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9 Meaningful Employee Recognition Ideas

Great ideas for employee recognition and rewards programs to create a positive workplace culture

Gerald Ainomugisha
5+ Years of Technical HR Tech Writing Experience
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15 Best Employee Rewards Programs (2024)

In the words of Maya Angelou “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The happiness and retention of employees depend on many factors, one of which is recognition - feeling valued. Employee recognition software might seem like an optional “nice-to-have”. But the truth is, this should be a top priority for all companies as it can go a long way in uplifting employee morale, camaraderie amongst colleagues, and productivity.

In this article, we’ll unpack some tried-and-tested, practical ways you can implement a workplace culture focused on recognition. We’ll also unpack what employee recognition programs should cover.

In This Article

What is Employee Recognition?

Employee recognition is a practice where employee achievements, great work, contributions, and milestones are publicly acknowledged. Effective employee recognition program ideas are not about the scale of the gesture. What matters is the consistency and the meaning behind them.

Best Employee Recognition Ideas

If you are looking for creative ways to recognize and reward your employees, below are some employee appreciation ideas that are cost-effective and easy to implement.

1. Create dedicated channels for shout-outs

This is one of the easiest methods to give recognition. Creating a culture where peers can celebrate each other’s achievements incites reciprocity, so the more examples of positive feedback a worker gets, the more they'll give it. Practically speaking, recognition can be a shout-out on a company Slack channel, intranet, HRIS, on a “wall of fame” bulletin board, or in an internal recognition newsletter

2. 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 with the company, fun facts, and other achievements. Some companies may look to standardize this message with their own template and feature this type of content on a regular basis.

The added benefit of this recognition is free PR and recruitment marketing for your company. When you post top performers. These employee features humanize a business and widen the audience. Those recognized will share their recognition post with their friends, family, and colleagues who will most likely engage and re-share the post, thereby increasing brand awareness. Additionally, potential future hires will take note of these posts and will be assured that recognition and a positive culture are part of your company values. All of this increases engagement and a positive work culture experience.

In addition to being recognized, employees also act as brand ambassadors.

Employee recognition on social media

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 3. Use employee recognition and employee rewards software.

Give your employees the ability and incentive to appreciate and uplift one another by investing in and integrating an employee recognition platform.

These platforms allow employees to give each other props for work well done, and in some cases, companies can incorporate reward programs where workers grant each other tokens that may be redeemed for a physical incentive. The results of effective employee reward systems are higher motivation, productivity, engagement, and retention levels.

3. Hold regular thank-you huddles

While ongoing recognition is a good general practice, making staff appreciation the only topic on the agenda sets the stage to keep the focus on accolades only. A quick huddle when a major project is completed, a big client is landed, or for any other win goes a long way in employee culture.

Sometimes, free employee recognition ideas are the best kind: Use this opportunity to praise and recognize individual employees and teams so the focus remains on their win.

4. Introduce a rotating trophy

Recognition can be cost-effective, easy, fun, and engaging. A rotating trophy for noteworthy achievements and progress sets the tone for some mild internal competition and engagement. Allow the rewarded employee to keep the trophy for a week or month after they are recognized for their outstanding performance or have a couple of themes where you have a few trophies.

‍At the end of their time with the trophy, have a short two-minute ceremony where it is passed on to the next deserving employee. Let the previous winner announce and congratulate the new winner to create a forward-flowing stream of recognition among team members.

Employee recognition trophy

5. Company outings

A change of scenery and routine can be a great way to get to know employees outside of the office walls and it can be done on a budget. You can poll or survey employees on where they would like to go. Among the many options for remote employee recognition, there are virtual venues you can create to increase engagement and team building.

Whether it is a museum visit, mini-golfing, painting, or a virtual movie, some time off duty to enjoy themselves for a job well done is sure to be appreciated.

6. Start meetings with recognition

Empower managers to start team meetings by highlighting recent successes and acknowledging the people responsible. This provides a positive start and creates a culture of public recognition. ‍

employee recognition in a meeting

7. Customized rewards

Instead of defaulting to a generic card, company swag, or a basket of muffins on their work anniversaries, reward employees with a gesture in line with their personal interests.

There is a wide range of options based on the individual and the budget. This is where creativity can go a long way— or you may want to get some expert input for the most creative ideas. From a skydiving experience to a dancing class to an art workshop, there are endless possibilities. Blueboard is an example of a company offering these unique services.

