33 Amazing Employee Recognition Ideas You Need to Be Using
It pays to have amazing employee recognition ideas.
Companies with a solid strategy to recognize members of their team enjoy stronger engagement, increased employee morale, a devoted spirit of customer service, and lower turnover rates. Companies who have implemented employee recognition programs have identified an increase of 20% in business outcomes and 50% higher levels of productivity from their workers.
What is employee recognition?
Employee recognition is all about acknowledging the hard work and accomplishments of individuals and teams within your organization. It’s an art, and the strongest act of recognition and appreciation is doing something no tchotchke or gift card ever can; make employees feel valued, respected, and even loved.
The creative employee recognition ideas below come from real companies that know a thing or two about making their employees feel cherished.
1. Keep a Good Book
They say the knights of old recorded good deeds in books for posterity. At Cloud 9 Living, company co-founder Bobby Augst keeps his own kind of book to recognize the good deeds of his employees.
“One employee recognition tactic that we have found effective is our ‘G’ Book. The ‘G’ Book is a book of ‘Good Stuff’ that all employees are encouraged to write in recognizing team members for accomplishments – whether personal or work-related. Every week at an all company meeting we read aloud the past week’s ‘G Book’ entries.
It’s a great way to call out employee accomplishments that otherwise may go unnoticed, and it also empowers employees to recognize each other for accomplishments, as opposed to management always being the only ones providing recognition.”
2. Grow employee recognition along with the company
Globally, people see Yankee Candle as the makers of the “World’s Best Loved Candles.” Internally, the company sees themselves as the keepers of the “World’s Best Loved Employees.” When the company expanded globally, its employee recognition plan lost intimacy as many people received major milestone gifts in the mail, without a human touch.
Equipping all managers with a “Best Loved Employees” toolkit for handing out employee recognition awards. The toolkit provided uniformity and scale for efficiency, and the human connection needed to make awards significant for employees.
3. Cater your employee recognition programs to your employees
The company behind the real-world treasure hunt app, Geocaching knows how to treat it’s employees like treasures too. HR Manager, Laura Hughes explains how they do staff appreciation:
“Find out what forms of recognition resonate most with staff members. Often times, we equate a streamlined process with effectiveness– with recognition, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If we’re taking only one approach to recognition and thereby missing the mark in how we recognize others, it can be equivalent to not recognizing them at all. Encourage managers to ask employees how they most like to be recognized— you might be surprised at the answers that surface!”
4. Create a “Go The Extra Mile” Program
The transport staff at the Staten Island University Hospital Radiology Lab has the tough and tiring job of wheeling patients around for testing. When they were falling short of their goal number of moves per hour, the recognition experts at Michael C. Fina came up with an employee appreciation idea that got the hospital results: the Go the Extra Mile or GEM program.
When an employee witnessed another going the extra mile, they would nominate them for a GEM certificate. The program was simple, but gave the staffers recognition they could hold in their hands, which went far towards making them feel truly appreciated.
5. Reach out on social media
The St. Louis Children’s hospital leveraged social media to extend employee recognition reach during their employee recognition gala. Employees nominated for awards of honor were profiled on Facebook and they even made the effort to Skype employees into the gala for special recognition if they couldn’t make it. Dedicated employees working late shifts were still justly recognized. Supplement any employee recognition idea with social media.
6. Know that one size doesn’t always fit all
SCM, winner of the TINYpulse 2015 Employee Recognition Award, believes in engaging employees in ways they’re accustomed to. In this TINYpulse post, SCM VP Ron Gantt says,
“The millennials are more used to having their esteem “esteemed.” But this is not limited to millennials. We have older employees who also require support. It costs nothing to say thank you to an employee and for managers to interact with their workforce in a positive way. The thing with millennials is that you need to find ways to engage them that are more interactive and take advantage of media they are used to (technology).”
7. Employee recognition? There’s an app for that
The Motley Fool, a perennial favorite on many top workplaces lists, learned their employees felt limited by a “management-only” system of employee recognition. So they got the app, YouEarnedIt, to create a culture of recognition.
Employees give their co-workers gaming “gold” for jobs well done. Down the road, they can cash in their game gold for real-life prizes like Amazon gift cards. Aside from the prizes, recognition from peers makes employees feel just as good, if not better, than recognition from management.
