The Top 8 Best Employee Recognition Platforms in 2019

The best employee recognition software, pricing guidelines, benefits, pitfalls, and more


Are you looking to build a world class employee rewards program? Incentivizing your employees with the right perks increases retention, employee engagement, and can have amazing results for the culture of your organization.

We’ve researched dozens of employee rewards solutions so that you don’t have to. We rely on the advice on unbiased HR experts to understand the hidden pitfalls you need to be aware of, the keys to a successful implementation, how to calculate ROI, and much more.

We hope this guide will save you hours of research, and allow you to purchase the right solution for your business!

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Top Employee Reward Programs

We track thousands of HRTech solutions, these are the best employee reward programs per our research and expert council as of September 2019

Bonusly’s peer to peer employee recognition platform is designed to increase employee engagement and retention through employee shout outs that are tied to company values and redeemable for real-world rewards.

They’ve focused on allowing employees to access this solution from a plethora of integrations and apps which results in 75-90% of employees using the platform each month.

Worth Checking Out: Bonusly has automated bots built in that will reward people for things like anniversaries and birthdays. Learn More about Bonusly

Motivosity combines employee engagement and performance management with employee rewards to deliver a compelling platform used by companies like Instructure and WorkFront. After launch, the system spreads virally throughout the organization as employees start to recognize one another.

Worth Checking Out: 95% of employees engage with Motivosity’s platform on a monthly basis, that is huge!

Kazoo combines employee rewards and recognition with engagement and performance management into one platform. This three pronged approach allows People teams to use one vendor that seamlessly shares data across all three modules. On the rewards side of things, they see over 80% of employees engaging with their platform on a monthly basis. They also have a customer retention rate over 90%.

Worth Checking Out: If you’re in the market for employee rewards, and also thinking about performance management / employee engagement down the road, then Kazoo is definitely worth your time.

Snappy believes in giving gifts to engage employees, versus points or dollars which they view as impersonal. And, they’ve got lots of notes from employees to prove their approach has merit. One nice part of their offering is that their team will spend time at the beginning of the implementation to make sure there are automated touch points built into your employee rewards and recognition program (birthdays, anniversaries, etc). Snappy has a 99% customer retention rate, which we find very impressive.

Worth Checking Out: Snappy raised $10 million in Fall of 2018 and is growing fast!

AwardCo has teamed up with Amazon in this space, meaning that your employees have access to redeeming their rewards for any product listed on Amazon. Some of their marquee customers include Zillow, TaylorMade and Pepperdine University.

Worth Checking Out: AwardCo does a lot to communicate the value to your managers to ensure a successful launch.

Over 4,000 companies use Gifted to power their rewards and recognition program. We always think customers vote with their dollars and so it’s worth noting they are profitable, with over 90% client retention.

Worth Checking Out: Gifted is rolling out a self serve product, great for smaller companies who want to get started with employee rewards on a budget.

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Kudos’s platform is specifically designed to engage employees through peer to peer recognition, that can also lead to employee rewards.  Recognition sent within Kudos is tied to company values and qualities, reinforcing your culture and enabling deep data insights into the health of your workplace culture. In addition to software, they offer consulting services.

Worth Checking Out: Many Kudos clients run their recognition programs successfully without needing to spend anything on rewards.

With over 1,800 customers and over 5 million users, Reward Gateway is a leader in the rewards and recognition space. Their solution is built on an engaging peer to peer recognition platform that allows colleagues to recognize one another and turn that recognition into perks and rewards.

Worth Checking Out: Reward Gateway has a very strong employee engagement tool that is focused around building culture and retaining employees.

Benefits of Employee Rewards Solutions

The best employee rewards programs benefit employees, as well as the people operations teams that use them. These benefits are great for companies looking at starting a new employee rewards program, as well as employers who are looking to upgrade to one of the best vendors.

Here are the key benefits of employee rewards and recognition programs:

  • Increase Engagement: When you partner with the right vendor, your employees will be engaged on a regular basis in a positive way that also reinforces company values. This leads to higher output, more referrals to fill open reqs, and generally a happier place to work.

  • Increase Retention: One of the other key benefits of increased engagement is higher retention. The cost of replacing employees is extremely high, and so anything HR can do to drive higher retention has a huge impact on the business.

  • Personalization: You most likely spend money each year on company perks. Maybe it’s really good coffee, craft beer, or fun outings. But, it’s hard to make everyone happy. Some people don’d drink coffee or alcohol. Some have kids and can’t participate in many outings. An employee rewards and recognition program allows you to re-allocate a part of the budget which is making only some people happy, and allow individuals to select perks that are impactful to them.

