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12 Employee of the Month Ideas (+ 3 Mistakes to Avoid)

Use these tips and ideas to celebrate your most valuable employees every month.

J.R. Johnivan
Business and HR Tech Journalist
Contributing Experts
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A professional woman smiling after she received an employee of the month award.
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15+ Best Employee Rewards Programs (2024)

It’s always good to recognize the contributions of your team members, so we’ve compiled a list of the best Employee of the Month ideas that work for nearly any industry, department, or profession. We’ve also included a list of common mistakes that are often made when implementing employee recognition programs so you can avoid these blunders.

Even if you already have an Employee of the Month program, these tips, best practices, and ideas can bring even more value while ensuring fair consideration for everyone on your team.

In This Article

12 Employee of the Month Ideas

If you’re unsure where to start, look no further than our comprehensive list of Employee of the Month ideas. We cover monetary and non-monetary incentives and some cost-effective options to save you ongoing expenses.

Remember, the idea is to build an employee recognition program that benefits everyone involved.

Cash Bonuses

According to data from the Pew Research Centre, 57% of high-income workers are satisfied with their current pay. However, only 25% of low-income workers feel they earn enough. Clearly, offering cash bonuses as part of your employee recognition program would be well received.

It doesn’t have to be a significant bonus. Even an extra $10 or $20 can go a long way in covering fuel expenses or paying for lunch. The simple act of offering a little additional remuneration to your most valuable employees speaks volumes about your willingness to help them make ends meet.

Gift Cards

If you’d rather not offer bonuses in the way of cash, gift cards are another great idea.

Nearly every store offers a gift card or gift certificate. Some good options include:

  • Retail stores: This includes everything from big box retailers to appliance stores, mom-and-pop shops, clothing stores, and even convenience stores. A gift card that offers various options is a great catch-all solution if you have a range of personality types on your team.
  • Local restaurants: Fancy restaurants and even fast food gift cards are a great way to reward your Employee of the Month with breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Online stores: Most eCommerce sites offer redeemable gift cards for a long time. Amazon vouchers make versatile rewards, or you can make it more personal by giving employees credit at an online store they specifically love.

Paid or Catered Lunches

Paid and catered lunches can help you connect with your Employees of the Month outside of the workplace. It’s especially effective when you have a team or department of the month who would like to celebrate their achievement together.

Let them choose the restaurant or select the menu options in the case of catering. This simple gesture is beneficial for team-building as it makes your employees feel more comfortable with the company.

Personalized Awards

Certificates, plaques, and trophies add flair to your Employee of the Month program. They’re even more impactful when personalized with the employee’s name or a creative award title.

Customize your Employee of the Month awards with the employee’s job title, company name, and current month for even better results. You can use these awards to keep track of how many times each employee has been recognized through your Employee of the Month program. That, in itself, can trigger rewards for achieving a “hat trick,” the highest number of plaques in a year, and so forth.

An example of an Employee of the Month social media post.

Social Media Recognition

One of the primary purposes of your Employee of the Month program is to provide additional recognition to your most valuable employees, so why not honor them via your company’s social media accounts?

Announcing the Employee of the Month in your social feeds drives increased traffic and interaction with your posts. This organic excitement shows everyone how much you care about your employees – including competitors, customers, and job seekers. That’s great for your employer branding.

Taking a picture of each Employee of the Month is a great way to show off your team, and your social media accounts will serve as an archive of all your past winners.

Reserved Parking

Free employee recognition ideas can be just as impactful as paid ones: Show your appreciation to the Employee of the Month by giving them a reserved parking spot close to your building’s entrance.

This everyday treat minimizes the time it takes them to walk back and forth when they arrive, during breaks, and when they leave for the day. Although it might not seem like much, those extra few minutes can add up over an entire month. Depending on your building’s parking situation, it might even save your star employees from paying for parking in a garage or on the street.

Charitable Donations

You can donate in the name of each Employee of the Month. Let them choose their favorite charities from a pre-screened list or their preference.

The recognition idea is incredibly meaningful; it echoes your company values and serves your community. In addition, the winning employees will get recognition for their work and credit for their donations.

Gift Baskets

Employee of the Month gift baskets can be configured in nearly any size, shape, or form. They can include a variety of default gifts or be customized to the likes and preferences of each employee. Some gift basket ideas include:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Baked goods
  • Toiletries
  • Candy
  • Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate
  • Stationery

Various retailers offer pre-assembled gift baskets. These are a great solution when your team is pressed for time.

