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Employee Recognition Ideas

Why employee recognition is integral to the success of any organization, and how exactly to practice

Gerald Ainomugisha
HR and Tech writer, storyteller, and Afrobeat aficionado
July 6, 2022
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Have you heard the saying, 'People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel?' This sentiment applies not only to platonic and romantic relationships, but also to the workplace. The happiness and retention of your employees depend on many other factors, one of which is recognition. In other words, whether or not they feel valued. 

Employee recognition and rewards might seem like an optional “nice-to-have”. But the truth is, this aspect of a job can go a long way in uplifting employee morale, camaraderie amongst colleagues, and productivity. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do about this. 

Why Employers Should be Recognition Focused

According to the latest statistics on employee recognition, or a lack thereof, employees who are recognized are almost six times more likely to stay at their jobs than those who aren’t.

Yet, 29% of employees surveyed haven’t received recognition for their good work in a year or more. This is a massive loss in potential, given that 80% of employees admitted they would work harder if they felt better appreciated.

Factors employees consider important to their success

An effective way to ensure workers get the acknowledgment they deserve is to have a structured employee recognition program. 

Companies that have these programs have reported employee performance, engagement, and productivity rates that are 14% higher compared to companies that don’t have recognition programs. In addition, companies in the top 20% of those with strong employee recognition programs have voluntary employee turnover rates that are 31% lower than their competitors who haven’t formalized recognition.

What is Employee Recognition?

Employee recognition is a practice where employees' efforts, contributions, and achievements are publicly acknowledged. It is not about the scale of the gesture but the consistency and the meaning behind it. 

Source of recognition considered as most valuable

Best employee recognition ideas

If you are looking for creative ways to recognize and reward your employees, this section is for you. Here are some appreciation program ideas that are cost-effective and easy to implement.

1. Give positive feedback

This is probably the easiest method to give recognition. If your subordinate submits a report, acknowledge and praise everything good about it. For example, if the report was thorough and articulate, or simply submitted on time. You can do this in-person or via email.

2. Have a rotating trophy

If you want the recognition to be easy, fun, and engaging, you can get a rotating trophy. Even a cute stuffed animal or a figurine can act as the trophy that employees get to keep for a week or month after they are recognized for their outstanding performance.

Employee recognition trophy

You can have a funny note attached to the trophy detailing why the employee of the week gets to keep it and display it on their desk. Then, at the end of their time with the trophy, you can have a short two-minute ceremony where the 'crown' is passed on to the next deserving employee who went an extra mile that week.

This is a great way to boost employees’ morale and make them more competitive.

3. Take to your social media

You can recognize your outstanding employees on your social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Post a picture of the employee, their position in your company, and why you want to show appreciation. You can also include how long they have been in the company and other achievements.

This is a great practice because it is free PR for your company. When you post top performers, their friends, family, and colleagues will most likely engage and share the post, increasing your brand awareness. Bear in mind that potential future hires will most likely check out your social pages, and these posts will assure them that your company has a positive culture. So, while being recognized, your outstanding employees act as brand ambassadors.

4. Company outings

A change of scenery and routine is never a bad idea, and it does not have to burn a hole through your pocket. You can do a poll as a team and ask your employees where they would like to go and unwind or get to know each other on a more personal level.

For instance, you can go to the museum, mini-golfing, painting or the water park. Give them a few hours outside of the office to let loose and enjoy themselves for a job well done.

You can kill two birds with one stone by making the outing a team-building activity. They can form teams, play against each other, and win trophies for best group, best team leader, and best cheerleader. Just have fun with it.

5. Wall of fame

If you have a free wall in the office that people regularly walk by, turn it into a wall of fame. Ask your employees to give you pictures for the wall. So, when an employee does commendable work, add their photo, name, and a few words detailing why they have been added to the wall.

6. Customized rewards

Instead of giving your employees a generic card or a basket of muffins on their work anniversaries, spoil them with a reward in line with their personal interests. The reward can be something wild, like a skydiving experience or a salsa dancing class. Or it can be a way to support their hobbies, like signing them up for an art workshop. You may want to get some expert input for the most creative ideas. Blueboard is an example of a company offering these unique services.

7. Recognition and rewards software

It's one thing to know you're doing a fantastic job. However, it takes on a new significance when you hear it spoken out by others.

Give your employees the ability and incentive to appreciate and admire one another by investing in and integrating a recognition platform. Pretty soon you’ll see higher motivation, productivity, engagement, and retention levels.

These platforms allow employees to give each other props for work well done, and in some cases even to gift each other credits that may be redeemed for a physical reward. 

Benefits of an employee recognition program

1. Increased productivity

When employees are routinely recognized for a job well done, they have the morale to be even better and to continue producing quality work.

On the other hand, workers who are never commended for their excellent work often display mediocre work, because it's not like anyone cares right? According to Zippia, companies with good employee recognition strategies are 48% more likely to have high employee engagement rates.

2. Better employee retention

If you pay your employees well and recognize the effort they put into their work, why would they leave your company? If anything, they will do everything in their power to ensure they protect their place in the company.

However, suppose your work environment is unhealthy, and your employees' good work goes unnoticed –chances are, they are using company time and resources to find a job where they will be appreciated. You might think, 'It's no big deal. I'll have them replaced.' However, according to SHRM, it can cost a company up to five thousand dollars to fill a vacant position and complete the onboarding process.

3. Healthier work environment and workplace culture

When employees regularly receive praise from colleagues, managers, and others higher up in the hierarchy, the overall company culture benefits.

Positive correspondence also makes managers seem more approachable, so employees can feel comfortable reaching out to their superiors for guidance. 

