39 Thoughtful Employee Recognition & Appreciation Ideas for 2019
It pays to be really good at employee recognition.
Companies with a solid strategy to recognize team members enjoy stronger engagement, increased employee morale, better customer service, and lower turnover. Acknowledging achievement can have serious ROI – to the tune of 50% higher productivity and as much as 20% increase in business outcomes.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, it’s not as easy as it seems. You need to find the right employee recognition program for your company. To do that, it first helps to get a better understanding of employee recognition and how it works.
What is employee recognition?
Employee recognition is all about acknowledging the hard work and accomplishments of the individuals and teams within your organization. It’s really about creating an emotional connection with your employees and your company, all while supporting the work your employees do and staying authentic to your company’s values.
It’s as much art as science, and the best recognition tactics do something no tchotchke or gift card ever can – they make employees feel valued, respected, and even loved.
The creative employee recognition examples and staff appreciation ideas below come from real companies that know a thing or two about making their employees feel cherished.
Free bonus: Download our entire Employee Award Templates Library. Includes award templates for Employee of The Month, Work Anniversary, MVP, Rookie of The Year, Spirit, and Going The Extra Mile. Easily customize each award for your company and recipient!
39 Employee Recognition & Appreciation Ideas:
1. Giving Points to Your Team
Starting off the list is Bonusly, a software platform that employees use to send small bonuses to each other to recognize their everyday wins and successes. We use Bonusly internally at SnackNation, and one of our favorite parts of the software is that you can redeem your bonus points for a wide variety of gift cards, prizes, and awesome gadgets! Here’s how Ben Kuehnle, our Sales Development Manager, has introduced Bonusly to his department with positive results:
“Bonusly’s reward catalog includes notable brands like Uber, Nike, Starbucks, Steam and many more. As awesome as the rewards might be, the real benefit of Bonusly comes from your team feeling appreciated and recognized for their hard work.”
Bonusly’s reward catalog includes notable brands like Uber, Nike, Starbucks, Steam and many more. As awesome as the rewards might be, the real benefit of Bonusly comes from your team feeling appreciated and recognized for their hard work. Plus, they get to choose their own rewards, so you know they’re getting something they’ll actually like.
2. 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.
Employee recognition tip: Keep a good book Click To Tweet
“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.”
3. Scale staff recognition with a “Recognition Toolkit”
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 staff appreciation awards. The toolkit provided uniformity and scale for efficiency, and the human connection needed to make awards significant for employees.
4. Test recognition ideas by surveying 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 employee 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!”
5. 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.
6. Shout out on social media
The St. Louis Children’s hospital leveraged social media to extend employee recognition reach during their staff 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.
You can also recognize employees by using them in your profile pictures across networks. A picture of your best employees in a Facebook cover photo, for example, is a great shoutout to those who go the extra mile.
7. Gamify with YouEarnedIt
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. Gamify…in real life
This idea actually comes from our very own SnackNation Member Success Team (MST). MST leaders Chelsie Lee and Clay Telfer designed a recognition program in which team members earn badges for hitting milestones related to their most important metrics.
Think of it like a video game achievements program come to life – complete with custom-made badges for unlocking milestones and participating in team campaigns.
MST employees are awarded in elaborate fashion during the team’s weekly department meetings.
The coolest part is that some of the achievements are kept secret until you unlock them, making the experience full of delight-inducing Easter eggs.
9. 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.
10. Be true to your culture
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 staff appreciation ideas. Jeff Harper, Senior Vice President of People and Culture at MINDBODY, says:
Recognize employees in a way that aligns with your values Click To Tweet
“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!”
11. 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.
12. 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:
13. Gift custom action figures
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.
14. Make employee recognition part of your lingo
Sometimes, Content Manager Chloe Deiulis says, a simple “thank you” is all it takes. Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform, delivers digital thank yous through its peer-to-peer recognition program, where tailored eCards help bring company values front and center. She says,
“I openly try and recognize my colleagues across the globe through a variety of channels, in private and out in the open, too. One of my favorite ways to do this is through peer-to-peer recognition eCards.