Additional Time Off

Who couldn’t use a little bit of extra time off? Taking time away from the workplace regularly helps improve mental health and wellness, reduce workplace stress, and avoid burnout – all of which can harm productivity. Rewarding your top performers with an extra day off can help mitigate these issues before they even occur.

Additionally, a day off can be excellent motivation for employees to excel. This coveted reward can be a form of incentive compensation for team members who go above and beyond at work.

In cases where you can’t interrupt your regular employee schedules to give your Employee of the Month some extra PTO, you might be able to consider work-from-home or hybrid opportunities. A whopping 98% of the modern workforce wants to work remotely at least some of the time, so it makes sense to accommodate their requests whenever possible.

Company Swag

Depending on the size and scale of your organization, consider offering some company swag to your Employees of the Month.

However, don’t use this as a chance to unload unwanted stock. Make sure you’re rewarding your most valuable employees with swag that they can use–whether in the office or at home.

Local Event Tickets

Nearly every city has a local venue that hosts seminars, concerts, or plays regularly. Rewarding Employees of the Month with tickets to an upcoming show is a great way to express your gratitude. However, there are some things to consider when choosing the event:

  • Give your Employee of the Month two tickets if possible – nobody wants to attend an event alone!
  • Make sure it’s a family-friendly and politically correct event.
  • If the event occurs on a scheduled workday, give them plenty of time to plan and prepare.
  • Choose an event that isn’t too far of a drive. They’ll still have to pay for fuel!

Professional Development Opportunities

Don’t be afraid to take an active role in your employees' training and professional development. Teaching them skills that they can apply in the workplace will only result in increased productivity and efficiency in the end, and these employees double as great role models and mentors to your other novice employees.

Creating internal training programs and cross-training employees is a great way to prepare them for future promotions. External training – especially certifications – can strengthen their knowledge of the industry.

A top-performing employee receives an employee of the month award from their manager.

Benefits of Employee of the Month Programs

When done correctly, Employee of the Month programs offer myriad benefits to the workforce. These benefits come in many forms, such as increased employee satisfaction, morale, and productivity.

The ripple effect extends to nearly any business area – from strengthening your brand’s public image to improving the work-life balance of your entire staff.

Improving Employee Satisfaction

Are your employees currently satisfied with their jobs? Do they get along well with their teammates and managers? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, then an Employee of the Month program might be able to help.

Approximately 51% of U.S. workers are generally happy with their jobs. When it comes to the different aspects of their jobs, however, these numbers vary greatly.  Implementing a consistent employee recognition program can have a significant impact when done correctly.

Upholding Company Values

Many organizations structure their mission statement and core values around teamwork, morale, and employee satisfaction – but how many stay true to these values? If your company struggles to maintain core values, an Employee of the Month program can help you get everything back on track.

If your mission statement includes themes of fair compensation or remuneration, you can use your Employee of the Month program to offer additional monetary rewards. Ensuring synchronization between your company values and the actual state of the workplace is critical to long-term organizational success, and an employee recognition program goes a long way in keeping everything in check.

Building Company Culture

Organizational culture can make or break a company. A strong, positive culture is beneficial when attracting and retaining top talent, but a toxic company culture will have the opposite effect. Not only will it drive away your most valuable employees, but it will also make it challenging to find qualified replacements promptly.

With that in mind, use your Employee of the Month program to build your company culture. By tailoring your recognition program to include the qualities and themes you wish to see in your staff, you can become a strong, positive influence when building and shaping your company culture.

Increasing Employee Engagement and Morale

Employee of the Month programs can be used to boost employee engagement and overall employee morale. Nearly every employee wants to be recognized for their hard work, and ongoing employee recognition programs are one of the most accessible and straightforward means of doing so.

Once they enjoy the benefits and perks associated with becoming the Employee of the Month, most staff members are eager to maintain their status. Giving them something to look forward to – like recognition from their workplace peers – is one of the quickest ways to strengthen employee morale and engagement.

Driving Productivity

While the average employee is productive for approximately 60% of the typical workday, those working in office settings are only productive for about 31% of that time. If these numbers could be improved, even by a few percentage points, it would significantly impact productivity across the board.

A consistent Employee of the Month program is one way to drive productivity. Employees wanting to win the coveted title would be incentivized to get more done daily.

Other types of employee rewards and recognition that drive productivity include:

  • Using performance-based rewards
  • Recognizing team-oriented achievements
  • Offering work-from-home opportunities that allow for focus time
  • Setting clear goals, milestones, and timelines that trigger rewards
  • Offering advanced skills training

Creating Friendly Competition

Although you certainly don’t want to create a work environment that revolves around winning, a little bit of friendly competition can gamify the day-to-day grind and make it more fun.

