Employee Recognition

Employee shoutouts: How to do non-monetary recognition right

Sometimes, a simple ‘thank you’ is enough. 

Most employee recognition platforms exclusively offer monetary rewards programs, where every user needs a budget for recognition, and every recognition sent comes attached to a reward. 

As great as these programs are, they can create a barrier to entry for companies who don’t have the resources to invest in a full-scale peer-to-peer program. They either can’t implement recognition at all, or can only afford budgets so low that they dilute the impact of the program.

But there is a better way. Since implementing our Shoutouts feature (formerly known as the Nomination Box) in our Guusto platform, we’ve seen several of our clients find a surprising amount of value in non-monetary recognition. 

Simply put, employees appreciate being appreciated, regardless of whether that appreciation comes with a reward or not. 

In some cases, this kind of program can even be a better choice for organizations than a fully budgeted peer-to-peer solution. In this blog, we’ll explore why this might be true for your company, and offer some tips for building an impactful shoutouts program. 

What is an employee shoutout program?

An employee shoutouts program works just like a regular recognition program, in that employees send personalized messages to their teammates to show their appreciation for a job well done. 

These messages will often be tied to specific ‘recognition reasons’ or core values, and are visible in their recognition platform. Users may also have the option to notify an employee’s manager when they are recognized.

The only major difference is that these are non-monetary rewards, meaning they don’t come attached to a gift card, or points, or anything else with tangible value.

The surprising advantages of non-monetary recognition

Understandably, there can be some skepticism around non-monetary recognition. You might feel that the lack of a tangible reward will lessen the impact of the recognition, or that there won’t be enough benefit to your employees to incentivize participation. 

And just to be clear, we’re not saying that an employee shoutouts program is more effective than a full peer-to-peer program tied to meaningful budgets for rewards. If you have the resources for that, go for it!

But if you have a tight budget, or have a large number of employees to cater to, a non-monetary solution is often a better option. Here’s why. 

1. It’s cost-effective

Firstly, and most obviously, a shoutouts program is a lot more affordable than a monetary recognition program. You pay a small subscription fee for each user, with no obligation for additional spend on rewards.

If times are tight, or you’re having trouble getting approval to invest in recognition from your leadership, it can be a good compromise, allowing you to get a formal program in place without breaking the bank.

2. No budget can actually be better than low-budget

It might sound counterintuitive, but even if you can technically afford to give everyone a budget for a peer-to-peer program, non-monetary recognition is still sometimes a better option.

The reason for this is that rewards need to be substantial to have a real, meaningful impact. But when spread across a large number of team members, individual budgets are often far too low.

For example, let’s say you can only afford to give an employee a $5 budget per month. They can either recognize one person with a $5 reward, or divide it between a few people and give them $1-2 rewards. It doesn’t sound like much, does it?

In this situation, people won’t use your program enough, and even when they do, the value of rewards they give each other will be so low that they’re at best meaningless to the recipient, and at worst insulting. 

“Thanks for staying until midnight to fix that critical problem for me, here’s $2.”

Points programs try to get around this problem by allowing companies to assign their own value to their points, meaning their employees get a points allocation that seems large even if their actual budgets are very small (e.g. $1 = 100 points).

But this can actually make things worse. Employees might be excited to see gifts of 100 or 200 points come in at first, but when they actually try to redeem them for rewards and realize they aren’t worth much at all, they’ll be disappointed. 

Over time, it actually devalues the recognition they receive. 

Which is why unless you can afford to really invest in substantial budgets, it’s far better just to use an employee shoutouts program, where the personalized appreciation your team expresses for each other can stand on its own, without those messages being diluted by the value of the reward attached.

Plus, you might have some money left over in your budget…

3. You can tie non-monetary recognition to spot monetary rewards

Employee shoutouts programs don’t need to be exclusively non-monetary. 

If you have some extra budget, you can have the best of both worlds, and use it to offer spot rewards to high performers. 

For example, you could run a random draw once a week at your team meeting for all Shoutouts recipients, and give rewards to the winners. Or you could give the top 3 recipients and senders a reward every month or quarter.

This is an especially good option in the scenario we discussed in the previous section, where you have some funds available, but not enough to give everyone a meaningful individual budget.

For example, instead of 100 employees getting $5 a month, you pay $2 a month to give them access to a shoutouts program. Then you have $300 for spot rewards to play with, which you can use as one larger prize or several smaller $25-50 rewards.

Your employees all still have the ability to recognize each other whenever they want. And when they do receive a monetary reward, it’s large enough to actually mean something to them. 

You can also mix and match monetary and non-monetary recognition across your organization depending on your needs and structure. For instance, you could give your managers individual monthly budgets to send monetary recognition, and the rest of your employees access to a shoutouts program. This flexibility is part of the reason why…

4. Employee shoutouts programs make it easier to implement peer-to-peer recognition

As effective as a top-down manager recognition program can be, peer-to-peer programs are still the gold standard if you want to really ingrain recognition into your culture

Peer-to-peer programs give all of your employees a voice, and empower them to show their appreciation for what they really care about. They can be invaluable for improving morale and building connections throughout your company.

As we’ve illustrated, though, the problem is that they can be quite expensive. Spread across your entire company, even a substantial budget can quickly start to seem a bit on the slim side.

