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20 employee recognition ideas that work
Sophia Lee, author

Sophia Lee

Writer, Culture Amp

“Jamie, your marketing report was excellent. The charts were well done and easy to read. I really appreciate your hard work on this!”

Positive feedback, like the example above, is a form of employee recognition - a crucial element of employee engagement and happiness. Why is that the case? Simply put, people want to feel appreciated, and employee recognition is an effective way to meet those needs. However, it’s not always easy to craft good employee recognition. Let’s review the most important components.

  • Regular. Demonstrating employee gratitude once a year doesn’t cut it. For employee recognition to be effective, it needs to be given consistently. This doesn’t mean you have to show gestures of appreciation on a daily basis - because that could reduce the impact - but you should plan efforts on at least a quarterly basis.
  • Immediate. After an employee turns in high-quality work, recognition should immediately follow. If you wait too long in between the positive action and the employee recognition, it loses meaning and the individual won’t remember the reason for being rewarded in the first place.
  • Specific. It’s disheartening to receive a generic “thanks” after an employee puts a lot of effort into a project. So make sure to make any recognition is specific to the employee’s actions, values, and preferences.

To help you launch your employee recognition efforts, we compiled 20 ideas that fit the criteria above and are easily doable in the workplace. We also included stories from our very own Campers, who shared the most memorable recognition they’ve received during their careers.

Employee recognition ideas: Leadership

Being recognized by company leadership and managers can be meaningful for employees. It shows that senior-level staff is paying attention and appreciating their hard work, which is motivating and often a surprise for employees, who may assume their contributions are going unnoticed. Below are employee recognition ideas - for both individuals and teams - that organization leaders can implement to demonstrate their gratitude.

For the individual

1. Positive feedback. As we mentioned in our introduction, you can share positive feedback on a regular basis - whether it’s via email or in person. It’s low-hanging fruit for effective employee recognition.

2. Value-based awards. Offer a monthly or quarterly company award, where the leadership team selects an employee who is doing a great job of exemplifying the organization’s values. Not only will it make your employee feel engaged with the mission, but it’s also a great way to make sure everyone is aligned.

At Deloitte, we used to have a monthly Shining Star award, and it was aligned specifically to aspects of client excellence; you could win individually or as a team and you got a $50 voucher. It was always fun and everyone celebrated with drinks and snacks too!

— MoniqueDeloitte

3. Kudos at all hands. If your employee appreciates public recognition, give a shout-out at the next all-hands meeting. This will help the individual feel appreciated and expose the rest of the company to the great work being done by others.

4. Lunch out. If your employee isn’t one for public recognition, opt for a private lunch with just the two of you instead. This will foster meaningful one-on-one conversation and give you a quiet space to share in person how much you appreciate the hard work.

5. Company swag. Believe it or not, employees love a good branded mug, hoodie, or notebook. Not only are those gifts practical, but they’re also a great way to show off pride for where you work.

6. Experiential rewards. If you’re willing to invest a little more money into your employee recognition efforts, consider giving your top performers an experiential reward. There are companies, such as Blueboard, that let your employees choose from a wide range of experiences - from skydiving to singing lessons - as a reward for their hard work.

For the team

7. Catered meal. If you don’t offer catered lunches at your organization, consider hosting one for your company as a generous gesture. Or, if you already do, make the catered meal extra special by adding something like a s’mores bar or popcorn stand.

The Melbourne Design team had a holiday lunch. To make me feel included [as a remote worker], they surprised me with a cookie delivery and a handwritten note at the same time they gathered. It was an unexpected gesture and a nice bit of unity between offices.

— JacobCulture Amp

8. Sponsored volunteer day. If you have a company that is passionate about giving back to the community, offer to sponsor a volunteer day where everyone goes to an animal shelter or soup kitchen to perform good deeds together.

9. Office outing. Instead of the standard office happy hour on Friday, treat your company to an office outing. Try to avoid drinking-based activities - since alcohol can isolate some employees - and instead choose an outing that is relaxing and can accommodate a diverse group, such as trivia or mini-golf.

10. Surprise time off. If you have the ability to, surprise your employees with a day off as a “thank you” for their hard work. Everyone will be delighted at having an unexpected day to treat themselves, spend time with their loved ones, or simply relax.

11. Wellness day. Employee wellness is a hot topic right now, and a great way to address this and employee recognition at the same time is to bring self-care activities to the office. You can organize on-site massages, mindfulness sessions, or fitness classes for the team.

Employee recognition ideas: Peers

Being recognized by peers is equally important for employees. This is the case because close colleagues usually know an employee's contributions the best since they work together on a daily basis. Creating a culture of peer recognition is also a great way to strengthen the bond between teammates. Check out the ideas below for easy ideas that colleagues can act on to show appreciation for one another.

12. Team trophy. The trophy can be a stuffed animal, a wand, or any other object that’s a reflection of your team’s personality. Every week or month, have everyone vote on which person they believe is deserving of this “trophy” due to their contributions or reflection of team values.

13. Sticky notes. Leave thoughtful sticky notes on your peer’s computer, keyboard, or favorite coffee mug. It’ll be a pleasant surprise for them to discover these kind words throughout the day.

14. Virtual party. This one is for remote workers! If you have a team member who doesn’t work out of the office, throw them a virtual party where you gather everyone on a Zoom or Slack call and send them some yummy treats in advance so you can munch on them together.

15. Surprise treats. Who doesn’t love a homemade cookie? Take the time to bake your hardworking teammate their favorite treat. Not only is it extra meaningful because you made the effort to make it, but it’ll also bring moments of sweetness throughout their workday.

16. Handwritten note. If you’re really feeling appreciative toward one of your colleagues, sit down and write them a note or letter by hand. In a world where digital is dominant, this is a thoughtful way to convey your gratitude.

17. Social media praise. Is your colleague a social media fan? Give them a shoutout - if possible - through your company’s social media platforms.

18. Pay it forward. Frequently, people have a positive impact on us in both big and small ways, but we keep it to ourselves. Instead of hiding it, pay it forward by giving someone a specific compliment - whether it’s about their work or personality. Extra challenge: do this for someone who isn’t directly on your team, and it’s sure to make their day.

At Achievers, a person I never really worked with sent me an email saying how great it was to work by me for the day because of my positive energy. She wasn’t on my team, but it shows how we have impact and influence on each other regularly.

— CraigAchievers

19. Wall of fame. Create a wall where you tack up the photos of employees who produce truly exceptional work. If your colleagues don’t mind the public attention, nominate them for the wall so they can look up and be reminded of how much they’re appreciated by their team.

20. Recognition and rewards software. For teams that regularly use collaboration platforms (like Slack), an effective recognition and rewards software solution often pays for itself and more in the form of increased motivation, productivity, engagement, and retention. We created something similar at Culture Amp in Slack called our Props Bot. When someone on Slack begins a sentence with “props” or “mad props,” a bot is triggered and creates a fun response thanking that person for their work.

Employee recognition is a wonderful and flexible tool that should be practiced in every company. Whether you want to launch a full program or find small ways to say “thank you” to your employees, we hope you were able to find inspiration in this post.

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