The Ultimate Employee Engagement Event: Part I

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP
December 4 2018
Good employee engagement is about strategy and preparation. When you create a positive experience for your employees, they walk away feeling happier and more productive. Both are crucial to the success of your business—that’s why InfoMart takes time at the end of every year to celebrate the achievements of our incredible team with an awards ceremony.

The Evolution of a Tradition

Our first employee awards ceremony was in the late ‘80s. It was held in my small, hot pink dining room, and a white flocked tree stood proudly in the corner. Great attention went into the cooking and setting up of the buffet, complete with Swedish meatballs and cheese platters. We were small then, and all four employees gathered with a guest. Every member of the team was recognized for their efforts. It may have been a small affair, but that recognition made the difference to those who worked hard to grow our company.

We moved the holiday party and awards ceremony to a fancy restaurant. We reserved a room and set out place cards and flowers. At this point, we were still able to acknowledge every individual’s contribution to the company.

InfoMart had grown and my family moved to a bigger house, so the party moved there. This was considerably more elaborate than year one’s holiday party. I decorated every single room, planned out the food selection, arranged for a valet, and even booked a DJ. It took me over a week to prepare everything, but the employees had a blast.

The company grew significantly, and we had too many people to fit inside my home. Combining our holiday party and awards ceremony was also no longer possible. We created two separate events, and HR took over much of the planning. Still, I made sure that our leadership was involved. It was important to me that everyone recognize how much this event meant to our staff.

Today, I am an expert in annual employee events. Like most things, you learn as you go. There are many do’s and don’ts, and a great awards banquet is a great ROI on employee engagement.

However, a bad event can be costly. Select the wrong people, and you will have hurt feelings and fuel for office gossip. Winners must be truly worthy, or your event loses all credibility. Create the most formal and professional event of the year so that everyone will know winning an award is a serious accomplishment.

Setting the Stage

Remember: the presentation of your awards ceremony reflects the value you place on your employees as much as the awards do. InfoMart has an event room that seats 250 people. Our employee-run committee, I’M Celebrating, chooses and plans the décor. We use cloth table linens, top our chairs with slipcovers, and put centerpieces and table runners on each table. If you have the storage space, I encourage you to consider buying many of these decorations instead of renting. It will save you money year over year. We always use a formal dinnerware set—this is not the time for paper plates and long food lines. We call two tables up at a time to the buffet and encourage people to mingle before the event starts. The food is the highest level of catering, providing holiday classics and crowd favorites. As for the ceremony itself, we treat it like the Academy Awards. A table near the podium has all the awards staged in the order of announcing and covered with black fabric. First the description of the award is read, then the paragraph used to nominate the person, and then we announce the winner. Each person comes to the front to receive their award, certificate, check, and flowers. These are the top performers within our company; they deserve individual recognition.

Things to Keep in Mind

Not everyone can win. When you have less than 10 employees, you can recognize everyone in the company, which is one of the benefits of being a small or mid-sized business. But with a larger staff, you need a formal nomination process. Look forward to an outline of InfoMart’s awards and processes in next week’s blog. Have a set of awards that only one person can win. They are the upper echelon of recognition. At InfoMart, it’s our practice that once you reach this award, you are no longer eligible for any others in the future. You have entered an elite class. Give them something to display. Keep in mind that employees usually place their awards on their desks. Consider it an investment beyond your individual employee; it is also an investment in the overall aesthetic of the organization. You want people to recognize a specific award from a distance, so make them unique when they’re designed. We are fortunate to be headquartered near a renowned glassblowing company, Atlanta’s Lillie Glassblowers, so we can obtain custom, elegant trophies. Look for a similar provider in your area to have truly beautiful awards for your team.

Not everything has to be a trophy. For smaller honors, consider these:

  • Cash & Checks – Money adds more exclusivity and value to each of your awards, and it shows your employees your appreciation.
  • Flowers & Certificates – Every award winner receives a certificate, though only our top awards receive a bouquet of flowers.
  • Tenure – A few awards are only available to those who have been hired in the past 18 months and others over five and ten years.

Employee awards ceremonies represent one of the sincerest forms of employee engagement – saying thank you. Appreciation can be the difference between your company working and your company thriving. Check out part II, where I outline the types of awards we give out at our ceremony to give you some ideas for your own. You’ll also love last weeks blog about organizing a daily raffle for the holidays. Do you have your own insights to contribute? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter at @ByTammyCohen, or connect with me on LinkedIn for other employee engagement articles.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record. To learn more about Tammy, visit

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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