Top 3 Recognition and Reward Program Myths Debunked

Recognition programs are a cornerstone of a positive workplace culture, but there's a misconception that rewards are the key to their success. While rewards certainly have their place, true recognition is about much more than incentives. It's about fostering a culture where appreciation is intrinsic, genuine, and part of everyday interactions.

In this articlewe'll debunk common myths about recognition programs and highlight strategies that truly work. From creating a culture of gratitude to leveraging tools like HeyTaco, we'll explore how simple, cost-effective approaches can have a lasting impact on your organization's culture. Let's dive in and discover how you can build a culture of recognition that stands the test of time.

1. You can’t have a successful recognition program without rewards. 

A common misconception when starting a recognition program is that people won’t engage without rewards. This assumes that people don’t want to recognize and thank their teammates for doing great work unless they get something for it.  While there are people who are motivated by extrinsic rewards and money specifically, a lot of people aren’t. Most people genuinely enjoy sharing appreciation and receiving genuine appreciation in return. The obstacle to sharing it is that they forget, or the company doesn’t (yet) have a habit of sharing appreciation publicly. 

This might sound touchy-feely, but everyone likes to be recognized (maybe not publicly, but whoever smirked at receiving a genuine ‘thank you’ card?). We all enjoy hearing that who we are and what we do is seen and appreciated by those around us. Recognition is the most genuine and becomes a part of your culture when it is intrinsic. If it becomes something that we do so we can get something in return, it turns out to be transactional, and it won’t last. 

The key is to remember that you are trying to build a culture, not run a program. It might start as an initiative to build a program that becomes a cultural practice. But the end goal is cultural change. 

What to do instead: 

  • Start by simply creating a place where people can publicly share gratitude and see how they react. You can do so in 2 simple steps by creating a public channel in your collaboration platform, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and sharing messages of appreciation, as well as adding ‘Appreciations’ as an agenda item to your All Company Meetings. This will cost you no money, and it will allow you to start building an intrinsic habit of appreciation. 

  • With the help of HeyTaco, people will have fun sending tacos in your appreciation channel and enjoying the feeling of giving and receiving recognition. The giving is oftentimes a reward enough in itself. 

2. Monetary rewards are the most effective rewards.  

Do you remember what you spent your last $10 Amazon gift card on? You probably applied it to your recent purchase which included dishwasher detergent, socks, and a new basketball. Did you feel excited when your bill was $10 cheaper? Probably. But, did you feel appreciated by your team for having earned $10? Probably not. 

Gift cards are easy, you can automate them, but do people like them? Do they accomplish what you set out to accomplish - build a culture of recognition? There is a time and place for monetary rewards, and in small doses, they can be fun for the team to use, but they have the potential to do more harm than good if used exclusively. If used exclusively, monetary rewards can make recognition feel and become transactional, where people engage only to get something in return.

What to do instead: 

  • Create rewards that are more experiential and/or cost very little. We have compiled a list of employee rewards we have seen teams have success with over the years that you can’t find in any online store, such as a (virtual) lunch with the CEO or a custom company T-shirt designed only for those who purchase the shirt with their tacos. 
  • Leverage Team Rewards and create an experience that the whole team can contribute to and enjoy, such as Tacos for Charity, or a virtual/in-person team-building activity.
  • Purchase or make fun Taco Trophies and award them to the top Taco Givers and Taco Receivers. The team will have fun creating these trophies (or finding one online) and proudly displaying them on their desk. 

3. Recognition programs are expensive.

See myth #2 above. If you think gift cards are the way you create a successful cultural practice, then yes - your recognition program will probably be expensive and hard to sustain in the long run.

What to do instead: 

  • If you are not ready or interested in using rewards for budgetary reasons, focus on highlighting your top Taco Givers and Taco Receivers, either monthly or quarterly. Leverage the Leaderboard to figure out who the winners are, and recognize them publicly. Add a small token of appreciation (Taco Trophy, a fun t-shirt) to create a physical representation of their taco awesomeness, but you don’t need to break the bank. 

  • Encourage people to tag company values when giving a taco using TacoTags, and publicly celebrate people who are living your company values. 

Building a successful recognition program isn't just about rewards; it's about building a culture of appreciation and gratitude. While rewards can play a role, they should complement, not define, your recognition efforts. By focusing on intrinsic recognition, creating meaningful experiences, and celebrating values-driven behavior, you can create a culture where recognition is genuine, impactful, and sustainable.

Remember, the goal is not just to run a program but to drive cultural change. Start small, experiment, and listen to your team's feedback. With the right approach, you can foster a culture where recognition is a natural part of your organization's DNA.  

Ready to get started with HeyTaco and start building your culture of gratitude? You can do so here.

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