8. Recognize your team by recognizing their passions
Omelet’s employee recognition idea involves recognizing something at the core of every employee: passions. The ad agency has a program they call 60/60, which grants employees two hours every week to work on a project they’re passionate about – and it doesn’t even have to relate to a client!
Through the program, employees have been able to work on anything from sports sites to food blogs. When you value an employee’s passions, they know you value them as a unique individual.
9. Be true to your company
MINDBODY offers online business management software. Their goal is to “leverage technology to improve the wellness of the world.” This goal informs how they treat clients and their employee recognition ideas. Jeff Harper, Senior Vice President of People and Culture at MINDBODY, says:
“Employee recognition can have an amazing impact on culture of a company and employee behavior when done well. With all the various ways to approach employee recognition, one of the most important things to remember in developing a recognition program is: be true to who you are. At MINDBODY our culture is core to everything we do, so we build our employee recognition programs to align with our company values. This approach helps connect employees’ behaviors to what we believe, while strengthening our brand.
For example, we are a purpose-driven organization focused on improving the wellness of the world. It’s an integral part of our own Core Values and Culture, and one that we offer to other companies through our Connect Workplace Program. This program provides employers with the opportunity to reward their employees and keep them engaged by promoting healthy behavior via the services of the nation’s largest network of wellness practitioners!”
10. Use your website well
Your company homepage counts as prime real-estate. Why not dedicate a portion of it to your hard-working employees? Denver based communications firm, Ground Floor Media, carves out a generous section of their valuable homepage space for employee stories.
In addition to strictly business biographies, Ground Floor also includes the “Real Story,” so people can be recognized for their lives and passions as well as their amazing work for the company.
11. Host a Friday “Crush-It” Call
The “Crush-It” Call is SnackNation’s time-honored tradition. Each Friday afternoon, the entire SnackNation team huddles together and we go around the room stating 2 things:
- “Crush” someone on the team whose work they want to recognize and why
- Something you are grateful for
It’s a great chance for people to not only recognize each other and take advantage of positive thinking, but also bring that person’s hard work to the attention of the entire team. As our team has grown, this gives everyone a chance to see the awesome work of the people who they don’t work with very often.
Check it this video of one of our recent Crush It Calls:
12. Don’t take employee recognition too seriously
RoundPegg is in the business of culture and engagement. They know how to keep employee recognition ideas from getting stale within their own walls. They offer every new hire their very own action figure.
13. Make employee recognition part of your language
Using the right type of language is a vital part of effective employee recognition. Joy Adan of Redii, an employee recognition software company, shared some of the company’s deep employee recognition ideas and wisdom with us:
“Create a culture of appreciation by building recognition into your company’s everyday language. Instead of waiting until the end of the year or someone’s work anniversary to celebrate the contribution they’re making to your business every day, recognize them in that moment. Make them and others know that the little things count and create your success.
Specific, timely and social recognition can amplify the achievements of anyone in your organization, no matter their job title or tenure, and it also motivates them to do that same awesome thing again.
We try to make all this easier for people by building social and frequent recognition into our platform, but to be honest, changing a company’s culture or improving employee engagement doesn’t have to be complicated – it simply starts with small acts of gratitude.”
14. Celebrate more!
Alexander Kjerulf, also known as the Chief Happiness Officer, provided his take on employee recognition:
“Companies need to focus less on rewarding performance (which has actually been shown to reduce intrinsic motivation) and start celebrating performance. This can be done in many ways, but the point is to highlight and appreciate employees and teams who have made a spectacular effort, have achieved great results or helped others achieve them. Celebrating success is fun and energizing and shows employees that their efforts are being seen by leaders and by their peers.”
15. Understand their personalities
Depending on personality type, different rewards and presentation styles may be a better fit than others. There are lots of resources available that give insight into a person and how they will interact with others. If your company isn’t currently using a program, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Gallup Strengths Finder are a great place to start.
16. Don’t be generic
Employee anniversary celebrations spawn generic recognition gifts like pens, watches, gift cards and more. The employee recognition idea from Two Rivers Marketing involves invigorating anniversary gifts with much more company flair.
They give their employees a personal caricatures when they’ve been at the company for a year. They’ll laugh at it, remember it, and most importantly, keep it forever as a token of appreciation.
17. Try random acts of fun
You probably imagine working for a brewery is fun. In the case of Deschutes Brewery, you’re absolutely right. Pat Gerhart, HR Director for the brewery, favors amazingly fun activities that celebrate every single person at the company.
