From daily practices to special occasions, use these rewards and recognition ideas to show your employees how much you appreciate them.
Nearly everyone who’s worked in a corporate setting has been on the receiving end of a generic thank-you gift. While these gifts may show generalized appreciation, nothing about them helps the recipient feel truly special—like they’re an individual whose unique skills actually make a difference in their company.
Often, recognition gifts with little thought behind them do more to hurt your appreciation attempts than to help them. In fact, our survey results show that 40% of employees feel the recognition they receive at work is an empty gesture.
Your people should never feel like they’re an afterthought—and even a fantastic recognition program can still benefit from a few fresh appreciation flavors. Let’s look through some creative employee recognition ideas that will turn generic gifts into unexpected, thoughtful, and unique rewards.
1. Create a “Bring Your Pet to Work” calendar
Set up a schedule where employees can take turns bringing their pets to work throughout the year. This gives your people the chance to bond with coworkers over their beloved animals without turning your office into a mini zoo for a day.
2. Write a handwritten letter—and mail it
As adults, we rarely ever look forward to receiving mail. Surprise your employees with handwritten letters—actually sent to their home! This shows that you are happy to go the extra mile to make your recognition meaningful.
3. Donate your parking spot for a few days
Once in a while, consider donating your parking spot to an employee whose performance has gone above and beyond. Make it extra special by creating a custom parking pass they can put in their windscreen to show why they have been given this honor.
4. Take your work outside the office
It’s been proven that changing your surroundings helps boost your creativity. Try rewarding employees with a chance to work outside their usual four walls. Go to a local library, cafe, or any place with public wifi—or even walk to a nearby park for your next team meeting!
5. Surprise your employees with random treats
Start by surveying your people about their favorite treats or snacks—anything from candy bars to carrot sticks. Then, surprise them by walking the office floor and placing each employee’s preferred treat on their desk (preferably with a short, personal note).
6. Taste test a local hotspot
Some cafes and eateries in business-heavy areas offer free samples to companies in order to gain more lunchtime clients. Call around and see if any of your local diners would be willing to bring in some samples for your employees to enjoy.
7. Give small, personalized gifts to each employee
Show your people you value their individuality by giving them gifts that represent their unique interests. They don’t need to be expensive; personalization is the important factor here. Perhaps Josh gets a new bike lock while Melissa receives a festive cupcake tin.
8. Host a car wash in the parking lot
It’s amazing how much something as simple as a clean car can improve your day. While your staff members are working, hire people to come out and wash their cars in your parking lot—then watch as each of your employees drives home with a smile.
9. Spend a day learning something new
Send out a questionnaire asking your employees about subjects that interest them. Then, for your next team building event, hire an expert in the top-polled field and spend the day learning a new trade, skill, or hobby as a team.
10. Create custom recognition gifts
Giving custom gifts is an employee appreciation idea that’s growing in popularity. From comic-book-style renderings to mini action figures, use these gifts to display and appreciate your employee’s unique personalities, interests, and talents.
11. Bring in live music
Hire a classical or instrumental musician for a day, and host them in your break room or foyer (make sure it’s somewhere your employees can choose to come and go), and let your team enjoy a workday serenaded by a live musical performance.
12. Give extra days off around the holidays
Rather than letting your employees eat up their PTO around the holidays, give them a few extra days off. If you’re worried about project deadlines, offer them the option to work toward a goal in order to get enough work done for those days off to be negligible.
13. Throw themed parties
While your average pizza party is always a hit, try going a little further for special occasions. Poll your employees to see what kind of themes they would like, then plan your next party around the top theme—and let your employees help with planning if they want to!
14. Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day
While it’s vital to recognize your employees throughout the year, taking the time to celebrate this day will help your people feel truly appreciated and valued. Throw a lunchtime party, and then let them off early to enjoy the rest of the day as they please.
15. Hold in-office holidays for employee families
Many working parents feel that they miss special moments with their children, but you can help them make lasting memories by holding in-office holiday celebrations. Set up a “Trick or Treating” desk route on Halloween and bring Santa into the office to give out small presents around Christmas.
16. Start a coworker desk-decorating tradition
Help your employees recognize their team members by creating a peer-to-peer point system. When an employee reaches enough points, let their coworkers decorate their desk with balloons, streamers, a gift card, and heartfelt thank-you notes.
17. Let employees choose special projects
It may seem strange to reward employees with more work, but our research shows that when an employee participates in a special project, they have a 26% increased sense of opportunity. Give your team the chance to create special projects that benefit both them and your company.
18. Throw a “Get to Know Your Coworkers” day
Even though most people spend a third of their lives at the office, many employees still don’t know much about their coworkers. Remedy this by celebrating a day where your team members display items that represent a personal interest, passion, or hobby.
19. Design a unique pass-along trophy
Create a custom trophy (bonus points if it reflects your company’s purpose) and award it to an outstanding employee. After a week, let them pass it on to a coworker who deserves to be recognized. You can also include a record book for keeping track of when it was given, to whom, and for what.
20. Let your employees create new office traditions
Show your employees you value their input by asking them to come up with new company traditions—especially ones that revolve around recognizing their coworkers. Additionally, you can also let them nominate each other for employee of the month awards and your wall of fame.
As with all appreciation and recognition ideas, you should always pay close attention to what your employees will actually enjoy. And remember, not all recognition has to be a surprise—in fact, giving your employees a goal to work toward often ends up being much more rewarding than a surprise that hasn’t been earned.
Survey your employees about what interests them, then base your ideas around their answers. Sara may hate the thought of participating in an employee talent show, but she may still love attending one. Let your employees be your guide—then let your creativity run wild.
By creating a positive company culture, you will retain top performing employees and increase your business success. For more tips on developing a positive and productive workplace culture, take a look at our Company Culture Guide.
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