Because a shoutouts program is much lower cost, it’s much easier to roll out a full peer-to-peer program without having to worry about how you can afford it or how to allocate your budget. It can even make it easier to get a peer-to-peer program approved by your leadership team, who might balk at the idea of giving each employee control over a personal budget.

Rolling out a non-monetary peer-to-peer program can also be part of a gradual plan to scale recognition at your company. You could start with a top-down budgeted program for leaders and managers, then add a shoutouts program for all employees, then use that program’s success to make the case for fully budgeted peer-to-peer recognition. 

5. It’s unlimited

Last but not least, arguably the best thing about non-monetary recognition is that it’s unlimited.

Budgets run out, and your team won’t always have enough to recognize everyone that deserves it. 

What happens when an employee really does something that goes above and beyond and has a huge impact for your team, but their manager has already used their monthly budget up? In exclusively budgeted programs, nothing happens, and the employee might feel overlooked.

With an employee shoutouts program, this isn’t a problem. Your team is free to recognize whoever they want, whenever they want, without limits or restrictions. You might even find that participation and the amount of recognition sent by your team is much higher as a result.

Tips for starting a non-monetary recognition program

While this kind of program can be very impactful, it’s important that your team have a solid strategy in place for implementing it. 

Because you can’t rely on the promise of rewards to help drive participation, you’ll need to work harder to communicate the value of the program to your employees. Here’s how to do it.

Build some hype

With an employee shoutouts program, early adoption is crucial, so it’s doubly important to generate some buzz when you launch it. 

Focus on building a comprehensive communications plan to help get the word out about the program, and ensuring that everyone gets training to use the system so they can hit the ground running on day one.

You might even consider building a small team of internal advocates across departments and teams, who can champion the program to others and offer help and guidance to anyone who’s not comfortable using it or has questions.

In these early stages, it can also be helpful to track registrations and logins as well as participation, so you can see how many employees are getting themselves set up in the system and checking it out, even if they’re not using it yet.

Make it visible

With non-monetary recognition, visibility is crucial. If your shoutouts are only seen in their recipients’ inboxes, you won’t build awareness of the program, and participation will be stagnant.

Highlight it whenever possible, whenever you can. Make time to read shoutouts publicly at team meetings, and spotlight individual recognition in internal newsletters and other communications. 

If your platform allows for integration with instant messaging apps like MS Teams, you can also create a dedicated channel for your program. In a physical environment, you might even try creating a recognition board and printing shoutouts to display them. Whatever works!

When it comes to recognition, seeing is believing, and many employees often need real examples of their teammates showing each other appreciation to truly understand its value. If they don’t get that, they won’t use it.

Gamify employee shoutouts

Gamifying recognition is another great way to drive participation, as well as helping to add a sense of fun, competition, and excitement to your program. 

Your recognition platform may offer a number of features to help with this. In Guusto, for instance, you can use our Draw feature to randomly select Shoutouts users for additional rewards. Our Leaderboard also ranks the top Shoutouts senders and recipients over a given period, which you can use to reward power users, and to encourage some healthy competition.  

These are both very useful tools if you’re supplementing your employee shoutouts program with additional monetary rewards, as we suggested earlier in this post, and they also serve as creative ways to highlight your program in public meetings.

Run challenges

You can take gamification even further. Because there are no limits to the amount of shoutouts your team can send, this kind of program lends itself well to running challenges to drive participation.

For example, at a recent team event, our Guusto social committee ran a ‘Shoutouts Hackathon’. Our team was set a challenge to send as many Shoutouts as possible during the event. You can even set employees a target to hit (e.g. 100 in an hour).

The challenge forced our employees to think of everything their teammates had done that might deserve recognition, and once they started, the appreciation really flowed! We all came away with a much better sense of just how powerful the tool was. 

Pro tip: If you’re running this challenge, make sure to tell your employees that the shoutouts should be meaningful and represent real recognition for actions, rather than just one-word messages or posts saying ‘Thanks for being awesome!’ This will make the event more impactful, even if it makes it harder to hit your target.

Another option is to use our HR calendar to create challenges related to specific dates, and encourage employees to send shoutouts on days like International Women's Day, National Administrative Professionals Day, or whatever other day might be meaningful to you and your team. 

Measure your success

Whatever strategies you use to implement your non-monetary recognition program, it’s important to monitor your results regularly. 

Often, we find that participation isn’t consistent for our clients as their program evolves. It might take a while to get going, and then suddenly blow up. Or the opposite can happen, and there can be an initial wave of usage when the program is launched, only for it to taper off.

Other factors at your company can also come into play. If the company is going through a difficult period, or your team is under pressure, it could have an effect on morale and cause participation to dip.

Monitoring your results can help you pinpoint when you might need to run a challenge, or try a new communication strategy, or another tactic to keep your participation on track.

Learn how recognition shapes culture on our free guide

Both monetary and non-monetary recognition can have a transformative effect on your culture. In our free guide Culture is the Ultimate Advantage, we take a deep dive into:

  • Why culture is so important to modern businesses

  • What most companies get wrong about culture

  • How to shape a culture that has a real impact on your bottom line

  • And how recognition can help you do it

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Joe Facciolo

Written by Joe Facciolo

Joe is the Co-Founder of Guusto. He leads the Sales Team, and loves helping HR leaders build workplace culture by sharing his experiences and knowledge in the industry.

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