Employee of the Month programs provide the exact kind of competition that most managers want to see in the workplace. Not only do they result in increased worker productivity, but they can boost morale and turn otherwise stressful environments into fun and lighthearted settings.

Just make sure to monitor their competitiveness. If an employee becomes overly competitive or aggressive, you should stop it as quickly as possible – or risk ruining the fun for everyone else.

Getting to Know Your Staff

Employee of the Month programs are a great way for everyone to become acquainted with their coworkers.

You can ask each month’s winner to complete a short questionnaire about themselves. Use this information to feature them in the workplace newsletters, social media, or on the office bulletin boards. Allow them to talk about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and personal interests safely.

The employee feature is a way to highlight your high-performing employees and promote the Employee of the Month program.

Attracting Top Talent

It can be challenging to attract top talent. While it’s easier in some industries than others, there is always a lot of competition surrounding the most skilled and experienced recruits.

An Employee of the Month program is an excellent place to start, as it shows your company’s interest in recognizing and rewarding your most valuable workers. Make a point of featuring your program in your recruitment marketing efforts.

Improving Employee Retention

While it’s impossible to stop everyone from quitting, there are some steps we can take to minimize the disruption and cost of employee turnover.

Establishing a consistent Employee of the Month program is one such strategy. Companies with active employee recognition programs experience significantly lower voluntary turnover rates than those without recognition programs.

Strengthening the Overall Customer Experience

Many employee recognition programs' benefits have a trickle-down effect that eventually reaches customers. Happy employees, for example, are more likely to go that extra mile when serving customers when compared to unhappy workers.

Since they ultimately receive better service, your customers end up happier overall. This leads to higher customer service scores, which can do wonders to improve your public image or attract top talent in your industry.

Employee of the Month programs can also be used to let your customers know about individual achievements and accomplishments. This could result in certain customers seeking out those consistently recognized by their higher-ups, leading to greater profitability for both the employee and the company.

Avoid These Mistakes When Awarding Employee of the Month 

Employee of the Month programs are always established with the best intentions.

However, even the most sound and well-organized programs can be derailed by a few simple mistakes. Don’t let all of your diligent planning go to waste. Avoid these common mistakes and help your entire team realize the full potential of your Employee of the Month program.

Choosing the Same Employees Repeatedly

While Employee of the Month programs are established to recognize the contributions of your team's most valuable and productive members, you’ll want to avoid choosing the same employee (or employees) repeatedly.

Having someone as your de facto Employee of the Month comes across as favoritism to the other employees. It might also cause you to subconsciously ignore other team members and their contributions.

For best results, try to review the work of your entire team every month. Not only does this ensure a fair selection process, but it’s a great way of monitoring productivity and keeping everyone on track.

Failing to Accommodate Peer-to-Peer Input

Choosing an Employee of the Month isn’t the sole responsibility of managerial leaders. Instead, you should try to involve your entire team in the decision-making process – including the employees who are eligible for nomination.

It’s always great to receive positive feedback from your boss, manager, or supervisor. However, feedback in the form of peer recognition seems more authentic. After all, employees communicate, collaborate, and work with one another daily.

Collecting and implementing peer-to-peer feedback is also a great way of building trust among your team. It prevents any claims of favoritism and shows the entire staff that you’re willing to listen to their opinions when making decisions in the workplace.

Treating Employees Differently

Make sure that you always give the same treatment to every one of your Employees of the Month. If you offer paid lunches, gift cards, or other bonuses to the first Employee of the Month, ensure you do the same for all.

This is another excellent way to rebuke claims of favoritism, but it also helps drive consistency across the board. Your staff already knows what to expect if they’re nominated, and your finance department already knows what kind of extras they need to include in their budget.

Last Words of Employee of the Month Ideas

Modern Employee of the Month programs introduce many different benefits to the workplace.

These recognition programs provide consistent employee appreciation and recognition for the contributions of your staff. In addition, the employee recognition ideas we discussed here can result in healthy competition, ultimately spurring productivity across the company.

When guided by a few best practices, Employee of the Month programs quickly become tools that boost motivation, strengthen camaraderie, and drive communications.

J.R. Johnivan
Business and HR Tech Journalist
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Combining a lifelong love of technology and the written word, J.R. is constantly balancing traditional arts with next-gen breakthroughs and advancements. With 30-plus years of experience working with computers and IT of all kinds, including over a decade of reviewing HR software, he caters to audiences all around the globe from his quaint home in West Michigan.

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