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Employee Recognition

The Ultimate Guide To Employee Recognition Software Selection

Amanda Cross
Last Updated November 27, 2023

Over a dozen companies help organizations recognize and reward their employees. That's a lot!

But, even with the noise, key companies must have some table stakes to compete. Understanding the options these companies should have will help you pick the best solution for your organization.

So, if you are unsure about what to look for in your company’s employee recognition software, we’ve got you covered. Here are eight factors to consider when selecting staff recognition software:

1. Recognition Options

While this seems obvious, there is nuance in how companies deliver these recognition options. Consider how your organization will use your recognition platform. We recommend peer-to-peer and manager-to-employee recognition. Recognition needs to come from various directions to create a stellar company culture.


Often companies use recognition platforms to create a peer-to-peer recognition system. Peers see things differently from managers. Recognition from your peers is usually saved for annual reviews, but hearing those messages year round is helpful for workers and company leaders.

As an organization, you might be wary about peer recognition. Letting go of control and seeking input from individual contributors is a new way of building culture. Companies that utilize Nectar, including our peer-to-peer recognition features, see a 91% increase in employee morale and a 94% increase in employee engagement.

One way to remove some of your peer-to-peer qualms is by looking for companies offering recognition guardrails. For example, at Nectar, we have a setting for organizations that want to make it challenging for employees to game the system or send points back and forth. These settings are entirely customizable to your organization. With these guardrails in place, you can show a simple warning or stop the points from being sent to the other team member.


Next, your staff recognition software should have some way for managers or executives to recognize their teams.

A worker's direct supervisor has a tremendous impact on their experience. According to Gallup, “Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in their team's engagement.” 

A recent McKinsey survey found that 25% of a person’s life satisfaction comes from job satisfaction. Furthermore, McKinsey found that interpersonal relationships boosted job satisfaction. As you might expect, relationships with management were much more important than those with colleagues.

Unfortunately, we put a lot of pressure on managers to get things right with their direct reports. It can be challenging to be a great manager without the support or tools to help. We know that managers can’t do it all.

The best recognition platforms will give managers the ability to:

  • Recognize their team.
  • Spot team members who need extra support.
  • Find direct reports who might be prime candidates for raises and promotions.

Formal Recognition And Awards

You may already have an award like Employee of the Month in place. These awards shouldn’t stop because you moved to a recognition platform. While ad-hoc recognition is a part of building culture, formal awards are fantastic because they have more weight on resumes and in public. It’s often easier to say you won Employee Of The Month over the number of shoutouts you received at a past job. Formal recognition has a place, as long as it’s not the only way you recognize your team members.

Consider your current awards setup when evaluating if a company meets your formal recognition criteria. For example, do you provide this award across several offices? Perhaps you only share a type of formal recognition with a specific department. You should be able to set this up in your platform of choice while saving time when you’re ready to award.

In Nectar, you can create formal recognition templates that allow managers and administrators to share formal recognition consistently.

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar

2. Reward Options

Once staff members have collected points through recognition, workers must be able to use them for things that matter. Your company’s rewards catalog will incentivize many employees to utilize your recognition software. You want to ensure you have something for everyone to redeem with their earned points.

Gift Cards

Many companies reach for gift cards when they want to reward workers. Unfortunately, we’ve all had that moment where we get a gift card to a place we don’t love, or companies default to a Visa gift card so we end up spending the reward on a bill.

Well, there’s a place for Visa gift cards, but only if that’s what your team needs at the time.

The best recognition platforms will have various gift card options for your team to redeem. If possible, these gift cards should all be electronically delivered so workers can access them immediately vs. waiting for a physical card to arrive in the mail.

Swag And Physical Products

Company swag is one of the easiest ways to create a sense of belonging at work. If you build a culture that people enjoy, many employees are interested in supporting and showing off their connection to your company. Unfortunately, many companies treat swag like a last-minute gift idea or a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. They may throw swag into a welcome gift or hand out new swag during company milestones. There’s no reason that employees shouldn’t be able to get branded products year-round.

Outside of swag, your employees might also enjoy other physical products. For example, at Nectar, we recently partnered with Amazon Business. This integration allows employees to use their Nectar points on Amazon products in the United States and Canada (with more countries to come.)

Custom Rewards

While gift cards and physical products are great reward options, you’d be surprised how well a custom rewards catalog can do. Utilizing custom rewards can help create meaningful and specific options that your team will find valuable. While custom rewards can help you create a budget-friendly employee rewards program, that’s not the only reason you should build a custom rewards suite.

Here are a few examples of the custom rewards we see at Nectar:

  • Extra PTO days
  • Access to the best parking spot
  • Treats for the office or a department
  • Custom care packages or gifts
  • Free use of your product/service (e.g., a free haircut if you are a salon or a free meal if you are a restaurant)

Custom awards allow you and your team to get creative. While these experiences take longer to fulfill than the instant gratification of an eGift card, they can be just as valuable to your team. 

