The Ultimate Guide to Employee Recognition Software: 10 Tips to Find Your Perfect Match

It’s not easy.

Choosing the perfect employee recognition software for your company can be daunting.

The dozens of options make it time consuming. The many features make it hard to figure out what’s important. And what about all the little things you don’t even know to think about?

From our years of experience working with all the major recognition platforms, here are 10 major questions we recommend our clients focus on to find the best possible match for their needs:

1. Does recognition work the way you need?

With recognition being the main feature of an employee recognition platform, this might seem obvious. But, do you actually know what you need from your recognition?

While the act of giving recognition is often simple, recognition can work very differently from platform to platform. So, here are five things to consider:

A. Types of Recognition

Recognition can either be monetary or non-monetary. When monetary recognition is given, it awards money (or points that are worth money) to the recipient. As you might expect, non-monetary recognition does not award money of any kind.

Additionally, recognition can either be peer-to-peer or top-down. Peer-to-peer recognition means employees can give recognition to each other, whereas top-down recognition means recognition is instead only given by managers to employees.

Every employee recognition software offers some combination of these types of recognition. Some can do any combination of the four while others will be some combination of two or three options. The recognition software companies tend to have strong opinions on what combination is “best”, but what ultimately matters is how you want to structure your program.

B. Recognition Content

One of the seemingly small things that influences a recognition program’s engagement level is how much a user can jazz up their recognition.

A large library of emojis and gifs as well as the ability to add your own images and videos goes a long way to be being able to create engaging recognition. This can make it fun to give, receive, and interact with recognition. The ability to add attachments or links can also be a boon.

C. Recognition Interactivity

Another influential factor on engagement level is how other users can interact with a piece of recognition.

Can they comment on it? Can they “like” it or provide other emoji reactions? Can they add on points to the recognition in agreement? Maybe they can share it to a social network like LinkedIn at the click of a button?

In this way, recognition can be reminiscent of a social media post. Just like on social media, the ability for your community to rally around your recognition can be a dopamine rush.

D. Easy Group Recognition

There could be many times where you need to recognize large, specific groups of users. How easy does the recognition software make this?

What kind of groups would you need to give recognition to? Does the software make it easy to target this entire group so you don’t need to individually add them to the recognition?

In the event the users in a group don’t share a common trait such as department or location, are you able to make custom groups so you can quickly pull this group up again at a later time?

E. Flexibility

The more varied your use case, the more flexible you’ll need recognition to be.

For example, perhaps you want users to be able to give private recognition, so that recognition involving sensitive matters can still be given. Or, maybe you want to avoid private recognition to avoid the potential for abuse.

Maybe your workforce isn’t behind a computer and you want the ability to be able to give offline recognition that can still be recorded by the system.

There could be scenarios where you want to send recognition to employees (or third parties) who don’t have an account in your recognition system. Or, what about posting recognition by simply firing off an email while on the run? On the other hand, perhaps you want to be able to schedule recognition in advance so you don’t need fire it off while on the run in the first place?

A common use case for our enterprise clientele is delegation, aka “proxy recognition”. This is the ability for a user to give recognition on behalf of another user. For example, an executive assistant being able to give recognition on behalf of a busy executive. In this case, it would appear as if the recognition is coming directly from the executive.

We recommend only focusing on the flexibility features that will be crucial to your organization and how you want your recognition program to run.

2. Do the points make sense?

By “points” we’re referring to the points allotted to a user, which they can then use to give recognition to others.

Every employee recognition software has a different point system. Some are dead simple while others can be far more convoluted.

Here are four things to keep in mind:

A. Allowances

First, you need to understand how a user’s “allowance” is determined. The allowance is how many points a user is able to give out.

Allowances also typically have a refresh period, which is how long until a user receives their next batch of allowance points.

Some programs require that users have a monthly refresh. Others might allow you to select quarterly or annual refresh periods. And others may have no defaults, requiring you to configure it from the ground up.

