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by Alex Palmer | July 31, 2015
A new study from incentive company Michael C. Fina finds that wellness is a growing priority for recognition programs, while recognizing employee service early in their tenure is becoming increasingly popular as well. 

The data, which included the responses of more than 400 HR professionals and was gathered at the recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in Las Vegas, found that increasing employee engagement was the top priority in recognition programs, cited by 71 percent of respondents. This was followed, in a distant second place, by improving retention (47 percent), then motivating high performance (44 percent). 

A key trend found in the data is the growing importance of wellness incentives, with 40 percent of respondents saying that they plan to increase recognition and incentives tied to employee health and wellness in the coming year.

Another striking responses was around early recognition, with one quarter of respondents stating that their service award programs now recognize workers after one year of employment. This is an increase in frequency from the traditional five-, 10-, and 15-year awards and may reflect the changing expectations of younger generations of workers, and the technology they use.

"Before social media popularized the idea of instant feedback, you mostly had high-value awards, usually service awards, given out at long intervals," Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for Michael C. Fina, told Incentive. "Today you see organizations moving more toward multiple value awards that can be called upon instantly to recognize employees in the moment." 

He added that the strongest program is one that combines both short- and long-term service awards.

"More organizations are using on-the-spot awards, peer-to-peer nominations, and social recognition tools to provide a mechanism for daily feedback," he added. "Offering employees a recognition 'currency' such as points that can be used to redeem rewards via an online catalog also allows program owners to redesign, add, or scale the rewards to fit any situation."

But Himelstein emphasized that traditional service awards remain a key component of incentive programs, with "work anniversaries" an opportunity to "reflect on our achievements" at the job.

"Having a service award program in place ensures that all of your employees are properly recognized for their milestones, and that they each have time to be recognized individually," said Himelstein. "They are still an essential backbone to your recognition efforts, and I think they will continue to stick around for a while."