The Crucial Employee Awards Opportunity You’re Probably Missing

March 20, 2024 by David Parry
Ruggable Custom Lucite Employee Recognition Award

It’s understandable that employee awards and recognition programs might have taken on added significance during the past several years.

After all, employee engagement is a very real and immediate workplace challenge. A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that only 13% of American employees could be described as “engaged”.

And that article was written in 2018.

In other words, that finding was made before the onset of COVID-19.

That also puts it before the whole litany of pandemic-borne trends that have since become so familiar to organizations globally. These include dispersed staffs, hybrid work arrangements, quiet quitting, the Great Resignation etc.

But two other things stand out about that HBR article.

The first involves the impact of that simple statistic. The article notes that disengaged employees cost American companies alone a staggering amount: $450 billion to $550 billion annually.

The other finding that might have real implications for your employee recognition program is the root cause cited for this critical lack of employee engagement.

And it’s not a lack of interest or attention.

Saw-Themed Crystal Employee Award

A great example of employee awards aligning with an organization’s brand. Georgia-based Swift Straw prides itself on its innovative, disruptive approach to a once-sleepy industry. This distinctive award departs from the usual default, off-the-shelf “recognition awards”.

The Overlooked Element in Most Employee Awards: Branding

And it’s certainly not for lack of effort—or commitment of resources.

The article notes that organizations annually spend an astounding $100 billion on employee engagement.

“The reason why most engagement efforts fall short”, the article continues, “is that they’re designed to cultivate employees’ commitment in generic, general ways”.

If you’re looking for a ready example of this kind of uninspired, cookie-cutter approach to employee engagement, you can often find it in an organization’s approach to employee recognition.

The failure is actually on two levels.

Not only do most organizations fail to inspire with their recognition programs.  They also fail to do so in a way that advances—and reinforces—the organizational brand.

Employee Awards

An employee award celebrating FDA approval of Cosela—and incorporating an actual vial of the cancer drug. The effect gives the award heightened perceived value among recipients while advancing the company’s product and brand.

The Two Flaws of Most Employee Awards

Recognition programs (both internal ones for employees and external ones aimed at, for instance, donors) tend to miss the mark in two important ways.

First, the awards and recognition pieces distributed have no identity.

They’re interchangeable and generic—in the truest sense. They’ve merely been plucked off a shelf in some factory storeroom and personalized only to the extent of engraving (or adding an engraved plate) with the recipient’s name.

Hours or even minutes later, another piece of the same design will be taken from that very same shelf and will be used for yet another menu-driven recognition program for some other, entirely different organization.

And that’s exactly what makes these “awards” such an easy choice. Yes, they could be used for your organization; but they could also be used for virtually every other organization on the face of the earth.

The Other Failing of Most Employee Recognition

Another common shortcoming of recognition programs is that they are too formulaic and inflexible.

They tend only to recognize a predetermined set of thresholds and milestones, such as years of service.

Make no mistake, recognizing and rewarding longevity and organizational loyalty is crucial, and we design years-of-service awards all the time.

But the failing here is that some organizations only take the opportunity to recognize employees at these preset times and occasions.

The missed opportunity results in the very aspects of organizational culture and identity that should be celebrated getting overlooked.

Innovation, for instance, might be a crucial part of your organizational identity. That said, do you regularly recognize and reward efforts and achievements linked to that defining aspect of your identity? Do you, for example, meaningfully recognize instances of innovation, such as product development milestones, FDA approvals, patent awards etc.?

Identity and brand consist of more than a logo or slogan; they should also encapsulate the traits and characteristics that define—and differentiate—-your organization.

This is precisely what the HBR article calls for: what it terms “employee brand engagement”. “The goal”, it notes, “is to make sure employees know what the brand stands for and are committed to reinforcing it with their actions”.

KFC Custom Employee Bucket Award

A custom employee award that leverages an iconic brand symbol: the KFC “bucket”.

Employee Awards that Actually Advance Your Brand

So how can you incorporate this kind of branding into your employee awards and recognition pieces?

What you don’t have to do is spend huge amounts of time and money on awards designed for your organizations—awards that might also prove to appear both extravagant and even garish.

The types of custom award touches that can truly distinguish your brand can be relatively simple. They can play off the shape of your logo, or even more subtly, the colors of your logo (something not always easy to capture); or they may communicate something distinctive about your products or services, or your organizational mission.

A great example of employee awards not only reflecting but actually advancing an organization’s brand and culture is Swift Straw. The fast-growing Georgia-based company has prided itself on being an innovator (and disruptor) of the previously sleepy and obscure pine straw industry. (For confirmation of this, just check out one of their commercials ).

The saw-themed employee award shown above is consistent with that brand. It ties together one of the company’s primary pieces of equipment and the whole idea of honing and refining skills. It’s hard to imagine a company that has made innovation so central to its mission opting for awards that were generic and interchangeable.

Aligning with Your Organization’s Brand

You don’t have to do is conform to some vendor’s inflexible menu of tired, well-worn “awards”. By opting for default selections from off-the-shelf designs, you miss the opportunity to reinforce your brand. You also miss the opportunity to infuse your employee awards with additional perceived value and cachet.

At The Corporate Presence, we’ve been designing and providing these kinds of awards for over 40 years. We can offer you designs tailored to your organization’s brand and identity. Reach out to us today.

David Parry is the Director of Digital Strategy for The Corporate Presence, and for Prestige Custom Awards, a designer and provider of custom corporate awards ranging from creative employee and client recognition pieces to the N.F.L. Commissioner’s Awards, and ESPN’s ESPY awards.


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