3. Company Culture Enablement

Next, it’s important to consider company culture enablement. What are you currently doing to create a great place to work? How are you incentivizing people to live your values? These are the kinds of questions you are likely grappling with every day. When done right, recognition software can help you build the type of culture that creates buzz and excitement around your business.

Core Values

Can your team members name your core values and what they mean to the company? If not, can they name one or two of them? Often company executives and HR teams spend weeks debating and building values that workers don’t adopt. Instead of becoming a guiding light, values become another slide in the onboarding presentation.

Still, prospective workers look for companies that share the same values as them. Edelman recently discussed how belief-driven employees have become more common. In their survey, they found the most common reason people left an organization was because they wanted to find an organization that best fit their values. Unfortunately, without constant support internally, it’s easy to talk the talk while not living your company’s values.

Most recognition platforms will provide recognition based on your company’s core values. Some companies may allow workers to give praise without attaching a value. It’s important to consider if you want core values to be required or optional.

Celebrating Birthdays And Anniversaries

Milestones are important to your workers. Birthdays and work anniversaries create a space for reflection for your team. Are they where they thought they’d be? Does their work make them happy? Are there any immediate changes they want to make in their work or personal lives? Your team will ask these questions as they celebrate their birthday or work anniversaries.

As a company, your job is to make these events memorable for your team. One way to start celebrating is by automating your gift. Employee recognition software companies realize that remembering these dates can be challenging, especially as your team grows. Therefore, most recognition companies will be able to automate your birthday and anniversary recognition.

As you consider which recognition platform to use, work anniversaries should be given special attention. You might have a default amount for all work anniversaries, but getting to certain large numbers, like five years or ten years, is remarkable, and those numbers should get a special gift. If you are dealing with a lot of turnover, you might even want to celebrate one year with zeal. The software you choose should be able to handle that.

Work anniversary awards from Nectar


No matter your team size, getting workers to do what you want them to do can be difficult. From filling out your annual engagement survey to going to an annual physical, it’s easy for team members to avoid these tasks.

Some recognition companies have realized how challenging promoting positive workplace and lifestyle behaviors can be. Creating a workplace challenge is a great way to show employees the behaviors you want to see while getting them excited about completing those tasks.

4. Analytics And Reporting

Next, any staff recognition software needs access to in-depth analytics and reporting. As you know, getting the budget for an employee recognition program can be cumbersome. Once you get the funding, you must ensure things are moving smoothly. Is the program having its intended effect on your team? Great recognition software gives you the analytics you need to back up your claims while helping your team build better recognition habits.

Team Insights

As we’ve established, managers play a prominent role in their individual contributors' lives. One way that recognition software can make your life easier is by giving managers the tools they need to recognize and reward their team members.

Managers should be given a distinct dashboard that allows them to understand how they are doing when recognizing their team. This dashboard can include the percentage of the team recognized, a network map to see how recognition flows, and the core values their team is being recognized for.

A manager's dashboard gives team leaders more accountability over the program and insight into how their team performs.

Team insights report from Nectar

Administrator Analytics

You also want your employee recognition software to offer administrator analytics. As the admin running the recognition program at your company, you must have higher-level insight into the program's health. Being able to zoom out and see the overall use of the program is crucial. Analytics like this will allow you to justify the continued investment that recognition programs take.

Another thing you want to consider is the exportability of the data you collect. As an administrator, you are likely data-driven. Taking the information your company produces and diving deeper into the data with tools like Microsoft Excel can help build your workplace credibility and further justify this expense.

Financial Insight

Running a rewards and recognition program isn’t cheap. On top of the software and rewards cost, there are tax obligations that come with rewards like gift cards. Without the correct reporting, it’s easy for your rewards program to become overwhelming.

Having finance reports to track where your money is going is essential. You should also be able to export this data when you need to do so. If finances seem like an afterthought during the software demonstrations, you’ll want to ask further questions about the tools that are available to you.

5. Integrations

Recognition programs don’t exist in a vacuum. Some tools need to talk to your recognition software, while others need to integrate with your software to improve usage. Here are a few of the integrations that you’ll likely want in an employee recognition tool:

Chat Integrations

First, you’ll likely want a tool that can integrate with places your team already is. For example, integrations with tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow your staff members to give and receive recognition where they are already collaborating. Furthermore, integrations into a company’s intranet might be vital if you have a company application that your team uses.

HRIS Integrations

Another massive integration you’ll want to consider is an HRIS integration. Once your recognition software is up and running, one of the most time-consuming admin tasks you’ll need to do is add and remove team members. If your recognition program has a robust HRIS integrations catalog, adding and removing employees should be as easy as making changes inside your HR system. 

SSO Integrations

As your company grows, you might find value in using single sign-on or SSO providers. SSO makes it easier for team members to sign in to important websites and applications. If your company is already using SSO, you’d want your recognition program to integrate so you can further streamline log-in credentials and staff can avoid remembering another log-in.