Bear in mind that, for some employees, the most motivating reward you can give them is a day off to spend with their family.

Chart depicting what employees consider important to their success

8. Ideas for Public Employee 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
  • A recurring ceremony for announcing the employee of the month
Private employee recognition

9. Ideas for Private Employee 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 handwritten 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, or  tickets to a show or sports event

Levels of Employee Recognition

There are different kinds of employee recognition typically practiced in organizations. All of these employee recognition types are important in fostering an overall workplace culture of recognition. 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 of recognizing workers should not be the only form of recognition your organization builds into its culture.

Peer-to-peer Recognition

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

Chart on what type of employee recognition employees consider the most valuable

Peer-to-manager Recognition

Here the script is flipped. In this scenario, employees evaluate and recognize their leadership team or managers based on how well they guide, govern, and motivate their direct reports.

The workers who report to a senior staff member grow professionally partly thanks to the help and mentorship of their manager. It is therefore only fair that good leaders get recognized by their teams.

Team-to-peer Recognition

Like peer-to-peer employee recognition, team-to-peer recognition comes from colleagues who work closely together. The difference is that a team collectively decides who should be recognized for an outstanding performance or contribution.

Benefits of an Employee Recognition Program

Research into employee recognition has proven the positive impact consistent positive feedback can make on a company’s overall success. Below we’ve listed just some examples of the benefits of employee recognition programs.

  • Increased productivity: According to Zippia, companies with good employee recognition strategies are 48% more likely to have high employee engagement rates.
  • Improved employee retention: If you pay your employees well and give regular recognition of their efforts, why would they leave your company? Employees who feel valued at their workplace and enjoy work are more likely to put in more years of service than someone who feels taken for granted (or even ignored).
  • A healthy workplace culture: When employees regularly receive praise from colleagues, managers, and others higher up in the hierarchy, the overall company culture benefits.
  • Improved collaboration: Employees who have routinely recognized are comfortable with their peers and managers. This leads to a psychologically safe workplace where workers feel free to raise concerns, share ideas and give input.
  • A desirable employer brand: According to 56% of HR professionals, rewards and recognition contribute to the efficiency and speed of recruiting new employees.
  • Improved employee wellness: 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 hard work and long hours alleviates some of the effects this has on their mental health.
employee enjoying public recognition

Critical Employee Recognition Statistics

According to statistics published by Zippia, employees who are recognized are almost six times more likely to stay at their jobs than those who aren’t. Additionally, 29% of employees surveyed stated they haven’t received recognition for their good work in a year or more. 80% of employees admitted they would work harder if they felt better appreciated. ‍Below further illustrates the importance of recognition as employees view this as it relates to their success.

Additionally, Zippia reports that companies who have employee recognition programs have reported increased 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.

Plenty of other employee recognition statistics point in the same positive direction.

Employee Recognition Best Practices

If you want to ensure that your employee recognition initiatives are impactful, long-lasting, and far-reaching, there are some additional things to keep in mind.

1. Timing is everything

Consider the current landscape of your company, the frequency, retention metrics, immediacy of the recognition, milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, company goals), etc.

2. Structure your workflow

Create a culture where 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.

3. Be specific about the contribution and value

When recognizing an employee, let them know precisely why you are pleased with their work, and how their contribution benefits the company. An employee who is recognized for taking on challenges and making innovative suggestions will be motivated to remain hands-on and creative and will act as a role model for others.

4. Switch it up

There are many different employee rewards and titles you can use to keep recognition exciting. The best rewards are appropriate to your company (such as the mission or values), the impact on the business, the position of the employee, and the scale of the achievement. Diversity in recognition offerings keeps employees engaged and motivated.

5. Track the effectiveness of your recognition efforts

Develop metrics and surveys in order to ensure that the types of recognition are truly what employees want and that they correlate with retention and engagement initiatives. It is important to re-assess on a regular basis considering the employee as an individual and the level of impact for each recognition.

Gerald Ainomugisha
5+ Years of Technical HR Tech Writing Experience
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Gerald Ainomugisha is a B2B writer with over 10 years of experience as a technical copy and content writer of which 5 years include writing content in the HR and HR Tech space. His HR expertise covers buying HR Tech tools, Recruitment Ops, DEI, and Employee Recognition. When he’s not whipping up magic with his keyboard, Gerald loves dancing to the latest Afrobeat hits.

Featured in: 6Q Anthill Busy Continent Tech Telegraph

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