Employee recognition is a priority amongst people leaders who want to build effective company cultures, as it should be. Workplace engagement statistics show that corporate recognition is an essential component of employee experience, wellbeing, and retention
The more we learn about the efficacy and success rate of employee recognition programs, however, the more we have to acknowledge that embedding recognition into your organization’s culture and your core company values is not an easy task.
A true company culture of recognition, when executed well, is a tiered, layered, and multifaceted concept. Many types of employee recognition are needed to achieve the full benefit of a recognition program. In this article, we’ll list and discuss the types of recognition underlying the blanket concept of effective employee recognition. We also give examples of specific types of employee recognition ideas you can incorporate into daily operations.
We recommend reading our expert-curated list of the best employee recognition platforms, and practical employee recognition examples to learn how these various types of recognition for employees fit into your corporate recognition and rewards system.
We also recommend consulting our list of best practices before investing in a platform for your organization.
Verbal Employee Recognition
Verbal recognition refers to acknowledging and praising an employee in speech either directly (private recognition), or in front of others (public recognition). It can be a very carefully thought-out compliment, or a positive remark made in passing.
Be mindful to keep compliments respectful though. Even when well intended, remarks about appearance, age, and ability can easily be microaggressions.
Since verbal recognition is in-person, spoken praise of the person’s work ethic, effort, or a specific accomplishment, it is by nature ethereal. No evidence of it remains, but the positive effect is still felt. A key consideration here is to spread the good feedback around. Managers may not be keeping track of who they give verbal praise to, or how often. But employees notice when they are left out or singled out. Be mindful to give everyone in your team verbal praise in private, and in front of their peers every few days.
An Example of Verbal Employee Recognition
An example of verbal recognition could be a manager saying to an employee, "Great job on the presentation today. Thanks to your work, we’ve made a great impression on the client."
Opportunities to Give Verbal Employee Recognition
- When you see or hear an employee giving exceptional customer service. (“Nice job, you handled that well.”)
- During team meetings or one-on-one conversations with the employee. (“We love having you on the team.”)
- When the employee contributes a solution. (“Great idea! Thank you for spotting that.”)
Ideas for Giving Verbal Employee Recognition
- Provide specific and sincere compliments whenever you see an employee doing well.
- Point out when you see an employee doing more than the required effort.
- Relay positive feedback about the employee from customers or colleagues.
Written Employee Recognition
Written recognition refers to acknowledging and praising an employee through written means, such as an email, a letter, or a certificate.
In contrast to verbal recognition, which is fleeting, the purpose of written recognition is to provide a permanent record of the employee's achievements. I hold on to birthday cards and special tokens, even from colleagues and managers at old jobs. These items are evidence of a professional connection shared with them.
Written recognition can also be used to formally document an employee's performance for future references, such as in performance evaluations or during salary negotiations. It is a tangible way (outside of monetary rewards and other reward types) to show employees that their efforts are appreciated and valued
An Example of Written Employee Recognition
Written recognition can consist of an appreciation email (such as the one below) sent by a manager to an employee:
Example of an employee appreciation email:
"Dear [Employee Name],
I wanted to take a moment to formally recognize the outstanding work you have been doing. Your attention to detail and commitment to quality has not gone unnoticed and has made a significant impact on the success of the team. Thank you for your effort and dedication.
Best regards, [Manager Name]"
Opportunities to Give Written Employee Recognition
- After a successful project or accomplishment. (An email sent to thank individual contributors or the team as a whole.)
- To document performance for future reference. (In a performance evaluation)
- To celebrate an employee's work anniversary or special personal achievement. (A congratulatory card.)
Ideas for Giving Written Employee Recognition
- Writing a personalized letter or email to thank the employee for their contribution.
- Presenting a certificate of achievement when an employee completes training or has a work anniversary.
- Writing a glowing performance review that will permanently remain in the employee’s file.