You should know how you’ll be assigning allowances and what the refresh period will be when you choose a recognition platform. In addition, also learn what happens to unused points once a refresh occurs. Are the unused points destroyed, rolled over, or returned to a central pot?

B. Allowance Rules

Next, you’ll need to understand how much control you have over users’ allowances.

Can you individually adjust each user’s allowance? Can you automatically assign allowances based on things like job title if you wanted to give all managers a certain allowance, for example? What about dynamically adjusting allowances based on the number of direct reports, so that managers with more reports are granted more allowance?

This kind of thing directly impacts administrative overhead, so you want to be aware of how allowances will be tiered in your organization, if at all.

C. Conversion Rates

Most employee recognition platforms convert points to currency at a ratio of X:1, where X can be between 5-100.

Some platforms will allow you to adjust the ratio however you like or choose from some predefined options. A few have unchangeable ratios.

Bigger ratios, like 100:1, mean users can give seemingly big pieces of recognition, which is more stimulating. However, points can feel less meaningful when a user goes to redeem 100 points that only have a value of $1. Lower ratios have the opposite effect: not as impressive looking when receiving the recognition, but a more accurate representation of the monetary value they’ve earned.

You’ll need to decide which approach is right for your program.

D. Point Breakage

Point breakage refers to paying for allowance points which are ultimately never used, perhaps because an employee was terminated or their balance otherwise expired.

Point breakage has become less common in recent years, as most modern recognition programs find a way to give unused points back to you. But it is still a thing, especially among recognition platforms aimed at enterprise-size businesses.

So, you should understand exactly how points are paid for, under what circumstances you may end up paying for points that are never used, and the implications of this for your organization.

3. How is abuse prevented?

The different recognition platforms will have various means of discouraging or preventing abuse in their system. Such abuses can include two or more users colluding in point schemes, users figuring out how to award themselves points with little oversight, or other loopholes.

A few features to look out for are:

A. Public Feeds

Public recognition feeds, a common feature among recognition software, can can be a strong deterrent to abuse by itself. After all, employees are far less likely to behave poorly when each piece of recognition can be seen by the entire company. But, options for private recognition can negate this, depending on the level of privacy enabled.

B. User Limits

Having limits around how many points a user can award to other individuals could be useful in curbing misuse.

Check if such limits are based on a total amount of points, a percentage of a user’s total allowance, or simply max limits per recognition.

C. Manual Approvals

As mentioned in section 1, recognition can work very differently between platforms. One of the differentiating factors is what kind of approval process exists for recognition. An approval process means one or more users (typically managers and admins) are required to approve the recognition before it will post.

In some cases, there is no approvals process for recognition. Recognition is freely given and can be deleted by admins as needed. This can often make sense in large companies where manual approvals would be impractical.

Other times, only certain kinds of recognition can have an approval process. It’s typically reserved for special kinds of recognition or recognition that awards a large number of points.

Some programs allow you to decide on having an approval process for some or even all recognition based on broad recognition categories, where any recognition belonging to certain categories will require approval.

D. Automated Monitoring

Platforms with automated monitoring look for certain patterns or behaviors to automatically flag suspicious recognition. Get a good feel for what kind of automated checks are in place and how they might impact your administrative overhead.

4. Is the reward catalog a good fit?

Rewards are usually a crucial part of a strong recognition program. As such, nearly all employee recognition software vendors offer a variety of rewards for which users can redeem their points.

However, the options available will differ significantly between vendors. And the flexibility of the rewards are usually not even an afterthought, making it easy to overlook some key functionality you may need.

So, here are a few things to keep top of mind:

A. Types of Rewards

Rewards come in every type, but it’s rare for a platform to have them all and impossible for any platform to do them all well.

Consider carefully what type of rewards will be best for your company: digital gift cards, physical items supplied by the software vendor, physical items from Amazon’s catalog, prepaid debit cards, reloadable debit cards, Paypal cash outs, charitable donations, local experiences like food tours and helicopter rides, concert/show tickets, company-branded merchandise, and company-created custom rewards (e.g. lunch with the CEO, extra day of PTO, etc.).

