Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Say Thanks - Informal Employee Recognition Initiative
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Emily Pomeroy Recognition Project Lead
Monika Dacosta Manager, Total Compensation
Name of Institution Ryerson University
Office Address 350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3
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Telephone: 4169795000 ext. 6250
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Christina Sass-Kortsak
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Assistant Vice-President, Human Resources
Office Address 350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3
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Telephone: (416) 979-5000 ext. 6245
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

In October 2015, Ryerson University launched a new informal recognition initiative called Say Thanks as part of its larger employee recognition program. The initiative’s objectives are to:

  • Strengthen a culture of appreciation

  • Encourage Ryerson values

  • Increase employee engagement

An earlier employee engagement survey had identified perceptions by employees of value and recognition, particularly at the departmental level, as an area for improvement. Research demonstrates that recognition is a key component of engagement, and that engaged employees are more productive, more motivated to do their best work and have lower turnover and absenteeism. Recognition from immediate managers has been shown to be especially impactful.

An extensive consultation process led to the design of several innovative resources: an online toolkit, Ryerson branded chocolates, paper cards and gift certificates, and most recently, an ecard platform.

The online toolkit kicked off the campaign immediately after Thanksgiving 2015. This toolkit compiles low-cost recognition tips and ideas, guides for developing local practices, FAQs, and additional tools and resources.

The paper cards and chocolates are available through the Campus Store; departments are encouraged to purchase them in bulk and make them available to their teams. To date, departments have purchased over 700 chocolates and 1200 cards. Gift certificates are available and can be redeemed at food services outlets on campus, vending machines, and the Campus Store. These resources have been made available to complement any existing practices.

The ecard platform (launched August 2016) provides all employees with the opportunity to send and receive notes of appreciation by email and be recognized for their contributions. The platform includes an option for ecards to be sent to recipients privately or to be posted to a university-wide newsfeed. Employees at all levels of the organization from the President to frontline employees have sent over 2000 ecards since launch.

A communications campaign to promote and encourage leader and employee participation included both electronic and print materials to reach employees in every area of campus. In addition, information roadshows were held with departments and faculties across the university to introduce the initiative, answer questions and gather feedback.

The Say Thanks campaign is a cost effective way to make informal recognition practices and tools available to all Ryerson employees, to increase the frequency and effectiveness of informal recognition and to promote a culture of appreciation at the university.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

While the program was designed specifically to support Ryerson’s culture, all of the components of the Say Thanks campaign are readily transferable. The toolkit pulls together all informal recognition resources into one place, making information and material easy for employees to locate and use. It contains many general recognition principles, promotes low or no-cost ideas, and provides Q and A’s that could be applied or easily adapted by other universities to fit their unique cultures.

Most of the recognitions tools, such as institution-branded paper cards, chocolates, gift certificates and ecards are ideas that would work in almost any institution.

Ryerson’s proposal to present our recognition program at the World at Work Total Rewards Canadian Conference held in Toronto in September, 2016 was accepted and the presentation was well attended, generating significant interest. Public sector attendees commented that the approach taken by Ryerson in developing our informal recognition program was particularly relevant and applicable in their context.

The multiple communication channels used to gather feedback and promote the initiative are easily transferrable to any institution. These channels included: leader consultations, focus groups, email, social media, posters, information roadshows, and planned contests.

Online learning sessions could allow Ryerson to share the consultation and development process with other institutions, as well as demonstrate the Say Thanks eCard platform. Important project learnings would also be discussed.

Quality Impact

Overall, the initiative was expected to strengthen a culture of appreciation, encourage Ryerson values, increase engagement, and create opportunities for everyone to participate.

By offering a variety of tools, employees have the ability to tailor the recognition to the recipient’s preferences as well as their own comfort level as the sender. The paper cards and ecards provide an opportunity to specifically describe the valued behaviour or action and the chocolates provide a fun treat as a small thank you. Information roadshows create an important forum for leaders to provide feedback on the resources and ask questions.

The Say Thanks eCards reflect many of Ryerson’s values, such as excellence, sustainability, and equity, diversity and inclusion and since launching employees have sent many of these values-based ecards. In addition to being an environmentally sustainable tool, the platform is also completely accessible to employees. While the vendor’s existing platform was somewhat accessible, by working with Ryerson and its accessibility specialists, the platform is now completely AODA and WCAG 2.0 compliant. The vendor now has a higher standard of accessibility available to existing and future clients.

While launching Say Thanks eCards, we received a great deal of positive feedback from employees. Examples include:

  • “Thanks for offering such a good tool for us! Cheers!”

  • “Loving this tool to express my gratitude and thanks.”

  • “the inclusion of ‘Ryerson Values’ as an option personalizes the ecard platform as I am able to send ecards to colleagues, mentors or supervisors that personify specific Ryerson Values.”

  • “I personally appreciate the trouble you went through to make the platform screen reader accessible.”

Productivity Impact

The Say Thanks recognition initiative has seen positive quantitative results as Ryerson strives to encourage greater appreciation and engagement among its employees.

Since launching in October 2015, the Say Thanks online toolkit has received over 10,000 web page views which suggests that it is a program that resonates with employees.

The utilization is a measure of impact. Research confirms the positive impact of simple acts of recognition. We know that in the first year employees sent just under 2,000 cards and chocolates. We also know that within the first 4 months of the ecard program 2,000 ecards were sent by employees at all levels ranging from the President to frontline employees. That translates to as many as 4,000 simple acts of recognition that may not have occurred without this program!

In addition to formal communications, the project leads have conducted information roadshows to leaders in 21 departments across the university. These roadshows emphasize the importance of recognition, provide tips on giving meaningful recognition, and introduce the various tools.

While it is difficult to measure the direct impact on engagement and employee productivity, the utilization of these tools and the positive feedback received indicates increased engagement by employees in the creation of a culture of appreciation at Ryerson.


Say Thanks was designed specifically to meet the needs of a higher education environment. While many universities have formal award and service-based recognition programs, in conducting “best practice” research we found very few had comprehensive informal recognition programs.

Say Thanks offers a suite of resources that allows the sender to tailor recognition to recipient preferences. The Ryerson-branded chocolates and cards are an innovative way to recognize contributions while building a sense of community and inclusion.

The way in which Ryerson adapted a commercially available ecard platform is innovative in that typically recognition platforms encourage the accumulation of points which can be redeemed by employees for material prizes. This form of recognition is not aligned with most university cultures. Further, budget constraints and perception of public tax dollar spending prevented the university from using large material prizes. Instead, Ryerson worked with the vendor to build a platform where employees can send ecards for purely intrinsic reasons. This was the first time the vendor had tailored their platform in this way. In a typical recognition/ecard platform, ecards are visible on an organization-wide newsfeed. In response to employee feedback, Ryerson worked with the vendor to develop a unique feature that allows for private or public recognition to suit the recipient. Again, these are unique ways in which Ryerson adapted a commercially available product to suit the university, and specifically the Ryerson culture.

The Say Thanks initiative is also different from others because it highlights the importance of investing in and creating a visible and easy-to-use employee recognition program where everyone can participate. Most programs focus on the role of the leader in recognizing employees. Ryerson’s program is designed to have a deeper impact on the culture by engaging all employees in appreciation activities. The centralized website makes all recognition information available and transparent to current employees as well as highlighting recognition as a core value for prospective employees.