Peer-to-Peer Employee Recognition (Aka Social Recognition)
Peer-to-peer recognition is a form of employee recognition where coworkers or team members acknowledge and recognize each other's contributions. This lateral acknowledgment creates a supportive, positive workplace culture.
Peer-to-peer recognition allows employees to express their gratitude and appreciation for one another. It also provides a sense of belonging and camaraderie among team members, promotes collaboration, and fosters a positive connection. In every position I’ve held, my connection with the people was a determining factor in how much I liked my job.
Peer-to-peer recognition can be formal (through a recognition program), or informal (such as an email to say how much you enjoy working with them, preferably with their manager copied in). A benefit of having a platform where employees can give each other kudos is that it creates a viral loop where the recognized employee is prompted to also give recognition.
An Example of Peer-to-Peer Recognition
A team member sharing specific examples of how their colleague’s efforts made the team more effective during a project presentation.
Opportunities to Give Peer-to-Peer Recognition
- When a team member celebrates a milestone such as a birthday or work anniversary. (Presenting a gift or card from the rest of the team.)
- When a team member lands a big client or sale. (Congratulating them either verbally or in writing.)
- When a team member provides valuable contributions to a project. (Team members pointing out their contribution to leadership.)
Ideas for Increasing Peer-to-peer Recognition in a Company
- Implement a digital recognition platform that makes it easy for remote employees to recognize their peers in different locations.
- Have a bulletin board or recognition wall where employees can give each other props for milestones and achievements.
- Have a section for peer-to-peer shout-outs in the company newsletter.
Manager-to-Employee recognition (aka Manager-to-Peer Recognition)
Manager-to-employee recognition refers to a manager or supervisor acknowledging and rewarding their direct reports for hard work and contributions. This type of recognition can be verbal, written feedback, bonuses, promotions, formal, or informal.
One thing to be aware of with manager-to-peer recognition is that it also bleeds into performance management. Best practice for performance management requires one-on-one meetings and employee reviews, which are ideal opportunities to give recognition.
Manager-to-employee recognition helps to build strong relationships between leaders and teams. It increases employee engagement and improves job satisfaction because the workers feel that their effort is acknowledged.
An Example of Manager-to-employee Recognition
An example of manager-to-employee recognition could be a manager thanking an employee for their hard work and contributions during a team meeting. This example would also be a form of public recognition.
Opportunities to Give Manager-to-Employee Recognition
- When an employee or a team achieves a significant goal. (The manager can acknowledge the win and award the person or team with a gift card or an afternoon off.)
- When a new employee is achieving success in their new role. (The manager can convey their appreciation for how well the person has integrated themselves into the team.)
- When an employee celebrates a personal or professional milestone. (The manager can congratulate them verbally or in writing to acknowledge the achievement.)
Ideas for Giving Manager-to-Employee Recognition
- Publicly acknowledge employees during meetings or one-on-one conversations for their hard work and achievements.
- Write a personalized email or note to an employee, detailing their specific contributions and how they have made a positive impact.
- Share an employee's achievements with the wider company through company-wide emails, internal newsletters, or company recognition events.
- Start an employee of the month or a program where managers assign award titles to celebrate employees on a recurring basis.
Employee-to-manager recognition is when employees recognize and show appreciation for the work and effort of direct leadership. It's an opportunity for employees to thank their managers for their support and guidance. Employee-to-manager recognition can be verbal recognition in private, shout-outs in team meetings, written feedback, or a personal gesture of appreciation.
A corny World’s Best Boss mug I once bought my manager seemed like a small gesture, but I could see it meant a lot to him.
An Example of Employee-to-Manager Recognition
A good example of employee-to-manager recognition would be a team of employees organizing a surprise lunch or gift for their manager to show appreciation for their leadership and guidance.
Opportunities to Give Employee-to-Manager Recognition
- After a team has successfully completed a project. (Employees can verbally recognize their manager for their leadership, guidance, and support throughout the project.)
