Let’s compare two scenarios.
First, picture an employee who’s worked hard to stand out from the crowd. They’ve taken on extra responsibility within your organization, engaged in and contributed to your company culture, and worked hard to improve by taking advantage of professional development opportunities. At the end of the year, this employee gets rewarded with a spot bonus and a holiday gift basket. They stay with your company for five more years, helping you reach important organizational goals.
Next, picture the same employee, but take away the recognition they receive at the end of the year. Instead of feeling excited to continue working with your organization for the long term, they end up quitting three months later.
Considering these two scenarios, you may ask yourself, “Can a bonus and a gift basket really make that big of a difference?”
The answer is yes!
Employee recognition, which includes everything from a “thank you” to a bonus, has the potential to play a significant role in how your employees feel about you as an employer, how they feel about their jobs, and how long they work for you. This is why it’s important to learn what employee recognition is and how to implement it at your organization.
To give you a jump start, we’ve written this article covering the following:
- What is Employee Recognition?
- How Employee Recognition Can Benefit Your Organization
- Setting Up Your Organization’s Employee Recognition Program
- 21+ Fantastic Employee Recognition Ideas
If your organization could benefit from a stronger employee recognition program, then this article is for you! Let’s get started.
What is Employee Recognition?
Employee recognition is the practice of acknowledging and thanking your employees in meaningful ways for the contributions they make to your organization.
There are three different aspects of recognition to take into consideration:
Where the Recognition Comes From
- Employee Recognition from the Top: This type of recognition comes from an employee’s supervisor, manager, or another leader who is above the employee in the organizational hierarchy.
- Employee Recognition from Peers: This type of recognition comes from an employee’s coworkers who are likely on the same level in the organizational hierarchy.
Who The Recognition is For
- Recognition for Individuals: Recognition for individuals is focused on a single individual’s contributions and accomplishments.
- Recognition for Teams: Recognition for teams focuses on goals and projects accomplished by an entire team.
What the Recognition Is
- Formal Recognition: Formal recognition might look like a shoutout in a board meeting or internal newsletter, and it may even be coupled with a tangible reward like a bonus or a gift card.
- Informal Recognition: Informal recognition is given out on a frequent basis. This might take the form of a fist bump, a quick thank-you email, or a “Nice job today!” as an employee is leaving the office.
HR software company Springworks asserts in “Employee Rewards and Recognition Ideas [2022 Guide]” that organizations need to differentiate between recognition and rewards. Specifically, recognition is relational and has emotional value, whereas rewards are transactional and usually have a monetary value.
This distinction helps remind leaders that their recognition efforts should have meaning and thought behind them, and that rewards can also be a great part of a holistic and healthy employee recognition program.
How Employee Recognition Can Benefit Your Organization
How can employee recognition make a difference to your organization?
It’s simple: When your employees feel seen and appreciated in their roles, they’ll be more productive and loyal workers, and you’ll be more likely to retain them long-term.
Here are some eye-opening statistics that reinforce this fact:
- “40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.” – Harvard Business Review
- “82% [of employees] consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work.” – Survey Monkey
- When asked about what their employers could do to increase engagement, 58% of surveyed workers said “give recognition.” – TINYpulse
It’s clear that employee recognition is well worth investing in, as it can drive employee engagement and job satisfaction. An organized employee recognition program can standardize these practices, leading to more consistent benefits for your organization and your workers. Let’s dive into the “how to” next!
Setting Up Your Organization’s Employee Recognition Program
While your organization may already have an incentive program for specific roles such as salespeople or major gift officers, you should consider outlining a more formal employee recognition program for your entire team. Without a well-designed and planned-out employee recognition program, your recognition efforts could end up missing the mark.
You might, for example, end up giving kudos to one employee in a company-wide meeting while overlooking another employee who accomplished something similar. Worse, you could end up pairing your recognition for the completion of a project with a tangible award, like a gift card to a nice restaurant, and give a higher value reward for a similar completed project down the road, causing employees to question the fairness of your actions.
An employee recognition program with strong policies helps you do the following:
- Provide employees with clear guidelines for how they can earn rewards and recognition
- Stay consistent and fair with your recognition efforts
- Incorporate your recognition efforts into your broader performance management process
In “Managing Employee Recognition Programs,” SHRM recommends outlining the following:
- Eligibility requirements. Some criteria you can consider include time spent at the organization, employment status, performance metrics, and whether the recipient has won the award before. For instance, you might set the eligibility requirements for your “Employee of the Year” award to include nominees that have been at the company for at least a year, received strong praise, and not won the award in the last two years.
