Create A Department Recognition Program

When you begin to create your unit’s recognition program, there are many points you should first consider.

How to Begin

Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a wide variety of recognition practices that range from no cost to moderate cost. The following recognition practices are relatively low cost:

  • Just say thanks
  • Thank-you note
  • Gift cards/certificates
  • Recognize milestones
  • Staff appreciation day

For additional information about recognition programs and practices, please contact your HR Advisor.

Important Practices and Principles

  • Recognition should be specific to an action, work task, or project; be as specific as you can in communicating the specific behaviours the staff member is being recognized for. Stick to the positive; this is not a time to discuss what can still be improved.
  • Recognition should be individualized and meaningful for the individual(s) being recognized; some people like public recognition, while others are more private. Note that public recognition can be inspiring to others who are watching.
  • Recognition should be timely. Provide recognition as soon after the behaviour/event has occurred as possible.

Ensure you use:

  • A fair process for determining who to recognize;
  • An openness for recognition to come from anybody – a peer or a manager;
  • A linkage to the University’s goals, vision, and mission;
  • A flexible and easy to administer program;
  • An ongoing program that provides frequent recognition; and
  • Try not to reward something so regularly that it becomes expected, or feels like an entitlement.

Things to avoid

  1. An arbitrary process, or the appearance of favouritism.
  2. Being Unprepared – Take time to gather required information, including information about the staff member and his/her accomplishments.
  3. Be careful not to embarrass employees who may prefer private recognition.
  4. Avoid making promises that could result in difficulties later (e.g., saying things like, “we’re looking forward to working with you for many years to come,” or “you’re guaranteed a place in this organization”). Also, don’t include private or sensitive information (e.g., remarks about traits such as age and gender).

Behaviours to recognize

  • ideas that improve efficiency or save money
  • outstanding achievement
  • solution to difficult issues
  • exceptional work on a project
  • sustained, ongoing high quality contribution

Recognition Programs in a Unionized Environment

When creating a recognition program in a unionized environment, it is recommended that non-monetary recognition items (e.g., thank you cards, articles in a newsletter, expressions of thanks, small gifts) be provided to ensure consistency of practice throughout the university community.

The best way to minimize dissatisfaction is to have a fair and open process for determining who is recognized. Others should understand the behaviours that are being recognized and why. This can serve to motivate others, as they will see what is important and valued within the unit.

Recognition prizes/gifts/awards as taxable benefits

The Canada Revenue Agency has rules about what constitutes a taxable benefit. Any recognition award that constitutes a taxable benefit should be reported to Financial Services for inclusion on the employee’s T4 slip. The Financial Services web site has additional information about taxable benefits.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has an Employer’s Guide to taxable benefits and allowances. Note the section under “Gifts and Awards”, and the CRA policy on exemptions for non-cash gifts and awards.

Benefits of Creating a Recognition Project for your Unit

Recognition programs provide an opportunity to emphasize and reinforce the University’s values, and have been shown to result in some of the following:

  • Improved employee engagement and retention;
  • Increased individual productivity;
  • Greater employee satisfaction and enjoyment of work – more time spent focusing on the job;
  • Improved customer satisfaction;
  • Increased employee confidence in their work;
  • Enhanced teamwork between employees; and
  • Lowered stress and its consequences.

Costs of Implementing a Recognition Program

Initial investment is required when launching a recognition program, including:

  • Time spent developing and implementing the program, including identifying the behaviours that you wish to recognize;
  • Time taken to provide recognition;
  • Cost of recognition items given; and
  • Time and cost of educating people to provide recognition.

Funding for Recognition Programs

While there is not a central University funding source for unit level recognition programs, you can speak with your manager about funding that may be available for initiatives in your unit.

Recognition Program Support and Approval

It is a good idea to review your recognition program ideas and plans with your manager, as well as the Human Resources representative for your faculty/department/unit.

You may also contact your Human Resources Advisor if you have any questions about recognition, or if would like to discuss your ideas for a recognition program.


Recognition is important, and has a positive impact on staff members’ work experience, job satisfaction, and engagement.

If you would like more information on the benefits of a unit recognition program, please contact your HR Advisor.

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