- On holidays, birthdays, or work anniversaries. (Employees can present their manager with a card or gift from the team.)
- For leading by example. (Employees can praise a manager for consistently demonstrating strong values, behaviors, and leadership acumen.)
Ideas for Giving Employee-to-Manager Recognition
- An employee thanking a manager for their guidance during a team meeting or presentation.
- A round of applause to acknowledge a manager’s leadership contribution after a big team achievement.
- Taking the example and adopting a manager’s productivity, leadership, and other working habits within the team.
Formal Employee Recognition
Formal employee recognition refers to a structured and intentional process of acknowledging and rewarding employees for their performance, contributions, and achievements. It is typically organized and implemented by the company or organization, and often involves the presentation of certificates, awards, or other types of recognition.
Formal employee recognition can be public or private and may be used to acknowledge individual or team achievements. Generally speaking, people get little opportunity for ceremony in their working lives, but there is something to be said for it. People want to be, and should be celebrated. Having an awards evening or office occasion to formally recognize employees is therefore arguably as important as the Oscars.
An Example of Formal Employee Recognition
A typical example of formal recognition is giving performance awards at an annual or semi-annual ceremony. This can include awards for a top salesperson, excellent team leader, customer service, etc.
Although verbal recognition would be given at the event, the employee is usually given a physical token like a written certificate or a gift card.
Opportunities for Giving Formal Employee Recognition
- Recognizing employees who have been with the company for a certain number of years. (Such as the traditional gold watch on an employee’s tenth working anniversary.)
- At the year-end function. (An employee awards ceremony can be part of the event proceedings)
- After a significant team achievement. (Holding a lunch or event to celebrate the completion of a big project.)
Ideas for Giving Formal Employee Recognition
- Hosting a formal awards ceremony to recognize and reward employees who have made significant contributions or achieved outstanding results.
- Presenting employees with a tangible recognition item, such as a plaque, trophy, or certificate, to commemorate their achievements.
- Giving employees a personal gift, such as a watch or a gift card, to show appreciation for their efforts.
Informal Employee Recognition
Informal employee recognition refers to any type of employee recognition that is not part of a formal program or system, but rather occurs spontaneously and informally in the workplace.
It can be as simple as a manager or coworker acknowledging someone's good work, offering a word of praise, or showing appreciation in a casual manner. Informal employee recognition can be more frequent, spontaneous, and less structured than formal recognition.
An Example of Informal Employee Recognition
An example of informal recognition can be a manager or coworker who stops an employee in the hallway to congratulate them on a big sale.
Opportunities to Give Informal Employee Recognition
- A manager or coworker acknowledging and praising an employee’s recent accomplishments in casual conversation. (Mentioning that they landed a big client in the break room.)
- Offering a simple physical gesture of recognition, such as a high-five or fist bump. (High-fiving a team member who just landed a new client.)
- A shout-out on a digital platform such as Slack, LinkedIn, or Google Chat to recognize and celebrate an employee’s achievements in real-time.
Ideas for Giving Informal Employee Recognition
- Giving verbal praise in meetings or one-on-one conversations with employees.
- Small tokens of appreciation such as buying the team snacks or coffee.
- Giving an individual or team a shoutout in a company-wide email or newsletter.
Day-to-Day Employee Recognition
Day-to-day employee recognition refers to the continuous, informal practice of acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of employees on a daily basis.
Informal types of employee recognition are typically delivered through everyday actions and gestures, such as verbal praise, a compliment in a team meeting, or simply taking the time to listen and support employees. The goal of day-to-day employee recognition is to create a positive work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and engaged in their work. As opposed to formal recognition that must wait for a formal setting or ceremony, day-to-day recognition is given on the spot and in the moment.
Bear in mind that not all recognition needs to be positive feedback. Stopping by an employee’s desk to ask how their family is doing, or what they got up to over the weekend is still a caring gesture of acknowledgment.