They’re non-monetary, simple to send and are a great way to say thank you. There is an infinite number of eCards that employees can send for new employee motivation ideas. Plus, since they’re social the whole company can view and add reactions.”
15. Celebrate more!
Alexander Kjerulf, also known as the Chief Happiness Officer, provided his take on employee appreciation:
“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.”
16. Commission Custom Oil Paintings
Mobile gaming hit factory Scopely knows how to recognize employees in style.
First, their “Beast of the Week” campaign recognizes major contributions from team members with a trophy, social media shout out, and a coveted preferred parking spot.
But it’s their work anniversaries that really take the cake. The company celebrates them in epic fashion with custom made samurai swords and one-of-a-kind oil employee oil paintings. These are some of the most unique gifts for employee recognition we’ve ever come across.
Not only are these celebrations consistent with Scopely’s cheeky culture, but they’re also a smart retention strategy.
A study of more than a million respondents found that employees are most likely to switch jobs at the one year mark. In fact, there’s a spike in voluntary turnover at each successive anniversary.
Celebrating anniversaries helps remind employees that they are cared for and appreciated – which will help keep them around if they’re on the fence about staying put.
17. Or, for a more budget-friendly option…
Two Rivers Marketing has an equally unique, but much more cost effective idea:
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.
18. 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’.”
19. 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.
20. Create a Giant Wall Clock for Your Employee of the Month Award
This idea comes from SnackNation’s own sales- (and real life) rockstar Joey Joyce.
The “Value Victor” is our long-standing and cherished employee of the month award. Each month, the company recognizes employees who embody one or more of the company’s core values. Value Victors enjoy preferred parking, a trophy, a giant bag of healthy snacks (naturally), and the admiration of their peers.
But Joey thought we could ramp up the program’s public recognition factor. Since there are 12 Value Victors every year, and 12 hours in a day, why not create a giant Value Victor clock display? Working together with VP of Customer Success Chelsie Lee, Joey hired designers to create a cartoon-like caricature for every Value Victor. These were then placed around a giant wall clock display. For every new Value Victor, a new portrait is commissioned and places on the clock.
Today, this clock is prominently on display for employees and visitors alike in our foyer, and the glory of the Value Victor employee award now lasts for an entire year.
21. 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 an employee recognition 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.
22. 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.”
23. 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.
24. 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.Use gamification to recognize your team Click To Tweet
25. Know your 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.”
26. Use an old school “suggestion box”
Drip Club keeps it old school.
In an interview with the Awesome Office show, CEO Mike Zhang described why his team prefers the suggestion box for their staff recognition.
“We have an old-school ‘comments box’ where you can drop a card if you happen to see a colleague, co-worker, a manager – whoever – embodying or living the values. At the next all-hands meeting, we recognize all the folks that got these post cards with a gift card or other token of appreciation.”
We like this method of acknowledging achievement not only because it’s simple, but because the anonymity lends itself to authenticity – you know that the recognizer doesn’t want anything out of the act of recognition.
27. 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 appreciation 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.”
28. 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.
29. 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:
Employee recognition tip: dole it out daily Click To Tweet
“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.”
30. 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.”
31. Set up a peer-to-peer system
“Create a system that encourages peer-to-peer recognition.
We have an internal employee recognition 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!”
32. 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.
33. Go visit
The experts at the staff 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.Employee recognition idea: simple visits Click To Tweet
34. 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 appreciation awards and milestones, to “Magical Moments” between cast members and guests.
35. Recognize skills (and talents) they value in themselves
When people have natural skills and talents, they sometimes find it hard to see the true value in what they do best. As a result, raw talent can be neglected instead of nurtured, and the talented employee fails to live up to his or her full potential. When this happens at scale – entire companies fall short of their true potential.