“At Deschutes Brewery, our employee recognition program is not specifically designed to highlight one individual or small group, but to create support for our work environment as a whole, for everyone. For example, we often do what could be called ‘random acts of fun’.
Is there snow? Let’s do a snow shoe hike with a keg of beer and burritos at the shelter bon fire. It’s a nice summer evening? Let’s sponsor co-owners for a local run/walk and have fun together with a beer and sharing stories after the event. Are a bunch of crazed cyclists in town? Let’s send out our cyclocross team to join the fun & competition and have the biggest party Bend sees each year to celebrate!
We like to live our core values—and this would reflect ‘Celebrate the culture of craft beer’.”
18. Forget performance, recognize holistic achievements
Some companies recognize their employees for reaching company goals. Others recognize them for reaching personal goals. Ergodyne, a protective workwear manufacturer, incentivizes employees by recognizing them when they reach their own fitness or nutrition goals. This reminds workers that the company is invested in them as people, and not just as contributors to a bottom line.
19. Treat employees like you treat your clients
The user experience specialists at Slice of Lime don’t just offer amazing experiences to their clients, they also offer them to employees.
We asked Kevin Menzie, Founder and CEO of Slice of Lime for some office award ideas and knowledge. He said,
“The best advice I can give is to shift your thinking around employee recognition from being a ‘tactic’ to being a sincere and heartfelt tradition. The best example we’ve seen at Slice of Lime is an idea generated from an employee, not from the partners at the company. It’s called ‘The Green Hand’. It’s a mounted mannequin hand that gets passed around to a new person each month. This is peer recognition, which is more powerful, in our opinion, than recognition from the leadership at the company.
When the hand is passed to a new person, the giver of the hand explains to the group why this person is deserving of the hand. That recipient also receives a unique ‘experience’ of their choosing which can range from a spa treatment to driving a race car to sky diving. It’s the recipient’s duty to ’embellish’ the hand in some way (adding color or rings or, in one case, planting the hand in a flower pot) before they pass the hand to someone new the following month.
This form of recognition is authentic and comes from a place of true respect between co-workers. The passing of the ‘Green Hand’ has become one of our favorite traditions at Slice of Lime.”
20. Recognize their other talents
You probably imagine that your team has talents beyond what they bring to the workplace. OpenDNS provides internet security solutions, but they recognize their employees by showcasing their inner creativity through a program called the “OpenDNS Art Experience.”
Through the program, the company shows their employees they value their talents in music, art, and dance in addition to their company contributions.
21. Get together and cheer each other on
Ashley Pelliccione, Director of People at Namely, an HR software company, believes in the goodwill that comes from group recognition. She says,
“I’d say shout-outs at the all-company meeting. High performers don’t only work for recognition, of course. But to have your name mentioned in front of the whole company—followed by cheers from the crowd—that’s a reward bigger than a gift card, bigger than a thank-you lunch. It’s true appreciation, and that’s powerful.
We have monthly all-hands meetings at Namely. We bring everyone together at a fun spot, like a rooftop restaurant or fun theater space, and present on the big projects everyone is working on. Employee recognition plays a big part.”
22. Recognize the value of helping others
Limeade’s office award idea advises recognizing employees who help others. Their “Make Others Great” monthly award recognizes an employee who exemplifies the kind of collaboration and teamwork it takes to help make others great.
The chosen employee gets recognized through a Q&A post on the blog and gets the honor of keeping the coveted, lime-colored shoe for a month.
23. A little gaming goes a long way
Games. We’ve all played them, well all love them…even if we try to hide it. Games suck us in through immediate rewards. We kill a bad guy and walk off toting a sack full of magic coins. What if workplace rewards and recognition could be just as immediate and visible? Thanks to new tools, it can be.
New gamification tools aim to make workplaces more game-like, offering points and badges for doing good work. Target uses gamification to recognize its cashiers. After they’ve helped a customer, they get a score that instantly recognizes their performance, no management necessary.
24. Know thy staff
Intrepid Travel offers unique adventure travel itineraries to their customers. They prefer taking a unique approach to employee recognition as well. Their Marketing Director for North America, Leigh Barnes told us:
“Make recognition fun and personable. Go out of your way to find out what their interests are and recognize with a personalized message.
A note, a craft beer….know your staff personally and you will know the little things that truly will motivate them.”
