Employee recognition ideas that are easy and meaningful
Engagement 8 minute read

Employee recognition ideas that are easy and meaningful

Megan Orr | October 15, 2020

Here are some simple but effective ways to show your employees you appreciate them. Employee recognition should be personal and regular, so continue reading to get some ideas you can use today.

Recognizing employees for their professional and personal accomplishments is a great way to help them feel valued. However, coming up with creative and meaningful employee recognition ideas, ones that can be applied consistently and fairly, can often be a challenge. 

While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with gift cards to mark a year of service, there are certainly more exciting and personal ways to recognize employees. How your company chooses to recognize employees’ good work says a lot about your company culture and that you value more than your bottom line. Effective employee recognition programs can also lead to increased productivity and higher levels of employee engagement. 

With COVID-19 still ongoing and many teams continuing to work remotely, receiving recognition has become increasingly important. Many employees are feeling disconnected and not sure if their performance is suffering because of the new normal in the workplace. You can improve employee morale by implementing a thoughtful employee recognition program. Having such a program in place may also help with motivating employees to continue to do their best work and remain loyal to your company. 

According to Culture Amp, effective employee recognition should be regular, immediate and specific.

This means that recognition should occur more than just once a year, on a regular basis, and immediately when it pertains to specific tasks or projects. Recognition should also be catered to each individual employee, their specific accomplishments, and their particular interests. 

Also, effective employee recognition ideas have to also be appropriate for your company. If your budget is limited, you will have to be creative about ways to recognize employees. If your team is remote—either permanently or temporarily because of COVID-19—all forms of appreciation will have to take place remotely or from 6-ft apart. The most important factor is to choose employee recognition ideas that your team will actually appreciate.  

The power of a simple hello or good morning should not be underestimated. Managers who regularly interact with their employees are able to create valuable connections with their teams.

These types of interactions have a positive impact on overall employee happiness. They also allow managers to stay in the loop with regards to what’s going on in your company and employees’ lives. 

You can also start collecting employee recognition ideas by asking employees what they would like to have for types of recognition. Start with a list of ideas, and then let them pick and add their own. Some suggestions to start with include:

  • Create an employee wall of fame: post candids or fun-posed pictures of employees (with their permission of course) recognizing specific achievements. Additionally, you can post photos of specific teams or departments too. TINYpulse alternatively suggests using baby photos: “Looking for something a little more creative? Have employees you’re celebrating bring in a baby photo instead and include a fun brief bio with all they’ve done for the organization”.
  • The way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs. Offer to buy an employee lunch to recognize their successes, or host an employee appreciation lunch. You can order something like pizza or subs or something from a favourite local restaurant close to your office. Some companies have even surprised employees with food trucks. If your team is working remotely, you can offer to order them a meal through a delivery app like Doordash or SkiptheDishes. What makes the most sense for your company will vary depending on your budget constraints.
  • Try team building: show how much you appreciate your team by offering fun team building opportunities, such as bowling or a remote happy hour.

Take the time to get to know your employees and what their interests are when considering how to best show your appreciation.

Harvard Business Review writes that “[a]ppreciation needs to be specific and genuine. While employees were enthusiastic about the variety of ways in which gratitude can be expressed, they were not moved by empty or offhanded gestures. There’s a big difference between yelling a thank-you on your way out the door versus sitting down with someone to describe the things you value about their work and its positive effect on the team or organization”.

If you have an employee who loves a specific show or book series, or has a beloved pet they always talk about, cater their appreciation to that. Having the rewards be specific to an employee’s interests shows employees that it not only pays to work harder, but that their hard work is recognized on the individual level. 

Additionally, employees crave feedback, so just taking the time to sit down and acknowledge all the ways they are succeeding in their roles, as well as ways they can improve, can be impactful. Harvard Business Review also says that these expressions of appreciation should be “timely, relevant, and sincere”. It’s also important to remember that even if your teams are still working from home, feedback is an extremely important aspect of acknowledging employees’ work. 

More ideas for employee recognition

Here are some classic employee recognition ideas to make your teams feel appreciated.

Peer to peer recognition

Encourage peer to peer recognition, where employees take the time to recognize each other's hard work, whether it’s for a specific task or project or just their overall attitude. For example, you can put up a bulletin board (or create a virtual one) where employees can offer their coworkers recognition for a job well done, and then you can draw names from both those who received and gave recognition and give out prizes.

Having employees recognize each other is a great way to connect employees and have teams lead by example. It may also give you the opportunity to take note of people who are doing a good job consistently that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

“It is your birthday.”

This quip comes from an NBC’s The Office episode, “Lecture Circuit: Part One”, where characters Jim and Dwight, ‘frenemies’ that suddenly find themselves the heads of the party planning committee together, forget their dramatic coworker Kelly’s birthday. They haphazardly throw together a party for her, with the now famous “It is your birthday.” banner, where Kelly is disappointed by the overall ambiance and lack of theme but thrilled with the choice of reward of either a half-hour nap or a half-hour of television (she chooses nap). 

While you don’t have to throw any sort of themed party—or even get a banner—birthdays can be more than just an excuse to eat cake. Celebrating team members’ birthdays is a great way to acknowledge their hard work and show how much they are appreciated. Consider having coworkers sign a card for them, with a personal remark of some sort, or decorate their desk with a few of their favourite things. For remote employees, you can send them a card and order their favourite dessert to be delivered. 

Additionally, some organizations that have paid time-off have started to offer a birthday day off as a part of their personal days, where employees are able to take a paid day off either on or around their birthday. 

It’s always best to keep it simple

The key to successful employee recognition ideas is that they are easy but genuine. Something like a classic, well-curated gift basket can go a long way. You can even set up a service to do it for you with companies such as SnackNation which offer subscription gift baskets that you can send directly to your employees. This is a great option, particularly for remote teams. 

Additionally, a heartfelt card can be just as impactful as throwing celebrations. Consider writing something specific for your employee, acknowledging their hard work on particular tasks and how much they are appreciated. Or, if that would be out of character for you, you can send a quick email or pop by their workspace to give them a quick thanks and job well done. 

It also doesn’t hurt to send congratulations for personal achievements and milestones, such as birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, etc. It’s all about showing that you care about your employees and that their successes (personal and professional) are important to you and your company. 

Acknowledging and recognizing employees doesn’t have to be complicated. It is, however, vital and a simple thank-you or note of encouragement potentially reduces turnover, increases productivity and boosts employee engagement.

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