- Approval process. The approval process helps you determine how employees get considered for the award. For instance, your nonprofit could accept board nominations, peer nominations, or even nominations from stakeholders to determine the final slate of candidates. You should also know how you’ll determine the winner, whether you’ll have a final panel choose or allow other employees to vote.
- Award/reward types. There are several types of gifts you can send your employees to celebrate a job well done. We’ll cover some specific ideas later on, but some general types of rewards to consider include monetary gifts, professional development opportunities, trophies or plaques, experiential rewards, or in-kind gifts.
- Frequency of reward presentations. How often you present awards depends on its size or formality. For instance, you’ll give out an “Employee of the Month” award more frequently than a lifetime achievement award. Your nonprofit can also adopt a system where different accomplishments add up to a certain amount of points that can be redeemed for a reward. In that case, you should standardize exactly when points are given and when employees can trade them in.
- Performance goals to measure. If one of your award benchmarks is performance, decide how you’ll measure it for each award. For instance, you could view it through a quantitative lens and measure analytics like dollars made, or you could take a qualitative approach by asking stakeholders to identify which team members embody your nonprofit’s values.
In summary, your employee recognition program should be aligned with larger organizational goals and values, easy to manage, and regularly evaluated.
Your program will require dedicated time, money, and other resources, but can be a wise investment that helps boost employee morale and retention. Also, keep in mind that any awards employees receive as part of your program are generally taxable.
Plus, you can present your employee recognition program as part of your total rewards approach to compensation. For help designing your employee recognition program or building it into your holistic compensation approach, we recommend working with an HR consulting firm. An objective third-party expert can help you recognize the holes in your program and make recommendations to help give your employees the recognition they deserve.
21+ Fantastic Employee Recognition Ideas
No two employees are alike, and neither are their recognition needs. One employee may respond positively to public recognition and a plaque, while another employee might prefer to be recognized in a one-on-one setting and given a bonus on their paycheck.
Plus, different situations and levels of accomplishment call for different types of recognition. For example, it’s more appropriate to thank the employee who cleans out the breakroom coffee pot with a verbal “thank you” than it is to invite them to a board meeting to have their accomplishment announced to your top-level leaders.
You’ll need a variety of options for recognizing your employees for their hard work. Here are 21+ ideas to get you started!
Note that each of these ideas can be adapted to your local and organizational COVID-19 situation and restrictions.
1. Thank-You Cards
A thank-you card is a simple and classic employee recognition idea. Plus, it’s a thank you that your employees can hold on to by pinning it to their cubicle wall or displaying it on their desk.
Make or buy a thank-you card and write a personalized note to the employee you want to recognize. Clearly state the contribution you’re recognizing them for and explain how that contribution made a difference. The key to a great thank-you card is to get it to the recipient in person or via mail as soon as possible. This will ensure your employee gets recognition right when they deserve it!
2. Spot Bonuses
A spot bonus is a monetary reward given immediately in recognition of a job well done. While more typical bonuses are given after a certain period of time (take annual or holiday bonuses, for example), spot bonuses are given as the need for recognition arises.
How much should a spot bonus be? According to a 2020 SHRM article on employee rewards programs, spot bonuses can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. We recommend you set up tiered spot bonuses as part of your employee recognition program. Having tiers will give you a range to work with so you can give bonuses that match each employee’s contribution.
This employee recognition idea is great for in-office workers. All you’ll need is a pen and a Post-it. Write down your thank-you and what it’s for, then leave it on the recipient’s desk, computer, or door.
Pass-a-Post-it works especially well as a form of peer-to-peer recognition, so try designating a day each month or each quarter where everyone passes a Post-it to someone else in the office that they’d like to thank!
4. Bravo Board
A bravo board is great for employees who like to be publicly recognized for their accomplishments. You can create a virtual bravo board in a slide deck to use in organization-wide meetings, or hang up a bulletin board in your office. Encourage managers and other employees to “bravo” each other by putting a name on the board with a short explanation of what the bravo recipient achieved.
To tie your bravo board to your organization’s values, encourage employees to include an associated organizational value or part of your mission statement to each bravo. This will help connect employees’ accomplishments to your big-picture goals.
5. Catered Breakfasts or Lunches
A catered breakfast or lunch is a great way to recognize the efforts of a team or your entire organization. Your employees will love getting a nice meal at work and a chance to celebrate their successes with each other. To add to this idea, you could hand out awards during the meal to spotlight employees who went above and beyond.
If your team is currently hybrid or remote, you can still get a meal to them. Provide them with Grubhub or DoorDash gift certificates, or deliver catered meals to their homes.
6. Plaques or Trophies
Plaques and trophies are tangible reminders of your appreciation that employees can display on their desks or at home. Get the trophy or plaque personalized with the employee’s name, the date the award will be given, and the accomplishment.
