Employee recognition makes a positive impact on both day-to-day interactions and long-term workplace culture. Yet with so many ways to say thanks, what are the best methods to do it?
In this article, we’ll share meaningful employee recognition ideas to celebrate employees and coworkers. But first, a quick reminder on why it’s so important to show appreciation in the first place.
Why is employee recognition important? It’s a terrific way to boost morale or make someone’s day by sharing how much you appreciate their work. Even more importantly, the long-term advantages are considerable for any company culture. Such benefits are most often achieved through a formal employee recognition program (for all the details on building a recognition program, see our Complete Guide to Building Successful Employee Recognition Programs).
Frequent appreciation can improve employee engagement and motivation, increase job satisfaction, and even help retain employees for a longer period of time. Organizations with an effective and integrated recognition program are more likely to have highly engaged employees and have increased revenue over the past year.
Keep reading and we’ll discuss ideas for employee recognition, as well as a few employee appreciation ideas for large companies.
Recognizing employees is crucial, but what are the most valuable ways to do so? As identified in the 2021 O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report, the awards employees found most meaningful for achievement recognition included (in no particular order):
• Experiential gifts
• Cash or gift cards
• Custom or personalized symbols
Leaders shouldn’t feel like they need to limit their gifts to any one type. A good mix of gift types to match each celebration will keep things interesting throughout the year.
Below, we’ll highlight some of the most popular ways to give employees the appreciation they deserve. For even more ideas, check out 20 creative ways to show employee appreciation.
Nothing says thank you quite like a gift that you can choose yourself—with points. Most modern recognition solutions include a points bank and multiple ways to give and receive points over time. This encourages peer-to-peer giving, which is important because research shows giving recognition has benefits that rival those of receiving it. When points add up, the recipient can visit the recognition site to choose from a selection of gifts.
Employee appreciation can be complicated because each employee has their own ideas of what benefit or award they prefer. Rather than trying to create a universal award that will not resonate with every single employee, empower your employees and allow them to choose their own reward. Allowing recipients to choose their own gift from an online catalog is a great way to help ensure employees are happy with their rewards.
Few rewards make more of an impact than a real experience—like a sports event, live concert, river rafting trip, or romantic getaway. You can even give an employee the chance to learn a new hobby, like golfing or painting. Experiences like these can be redeemed through an online reward catalog for purchase with points or awarded directly as a special thank-you for an over-performing employee.
For times when you want to send a bigger thanks, you can make a larger points deposit to every employee at once. This can also be a great idea for special occasions like organization milestones, or perhaps to reward a team that completed a lengthy or difficult special project.
Giving points that employees can redeem for the rewards they want is like giving unique rewards while avoiding the hassle of having to scope out employee appreciation gift ideas that work for everyone.
Thank you notes can come in all shapes and sizes, but a physical card to remind your employees that you appreciate what they’ve done is always a good call. This can be as simple as a small post-it note that you put on their computer before they come to work, or even a formal letter mailed to their home. A simple, well-thought-out thank you note can help highlight their wins and show that you recognize their achievements.
Organizations may choose to distribute gift cards to recognize their employees. Gift cards can be specific to one retailer or shopping site, or they can be prepaid cards that can be used anywhere a credit card is accepted. Again, our 2021 Global Culture Report indicates that both gift cards and cash are seen as meaningful recognition gifts because they empower the employee to choose a gift that is useful to them.
Healthy employees are happy employees. Employers continue to invest in employee health and wellbeing programs that reward them with points and perks when they meet their goals. Offer top performing employees additional healthy extras like a live coaching session with a certified fitness professional. Or help them plan a wellbeing program from the ground up with personalized guidance and goal setting.
When teams gather to celebrate a coworker, they’re adding energy to the celebration. The same is true with social recognition. Many programs feature an internal sharing social platform where employees can see and comment on colleagues’ accomplishments.
You may also choose to celebrate employees on public social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. For that type of recognition, you’ll want to set clear rules of which employees will qualify to be featured. Public social recognition can be sensitive because it requires employees to share their personal social media accounts. Make sure you have their permission to give them a public nod of approval.
Let your employees shine. One of the biggest spotlights for showcasing your employees is your website. Frequently, companies will highlight high-level staff and management members, but what about everyone else? By putting more of your staff on your website, and even letting them write their own bios, you show that they are an essential part of your business and that you recognize the work they do.
