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Key Employee Rewards and Recognition Trends in 2021 and Beyond

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Key Employee Rewards and Recognition Trends in 2021 and Beyond

2020 was a year that pushed organizations to adopt new operating models and underscore the importance of the digital workplace as part of the operating strategy. Employee rewards and recognition too are likely to see big changes. Let’s look at the key employee rewards and recognition trends in 2021 and beyond.

Also, read about the Key Trends in Employee Recognition in 2022

What are the Key Factors that will Impact Employee Recognition in 2021?


Overall, the year 2020 proved to be tumultuous for almost every organization irrespective of its size and industry segment.

As a result, organizations were forced to adopt new methods of working and how they keep their workforce engaged and motivated.

Here are the key factors that will impact employee rewards and recognition in 2021:

1. Rise and Growth of Digital Workplaces

Work from Home

The COVID-19 pandemic forced most organizations to switch to the digital mode of working. 

Though organizations had been investing in digital tools before, the pandemic has helped accelerate the process of driving their usage.

On the other hand, organizations that have been slow to adopt these tools have started adopting them faster.

The large-scale adoption of the digital workplace is going to make a significant impact on employee rewards and recognition practices.

Also, organizations would need to modify their policies and practices to match the needs and challenges of a changing work environment.

2. Focus on Employee Wellness

Mindfulness Champion

The health crisis due to the pandemic has made organizations focus on the health and well-being of employees much more.

Hence, organizations have now started looking at the holistic wellness of employees to ensure productivity and retention. This includes physical, mental, and psychological well-being.

Hence, organizations need to evolve their employee rewards and recognition policies to drive wellness initiatives.

3. Need to Stay Connected


In 2020, the need to stay connected and in continuous communication with the employees has been felt more than ever.

With most employees working in isolation, the fear of being left out is adding to their stress levels.

That is why organizations should ensure that their rewards and recognition programs create a sense of inclusion among the employees.

They can do this by acknowledging and appreciating their efforts in a timely and appropriate manner.   

4. Build Engagement and Loyalty

A Guide to Organizing a Virtual Employee Awards Ceremony

Also, the pandemic has triggered large-scale job losses and pay cuts across organizations.

This, coupled with the growing isolation of working remotely can breed disengagement among the employees.

Finally, this might result in attrition as the economic growth picks up and the job market opens up.

Hence, organizations need to drive higher engagement through their reward and recognition programs and create greater confidence and loyalty toward the organization. 

What will be the Key Employee Rewards and Recognition Trends in 2021?

The outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 is driving large-scale and permanent changes in the way organizations operate.

Organizations need to realign their rewards and recognition programs to ensure that their employees feel accepted, included, and appreciated, no matter whether they are working from home or office.

Here’s a look at the key trends in employee rewards and recognition in 2021:

Key Employee Rewards and Recognition Trends in 2021 and Beyond

1. Digital and Platform-driven

Comprehensive Guide for Implementing Work from Home effectively

Most organizations plan to have a significant segment of their workforce operating from home in 2021,

Hence, it will not be surprising that organizations will invest in technology platforms for employee recognition in a big way.

These recognition platforms will enable organizations to deliver digital programs that can cater to the needs of a virtual and distributed workforce in terms of timeliness, frequency, and social visibility, with minimal administrative overheads.

Hence, organizations will need to choose end-to-end recognition platforms that can help digitize and automate their programs, are cost-effective, simple to manage, and can ensure a high level of end-user experience for the employees.

Take a look at the Features and Functionalities of the HiFives Platform

2. Integrated with Other Digital Platforms

How to Choose the Best Employee Recognition System for your Organization?

In 2021, recognition platforms will rarely operate in a stand-alone mode but in an integrated way with other digital platforms and work tools.

Therefore, this will ensure a better alignment of employee recognition with the business goals and drive higher productivity.

Integration of employee recognition platforms is likely to happen with platforms such as HRMS, work collaboration tools (like Slack and Teams), customer management systems, and learning management systems.