Here are some examples of superlatives you can award to employees:
- Employee of the Month. This straightforward, yet classic award provides employees an opportunity to shine each month.
- Leader of the Year. Has one of your managers taken on more directs or driven new initiatives? Be sure to thank your middle management for their efforts to improve your organization.
- Team Player. This award is straightforward and crucial for building team morale. Award this to an employee who helps their team members play to their strengths for the overall benefit of the company.
- Rising Star. It can be difficult to make a name for yourself when you’re just starting a role. Show your appreciation for newcomers who have already impacted your company with this award.
- Above-and-Beyond Achiever. Management can use this achievement award to congratulate high performers and highlight their contributions to the company as a whole.
- Inspiring Innovator. Adaptability is everything, and your employees’ great ideas are what powers it for your company. Choose a team member who consistently challenges the status quo and makes the company a better place to work.
- Office Energizer. It can be a lot to spend forty hours a week working, so maintaining an enthusiastic company culture can help boost employee morale. Give this award to an employee who regularly energizes and drives the people around them to succeed.
- Lifetime Achievement. Perhaps the most comprehensive award on this list, the lifetime achievement award is great for retiring team members who have made a significant impact on your company over the years.
For this type of employee recognition, you may want to invite your employee to a board or shareholder meeting and present them with the award. This will give them the chance to be seen and thanked by your top-level leaders.
7. Social Media Shoutout
If your organization is active on social media, this is the employee recognition idea for you! Shout out an employee by posting a picture of them on your organization’s accounts. Explain what the employee accomplished, and encourage your followers to like and comment on the post.
With a social media shoutout, your employees can easily share your post with their family, friends, and professional networks.
8. National Employee Appreciation Day
Did you know that there is a holiday dedicated to employee recognition? National Employee Appreciation Day is observed on the first Friday of March. This is the perfect day to show all of your employees how valued they are.
Make the holiday notable by providing lunch and a special activity. You might bring in a masseuse to give shoulder massages or invite therapy dogs to come and play with your employees for a few hours. End the day by giving out lighthearted superlative awards like “Fastest Typer” or “Best Customer Service Smile.”
9. Extra Time Off
Extra time off can be a big motivator for employees. As part of your recognition program, you might offer extra vacation days to high-performing employees. Or, if any teams are doing particularly well or are ahead of their goals, consider allowing them to take an upcoming Friday off, for example.
This idea will benefit you twofold as employees will not only work hard to receive extra time off but return from their extra vacation time energized and ready to work hard once again. Plus, they’ll be able to approach their projects with fresh eyes and a new perspective.
10. Employee Wellness Day
An employee wellness day can show your employees you care about them as people, not just as workers. Start the day out with a healthy breakfast like yogurt parfaits or green smoothies. Then, have a yoga instructor lead your organization in a stretching or meditation session.
Later in the day, you could set up a field day for your employees and give your employees the chance to participate in a volleyball tournament or obstacle course. End the day by having a sleep expert talk to your employees about the importance of getting the rest they need.
11. VIP Parking Spot
We’ve all been there–you arrive at work in the morning only to find the parking spots closest to the office are taken. That’s why VIP parking spots are such great awards for an employee recognition program!
Have employees compete to meet a specific goal within a set amount of time. Maybe they need to make a certain number of sales or send out year-end tax letters to your donors. This gamification element can be a lot of fun and foster a healthy sense of competition among your employees.
The first person to meet the goal gets the VIP parking spot for a certain amount of time, like a week or a month.
12. Quarterly Priority Prizes
If your organization strives to meet quarterly goals, motivate your employees to fulfill these goals by offering company-wide incentives. For example, you might give every employee a $100 bonus or gift card if your organization meets its quarterly goal. Or, each employee might receive a themed gift basket instead.
Take your quarterly priorities to the next level by setting up different prize tiers. If you accomplish most of your goal but not all of it, for example, you might offer smaller prizes than you would have given if the entire goal had been achieved—$50 gift cards instead of $100, for instance.
13. Gift Matching
Another great strategy for meaningful employee recognition is to help them give back to a cause they care about. As an employer, you can do this by offering gift matching—where you match an employee’s financial contribution to a charitable cause.
Here are the usual steps to gift matching:
- An employee donates to a nonprofit.
- That employee fills out a match request form and submits it to their employer.
- The employer reviews the form and approves the match.
- The employer donates to the nonprofit, usually at a 1:1 ratio with the employee gift.
Instead of only giving high performers access to this perk, allow all employees to participate in gift matching. This shows team members that your company is willing to give to the causes that they care about. Plus, you’ll be demonstrating your organization’s interest in investing in your community, boosting your reputation.