An Example of Day-to-Day Employee Recognition
An example of day-to-day employee recognition could be a manager taking the time to stop by an employee's desk and compliment them on their excellent work on a recent project. This simple act of recognition can help boost the employee's morale, increase their motivation, and make them feel valued and appreciated in the workplace.
Opportunities to Give Day-to-Day Employee Recognition
- When an employee successfully completes a challenging task or project. (A quick Slack message or email to thank them for their work.)
- When an employee shows interest in professional development. (A quick meeting to help them choose an online course that will further their knowledge.)
- At the end of a busy day. (Thanking an employee for the day’s effort as they leave the office.)
Ideas for Giving Day-to-Day Employee Recognition
- Giving an employee a high-five after a productive meeting.
- Reassuring a teammate who is nervous about a presentation that they’re good at their job.
- Sharing knowledge or personal insight with an employee that would help them with a project.
Public Employee Recognition
Public employee recognition is the acknowledgment or praise of an employee or team in front of others, or where it can be seen by others. As opposed to private recognition, which is given directly to the employee, public recognition is said or written about the employee.
Public recognition can be verbal, written, formal, or informal. It can be top-down, bottom-up, or peer-to-peer. The recognition can be given in front of colleagues, or in front of external people, like customers. Everyone gets a kick out of being told they’re good at their job where others can see it. It’s good for the ego— humans respond to praise and tend to stay longer where they receive it.
Besides benefitting the receiver, public recognition also benefits the company. According to recognition statistics published by Terryberry, 37% of employees were more likely to say their organization had a strong culture of recognition when recognition was mostly public. Only 11% said the same when recognition was private. We’re innately more aware of recognition that happens in front of others.
Public recognition also creates a positive effect on observers. Employees who see a colleague getting praised undergo observational learning. They see the positive results, understand how to get it for themselves, and learn how to improve their own performance accordingly.
An Example of Public Employee Recognition
An example of public employee recognition is posting about an employee’s achievements on the company’s social media.
Opportunities to Give Public Employee Recognition
- When an employee reaches a milestone in their careers, such as their tenth year of service, or earning an accreditation. (Having a function in honor of the employee’s achievement is a form of public recognition.)
- When an employee is actively involved in volunteer work or community service, public recognition can be given to acknowledge their commitment. (A shout-out at a company meeting, a feature in the company newsletter, or a post on the company’s social media.)
- When an employee retires after many years of service. (Public recognition can be given in a speech or on social media to acknowledge their contributions and to wish them well in their retirement.)
Ideas for Giving Public Employee Recognition
- Hold a formal ceremony to present awards to employees who have demonstrated exceptional performance, years of service, or other achievements.
- Make announcements at staff meetings, company-wide emails, or on social media to recognize employees for their achievements.
- Create a wall of fame or recognition board that displays the names and accomplishments of employees.
Private Employee Recognition
Private employee recognition refers to the recognition and appreciation of an individual employee's achievements, efforts, and contributions, expressed in private between the manager and the employee, or colleagues.
Unlike public recognition, private recognition is personal and confidential, and it may take the form of a one-on-one meeting, a handwritten note, or an email.
Although it does not carry the ego jolt of public recognition, private recognition is essential in building a strong connection between a manager and an employee.
An Example of Private Employee Recognition
An important example of private recognition is a manager scheduling a one-on-one meeting with an employee to thank them for their recent contributions and hard work. The manager may present the employee with a personalized award or token to tangibly acknowledge this.
Private recognition provides a personalized and meaningful connection between an employee and their manager. It can be verbal (a one-on-one meeting such as mentioned above) or written (a private email or Slack message).
As opposed to public recognition, an employee does not have to disclose the details of the recognition to their colleagues or anyone else. It is therefore ideal for acknowledging achievement and effort of a more personal nature.
Opportunities to Give Private Employee Recognition
- When a manager notices that an employee’s work or contributions have improved, or that they are putting extra effort into building their skillset. (“I see all the effort you’ve put into improving and want you to know that it made a difference.”)