6. Support

Next, it’s crucial to cover support. Recognition and rewards platforms are still relatively new for companies. There is a chance that many of your team members have never interacted with a formal recognition tool. Thankfully, many recognition platforms are based on a social feed that’s familiar to them. As a manager or administrator, you may want help making the most of the influx of information you’ll get from a recognition tool. You want a partner to support your needs as you roll out and utilize employee recognition tools. 


First, you want a partner who simplifies the implementation experience. Implementing a recognition tool requires a lot of thought work. For example, you may have to determine core values or consider how much your custom rewards will cost. Therefore, you should look for an organization that simplifies implementation, such as connecting your tools and getting your team onboard.

Ask your sales rep about the next steps after signing on as a customer.

  • How does that organization handle the implementation process?
  • Do they have time-tested strategies that simplify the experience?
  • Can they get you up and running in the timeframe you need?

Continued Support And Account Management

After everything is implemented, where will you go as questions inevitably arise from workers and your leadership team? A robust help article database can ensure you get questions answered quickly, but what happens when you can’t find what you need?

  • Is there a dedicated account manager for answering complex questions?
  • If you don’t have a dedicated account manager, do you have access to a chat feature that gets your questions answered timely?
  • Is there support for your team members if they have questions about interacting with the platform?

Since software implementation is such a small part of adoption, you need to understand what the next part of your support relationship will look like.

A person working at a computer

7. Security

If your organization is security conscious, you want your software to care about that too. However, not all technology companies are created equal. Some emphasize security and what happens to data, while others don’t. Here are some items to consider when looking at the security of an employee recognition tool.

Data Deletion

What happens to your company's data if you decide that employee recognition software isn’t for you? When is it appropriate for the company to delete data? You want to work with an organization that deletes your data in a healthy timeframe. Typically deleting data within 90 days makes the most sense. This allows your organization easy access if you change your mind without holding your data on a server for too long.

Access To Data

If your recognition tool is integrated with your HRIS or chat tools, you might wonder what information it can access.

Software like your HRIS holds tons of sensitive information, and a recognition tool doesn’t need access to all of this. Ultimately, whatever recognition program you use should be able to tell you what information it has access to and why it decides to pull this information. Commonly, recognition tools need to pull things like:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Birthdate (for birthday shoutouts)
  • Work start date (for work anniversary shoutouts)
  • Work location
  • Department
  • Manager email

Before you add a recognition platform to your chat tool, you should get detailed information on what it has access to. What external recognition platforms have access to will often be apparent when you integrate it with your chat tool. On the whole, tools like this can:

  • Send you messages and notifications
  • Access profile information to match you to your correct account.
  • Receive messages and data that you provide to it in channels, chats, or meetings.

These permissions are pretty standard and give recognition tools the ability to work correctly. Instead of reading all the messages, you’ll need to prompt the external platform using a shortcut or a specific channel in your chat program.

8. Pricing

Recognition tools can vary in pricing, but most use a PEPM or per-employee-per-month model. Often recognition tools offer discounts for larger teams. However, the per-employee price you pay isn’t typically a major differentiator between companies as most charge around the same, give or take <$1 per team member. The real differentiators come when discussing implementation fees and contracts.

Implementation Fees

Many companies charge hefty implementation fees to get started with their tool. While this can help the company sustain itself, it can cause a financial burden for customers. Instead of spending money on implementation, that money might be better spent on rewards for team members. If a tool checks all the boxes and you enjoy the interface, the implementation fee may be worth it, but some software options like Nectar don’t have a fee like this.

Contract Options

Investing in software may be a hard sell if your company is new to worker recognition. Companies need to have choices regarding the software they are using. You may choose to be on a month-to-month contract while you are validating the experience at your company.

However, if your organization is sold on worker recognition, it helps to have contracts that allow you and your team to save money. Many companies can put more money into rewards for their team when they save money this way.

When looking at your software options, you must understand the contract terms you are signing up for. How much does the software cost? Does a monthly or annual contract make the most sense for your team?

Download Nectar's Employee Recognition Software Selection Worksheet

Are you ready to streamline your company's software selection process? We've covered a lot of information today, and we wanted to make it easy for you to make your own decisions and build your criteria. We've put together two worksheets to help you build your criteria and compare your top software choices. You can easily copy these worksheets to your Google Drive or you can download an editable PDF of this worksheet.

Download our employee recognition software selection worksheet

Conclusion: Employee Recognition Software Selection You Can Trust

Picking the perfect employee recognition software can be a time-consuming process. Understanding nuances and similarities between the existing tools can cause many issues for HR teams. By reading this article, you should walk away with a deep understanding of what to look for in a staff recognition tool.

To review, here are some questions you should consider when selecting a recognition tool:

  • What recognition options exist when I use this tool?
  • Is there a robust reward catalog that my team can pick from?
  • Does this tool allow me to build and expand company culture?
  • Am I able to zoom out and analyze the value of the program?
  • Does this tool integrate with existing HR and company-wide tools?
  • Will I have the support I need to keep this program up and running?
  • Is the tool secure?
  • Does the pricing work for my organization?

Actionable workplace tips & insights for fellow people lovers

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