by Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP | October 10, 2017

There are certainly amazing things happening globally within the recognition, incentive, and rewards industry. Yet, when WorldatWork, the human resources association for total rewards, compensation, and benefits came out with its "2017 Trends in Employee Recognition" earlier this year, there were some scary insights that all of us should be looking at. Learn from these Top 10 Scary Things Going on with Employee Recognition and don't get spooked out by them.

1. Senior leadership is unsupportive. For those organizations reporting that they do not offer employee recognition programs, the most frequently cited reason (28 percent) was "no support from senior management." Senior leadership needs to get behind endorsing recognition and becoming exemplary advocates of giving thoughtful and authentic recognition to people.

2. Lack of written recognition strategy.
 Over the past four years the percentage of participants indicating they have a written recognition strategy has incrementally improved, but at a slow pace: only 55 percent of companies report they have one. Companies are losing the chance to align recognition with their business goals and leverage recognition to produce solid results.

3. Recognition programs not producing results. Recognition programs are doing better in achieving desired objectives than in previous surveys. But more than a fifth of respondents (22 percent) indicate recognition programs are not meeting their goals. Emphasis needs to be made on setting objectives designed with improving performance, reinforcing behaviors, and increasing engagement in mind.

4. Same old measures being used. Providers of recognition programs are not impacting total rewards professionals well enough. Reported measures of success with recognition programs are limited to descriptive analytics of usage and participation rates, employee satisfaction surveys, and number of nominations. Few correlate this data with people and productivity metrics.

5. Lousy ROI indicators. Another measurement you would expect to be a key indicator for recognition programs is to generate a Return on Investment (ROI). However, ROI reports on recognition programs have seriously declined, with only 5 percent of all survey respondents measuring this key metric. The industry must seriously correct this if we're to be seen as true strategic business partners.

6. Decreasing budget spend on recognition. This one is really scary. Two years ago, 68 percent of total rewards professionals indicated their percentage of payroll budget spend on recognition was less than 1 percent. However, today when we look, just over 80 percent have recognition budgets that are less than 1 percent. Perhaps this correlates with the lack of ROI programs provide.

7. Lack of training on recognition programs. Another shocking discovery was finding out only 13 percent of companies (hopefully you're not superstitious about that number) have formal training programs for managers about their recognition programs. Those that do rely upon in-person training and online education. Better educated managers always use their programs better.

8. Poor view of employee recognition by leaders. First the good news. It seems an improved 56 percent of senior managers now view recognition programs as an investment rather than an expense. The horrifying, spine chillingly bad news is that a third of all the compensation and benefits leaders surveyed were simply "unsure" how to view their recognition programs.

9. Companies aren't attracting people through recognition.
With the increasing war on talent you would think companies would use their recognition programs as one of the features for attracting new employees. But the dreadful truth is only 16 percent of companies feature some or all of their recognition programs. This frightening fact should be an easy one to solve.

10. Not having a strong organizational culture. For employee recognition programs to be successful, it is essential that organizational culture be positive and strong. Culture drives employee recognition practices and programs, and collectively they reinforce culture. Yet, having a deeply embedded "culture of recognition" only improved by 1 percent to just 11 percent.

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is the author of  Giving the Real Recognition Way. The Vistance Institute chief learning officer at Rideau Inc., Saunderson provides consulting, learning, and thought leadership services focused on helping leaders and managers give real recognition the right way. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter (@RoySaunderson) and at his blog.