This will create a seamless experience for the employees while driving better business results.

Take a look at 3rd Party Integration Options of the HiFives Platform

3. Focus on Peer Recognition

Integrating Employee Recognition with the Organizational Culture

Peer-to-peer recognition has already come to be acknowledged as one of the most effective ways of appreciating employees for their good work and keeping them motivated.

In 2021, peer recognition will move into the mainstream of employee recognition as organizations will look at it as an effective way to drive collaboration among remote-working employees, and create a positive work culture.

Read about Peer-to-Peer Recognition – Understanding the Nuts and Bolts

4. Recognition for Culture-building

How Employee Recognition Can Drive Culture Change in 2023

In the absence of other levers that are available in a physical work environment, employee recognition will play an important role in creating a positive work culture in 2021.

Hence, supervisors and peers should be encouraged to recognize behaviors that are in alignment with the organization’s core values and help in building a great work environment.

Read about Employee Recognition Program can drive Cultural Change

5. Gamification of Work

Enable Social Recognition for Innovators 

To address the challenges of working remotely, organizations are likely to turn towards gamification of work to drive a higher level of motivation among the employees.

Digital recognition platforms will enable organizations to implement gamification practices such as challenges, contests, reward points, and digital leaderboards.

So, this will increase employee participation and interest in the recognition programs and make them more fun-filled and exciting.

Read about Gamification as a means of Enhancing Employee Engagement

6. Informal or Fun Awards for Engagement

Fun Awards

With many critical levers of employee engagement unavailable in the digital workplace, organizations can look at informal or fun awards to drive greater engagement among remote-working employees.

Hence, these fun awards could be given for appreciating positive attributes, interests, and hobbies of co-workers; ranging from sports, adventure, fitness, music, fashion, food, gaming, gadgets, etc.

These can be implemented through some variant of an online nomination and polling process.

Informal or fun rewards can not only break the monotony of working alone but also create greater bonding between team members, and overall, foster a positive work environment.

Read about Informal or Fun Awards for Employee Engagement

7. Rewards for Learning and Development Activities

HiFives Employee Rewards Platform

With organizations looking to invest in learning and development to upgrade employee skills to stay competitive, they need to ensure a high level of interest and participation from employees.

Rewarding employees for learning and development activities can ensure that employees are motivated to put in their best efforts to learn and upgrade their skills, which are important to the organization in the long run.

Read about Learning and Development can promote Employee Engagement

8. Rewards for Employee Wellness

Wellness App

Also, as organizations focus on employee wellness initiatives to keep their employees healthy, motivated, and productive, wellness rewards are likely to become an important tool for driving participation and interest in such activities.

Hence, the organization should reward employees for improving awareness, participating in various wellness activities, and encouraging healthy competition between co-workers.

So, this could be achieved by integrating various fitness devices used by the employees, displaying individual and group performance through digital leaderboards, creating challenges and contests, and giving reward points to winners.

Read about Employee Wellness Ideas for Work from Home


Understanding the key employee rewards and recognition trends in 2021 and beyond can help organizations put in place the right policies, processes, and systems to develop a highly motivated and committed workforce going forward.

Organizations that do so can reap business benefits not just in the short term but also in the long run.

Sagar Chaudhuri

Lead author: Sagar Chaudhuri, the Co-Founder and CEO of HiFives. He is an HR Tech Evangelist with over 25 years of experience in the corporate world and entrepreneurship. In the past, Sagar has worked with companies such as Genpact, Infosys, and ICICI Bank, in leadership roles. He has an engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur and an MBA from IIM Lucknow. Connect on LinkedIn

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HiFives is a global employee rewards, recognition and engagement SaaS platform that enables organizations to digitize, automate and transform their employee experience. It is used by 100+ large enterprises, small businesses and startups in manufacturing, retail, technology, financial services and media, across 25+ countries.