That’s why every company should recognize employees not just for achievements that result from hard work and dedication, but also for achievements centered around individual talents.
Give superlative recognition awards with themes aligned with the talents you hope to nurture. Highlight a different person each month. This way, everyone receives recognition, even if they didn’t participate in one of your company’s recent standout projects. For example, you could give awards for:
- Room-commanding public speaking
- Human-calculator math skills
- Einstein ideas
36. Ask for help
When you ask employees for help, you put “your money where your mouth is,” so to speak. Recognizing an employee for a talent in videography is one thing, and asking the same employee for help on a high-profile video project is another. The latter provides recognition and shows employees you value their talents enough to put them to good use; it also demonstrates trust as you give employees leadership positions on high-profile projects.
As it turns out, concrete demonstrations of trust make a powerful form of employee recognition. Reporting on some of his study findings for the Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak—director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies—says:
“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”
37. Give them nicknames
Nicknames boost camaraderie in the workplace, and they can be a great source of humor. When assigned strategically, nicknames can also be a subtle, long-term way to provide employee recognition.
Instead of calling people by some abridged version of their own last names or finding a standout physical or personality feature to highlight, what if you gave teammates nicknames symbolic of their strengths and talents? Imagine calling your second-in-command “Hemingway” to compliment his concise writing style. Talent- or skill-based nicknames obviously make employees feel recognized and appreciated, but they could also help employees live up to, and even surpass, their reputations. Over time, words—including names—can shape perceptions and behaviors enough to ultimately influence outcomes.
38. Brag about them
While employees love heartfelt, one-on-one recognition, they also love to be recognized across the entire company. Since most people shy away from the type of bragging that leads to company-wide acclaim, managers can be their employees’ best evangelists. When managers relay their team’s accomplishments to a larger group, it reinforces individual recognition and brings a fresh and exhilarating dose of pride to the memory of an achievement.
Here are some ways you can brag about your team without annoying everyone in your company:
- Listen carefully during meetings; if someone needs help in an area one of your employees recently mastered, then speak up, explain the recent accomplishment, and offer your employee’s services. Even if the employee in question did not attend the meeting, he or she will be flattered to hear of your endorsement.
- Submit your team’s achievements for appearances in your newsletter, website, digital bulletin board, social media channels, or any other outlet where your company publishes news. The people who curate content for these communications are always looking for material, and your team will love seeing their names in print. (They might even save a clip for their scrapbooks or portfolios.)
- Reserve a slot in your next company town hall to give everyone the rundown of notable achievements. (A room full of applause does have a nice way of enhancing recognition.)
39. Be a not-so-secret admirer
Who doesn’t love receiving a surprise letter or card? Every so often, put your recognition in writing and leave thoughtful notes on employees’ desks in the morning before they come to work. Your notes can praise the employee for being awesome overall or highlight your appreciation for specific work on a recent project. (We even have a bunch of email/letter/card templates you can customize to recognize employees for almost anything!) When you provide recognition in this format, you can plan ahead, writing letters ahead of time and ensuring your employees will get the recognition they deserve, even if the days tend to get away from you before you’ve been able to squeeze in a healthy dose of compliments.
Bonus Idea: Implement an employee recognition software
Many organizations struggle managing their employee recognition programs. That is where employee recognition tools can come in. These software platforms use behavior-driven motivations to improve company culture. They use visible dashboards to highlight those who go above and beyond in their roles and provide recognition and rewards to those who exemplify company culture.
Bonus Idea: Employee Recognition Pins
Employee recognition pins are a great way to show gratitude & appreciation. You can reward employees for efficiency, for completing special projects, for being a department “MVP”, for going above and beyond at work and much, much more.
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.
Free bonus: Download our entire Employee Award Templates Library. Includes award templates for Employee of The Month, Work Anniversary, MVP, Rookie of The Year, Spirit, and Going The Extra Mile. Easily customize each award for your company and recipient!