Learn about unique recognition ideas and how to curate a custom employee recognition program that’s personalized for your company and its people.
You’ve heard it everywhere, from business conferences to TED Talks: employee recognition is important. In fact, it just might be the most important investment you make for your company culture. In a recent survey, employees reported that they are 38% less likely to feel appreciated when recognition is not seen as a priority for their organization—and 53% of employees said they would stay at their jobs longer if their employers simply showed them more appreciation.
With data like that, it’s easy to understand why recognition is so crucial—but it’s not always easy to know how to implement it. According to another poll, 40% of employees said the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture. A basic employee recognition program is a good start—but you can go a step beyond.
By curating a custom employee recognition program, you will show your employees just how invaluable they are—and in return, they’ll feel more inspired and driven to repay your effort with their work.
Mix and match recognition ideas
There is no one perfect way to show employee recognition, but the truly effective recognition programs combine a few elements to create more well-rounded, holistic systems. Keep this in mind as you read through our recognition and award ideas.
A simple way to create the best program for your company is to start with the basics (verbal and written appreciation, monetary rewards, public recognition) and spice things up after that. Since research has shown employees are 121% more motivated to do their best work when recognition is tied to their organization’s purpose, centering your program around your company’s purpose and values is a fantastic place to start.
Written and verbal appreciation
Don’t get so bogged down in creating overly complicated programs that you forget little, in-the-moment encouragement. Verbal and written affirmation is the easiest method of employee recognition—and it’s something you can begin today. This recognition includes handwritten notes, emails, and in-person acknowledgment.
In many companies, employees never hear from upper-level management unless something has gone wrong. You can erase the negative stigma of “meeting with the boss” by offering regular positive feedback—whether in an email or a group meeting. Integrate written and verbal recognition into your culture to show genuine, everyday appreciation for the small things—after all, sometimes the best way to show your gratitude is a simple “thank you.”
Monetary benefits and gift cards
While money should never be the highlight of any recognition program, you shouldn’t completely exclude it either. Annual and performance-based bonuses are important recognition methods, especially if the reward contributes to your employees’ present and future financial security, like investments in their retirement, insurance plans, or savings.
If a gift card is more your speed, then make the extra effort to learn where your employees love to shop and give each person a card unique to them. If you can’t resist the siren song of an Amazon gift card, consider instead having your employees create wish lists where you can purchase items as bonuses. It doesn’t matter that they chose the items themselves; a present always feels more personal than money.
Public recognition is one of the best types of employee rewards because not only does it give the recipient the recognition they deserve, it also reinforces positive work ethic and initiative for your whole team. In fact, our research shows that when news of success is spread across your organization, there is a 44% increase in feeling that the organization is successful—and your employees will want to be a part of that success.
Use your company website or social media feed to regularly highlight your employee’s achievements and successes—even ones from their personal lives—or incorporate public recognition into your regular company meetings.
Take it a step further and set up a bulletin board or wall of fame with weekly/monthly highlights and employee spotlights. Make sure to include a range of award categories (without making them so generic that they lose their meaning): Employee of the Month, Best Team Player, #1 Office Microwave Cleaner, etc. Show how different people are appreciated for the unique way they contribute to your company.
According to a recent poll, only 32% of employees feel like they receive frequent recognition from their peers—but peer-to-peer recognition is indispensable since many people want to connect to their “second family.”
You can help facilitate peer-to-peer recognition by implementing an anonymous complement system. Simply set up a comment box—whether through email, a recognition program, or an actual box—dedicated to coworker comments, and read them out at the next team meeting. Implement a point system and make sure to celebrate bigger or consistent accomplishments with unique employee recognition awards.
You don’t need to throw an extravagant celebration every time one person performs well. Instead, celebrate group performances with exciting outings or in-office parties. This will help unify your team as they bond over the reward of their combined effort. Take this opportunity to utilize a conference room for food and games or treat your employees to a new restaurant or interactive experience.