25. Recognize your employees’ strengths
In a survey from DOMO, 25% of employees said they would love more opportunities to do what they love best. Who wouldn’t?
We get it. Everyone has parts of their job that they don’t love to do, but have to get done. But you can recognize your employees (and promote amazing work) by taking extra time to learn what work they love best and allocate tasks that play to their strengths. They’ll appreciate being recognized for their unique strengths and contributions.
26. Don’t wait to show employee appreciation
TINYpulse has tons of ideas for showing employee appreciation, including a “thank you” t-shirt signed by co-workers. When we asked them for their employee recognition idea, they advised being timely and specific. Laura Troyani, Director of Marketing at Tinypulse says:
“I was floored by the findings in our recent Employee Appreciation & Recognition Report that showed how feeling valued in the workplace actually significantly impacts employee retention.
For managers that really care about recognition, and they really should, I always recommend being timely and being specific. When you see something great happening, show your appreciation immediately, and say why you think it was a great job. It makes sure you don’t forget to do it later and it helps to reinforce the types of behaviors you want to keep seeing.”
27. Design perks around your company story
New Belgium Brewing started after the founder’s 1989 bike trip through Belgium. His journey through the beer- loving European villages inspired him so much, he decided to make sure New Belgium Brewing employees could share the experience with him.
When brewery employees make it to year five, they get a paid trip to Belgium. The brewery gets to recognize employees with a fabulous trip while letting them soak up even more of the company culture.
28. Dole employee recognition out daily
A consulting firm called The Frontier Project offers amazing fitness perks to its employees. More importantly, the leadership is passionate about good employee recognition. Lead facilitator Stevie Toepke says:
“Face it: we all spend way too much time at work to feel like the work we do doesn’t matter. Good managers make their employees feel appreciated. Great managers make their employees feel valued.
Yes, there is a difference. That difference boils down to recognition – not just if you give it, but how you give it. Employee appreciation programs have been around for a while and often take the form of praising or spotlighting an employee for tenure or general awesomeness (think: Employee of the Month).
The best leaders don’t make their employees wait until the end of the month (or year) to let them know they are doing great work. Instead, they recognize good performance by giving informal and frequent positive feedback about specific behaviors – in conversation, in email, or even in a short, hand-written note.
The best part about this recognition tool? It costs nothing. And, you can dole it out daily – even multiple times a day. Oh, and in addition to helping your employee actually feel valued, they are more likely to understand (and do) more of what will make them and the company successful.”
29. Make the impact clear
Co-founder of Engagedly, an employee engagement platform, Srikant Chellappa shared his employee recognition best practices:
“The one thing employers can do to recognize their employee is to provide social praise and communicate clearly the positive impact the employee had and acknowledge where employee went above and beyond their jobs description. Monetary incentives while good, have a limited impact and mostly short term. Employees need to feel their work is appreciated and that they need feel invested in the overall goal of the organization they are part of.”
30. Set up a peer-to-peer system
“Create a system that encourages peer-to-peer recognition.
We have an internal program where you can send your colleagues a thank you note, and then they are also entered to win a gift card. Design the cards in a way where folks are proud to display them!”
31. Support what they want to support
Ad agency Drake Cooper recognizes employees through philanthropic side projects. They have a Dream Big program where they let staff select a nonprofit for the agency to work with for free. Letting staff have the time to work on a passion project and do good is a great way to offer recognition.
32. Go visit
The experts at the employee recognition blog, Baudville put simple visits at the top of their 7 Simple Ways to Engage Your Team in 10 Minutes or Less post. Facetime not only makes employees feel appreciated, it also helps you get to know employees impromptu.
33. Showcase employee success stories
Learning manager at Disney University, Pete Blank, recommends showcasing employee success stories in order to show that there are opportunities for upward mobility within companies. Disney showcases every promotion and employee success story, at every opportunity they get.
Disney’s internal newsletter “Eyes and Ears” features everything from health and wellness tips, employee recognition awards and milestones, to “Magical Moments” between cast members and guests.
As it turns out, there’s a strong correlation between recognition and employee satisfaction. So what’s the perfect formula for an employee recognition idea? Make it personal, relevant, timely…and most of all, give it some heart. Since you’ve read through all of these ideas, we know you can come up with the perfect idea that fits your company culture.
How does your company recognize the team’s hard work and good character? Let us know in the comments below.