Nothing celebrates great work like an old-fashioned party. Throw a lunch party for events like Employee Appreciation Day and encourage individual teams to celebrate team member birthdays with smaller get-togethers. For bigger celebrations, like a founder’s day or holiday party, consider an evening party with food or even live music—and allow employees to invite a companion to join in the fun.
Reward great work with more great work. Let’s face it, not all projects are created equal. Some utilize more of an employee’s best talents and others may feature a particular area of interest to the employee. Consider awarding a team member with a chance to participate in a special project—or let them select a project of their choice.
Workplace anniversaries are more meaningful and fun when thoughts, photos, and achievements can be gathered and published. Consider creating and printing a permanent keepsake for employees so they have a permanent record of their achievement or milestone that they can treasure throughout their careers. For example, O.C. Tanner's Yearbook can help you collect leader and coworker comments and photos to deliver in a printed book. You can also publish virtual yearbooks for easy access, with the additional feature of including video clips
A growing number of organizations offer employees the opportunity to work remotely. Some have implemented hybrid work schedules where employees can choose to work from home one or more days a week. Rewarding an employee with the ability to work from anywhere for a week can help them focus on getting more work done by losing the busy commute and concentrating solely on the tasks at hand and meeting project deadlines.
eCards, even those without a monetary award attached, can have a positive impact on employee satisfaction and retention. GE made the connection that employees who stayed with the company longer had received more non-monetary eCards and monetary nominations during the year. Employees had a 73% smaller chance of attrition when they received at least one eCard a month, and 79% when they received one nomination a month.
Show your customers, vendors, and everyone else who walks through your front doors that employees come first by building a wall of fame. On the wall, you can display photos and accomplishments of individuals or teams who have earned special recognition. It could also include congratulatory messages from peers and customers. Such a display may be physical cards, posters, and photos, or digital, on a large monitor. O.C. Tanner recognition programs can broadcast accomplishments on monitors throughout your company.
Blanket awards can be great, but they don’t always speak to each person you give them to. Instead of trying to force universal gifts on each employee, customize your rewards and recognition prizes to each individual. Showing appreciation in a way that is unique to each person shows how much you value their unique hobbies, skills, and passions.
Symbolic awards never go out of style. They can become part of your culture and become meaningful objects of desire employees simply cannot buy anywhere else. Employee appreciation awards can take the form of a trophy, pin, book, jewelry, an acrylic design—or any other creative idea you can dream up. Often, these are accompanied by a letter of appreciation or a party to recognize each accomplishment.
Help employees reach their self-development goals with professional learning resources. Give your workforce access to premium training sites where they can take courses to learn a new software program or pick up new skills and certifications. You can also show appreciation to specific employees by sending them to industry conferences or workshops.
Offering employees a mentor to help them develop new skills is another educational reward. Or you may choose to reward employees by naming them to special projects or allowing them to choose which new projects or committees they’d like to join.
There is no rule that states that employee appreciation can only take place on company property. Want to switch things up? Schedule time for employee recognition during an off-site team-building activity or while dining together for a special team lunch at a restaurant.
Unique surroundings can help make the accomplishments you are celebrating even more memorable.
It is always better to have too much celebration and employee appreciation than too little. Celebrate all goals, promotions, major accomplishments, successful projects, major deadlines, birthdays, and work anniversaries. Employees are more likely to move around in their careers than they were in the past, so choose to celebrate when they want to remain with your company.
Once you discover the many ways you can celebrate employees, it’s time to put your creative ideas for employee recognition to work. By appreciating frequently and with purpose, your organization can enjoy many of the long-term benefits of employee appreciation and recognition.
Don’t be afraid to try new ideas—even if your employee recognition program automates the majority of your recognition experiences—mix it up! Keep trying new things to keep appreciation fresh. You can gauge the success of each new effort by measuring your employees’ feelings via engagement surveys or by keeping tabs on your employee net promoter score.
Whatever you do, keep on appreciating. Because celebrating great work together is the key to a healthy and thriving corporate culture.
12021 O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report
2O.C. Tanner Whitepaper “5 HR Challenges and 5 Ways Recognition Can Help.”
32019 O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report
4Cutting Recognition Takes a Toll
5Years of Service Awards Guide
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
• 10 Tips for Choosing 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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