Nectar and SHRM announce strategic partnership for employee recognition and rewards
Learn More
Employee Recognition

Employee Nominations: 13 Ways To Run A Fair And Transparent Awards Program

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated April 16, 2024

The nominations are in, and the votes have been tallied. The winner of the "Employee of the Month" award is announced, and there's a collective eye roll as the manager names the same person for three months in a row. Sound familiar?

Running an employee nominations program is essential for boosting morale and recognizing hard-working employees, but it only works if it’s fair. All of your employees, not just those in certain departments or with fancy job titles, deserve recognition for their efforts and contributions to the company.

This guide introduces you to 13 ways to run an inclusive and transparent awards program, and the common pitfalls to be aware of. We also explore some examples of employee award nominations that demonstrate how to acknowledge the right people for their role in the company's success.

What Is An Employee Nomination?  

An employee nomination is a process where coworkers, supervisors, or managers submit the name of someone they believe deserves to win an award or other form of acknowledgment within their organization. This can include nominations for Employee of the Month, Most Valuable Team Player, or any other type of award implemented by the company.

Why Are Employee Nominations Important? 

Of course, it's possible to deliver employee awards without using a formal nomination program. Leaders can choose their winners without collecting names and feedback from other employees. But there are some compelling reasons to commit to a nomination process:

Shaping A Positive Company Culture 

Leaders increasingly understand the importance of developing a positive company culture that employees are proud to be part of. HBR reports that in a meeting with a Fortune 500 company, the word “culture” was mentioned 27 times within 90 minutes, demonstrating its significance.

Celebrating your employees ' successes is part of building and reinforcing a rich company culture. Employee nominations allow recognition to come from peers, creating a stronger sense of camaraderie and teamwork within the organization.

Ensure Employees Feel Valued 

When employees receive appreciation from their peers, research suggests they'll be more willing to continue helping each other out for the collective good of the organization.

Francesca Gino and Adam Grant conducted a series of studies into the impact of gratitude expressions on prosocial behavior. In one study, participants edited a student’s cover letter for them; half of them received a generic message from the student to acknowledge receipt of their feedback. The other half received a more grateful note filled with thanks and appreciation. The results found that those who received the personalized message were twice as likely to help the student a second time, compared to those who weren’t thanked appropriately.

Similarly, when employees receive nominations as acknowledgments for their hard work, it acts as a gratitude expression that motivates them to continue their efforts and feel comfortable extending help to one another.

Fostering A High-Performance Culture  

Nominating employees for awards celebrates individuals who demonstrate a commitment to high performance. Highly engaged employees show up and immerse themselves in meaningful work, inspiring others to strive for similar performance standards. They want to receive the same kudos and buzz associated with a nomination.

This can have an amazing impact on organizational culture. A 2021 meta-analysis reveals that high employee engagement, in terms of vigor, dedication, and absorption, positively impacts performance for the company's overall benefit.

Foster a high-performance culture with employee nominations

5 Common Challenges With Employee Nominations

Nominating fellow team members for upcoming awards is more complicated than it sounds. Some of the following common pitfalls crop up when asking employees to name names.

Nominations Can Feel Like A Popularity Contest 

Waiting for someone to nominate you can feel like being the last person to be picked in gym class. When your nominations program turns into a popularity contest, it immediately loses its impact. Peers no longer see the value in nominating because they don't stand a chance against the more popular or well-known employees. The process can become divisive and even create workplace silos as employees begin to only focus on winning the nomination. 

Employees Aren’t Aware They Can Nominate 

If your program isn't receiving enough nominations or lacks a variation of names in the hat, this could be a communication problem. Perhaps your employees don't know the awards exist or aren't aware they're allowed to nominate. Either way, your list of names will suffer.

Employers Don’t Communicate The Nominations Process Effectively 

Another communication blunder occurs when employees don't understand how the nomination process works. For example, they may not be aware of a specific deadline or fail to attach crucial evidence to the nomination, meaning their submission is never processed.

Employers Don’t Offer Sufficient Recognition Categories

A limited range of recognition categories can significantly curb the potential of your nomination program and fail to acknowledge the individual contributions that drive the organization forward. When there aren't enough categories, some employees' accomplishments or unique skill sets are likely overlooked.

Nominations Can Overemphasize Seniority 

Some awards programs disproportionately favor senior employees or those with longer tenure, which can demotivate younger or newer team members. An effective nomination process should encourage peers to put each other's names forward as early as onboarding, regardless of their position or experience. Doing so opens up a level playing field for all employees to be recognized and celebrated for their contributions, helping to build a more inclusive and cohesive workplace culture.

Nominations can overemphasize seniority

13 Tips For Using Employee Nominations To Enhance Your Awards 

Companies can overcome all the above hurdles with some careful planning. Here are 13 tips for success when you implement your employee nominations program.