A big reward catalog with a lot of options may be desirable, but be aware that the bigger and more varied your reward catalog, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong—mostly with users either not receiving their rewards or needing to return them—which can require a bigger administrative time investment.

B. Catalog Customization

Whether your company wants full control over the catalog or doesn’t want the administrative hassle, you’ll want to think about to what extent you need the reward catalog to be customizable.

Can you add/remove rewards? Adjust the denominations for rewards that have multiple choices (e.g. gift cards with multiple options)? Create separate versions of the catalog with hand-picked items?

C. Physical Awards

Not to be confused with physical rewards like an Amazon product, physical awards refer to things like framed certificates, plaques, or gift boxes that can be sent for special occasions, like work anniversaries.

We’ve noticed a trend among our mid-sized clients that are transitioning from an offline recognition program to an online recognition program. Many of them have long-standing award practices that follow this pattern:

  1. Employee achieves something that triggers an award.
  2. Employee receives a pre-defined award item.

For example, a 10-year service award might come with a engraved acrylic plaque. If you have such a program and care about maintaining it like some of our clients, you’ll want to see what the online equivalent would be in the recognition software you’re considering.

D. Flexibility

Different needs demand different options, but unless you already use an online recognition software, you’re probably unaware of what your needs might be when it comes to how rewards work.

Here’s an overview of some of the most common needs we’ve seen among our clients:

  • Giving rewards directly to a recipient instead of only being to able to award points.
  • Gifting rewards to people who don’t have accounts, such as sending rewards to contractors or customers who aren’t actually employees but you’d like to reward anyway.
  • Creating redemption restrictions to prevent certain users from being able to redeem certain rewards. For example, there may be certain regulations around what you can give people who are classified as contractors.
  • Applying limits on the amount of points/rewards that can be redeemed if you need more direct control over what volume of rewards can be redeemed over a period of time.

5. Does it give you the data you need?

The utility of a recognition software’s data reporting capabilities is easy to underestimate. Chances are that you already have an idea of how important data is to your organization, so try to pick an employee recognition software that can match your level of interest in this area.

There are two broad categories to think about when it comes to data:

A. Default Reports

Default reports are basically the raw data that can be exported directly from the software.

For example, suppose you want to export all the recognition activity that happened in a certain month. Default reports would allow you to immediately download the data you need or use filters to create a report that you could immediately download, usually as a spreadsheet.

Default reports and the data they provide can be useful in performing your own analysis or determining something that isn’t directly shown in the platform. This kind of exportable data can also be crucial for a company’s finance team when they need to track costs or handle tax implications.

What kind of reports can be exported, what filters can be applied, and how the data is formatted can be good to know. If reports are of particular importance, you can also check if you can set up automated reports that are emailed to you on a regular basis.

B. Analytics

Analytics can be a powerful tool to surface insights from raw data. They particularly excel at visualizing raw data in the form of graphs and charts.

The ideal for business software is that it can be tied to measurable KPIs. Analytics can be helpful in this regard, but how helpful depends entirely on what’s important to your company.

There are recognition platforms that have virtually no analytics, which is perfectly fine for some, but lacking for others. Then there are those platforms that provide deep-dive analytics that leave you with actionable insights, which is great for some, but excessive for others.

Instead of being blinded by pretty charts, think about the actual utility of a program’s analytics to your organization.

6. Are you looking beyond recognition?

Pure recognition platforms focus on doing recognition right and doing it well. It’s their bread and butter, after all.

But some companies want more from their recognition platform.

Employee recognition naturally lends itself to the ecosystems of employee feedback and performance management, so it’s common to see additional features that focus on these. While you can get specialized software that excels at these individual things, some companies prefer an integrated suite of products.

The risk is that the more varied the features, the more likely you are to move away from the core focus of a great recognition program.

So, we suggest always considering how cohesive a feature will be within your recognition program. Will the feature be more of an afterthought to your company, or will it be a crucial aspect of your recognition culture?

Below are the three major categories most supplemental features fall into.

