Gift Programs

4 min read

What's the difference between Reward, Recognition and Incentive?

Open DictionaryWhether you're new to the industry or have years of experience, the terms reward, recognition and incentive can often be confusing and misused. We've set out to clarify these terms for you, in order to better assist you in your journey to finding the perfect employee program match.

Reward - "A thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement." [1]

An employee reward is the gift which you may choose to give employees for reaching an achievement or goal. Employee rewards can be given out as both a recognition and incentive award, and rewards are used by many companies for a number of reasons, including achieving length of service milestones, safety or performance goals, and more.

The word reward can be used synonomously with the terms "award" and "gift", and the type of employee rewards used by companies are often specific and unique to their company culture. Common employee rewards include brand name gifts, travel tickets, bonuses, and gift cards.


Recognition - "The acknowledgment of achievement, service, merit, etc." [2]

Recognition is used in the industry to describe acknowledging an employee's achievement. Most often, these achievements are significant and have specified standards for attainment. At Awards Network, we consider years of service, retirement, and safety milestones to fall under the employee recognition category because they are significant and specified milestones that any employee can reach.

Recognition can also be awarded for smaller achievements among employees for reasons such as thank you's, birthdays, or going above and beyond. If you're looking to give employee rewards for specified achievements, then an employee recognition program is a perfect program for you.


Incentive - "Something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity." [3]

Incentive is the encouragement of employees to work harder to meet your designated company or department specific goals. Two of the most common types of incentive programs we see at Awards Network are sales incentive programs and wellness incentive programs. An employee incentive program works to motivate your employees to complete specific actions or meet specific goals which you set for them. For example, a sales incentive may offer a reward to an employee who meets their monthly sales quota, and a wellness incentive program could offer a reward to an employee who completes their annual vision exam. Both programs are encouraging employees to put in the extra effort to complete a predetermined task.

The reward value for meeting these goals is often translated into points, so that employees can continuously save and combine their earned points for each goal or action they complete. The more points the employee accumulates, the larger reward he or she can redeem for those points. This type of structure "incentivizes" your employees to put forth a greater effort in their daily duties, to help increase your overall company goals, in exchange for rewards.


It is important to mention that an employee incentive program and an employee recognition program may also be used in conjunction. If you are planning a program for both recognition and incentive reasons, the two can be easily merged to create one all-encompassing program that allows you to reward for all types of achievements and goals.

Knowing the difference between these terms will now help you better research the industry and find the most successful program for your company. You will also find that you are able to communicate your program needs more clearly to potential program providers, and you will appear more knowledgeable to your team when pitching your ideas!

For more help on finding the perfect program for you, reach out to our team of experts who are happy to walk you through the many program options that Awards Network has to offer!

1. Oxford Dictionary - Reward, 2017
2. - Recognition, 2017
3. - Incentive, 2017

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