Employee recognition is incredibly important, more so than many business owners ever realize. The need to be recognized, to feel as though you’re more than just a cog in an uncaring machine, is a critical component to job satisfaction and productivity. It’s also key for employee retention. According to FastCompany, employees are 12% more productive when they’re happy, and they’re happier when they’re recognized for the job they do.
In addition to that, a study by Gallup says that employees who don’t receive adequate recognition are twice as likely to quit in the next year:
“Only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days. At any given company, it’s not uncommon for employees to feel that their best efforts are routinely ignored. Further, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”
It’s reasonable, then, that you should strive to recognize your employees in your workplace. We’ve put together a list of 70+ different ways you can do it. Pick the methods that work best for your workplace culture and management style.
We’ve broken these down into 5 different categories, so feel free to use the table of contents to jump to the section that makes the most sense for your team.
Let’s dig in!
First up, we have simple, every-day forms of recognition you can leverage to make your workplace a kinder and more appreciating setting. Simple gestures of appreciation won’t make or break an employee, but they will liven the atmosphere and foster a culture of kindness that can attract employees, grow your reputation, and make everyone feel a little better about their work.
Here are some easy employee appreciation gestures that you can show without throwing any events or establishing new protocols:
- Thank people more often. The more you add “thank you” to your vocabulary, the easier it becomes.
- Celebrate birthdays. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, but a simple card, treat, or recognition is enough.
- Celebrate service anniversaries. Long-term careers are a rarity these days, so recognize loyalty.
- Establish regular treats. Getting fancy coffee, a box of doughnuts, or another treat for the office once a week gives employees something to look forward to.
- Make recognition public. An employee might not feel appreciated if their recognition is behind closed doors.
- Give something tangible. Even something as simple as a thank-you card can be a valuable reward.
- Offer longer breaks and more flexibility in work hours so employees can work as they need to.
- Let employees go home early if their work is done and they don’t need to be present.
- Establish a “mobile recognition trophy” that moves from employee to employee at the employee’s discretion.
- Establish small conveniences like free parking with minimal hassle.
- Provide alternatives where one doesn’t apply, such as paying for commuter passes or bike storage instead of just parking.
- Help employees donate to charity by matching or doubling their donations. Make sure to approve the charity first, so you aren’t donating to a hate group.
These middle-of-the-road recognition actions are valuable in that they hold more weight than the simple gestures, but they’re not quite important enough to be considered institutional programs.
They tend to be grander and more prominent, but they don’t require the “framed picture on the wall” style recognition of major programs.
- Allow employees to set personal goals and achieve recognition for reaching them, such as exercise milestones, learning new skills or certificates, or completing major tasks.
- Provide support and incentives to set these kinds of personal goals, like subsidizing certification training or a gym membership.
- Instead of a pizza party, bring in a variety of food trucks (paid for by the company, of course).
- Create an annual yearbook with pictures and quotes or descriptions for each employee, handed out to everyone every year.
- Run office betting pools or lottery tickets, with a guarantee that winnings will be split fairly if someone wins big.
- If an employee has to travel, give them perks like first-class airfare or a hotel upgrade.
- Contract perks for employees, like haircuts, car detailing, or bicycle repair services for free.
- Give employees recognition on your website, such as on your “about us” or an “employees” page.
- Keep some recognition rewards secret. Otherwise, it can easily become a competition.
- Offer one-on-one lunches between employees and management or executives, for sharing perspective, discussing issues, and broadening connections.
- Create a “suggestions box” so employees can give ideas to leadership, and earn recognition for the good ones.
- Offer a role or job shadowing opportunity for career exploration and development opportunities.
- Set up good team-building exercises. Think collaborative storytelling, not trust falls.
- Allow employees the opportunity to customize their leisure spaces, like the break room.
- Provide a quiet area, like a conference room set aside with couches and dim lights, for power naps or a quiet space to think.
- Create a Room of Achievement, where employee achievements can be shown off, both professionally and personally.
- Assist with professional development by writing LinkedIn recommendations on employee profiles.
- Use social media to publicly recognize your best employees – with their permission, of course.
- Give your best employees a shout-out in your monthly internal newsletter, if you have one.
- When a customer leaves positive feedback about an employee or team, share it with them.
The institutional programs require more buy-in from the executive team and may need to adapt the organization around them.
However, they’re usually larger and more grand gestures that help employees feel appreciated on a greater level than the simple gestures ever do.
Here are some examples:
- Establish a track for promotion. Nothing is worse for an employee than feeling like their career has dead-ended.
- Create a defined recognition program. Help employees in the program build towards their goals and success.
- Focus on company values, not on rules that are blindly enforced.
- Keep an open-door policy and, more importantly, offer an avenue for anonymous feedback.
- Create a points-based rewards program with a variety of prizes for employees to buy.