4. Higher levels of collaboration

Employees routinely recognized for a job well done are happier, more ambitious, and zealous. In addition, they are more comfortable with their peers and managers because they receive feedback on a regular basis. In turn, there is more trust, transparency, and communication overall within the company.

For example, if you appear on the wall of fame and see a warm comment from your colleague, you can quickly strike a professional and personal friendship with them.

5. It is easy to find new hires

The perks of good workplace culture are not just internal. For example, suppose your company is well known for being a positive and engaging environment that leaves employees feeling seen, celebrated, and supported. Chances are people will be clamoring to work with your organization.

According to 56% of HR professionals, rewards and recognition contribute to the efficiency and speed of recruiting new employees.

6. Better overall mental health

Work can get pretty consuming and overwhelming – it happens. A straining job that offers no reward can easily lead to high levels of workplace stress and burnout. Having a system where your workers are recognized for their sacrifices, late nights, weekends, and holidays can go a long way.

A rewards program like a surprise day-off, a half-day, or an extended holiday will show your employees that you do not just see them as robots.

Employee recognition program categories

Public Recognition

Public acknowledgment is the custom in many organizations. This is partly because applause from the community can help establish a pleasant and engaging workplace culture, and inspire the entire team. 

Examples of public recognition are:

  • A post on a digital recognition platform
  • Recognizing and toasting to individuals or teams at a work event
  • Shout-outs to outstanding employees in the company newsletter
  • Expressing appreciation during a company meeting, for example, through a standing ovation
  • Sharing employees’ accomplishments or milestones on the company’s social media platforms

Private employee recognition

Private Recognition

While some people may live for the spotlight, others may not enjoy it. It does not mean they should not be recognized for their excellence. It just means it has to be low key and more personal.

Examples of private recognition are:

  • A hand-written thank you note or card
  • Acknowledgment of outstanding performance in a private meeting
  • A heartfelt thank you and acknowledgment email
  • A token of appreciation, such as a gift card, tickets to a show or game

Types of employee recognition

There are different kinds of employee recognition typically practiced in organizations. Let’s unpack the most common ones.

A manager high-fiving a peer

Manager-to-Peer Recognition

Under this system, managers retain the right to evaluate and reward their subordinates based on a set of pre-defined or specific criteria. However, while having its perks, this more traditional style is losing its relevance.

Peer-to-peer Recognition

This is where employees are recognized and evaluated based on their performance by their workmates. This kind of employee recognition is regarded as highly authentic and valuable because workers generally spend more time interacting with their peers than management. Peers also see the extra effort an employee might put in that is intangible and hard to measure by management. 

Peer-to-Manager Recognition

Here the script is flipped. In this scenario, employees evaluate and recognize their supervisors or managers based on how well they guide, govern, and control their subordinates.

As a manager, are you approachable, present, and inspiring as a leader to your subordinates? The workers who report to a senior staff member cannot be productive and grow professionally without their managers' help and mentorship. It is therefore only fair that everyone in the company gets recognized from above and below their station.

Team-to-Peer Recognition

Here, the team evaluates every member and votes on which individuals did more than the rest. Like peer-to-peer employee recognition, team-to-peer recognition is more accurate because teams work more closely together on different projects, so they have in-depth knowledge of who is deserving of praise.

Every system of employee recognition has its weaknesses and challenges. Your role as a manager or CEO is to find which works best for your organization.

Employee Recognition Best Practices

If you want to ensure that your employee appreciation ideas are impactful, long-lasting, and far-reaching, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind.

1. Timing is everything

When it comes to employee recognition, many companies are guilty of poor timing and low frequency.  Many organizations’ recognition styles are lazy and infrequent, often only rewarding and recognizing exceptional team members at the year-end party function.

This kind of recognition will have minimal lasting impact.

Imagine working tirelessly for weeks or even months on a proposal for a client, and you close the deal and get zero recognition! Then, at the year-end function, you get a card from the company thanking you for closing the deal. You are bound to feel like the card was just a courtesy,  and the words in it are insincere.

To ensure that your employees feel appreciated, recognize and reward them as soon as possible after they reach a milestone or do excellent work. And don’t forget birthdays! This shows that employee achievements don't go unnoticed, and other employees will see that there are immediate rewards to be had for doing great work.

You do not have to recognize employees every other day, but don't let any good deed go unrewarded. Structure workflow so that every project has a dedicated opportunity for feedback and recognition, even if it is not directly related to profits. This ensures that a good effort gets just as much opportunity for recognition as a big win. 

2. Be specific about contribution and value

When you recognize an employee for exceptional service, don't just stop at saying thank you. Instead, let them know precisely why you are pleased with their work, and how their contribution benefits the company.

An employee who is continually praised for taking on challenges and making innovative suggestions, as well as the value they add, will be motivated to remain hands-on and creative.

For example, did the company surpass its projected revenue because of the two accounts they brought on? Did productivity get a positive boost because they suggested a great way to streamline processes? Let the employees responsible for every improvement know they made a significant difference. 

3. Switch it up

Just because one employee recognition program works, doesn’t mean you should stick with it exclusively. Instead, make an effort to switch things up. For example, if an employee receives a company mug every time they do an excellent job (big or small), the prize will likely lose its appeal.

There are many different employee rewards and titles you can use to keep recognition exciting. The best rewards are appropriate to your company, the position of the employee, and the scale of the achievement.

The final word on employee recognition

Employee recognition programs are not a luxury, but a necessity for every organization that wants to grow and realize its potential, as well as that of its members.

Only 21% of organizations would recommend their employee recognition program to others. Don’t let your organization be one of them. Choose from the best employee recognition software for your organization.

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Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald writes both content and copy for businesses in the niches of HR, marketing and technology. When he’s not busy creating magic with his words, you can find him dancing in front of the mirror to Afrobeat hits.


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