Keep in mind, sometimes group recognition can feel watered down if it’s not earned by the entire group—so don’t reward a team if there’s only one top-performing employee in it. Instead, reward the team that has come together as a whole to reach a goal, complete a special project, or do a consistently great job.
Anniversary and milestone celebrations
People want to feel like their careers are continuously progressing. Because of this, it’s important not to let landmark occasions go uncelebrated. Whenever a team, an employee, or your entire company reaches a milestone, celebrate it. Recognize team achievements, years of service, and anniversaries. Your employees dedicate part of their lives to your company—celebrate that dedication.
If it’s a particularly big event, take the opportunity to loosen up and let your employees get out of the office. Bring the team together to conquer an escape room or share embarrassing stories over a few happy-hour cocktails.
Personalized rewards and activities
Now that you have your program’s basic building blocks, it’s time to get creative. Companies all over the globe have developed unique recognition ideas—from designing custom employee action figures to commissioning hand-painted portraits. These personal types of recognition awards for employees help your team members feel appreciated for their distinctive qualities—and that they stand out as individuals part of a united whole.
While employee of the month awards are great, you can make them fantastic. Create unique recognition award titles for each employee to help them see what they offer that no one else can. Rather than a “Best Customer Service“ certificate, give out the “Queen of Clients” or “Customer Service Crusher” awards. Don’t be afraid to get a little playful.
Explore things beyond the tangible. Learn about your employees’ personal interests and develop rewards centered around them. You can do this by supporting causes that your employees care about, surprising them with something from their wishlists, or going on outings that celebrate their interests.
Gamify your workplace
With the rising popularity of gaming culture, gamifying the workplace has become a popular trend. Many workplace gamification systems cultivate employee engagement by helping track personal performance, monitor goals, and overcome challenges. These systems generally reward employees with badges and points they can redeem for prizes (hint: many of our previous reward ideas work as these prizes).
Gamifying your workplace is about empowering your employees in a fun, engaging way. Healthy competition is perfectly alright, but the focus should remain on personal goals and taking ownership of one’s work performance. It also should never entirely take the place of interpersonal recognition—if an employee is crushing their goals or just reached a high score, encourage your managers to recognize their achievements in person.
Empower your management
Speaking of your managers, empowering your leadership team is a fantastic way to optimize your recognition program. Our research shows that employees whose managers regularly acknowledge them for good work are five times more likely to stay at their current jobs. Encourage your leaders to really get to know and connect with their teams. Let them be the fingers on the pulse of your employee recognition—and give them the permission and resources to provide that recognition.
Remember, no matter how fantastic the recognition idea is, it will feel like an afterthought if it’s not implemented soon after the exceptional performance. This is why it’s vital to ensure your managers have the proper recognition resources and tools. If the reward takes more time or effort—like a company party—team leaders should give verbal or written recognition immediately, and then follow through with the reward as soon as possible.
Ask your employees how they want to be recognized
There’s no one who knows the best way to recognize your employees better than your employees. Take a poll and watch as half your work is done for you as your people put their creative minds to the task of brainstorming their ideal recognition program.
Remember, the best employee recognition program begins with heartfelt appreciation and ends with a personal touch. Consider your company’s core values, consider your employees—and then consider a little whimsy. It makes all the difference.
More Employee Recognition Resources
There are so many different ways to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate your employees. Here are more resources for guidance:
• Guide to Employee Recognition Programs
• 11 Employee Recognition Ideas
• 22 Awesome Employee Recognition Gift Ideas
• 9 Tips for How to Choose Employee Recognition Software
• Heartfelt Employee Appreciation Quotes to Say "Thank You"
• Benefits of Peer to Peer Recognition
• Best Practices for Virtual Employee Recognition
• Guide to Years of Service Awards
• Tips to Celebrate Work Anniversaries
• Employee Recognition in the Modern Workplace
• Victories: Modern Recognition Software
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