1. Define Clear Criteria For Giving Nominations

Can employees nominate their work besties for being a shoulder to cry on or telling side-splitting jokes in meetings? Leaders must establish clear and specific criteria for nominations to understand the qualities, behaviors, or achievements that are eligible for recognition and ensure they align with the organization's values and objectives.

Nectar Tip: You might use a hashtag system to add a company core value, such as #integrity, #resilience, or #passion, to your nomination to make this clear.

2. Ensure Your Nomination Process Is Transparent 

Your employees need to know they're working in a democracy when they cast their vote. Help them believe in your process by outlining precisely what happens when they call out a peer for their excellence. Transparency encourages active participation by:

  • Communicating nomination and award criteria 
  • Describing the selection process 
  • Detailing any associated rewards to employees

Jones Logistics is a shining example of an organization that does this well. In a company blog post, JoLo clarifies exactly how employees are nominated and elected as the winner of the JoLo BoLo (Be on the Lookout) quarterly employee nomination-based program. 

“Employees nominate their peers for exemplifying our company core values: integrity, passion, unity, sustainability, and humility. A committee of employees from various sectors of JoLo then vote on a winner.”

Jones Logistics employee nominated awards

3. Demonstrate Gratitude

In a recent Nectar survey, 63% of the employees we surveyed wished that their colleagues told them "thank you" more.

Encourage your employees and leaders to go into detail about the people they’re nominating. People want to know why you've picked them, so this is a chance to demonstrate genuine gratitude to the nominee and explain why you recognize their contributions.

4. Encourage Peer Nominations 

Receiving a nomination from a manager certainly has an impact. Nectar’s employee survey revealed that 40% of employees rank managers as the group that has the most impact on them when they deliver recognition. This is greater than the 28% who feel most motivated by peer feedback. Nevertheless, you can maximize the impact of your awards and recognition program by inviting nominations from both categories. Peer nominations are valuable as they often carry significant weight across a team, enhancing the sense of camaraderie and collaboration within the organization.

So, whether you praise Joan in accounts for her ability to lift the team's spirits or Tom in marketing for his consistency, it might mean more coming from their peers than you realize.

5. Set Your Nomination Frequency 

Can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to employee nominations? Frequent recognition for our work is linked with high employee morale, and our Nectar statistics reveal that 98% of people who receive daily recognition feel valued by their employer for their continued interest and involvement in their work.

Yet, daily awards ceremonies would probably be overkill for many organizations—they are hard to implement and maintain interest in. Our study reveals that weekly or monthly recognition most impacts employee value, which is worth considering when pitching your nomination frequency.

Periodic awards such as Employee of the Month should be enough to maintain momentum and interest in your award program. Of course, you can still collect nominations for quarterly or annual awards, too, which will feel weightier as they're held less frequently.

6. Share Success Stories 

Amplify the achievements of your nominated employees by sharing their success stories. Use various communication channels such as team meetings, newsletters, and social media to highlight your employees' achievements and reinforce the value of recognition.

Airtable does this well by spotlighting colleagues nominated and voted for by a focus group of employees. The company frequently posts interviews with employees who win their nomination awards.

Airtable employee nominations interview

7. Involve Leadership 

Buy-in from the top will always influence the success of your employee awards nomination program. Your employees must believe in the process, feel permitted to get involved, and know that their leaders are equally invested in the awards program.

Add credibility to your awards by having company leaders openly participate in the nomination process, present awards, or share personalized messages of appreciation.

8. Create A Celebratory Atmosphere

Awards programs aren't just about winning. Receiving a nomination acknowledges that an employee embodies the company's fundamental values and participates in building and maintaining a positive culture. And this deserves to be celebrated.

Depending on the size of your awards program, you might be unable to provide financial rewards for all award nominees. But you can give them an experience to remember. For example, if you announce your award winners at a ceremony, dinner, or even a team meeting, take the time to celebrate your fellow nominees and their accomplishments, too. These celebrations reinforce the importance of recognition within the organizational culture and can create a positive and festive atmosphere.

For example, Jane Henn, an administrative assistant and receptionist for Oaklands College, was recently recognized and nominated for her work as part of the customer success team. She attended a Staff Celebration & Awards Night to celebrate.

Jane Henn Oaklands College award ceremony

9. Link Nominations To Professional Development

Receiving a nomination for an employee award can positively impact an individual’s career advancement. This type of milestone should be recorded in an employee’s performance appraisal, ensuring that their manager notes their success and commitment to excellence.

Example: Alex received a peer nomination for a Quarterly Excellence Award in team collaboration. During the performance appraisal, Alex's manager noted this accomplishment and their commitment to teamwork and collaboration. This can be used to justify a salary increase, promotion opportunities, or development programs such as training for leadership positions.

10. Use Nominations Across A Breadth Of Awards 

Hosting a single-category "Employee of the Month" award can skew your nomination process by preventing some high-performing team members from receiving nominations.