A. Surveys

Whether it’s pulse surveys, NPS surveys, or surveys of your own design, it’s quite common to see a supplemental set of features focused on surveys of some kind.

If surveys are a big selling point for you, you’ll want to think about: options for types of surveys you can send, how the platform displays results and allows you to analyze those results, and what kind of scheduling and automation you can use when sending surveys.

B. Performance Management

Second only to surveys, performance management features are also popular in the employee recognition software world.

This is an entire complex software niche by itself, so this category can take on a lot of different forms, but some key things to keep in mind are: how one-on-one meetings are scheduled and facilitated, how performance reviews are recorded and managed, and what insights can be derived from the history surrounding your performance management data.

C. Intranet

For some companies, their recognition platform is the only common space shared by all employees, so it can make sense to use it as a centralized hub.

Intranet-like features can be appealing in this case. An intranet is basically an internal social network used only by a company’s employees.

As such, common intranet features include the ability to: make non-recognition posts, upload and share files with others such as image albums or internal documents, and run internal blogs or newsletters.

7. Does it play nice with your other tools?

Being able to integrate into your existing business software ecosystem is a major selling point for a recognition software. For a number of our clients, it was one of the biggest selling points.

There is a dizzying array of integrations in the employee recognition software space, but here are the four key types of integrations to pay attention to:

A. Social Integrations

Integrating with workplace communication platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and Facebook Workplace can be crucial.

It can be difficult to achieve very high adoption/usage rates for a recognition program if users need to switch to another application to give recognition. Being able to integrate recognition into an employee’s existing workflow so they never need to leave Slack/Teams/etc. can make adoption seamless.

However, not every social integration is built the same, so it can be good to actually see the integration in action.

B. HRIS Integrations

While social integrations can be crucial for regular users, human resources information system (HRIS) integrations can be crucial for admins.

These types of integrations allow you to automate your user management by connecting your company’s human resources platform to the recognition platform. The integration will automatically create, update, and delete users based on changes in your HRIS.

This can save a lot of time and administrative hassle. And for bigger companies it’s a non-negotiable requirement. No one wants to manually manage hundreds or thousands of employee profiles.

HRIS integrations come in a few different flavors. Native API integrations are the best while flat file transfer integrations are the most common. The differences between them are usually minor, but you should confirm exactly what data can and can’t be transferred from your HRIS to your recognition platform.

In any case, if your company has 200+ employees, you should definitely confirm your recognition platform of choice can integrate with your HRIS.

C. SSO Integrations

As discussed earlier, social integrations mean users don’t need to leave the tools they are most comfortable with to give recognition. But not every user will prefer this. And even the biggest Slack fans will need to login to the recognition platform directly for some things.

In these cases, single sign on (SSO) integrations are great a reducing friction. Instead of needing to manage yet another username and password for the recognition platform, users will be able to login with the same login credentials they use to access other business apps.

Microsoft, Google, and Okta are the most common access management platforms used by companies, but usually any kind of access management service can be integrated with a recognition platform. Still, it’s a good idea to confirm this nifty feature will be available.

D. Open API

While not really an integration in and of itself, an open API is very powerful because it allows your company to develop its own integrations, among other things.

Is your recognition platform missing some functionality you really want? Build it yourself.

Is your recognition platform lacking an integration with a critical business tool? Make a bespoke integration.

Is your recognition platform not tracking some vital info? Build your own real-time reports.

With an open API, the sky is the limit.

Of course, your company is limited by the time and resources you can dedicate to creating and maintaining such things.

The biggest client we’ve ever worked with (you’ve definitely heard of them) had the resources to build their own custom recognition platform from the ground up, all powered by the API of another recognition platform.

But not every company will have such immense resources and software development talent, nor would they have those kinds of needs in the first place.

8. Is it good for your international employees?

If your company only has US employees, and never plans to hire people outside of the US, you can skip this one.

However, if you do have several international employees, pay close attention. This is an important topic, but companies that aren’t familiar with recognition programs don’t know what questions they should be asking.

