-based, user-friendly, and feature-rich technology to deliver holistic employee R&R experiences in real-time.

Easier said than done, given the thousands of employee rewards and recognition software and platforms mushrooming rapidly in the market!

So how do you identify the right technology to drive your rewards and recognition initiatives? By ensuring that it ticks all the checkboxes.

“Recognition and rewards programs live and die by their use, organizational alignment and internal support. Application leaders can avoid costly failures by focusing on the complete solution…” - Gartner

How to choose the right employee rewards and recognition platform?

“US organizations spend a whopping USD 100 billion each year to fund their rewards and recognition programs, yet a mere 14% feel they have all the tools they need to acknowledge employees.”

Would you call this a clear case of disconnect with employee sentiments or a result of misdirected investment and effort? Whatever the case, it is clear that organizations are missing the mark when it comes to choosing the right R&R technology.

Free Guide: Getting Employee Recognition "Right" [Download Now]

Use the following criteria as a checklist when evaluating any employee rewards and recognition platform, and you can't go wrong!

1. Real-time recognition

A wise person once said, "Recognition delayed is recognition denied!" Prompt recognition has a massive impact on employee engagement and translates directly to productivity. Any R&R technology you implement must reinforce the moments that matter to your employees.

  • Employee recognition - A simple thank you note, a pat on the back, applause on the floor, verbal praise, or an appreciation email is an excellent start to expressing gratitude and motivating an employee, but an R&R solution can offer so much more. It can reinforce good behavior by linking the program with company values; categorize recognition into various buckets like monetary, non-monetary, spot, and nomination-based and increase participation through social recognition actions like 'high-fives,' emojis, GIFs, images, videos, comments, and +1s; encourage peer-to-peer recognition and even celebrate career milestones like onboarding, service anniversary, retirement, etc.; gamify recognition with custom leaderboards, and analyze the trends and reports to generate actionable program insights.
  • Employee rewards- A timely and meaningful reward for exceptional performance, reward automation for birthdays and anniversaries, performance rewards for achieving and exceeding work targets and goals are just some of the ways to reward an employee and show them you care. Use scores, badges, and custom leaderboards to maintain healthy competition amongst peers; use a custom global catalog to offer gifts, experiences, and donations as reward options; and track your rewards program with measurable metrics and real-time data.
  • Employee communication -  A popup alert; a feed with announcements about customer wins, employee milestones, and performance awards prompting congratulatory messages from across the organization; there are several ways to create stronger connections between employees and frequently communicate through the R&R platform.
  • Employee surveys - Surveys are the hallmarks of a good R&R tool. Look for a tool that allows you to gather feedback on your R&R initiatives and gain insights into what's working and what's not, so you can continuously improve your program using employee inputs.

2. Types of recognition

Recognition isn't just about giving your employee a generic gift or token for their service anniversary. It's about acknowledging, recognizing, and celebrating every employee's unique contribution and personality and what each one brings to the table. A gold watch or an engraved plaque is so passe!

  • Monetary - Show your employees that you are invested in their success and career growth by choosing a platform that allows monetary rewards like gift cards, merchandise, experiences, and more, offers a global catalog, cash bonuses, sales incentives, and stock options.
  • Non-monetary - These are just as effective as monetary rewards in incentivizing and encouraging employees, so pick a platform that allows non-monetary recognition through chat, email, social shoutouts, internal meetings, and newsletter contributions.
  • Spot - The platform must allow spot awards for in-the-moment appreciation to keep recognition frequent and meaningful because recognition delayed is recognition denied. Spot awards help to shorten the recognition nomination and approval process and keep it democratic.
  • Nomination-based - Allowing nomination-based recognition helps organizations create a consistent process. Specific types of awards may require oversight by the leadership to ensure they produce the maximum impact on everyone in the organization.

3. Automation & personalization

In today's workplace culture of instant gratification, cloud-based R&R platforms that incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Predictive Analytics to deliver interactive and personalized experiences are a cut above the rest.