Example: An Employee of the Month program that only rewards sales milestones might not recognize the remarkable efforts of Suzi, a back-end developer who works tirelessly to improve system efficiency, or Ronnie, a customer support executive who consistently receives positive feedback.

A workaround for this is to create a diverse set of award categories that reflect multiple aspects of your employee contributions. Consider including award categories such as innovation, teamwork, leadership, customer service, and community involvement to ensure a broader scope of strengths and accomplishments. If your teams are big enough, you could also create an award for each department at your company.

11. Tie Nominations To Important Initiatives 

Align your employee awards program with your company objectives by accepting nominations based on current initiatives. These might relate to:

  • Improving minority representation throughout all levels of your organization 
  • Building a more ethical supply chain 
  • Increasing customer satisfaction levels 
  • Encouraging employee wellness and work-life balance. 
  • Reducing accidents on-site

Canadian Plains Energy Services uses its employee-nominated Safety Ambassadors program to highlight people who work to protect their coworkers and the general public. In a recent example, the company nominated two employees for their quick and supportive actions in assisting motorists in two separate vehicle rollover and fire incidents.

Canadian Plains Energy Services tying nominations to important initiatives

12. Recognize Small And Mighty Accomplishments 

The goal of a nomination program shouldn't always be to give praise to the individuals who impact the most people. Sometimes, employees go above and beyond to help a single person, which can have a huge ripple effect on morale, productivity, and organizational success.

Example: Xavi helps a new employee settle in during their onboarding by going out of his way to make them feel comfortable and supported. While this may not seem like a significant achievement, it can impact the new employee's transition and their long-term performance and satisfaction in their role. Successful onboarding means they're less likely to quit their role, saving the organization money in recruitment costs and strengthening the employer brand. Consider including categories such as "Employee Support" or "Individual Impact" to make it easy for peers to recognize these small but mighty contributions with a simple nomination.


13. Collect Feedback On Your Nominations Process 

How does your award nomination process measure up? The only real way to find out is to continuously gather feedback from your employees about their experience using the awards program. Employee input is key to refining the program and making it more meaningful and inclusive. Don't fall into the trap of only surveying winners and nominees; make sure you include everyone in your organization. Ask a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions, such as:

  • Do you understand how our nomination process works, including deadlines and the values we want to reward? 
  • What additional categories would you like us to add to our employee awards? 
  • Does our nominations program seem fair? Please provide details to support your answer. 
  • Does the nominations process accurately reflect employee contributions in our organization? Why or why not?

Use this feedback to make meaningful changes and improve the overall experience of your employee awards program. Remember to always show appreciation and gratitude to those who provide feedback.

Nominate Outstanding Employees With Nectar

Nectar's Custom Awards feature makes it easy to recognize the exceptional employees that make up the tapestry of your organization's success. Here's a suggested process to first set up your awards, then nominate employees to receive them:

  • Create a name for your award, and determine how many Nectar points you'll offer as a reward. Attach an image of your award to make it enticing. 
  • Communicate your award to your employees and request nominations, including eligible criteria and the deadline to submit nominations. 
  • Use a nominations committee to determine the winner, perhaps using votes or a company executive to cast the final vote. 
  • Attach a message of praise and recognition to thank the award winner for their achievement. 
  • Determine who can distribute the award; typically, this is a Nectar administrator or manager. 
  • Select your award frequency, such as monthly, quarterly, or annually, and ensure you allow enough time to receive nominations before choosing your winner. 

Employee nominations are just one way to honor your team members for going the extra mile. Consider implementing awards alongside a robust employee rewards and recognition program, where you frequently praise your workers for their micro and macro contributions to your company. Nectar's Recognition and Rewards tools are the perfect solution here, enabling peers and managers to acknowledge each others' efforts by sharing Nectar points. Employees then trade their accumulated points for their choice of Amazon products, company swag, charity donations, gift cards, and custom rewards. 

Book a Nectar demo today to start building a strong culture of recognition in your company.

Actionable workplace tips & insights for fellow people lovers

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

You might also like...

How To Improve Recognition at Work Using The 5 Love Languages
Employee Recognition
How To Improve Recognition at Work Using The 5 Love Languages
Looking for new ways to improve recognition at work? Here are some tips on how to leverage the 5 Love Languages as a framework.
read now >
30 Thoughtful Ways To Celebrate Work Anniversaries In 2024
Employee Recognition
30 Thoughtful Ways To Celebrate Work Anniversaries In 2024
Need ideas on how to celebrate employee work anniversaries? Find 30 creative ideas (mostly budget-friendly) to get you started!
read now >
Peer-To-Peer Recognition: 9 Curated Examples And Ideas For 2024
Employee Recognition
Peer-To-Peer Recognition: 9 Curated Examples And Ideas For 2024
Learn what 21 executives and HR leaders say about the power of peer recognition in the workplace including examples, ideas and best practices
read now >