  • Automation: Using one of the best employee rewards platforms means that a lot of the work HR has to do to encourage utilization of the platform is automated. At the most basic, this starts with employees getting recognized for work anniversaries, birthdays, or for things like employee of the month. In the best case scenario, the tool you pick creates a virtuous cycle of employees receiving and giving rewards to one another.

  • Save Time: If your people operations team has been spending cycles planning out when and how to give employee rewards, you’re in luck. The vendors in this space all have built in playbooks for how your rewards program should work. Some even have dedicated consultants that will work to customize your program for you.

Employee Rewards and Recognition Best Practices

Chances are, implementing an employee rewards and recognition program isn’t the only thing going on in your job. It’s easy to stumble into the various pitfalls when buying and starting one of these programs. Here are the best practices we’ve collected from talking to a few dozen HR professionals about their employee rewards initiatives.

  • More Than Money: Something we found somewhat counterintuitive is that these programs are not all about money. In fact, there is very little correlation between the dollar value offered to employees and the impact of the program on retention and engagement.

  • Make Time: HR is busy. Plain and simple. Most days involve some sort of fire drill. Plus, as a cost center, HR tends to be understaffed and overworked. What we’ve noticed is that even an employee rewards program that starts off strong can die over time. It’s essential to build in time on a monthly/quarterly basis to make sure your program is healthy (put a calendar invite to block off one hour per month). It’s also a best practice to build automation into your rewards program - like people getting rewards at birthdays, anniversaries, etc. This means things will work even when you’re too busy to check in.

  • Manager Buy In: We’ve seen cases where managers are getting $1,000 or more to give away per month to their employees, but they are too busy to do it. Most people just need a gentle nudge. You’ll be able to see in your vendor dashboard who needs that nudge. But, the most important piece of advice here is to lay out why this program is so important at the get-go. Show some research on how this will impact productivity, retention, and engagement. Getting managers to see how this will allow them to accomplish their goals is key.

  • HRIS Integration: If your vendor doesn’t integrate with your solution, be very weary. When your rewards platform doesn’t talk to the HRIS in a seamless way (.csv’s don’t count!), it means a lot more manual work for you to continually update it. And, we all get busy…so sometimes this work doesn’t get done, which endangers the health of your program.

  • Check for Hidden Fees: Some vendors offer free programs. However, you may be paying for it through markups to the products your employees get. For example, your employee gets $20 worth of rewards, and ends up with a coffee mug that retails for $5.99. If a vendor’s model seems too good to be true, make sure there aren’t hidden costs.

  • Budgeting: The “best practice” is to allocate 1-3% of a person’s salary annually to non-cash rewards. Some of this budget is going to be eaten up by company wide things like outings, kombucha on tap, etc. $100-$250/employee/quarter on rewards is what we’ve seen as a best practice for rewards and recognition programs.

  • Breakage: When budgeting your rewards spend, realize that some of the rewards will never be allocated (remember the manager who gets $1,000/mo and only allocates $500), and some will not be redeemed (an employee gets $100 in points, but only gets a gift worth $50). Make sure to ask your vendor of choice how much you should expect to actually pay out relative to the total rewards you’ll be offering employees.

  • Pre-existing Communication Channels: If your employees have another app they need to log into, the program will have a smaller chance of success. Look for vendors that communicate with employees through pre-existing channels like Slack and email.

  • Not Just Managers: Make sure your managers AND employees are able to recognize other people in the organization. Otherwise, it’s a slap in the face to employees who feel as though their opinion doesn’t matter.

  • Culture Matters: Many companies look at employee rewards and recognition platforms as a way to fix issues with their culture. These programs can enhance your culture. But, if you are getting daily negative Glassdoor reviews and generally are in the bottom quartile of companies in terms of culture, you may need more drastic measures before implementing this sort of program.

  • Align With Values: Make sure your vendor of choice allows for employees to be recognized along your company values. For example, when someone gets a reward, they are getting it for moving the mission of your business forward, or for helping a colleague/customer in a way that aligns with what your organization stands for.

  • Focused Rewards: Don’t fall into the trap of offering 30,000 different options as rewards. Stick to 200-300 that you feel good about. too much choice can lead to employee indecision.