  • Email notifications – A timely email can be a powerful tool to deliver happiness after a milestone achievement, a customer appreciation, or a personalized thank-you note. Email notifications can be used to announce, inform, or communicate recognitions and serve as reminders nudging individuals to make recognition a larger celebratory event.
  • Chatbots – A good platform should have an intelligent, integrated chatbot to capture real-time feedback from peers or leaders, provide instant answers to common questions, update progress, or speed up the R&R cycle by tackling complex issues.
  • Actionable insights (Analytics) –  Automation features should allow companies to turn data from employee surveys into actionable insights. Historical data and performance analytics allow HR and leaders to make informed decisions for improving and personalizing employee experiences across the R&R cycle.

4. Analytics

Data is at the heart of any rewards and recognition program. Analytics, historical data, and reports help you gauge the program's adoption, engagement, and success. These also provide valuable insights on how to design a holistic R&R program that can evolve over time.

  • Intelligent reports – Admin and budget reports from the tool/platform help in calculating the ROI of the program, adoption levels, and its overall impact on employee performance.
  • Actionable insights – Usage insights and historical data can be analyzed to help the company adjust and improve the program.
  • Personalization – Survey reports, feedback forms, and other data can help the organization tailor the rewards and recognition to individual preferences.

5. For SMB/Enterprise

The size of the business has a significant role in the choice of the R&R solution – what works for an SMB with less than 1000 employees might not be suitable for a global enterprise with more than 10,000 employees spread across geographies.

  • SMB – A small or medium business where awards and motivation hold a greater significance might need a self-sustaining R&R solution with lesser but more customizable features.
  • Enterprise – A large enterprise with global, hybrid teams might require feature-rich rewards and recognition software with extensive rewards catalogs, automation, access, and personalization features.

6. Pricing

When investing in their employees, organizations should carefully compare (haste makes waste) and pick the right R&R solution that suits their business needs and aligns with their long-term vision. A rewards and recognition software should ideally include Rewards, Recognition, Surveys, Communication features, Integrations, Analytics, System features, Security and Compliance, Billing, and Support.

  • Monthly plan – If you're evaluating/testing different R&R software to find the best fit, a monthly plan might be the way to go. Compare and choose the right option with the features you need, and once you find the best R&R solution for your organization, switch to a long-term plan.
  • Annual plan – For an SMB with fewer employees, a yearly plan offers better savings (discount). These savings can be utilized for monetary rewards or your awards budget. A word of advice – compare the different sub-plans (basic/pro/premium) to see which one best fits your company and employee's needs.

7. Budget

Choosing the right tool will significantly impact your program budget in terms of how well you can categorize, allocate, and manage your awards and rewards budget platform. A strategic approach to budgeting will help simplify the process of giving monetary rewards and awards from the R&R platform. The idea is to reward your employees without going broke doing it!

  • General-purpose budget - This is a default budget that's auto-created and can be allocated for the overall program; this can be used across R&R initiatives for rewards or to transfer points to other budgets within the program. This budget is linked to all awards and usually has no validity/time limitation.
  • Custom or special-purpose budget – On the other hand, a custom budget can be carved out of the general budget for a specific purpose or shared by a different budget owner. For instance, rewards and gifts would have a specific budget – the amount of money allocated for each option would differ.

8. For hybrid teams

In a modern workplace, where hybrid teams are the norm rather than an anomaly, any R&R initiative has to factor in field-based employees, employees spread across global offices, and employees split between remote and in-office teams. Recognizing the excellent work and performance of distributed teams requires a well-planned approach. The idea is to foster connectivity through psychology rather than physical means.

  • Implement a digital platform – A digital rewards and recognition platform with a responsive web, desktop, and mobile app is the easiest way to facilitate connectivity in hybrid teams. It bridges the gap between onsite and remote employees and allows them to switch between devices on the go. A location-agnostic tool also gives company-wide visibility to the people being recognized and rewarded.
  • Enable peer-to-peer recognition – In a hybrid working environment, the ability to thank, acknowledge and appreciate co-workers from anywhere in the world fosters a sense of camaraderie, which is significant given that team members might not get to meet each other physically.
  • Recognize team and personal milestones – Teams that work in a hybrid environment (onsite and remote locations) might feel left out from the social events at the office. It is vital to bring everyone together in a single place online and involve them in company-wide celebrations for every small and big win. You can engage and motivate everyone, irrespective of their physical location, through team and personal awards and celebrations like birthdays, work anniversaries, and milestones using a single, digital platform.