- When an employee is working on overcoming, or has overcome, a personal challenge. (“I appreciate that you are still managing a full workload under these circumstances. I am here to talk if you need help.”)
- When an employee exhibits a positive attitude and behavior, such as being a team player, demonstrating initiative, or embracing change. (“I appreciate the spirit in which you have adopted this new process.”)
Ideas for Giving Private Employee Recognition
- Schedule a private meeting with the employee to discuss their achievements and provide recognition.
- Write a personalized, handwritten note to the employee, expressing appreciation for their contributions and achievements.
- Send a private email, text message, or Slack message to thank the employee for their effort, contrition, or enthusiasm.
Individual Employee Recognition (Aka Manager-to-Employee Recognition)
Individual employee recognition is a process of acknowledging and rewarding the contributions and achievements of individual employees. Various types of employee recognition can be focused on an individual. It can be verbal, written, public, private, formal, or informal recognition given to a specific person within the company.
An example of Individual Employee Recognition
Pointing out the work or success of a specific person in a group meeting, or on social media, would constitute public individual employee recognition. Complementing their work in a one-on-one meeting would be private individual employee recognition.
Opportunities to Give Individual Employee Recognition
- When it is an employee’s birthday or work anniversary. (“Congratulations to our accounting manager, Jill, on her birthday. We hope it is a very special day for her.”)
- When an employee has achieved success in their work or made an exceptional contribution. (“We’d like to point out that John’s innovative cost-saving solution has increased our bottom line profits by 3%.”)
- For day-to-day acknowledgment of an employee’s efforts. (“Thank you for sending those numbers through so soon! I really appreciate your efficiency.”)
Ideas for Giving Individual Employee Recognition
- Sending a company-wide Slack message to highlight the work or achievement of a specific employee.
- Thanking an employee, by name, for their contribution to a group project during a meeting.
- Announcing an employee of the month, top salesperson, or new hire in the company newsletter or on the company’s social media.
Team Recognition (Aka Manager-to-Team Recognition)
Team recognition refers to various types of recognition in the workplace that is given to a group of employees simultaneously. This is typically a team or department consisting of multiple individuals who have worked together to achieve a common goal or objective.
As opposed to individual recognition, employees are not mentioned by name when team recognition is given. Although team recognition is good for building camaraderie and acknowledging collaboration, it is best given in conjunction with private or public individual recognition to highlight specific contributions.
An Example of Team Recognition
A great example of team recognition is having an annual "Team of the Year" award. This can be a plaque, trophy, or certificate given to a group of employees who have demonstrated exceptional performance, teamwork, and collaboration throughout the year.
Opportunities to Give Team Recognition
- When a team successfully completes a project. (“We’d like to thank the marketing team for their hard work, dedication, and innovation in getting the latest campaign live ahead of product launch.”)
- When a team demonstrates exceptional collaboration and teamwork. (“Let’s take a moment to recognize the sales team who consistently work together to hit targets, take care of our clients, and keep this company profitable.”)
- When a team offers a vital support function. (“We are proud of our HR department who have successfully run a survey on employee engagement and used the data to compile this wonderful employee engagement action plan.”)
Ideas for Giving Team Recognition
- Use the company newsletter or social media to do departmental spotlight features throughout the year.
- Create a wall of fame or recognition board that displays the names and accomplishments of teams.
- Give the team an afternoon off, or award them with a special treat. This can be a lunch, an outing, or another non-monetary incentive that they can enjoy together.
By providing all forms of employee recognition within your company, your workforce can experience acknowledgment and appreciation on every level - personal and professional.
A comprehensive approach to employee recognition, and the types of employee recognition ideas given in this article, is the ideal way to create an organizational culture where recognition is truly integrated and beneficial, not just for show. The evidence of it will show in your employee experience, employee engagement, and average tenure.