Here are the four areas that matter most:

A. Multiple Languages Supported

Does the recognition software have alternate language options? And do the options align with the common languages spoken by your international employees?

Recognition software usually only have a handful of language options, so you’ll want to be sure the options available are compatible with your employees. This is referring to the core language options, in which all the menus and tooltips have been translated by the software team for a seamless translated experience.

Some platforms have the option to automatically translate the text in the software using automated tools (think Google translate). This opens up a ton more language options, but means it won’t always be a perfect translation and smooth experience.

B. International Reward Availability

A recognition platform’s reward offerings will differ depending on the region of the user.

Some areas, such as parts of the APAC region, can be notoriously difficult for recognition platforms to provide robust reward options for. So, check out the what reward options will be available in the specific countries where the majority of your employees reside.

C. Standard of Living Adjustments

Adjusting the cost of rewards depending on the cost living in a employee’s country can be effective at keeping things equitable among all employees.

The different platforms have their own take on how to implement this. Some approach this as cost of living adjustments (COLA). Others use the standard of living index (SOLI). While others rely on purchasing power parity (PPP).

Find out if this is an option and if you can enable and/or disable it.

D. International Help

If a large number of your employees speak a certain language, it would be beneficial if they can interact with support in that language.

Check if the recognition company’s support has options for alternate languages or dedicated international phone lines.

9. Is it accessible to deskless workers?

If your company doesn’t have a significant population of deskless workers, this one can be skipped.

“Deskless” specifically refers to jobs where employees don’t spend much of their time behind a computer, such as warehouse workers, field workers, restaurant servers, etc.

As with most software, employee recognition software is largely built with the assumption that its users will have access to a computer. But, recognition software that can accommodate a deskless workforce can be a much better fit for some companies.

Here are some things to look out for if yours is one such company:

A. Mobile App

Mobile apps make it easy for employees to access the recognition platform using the one kind of computer they carry everywhere: their phone.

These days, having a mobile app is the bare minimum, so pretty much every recognition platform has one.

As such, merely having an app isn’t enough. We’d advise checking the app’s ratings and reviews in the Google Play and Apple App Store marketplaces. This can help you to distinguish between an app that’s barely functional and one that offers the same experience as the full recognition software.

B. Offline Recognition

With offline recognition, users (usually managers) can award recognition/points in person instead of online.

The recipient typically receives some physical token that can be tracked by the recognition software. For example, a manager might be able to print off several QR codes that they hand out during the day. A recipient can then scan the QR code while logged into the mobile app to claim the points/reward/recognition.

This can be a neat feature for instant, real-time recognition in deskless environments.

C. Digital Signage

Digital signage lets you display your company’s recognition feed on an external display. You can connect your feed to a large centralized screen so employees can see given recognition throughout the day without needing to login themselves.

If you’d like to have the ability to edit how the feed displays on screens, check out what kind of customization options the recognition platform offers, as some use a one-size-fits-all approach.

D. Kiosk Mode

At some point, users may need to access the full recognition platform from a desktop computer.

In cases where employees have limited access to computers in general, some kind of multi-user mode or “kiosk” mode makes it easy to give multiple users access to their accounts from a single shared computer. This computer is usually in a common area and available to all employees, similar to a computer station in a library.

Kiosk mode has special features such as automatically logging users out after minutes of inactivity, clearing all cache and cookies after a logout, and others that allow a computer to be shared without compromising individual users’ privacy.

10. What will you sacrifice?

It might be tempting to think the more features, the better, but as with any software, that’s rarely the case.

For employee recognition software, there is a delicate balance between flexibility and simplicity. Between features and ease of use. Between practicality and necessity.

Every decision is a sacrifice of something else.

You must consider each of the previous nine questions as they relate to the needs of your particular company. Then, you will best positioned to choose your perfect recognition platform.

While the info we’ve provided here is an excellent starting point for those looking to do it themselves, we can make it easy to find your perfect match by doing it for you.

We use our years of experience in the industry to match our clients with recognition software uniquely suited to their company.

If you’re interested in seeing what we can do for you, contact us.