9. For blue-collar/white-collar employees

Why should you differentiate between blue- and white-collar employees in your R&R program? To ensure that the reward is equally distributed between the two simultaneously, commensurate with the achievement or occasion. In the race for success, the company should ensure that both sections of employees are equally engaged, recognized, and rewarded – it's their collective contributions that enable the organization to reach the pinnacle.

  • White-collar employees – The management teams, the upper echelons comprising the C-suites, and executives are the ones who give the company strategic direction and steer it towards a greater goal. Their needs differ from regular employees – white-collar employees look for job security, peer relations, supervisory roles, status, working environment – a $50 gift card won't cut it! The R&R solution should factor in those differences.
  • Blue-collar employees – The regular employees – the blue-collar workers who do hands-on work - are often misunderstood and underestimated. But it is this class that needs to be understood and appropriately engaged as their contribution directly affects productivity, quality of work, retention, and business success. A good R&R solution should offer a multitude of customizable reward and recognition options for blue-collar employees. But more importantly, it should offer deskless blue-collar workers, working remotely or on the go, an equal chance to access and contribute to the R&R program virtually, through web and mobile apps. This would prevent them from missing out on important R&R updates, events, and announcements and offer them greater visibility in the organization.

10. Multi-lingual, Multi-currency support

To cater to a global, multi-generational workforce from different geographies and demographics, organizations need to invest in R&R solutions that offer multi-lingual, multi-currency support.

  • Multi-lingual – In a global company, there might be teams and individuals working from different countries speaking several languages using a single, organization-wide rewards and recognition tool. Without multi-lingual support, a tool with an interface specific to the Netherlands will seem like Double Dutch for a Russian employee!
  • Multi-currency – An R&R tool with local currency support will not work for a global organization with employees in diverse locations. Someone in Spain will have no use for a gift card issued in Australia and loaded with Australian dollars!

11. Integrations

R&R solutions that seamlessly integrate with a wide range of work tools make it easier for HR and employees to connect, recognize, reward, engage, and share feedback in the flow of work. A spot award announcement on Slack or MS Teams would brighten any employees' day!

  • Communication and collaboration (including productivity and project management) – Most organizations use communication and collaboration tools like Workspace (GSuite), Zapier, JIRA, Outlook, Gmail, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Duo, etc., to connect, communicate, and collaborate within the company. Integrating the rewards and recognition platform with these tools makes it easier for the company to deliver employee surveys, recognition, and rewards from within these tools, track employee performance and productivity and link it to personalized R&R initiatives.
  • Single sign-on (including social media platforms) – Integrating Google Workspace, Azure AD, Bitium, Okta SSO (Inbound SAML), LinkedIn, Workplace by Facebook, Amazon, etc., will allow the company to enable one-click access through the R&R platform.
  • HRIS/HRMS (AD, time tracking, payroll) Different organizations use one or several tools like Workday, MS Azure, Inbound SFTP, Keka, Darwinbox, Namely, Timely, Toggl Track, SCHM, Zoho People, Bamboo HR, etc., for automating and connecting different HRIS/HRMS operations. Integrating them with an R&R solution will centralize employee data and improve engagement on every level.

12. Mobile/Desktop app

Feature-rich mobile and desktop apps make it easier for both employees and employers to access the rewards and recognition platforms anywhere (it doesn't have to be from the office computer!) anytime, thereby increasing participation and user adoption. Websites that use web servers are sometimes slow to load and crowded with menus, tabs, and content. In contrast, mobile and desktop applications are built to be clean, intuitive, and easy to navigate, offering users select (but essential) functionality.

  • Mobile app – Most R&R solutions come with a mobile application that can be downloaded from 'app stores' like iTunes and Google Play. A seamless, intuitive, and responsive UI makes it easy for employees to see their rewards and recognition alerts, recognize their peers in real-time, stay connected with everyone, and redeem reward points and gift vouchers on the go. Some apps can even work offline (limited features) and offer the agility we need in today's world.
  • Desktop app – A desktop app on a laptop or PC allows employees to access and use the R&R platform without relying on internet connectivity. The most common argument in favor of desktop apps is that they are faster and more responsive than web apps since they derive their speed from the laptop/PC they're on.