Does your organization create swag for clients, customers, patients, or donors? Chances are your employees would love to have some, too.
Whether your swag takes the form of branded mugs, t-shirts, stress balls, or pens, these handy items can be paired with a thank-you or Post-it note to make a recognition effort extra meaningful. Plus, your employees will love repping your brand, especially when they feel like a valuable part of your organization.
15. Personalized Birthday Celebrations
Birthdays are a wonderful time to show your employees that you care about them and their hard work. Try personalizing your organization’s birthday celebrations.
You can do so in surprisingly simple ways. Get the employee’s favorite dessert to share at lunch, or leave them a small gift on their desk to let them know they’re on your mind.
16. Work Anniversaries
Celebrate your employees who hit milestones in their time with your organization. Whether they’ve worked with you for one year or ten years, it’s worth celebrating!
One fantastic and simple way to celebrate a work anniversary is to send out an email to everyone at your organization spotlighting the employee who has hit the milestone. Talk about how they’ve contributed to your organization, and encourage other employees to congratulate them!
17. Traveling Trophy
While it can be fun to receive your very own trophy, it can also be fun to compete for a traveling trophy. Create a few trophies for different accomplishments, such as “Highest Monthly Sales” or “Most Donor Thank Yous Written.”
Let your employees know that you’ll be passing the trophy around on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the accomplishment it recognizes. This will help to foster a healthy sense of competition among teams, and employees will love receiving a trophy that they can show off to their coworkers.
18. Surprise Gift Bags
Who doesn’t love a gift bag? Surprise your employees with a small collection of gifts. These could include new office supplies, gift cards for local restaurants, water bottles and snacks, or headphones and power banks.
Leave these items on your employees’ desks or mail them to their homes to let them know you’re grateful for their hard work.
19. Free Event Tickets
From time to time, it can be fun to give your employees free event tickets when they’ve accomplished something big.
Whether your organization’s leaders have extra season tickets to a local theater or you’ve invested in basketball or football tickets, providing your top employees with a memorable experience now and then will get them excited about the goals they’ve met and how they can continue to improve professionally.
There are a number of streaming services you can offer subscriptions for, including music or movie and TV streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu. You could also offer subscriptions to meditation apps like Calm or Headspace. Another option is a meal-kit subscription through a company like HelloFresh or Blue Apron.
A subscription is a great reward for any employee recognition program, as your employee will be reminded of their professional accomplishments every time they use their new service!
21. LinkedIn Recommendation
Writing a LinkedIn recommendation for an employee is an effective way to let them know you’re impressed with their performance and to help boost their professional connections. LinkedIn recommendations show up on the employee’s profile and can provide context for the professional experience and skills they’ve already shared with their networks.
A LinkedIn recommendation doesn’t have to be complicated, either. In fact, you can write one in just a few minutes. Check out LinkedIn’s article on writing recommendations for a helpful template.
22. Employee of the Month
If you’re interested in an employee recognition idea that you can implement on a routine basis, try offering an Employee of the Month award.
Employees of the month should be your most standout workers. Consider offering a month’s worth of perks, like a spot bonus, a VIP parking spot, and a free lunch to the employee of the month. You should also shoutout this employee at organization-wide meetings or put their picture on your bravo board.
Change up the workday routine by surprising your top performers. These surprises can come in the form of a surprise meal or a surprise party in the middle of the day.
These out-of-the-blue gestures will build up employee morale and remind your employees that they mean a lot to your organization.
24. Lunch With the Boss
Many engaged and hardworking employees are likely looking for opportunities to network and advance within your organization. While working toward this, they may find it hard to connect or get face time with your executives or board members. Recognize their efforts by coordinating a lunch during which they can meet with these leaders.
This can be an excellent opportunity for an employee to get to know your organization’s leaders and share the goals they’ve accomplished and the new ones they’re working toward.
When an employee feels seen and appreciated, they’ll be more likely to continue working with your organization as an engaged employee. Regular, thoughtful employee recognition reminds your employees why they enjoy their work and encourages them to think highly of their employers.
As you build up your organization’s employee recognition program, remember to work hard to make it sustainable and fair. Don’t hesitate to get outside help!
Want to learn more about building better relationships with your employees? Check out these great articles on topics related to employee recognition:
- What’s a Performance Management System? A Guide. Performance management will have a large impact on your employee recognition program. Learn more about how to streamline and organize your performance management process with a performance management system.
- Employee Loyalty: The Secret Sauce and Tips Your Org Needs. An effective employee recognition program can help you cultivate employee loyalty at your organization. Learn more here!
- HR Consulting Firms: 20+ Top Providers for Small Businesses. An HR consultant can help your nonprofit implement effective employee recognition strategies. Check out this list of top firms to consider.