  • Don’t Overthink: We’ve all been there. There’s a new project we want to run with, but we’re not sure how to get started, what to measure, etc (hopefully this page will help you with that!). So many “strategy meetings” are spent trying to solve these issues…but the best advice is to simply follow the playbook your chosen vendor lays out for you. They have all the best practices and want you to succeed in a pilot. You can spend a lot of time and effort worrying about which perks to offer, for whom, etc. Our advice, just do it!

Employee Rewards and Recognition Examples:

For those looking for some inspiration, here are some examples of employee rewards that we think are interesting and will have a significant impact on your program. Please note that your employees may very well want some company branded swag as part of their rewards catalogue. However, the number one complaint from employees is when this is the only option available. Ok, here are some employee reward examples:

  • Community Events: One of the best ways to enjoy employee rewards is by sharing the love with your colleagues via buying the office cookies, or throwing a pizza party.

  • Giving Your Rewards: Some of the most popular reward options are always transferring your points/dollars to another employee. Make sure your employees have the ability to take what they’ve earned and send them to a deserving colleague.

  • Donations: Of course, donating your points to a charitable cause always feels good.

  • Non-Monetary: The best employee rewards can be interesting activities that don’t cost a dollar - lunch with the CEO, the ability to give a talk to the rest of the organization, etc.

  • Trips: Trips can be a bit on the pricier side. That said, we always hear when one of our friends is going on an expenses paid trip after reaching President’s Club, a ten year anniversary, or some other large achievement.

  • New Parents: There is a reason why every CPG brand out there wants to engage with new parents - this is a time when emotions can run high and every bit of help is appreciated! Plus, there are a lot of great employee perks out there for new moms and dads including pre-natal yoga, baby clothing, spa days, etc.

  • Recognition: Being recognized is a key part of any employee rewards program, and it can also be the reward itself. Giving people kudos over slack, in company meetings, or on social media is a great way for employees to feel good about the work they’re doing.

  • Company Swag: Maybe this should be labeled “company swag you actually want.” Invest a little extra to get those soft cotton shirts that people want to wear, or the Yeti mug vs the one that costs $1. The extra money is worth getting the point across that your employees are valued. Plus, higher quality means more use and more branding!

  • Your City: What makes your city great? Your sports teams? Specific restaurants or activities? These are all amazing examples of employee perks to offer.

  • Exercise: Many people love to exercise, but either don’t have the time or find it hard to justify spending the money. Give a luxurious exercise experience to your deserving employees - spinning classes, yoga, or even a high end piece of equipment like a Peloton.

  • Learning: The job market keeps changing, and the shelf life of most hard skills are less than a few years. People need to keep learning, and will appreciate getting reimbursed for taking an online course, or going to a conference. Plus, you now have an even more capable member of your team!

  • Relaxation: Work can be stressful. Life can be stressful. Give the gift of relaxation. This can take the form of a massage, day off, weekend away, night out at a local favorite restaurant, or really anything else that gives people time to slow down and regroup.

  • Everything else: So, there is a lot of value in suggesting/curating employee perks and rewards. But, there is also value in offering variety. Seek out ways that you can allow your employees to pick their own gifts from a few hundred options as opposed to a narrow set of rewards.

Employee Rewards Pricing

There are two main pricing models for employee rewards programs. The first is the “market place” model. In this case, the employer is paying a percentage of their spend on the platform. This is great because generally speaking the more you spend, the more your program is a success. So, this is basically value based pricing. It’s also great because it’s usually free to start (outside of implementation fees), making pilots very easy.

Here are some guidelines on pricing for these types of employee rewards programs:

EmployeesAnnual SpendFee as % of SpendVendor Fee

The second pricing model is the standard per employee per month. This also makes sense for the companies who are engaging your employees on a frequent basis, and are perhaps doing more than just employee rewards and recognition. Here’s what we’ve found pricing looks like for for these types of employee rewards platforms:

EmployeesPrice/Employee/MoTotal Fee

Please note these pricing schemes are general guidelines to help with budgeting and not meant to be hard and fast rules. There are many factors that go into pricing. We’re also trying to offer advice on what to expect across several vendors, each of which charge a bit differently.

Staying Organized

If you’re looking at multiple employee rewards platforms, it will become very hard very quickly to keep track of which vendor had which feature set. We’ve put together the below spreadsheet to help you stay organized, and choose the right rewards and recognition platform. It has some example questions, but of course feel free to modify it to meet the criteria that matters to you!

Download the employee rewards and recognition demo organizer

Reference Materials From This Guide

The Best Employee Rewards Platforms:

Are we missing something on this page? Let us know and we’ll research it for you! Better yet, join our expert council and lend your expertise!