13. Server location

Server location affects the quality, speed, flexibility, and scalability of the R&R software and the kind of program you offer your employees – Do they have to be in the office, on an official network to access the platform? Can they use the software on the go? For the company, the choice between cloud or on-premise comes down to efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness.

  • On-premise – An on-premise R&R solution may not be as agile and scalable as a cloud-based one, but it does have its advantages. A cloud-based system may or may not offer the requisite features and customizations of an on-premise platform, provided the company has the space and IT department needed to maintain it.
  • Cloud-based – An on-demand, cloud-based R&R platform with multi-tenanted architecture, saves space, money and provides anytime-anywhere access; eliminates the problem of data loss, overhead costs, and depreciating hardware values; automates data entry, can be scaled up or down as per the business requirements and ensures real-time updates as and when changes are made. Saving infrastructure costs allows organizations to dedicate that budget to upgrading and enhancing their program.

14. Maintenance and configuration

While there are a lot of R&R solutions floating in the market, the most popular ones are agile, easy to set up, configure and maintain. They come with detailed documentation and easy DIY guides to install and configure the software.

  • Maintenance – A feature and functionality-rich R&R platform might lose some of its charms if it's not easy to use and maintain. The idea is for HR, executives, and employees to use it without reaching out to IT for every change or update!
  • Configuration - A simple set-up and configuration with guided documentation goes a long way in lending credibility and raising the value of an R&R platform in the market. A set-up guide for admins, a quick-start for users, and step-by-step guides for managing the platform are the essential requisites.

15. Security & data privacy

There's a significant emphasis on security and data privacy for any R&R software, and for a good reason! An R&R platform provider has to ensure complete security and confidentiality of all employee data, financial and otherwise, as the smallest breach can lead to an expensive disaster for the tool provider and the company using that tool.

  • Security –  Organizations looking to buy an R&R software with stringent security measures should look for the highest level of encryption to protect data, including services like SSH keys, SSL, HTTPS, TLS. This prevents unauthorized access and ensures maximum security across the network and systems.
  • Data privacy – Since the R&R platform will label, handle, store, transmit, retain, and dispose of business-critical data and employee information, it must follow a published, standard security and privacy procedure to prevent leakage. Applicable data privacy laws and legislations include EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679, California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), The Privacy Act 1988 (Australia) Data Protection Act 2018 (UK), Information Technology Act 2000 along with the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011.

16. Compliance

Depending on the country where the R&R tool is used, it has to incorporate the necessary compliances and align to best leading practices, federal/state/international, and regulatory laws, including ISO, GDPR, SOC-2, VAPT, InfoSec, etc.

  • ISO – The International Organization for Standardization is a global standard used for ensuring data quality, privacy, and enterprise Master Data. The current requirement is for ISO/IEC 27001:2013, which protects confidentiality, integrity, and data availability.
  • VAPT - Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT) is an essentially mandatory security assessment and validation service to identify possible vulnerabilities in the network. It is used in conjunction with the risk assessment and treatment of ISO27001.
  • SOC-2 Type II – A certification and compliance policy for auditing procedures, SOC-2 sets the standards for managing customer data based on security, processing integrity, availability, privacy, and confidentiality.
  • InfoSec – Information Security policies ensure the correct management and administration of the Information Security Management System (ISMS).
  • GDPR – The General Data Protection Regulation is a relatively recent data privacy regulation for protecting and handling the data of EU-based residents.
  • EU-US privacy shield – Applicable mainly to transatlantic data transfers, the EU-US privacy shield aims to protect the legal rights of those in the EU whose personal data is transferred to the US.

Using technology to rethink modern R&R initiatives

If you want to use a holistic approach to designing your R&R program, you need a rewards and recognition platform or technology with a choice selection of features. One that personalizes the rewards and recognition and harnesses the power of advanced technology to deliver real-time experiences to employees.

“65% companies who use an external vendor found ‘excellent’ value in their recognition program.”
Guide to implementing employee rewards and recognition programs