- Make sure everyone is in on it; all management should participate in handing out recognition.
- Support children. Having kids is stressful enough without the company bearing down on you. Support your employee’s kids by contributing to their health, education, and well-being.
- Support families. Employees without children deserve recognition too; the budget you allocate to children should be spread equally and support given to childless employees as well.
- Encourage employees to recognize one another, such as through votes or tips.
- Foster a culture of asking for help. If an employee is reaching burnout, they should be given assistance to help them, and days off to relax.
- Take individual teams out for business lunches and other team-building social gatherings.
- Reward extracurricular activities such as volunteering or charity donations.
- Create a mentorship program so new employees have an easier time onboarding, navigating their new roles, and coming out on top.
- Create friendly and collaborative competition. Don’t foster a cutthroat dog-eat-dog competition, but a good-spirited challenge.
- Nominate employees for industry-wide awards and recognition that tangibly help their reputation or career.
- Recognize whole teams when they complete major projects. A company-wide notice of successful completion can make a team feel good about their progress.
- Give every employee a dedicated budget they can use to spend on rewards for their coworkers. If you fear dollars will be abused, use a points system instead.
- Set up “take your child to work day” style programs.
- Set up “take your pet to work day” programs, but make sure no one does something like bringing their pet tarantula to the arachnophobe’s cubicle.
- Create a competition between retail locations. Different franchises can compete for the highest value sale, for example. Just make sure to pick something all locations are on equal footing for, so no location has an unfair advantage.
- Create a gamified program with dedicated achievements employees can earn through conduct, recognition, and extracurricular efforts.
Sometimes a one-off instant occurs where you want to implement a grand gesture to recognize an employee, but it doesn’t fit in the realm of institutional programs because it’s an uncommon event.
These forms of recognition can still be powerful.
- Throw a retirement party for your most loyal and long-term employees, for even more recognition before they retire.
- Provide loyalty milestones. Companies of old used to provide service anniversary gifts of real value, like a gold watch; it’s time to bring that back.
- Reward major milestones like a major product launch with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, such as paying for skydiving, a hot air balloon ride, or an exotic team vacation.
- Set up an occasional spa day (or spa gift certificates and a paid day off) so employees can take the time to relax and reset from lifestyle stress.
- Let employees choose a company initiative. Do they want you to push for a green or carbon-neutral operation? Do they want a process streamlined? Get their feedback and implement it.
- Strive to help your employees move forward in their careers, even if it means leaving your organization. No hard feelings!
Avoiding Bad Feelings
Before we wrap up, we have to acknowledge the dark side of employee recognition: the times when someone “hogs the spotlight.” One star employee getting all of the major recognition makes others feel jealous, and it makes for a hostile work environment.
Try to minimize this by keeping your programs fair to all, spreading out rewards, and delivering tailored recognition.
- Ask employees their preferences. For example, if an employee doesn’t want a big deal made out of their birthday, don’t make a big deal out of it.
- Avoid huge prizes that make others feel bad they didn’t win.
- Chart who wins what, and address why people who aren’t recognized aren’t earning recognition.
- Make sure no one employee can dominate the rewards; remove an employee from the running if they’ve already won this year.
- Offer alternatives. Bringing in doughnuts doesn’t help your dieting employees, and vacation doesn’t help someone who can’t take one.
- Make sure non-recognition compensation is adequate first. An office pizza party falls flat when everyone is underpaid for the industry.
- Survey your employees regularly and adjust recognition programs based on feedback about what is and isn’t working.
- Don’t forget about remote employees, contractors, and others in your business orbit who aren’t always in the office.
- Don’t force recognition. If you strive to come up with something for everyone, most of the recognition will come across as fake and not genuine.
- Make sure any “swag” you hand out is quality products, not cheap screen-printed garbage.
- Ensure that any benefits your office has been enjoyable by your team members. A foosball table in the break room does nothing if no one has the time to play.
- Avoid surprises. What good does a surprise pizza party do when everyone already ordered their own lunches or ate what they brought from home because they didn’t know otherwise?
- Make sure to budget appropriately for employee recognition. The general average is about 1% of your overall company budget should go towards recognition.
- Be careful with certain kinds of “recognition” like allowing Nerf-gun fights or intra-office pranking. This can actually be discriminatory against women and certain kinds of employees.
No matter how you’re handling recognition, you want to make sure you’re doing it at every level. A good, healthy workplace combines institutional-level recognition and rewards systems with casual, cultural-level gestures that build up an entire economy of small recognition.
Remember, recognition isn’t all just top-down. Employees can nominate and recognize their managers and team leaders for going above and beyond, handling difficult situations, and managing well. Employees can also recognize one another, for their own skills and performance in their roles. You want to establish a thorough culture of recognition at every level for it to truly feel like a success.
Companies with strong internal recognition make employees feel happier. Happier employees are healthier, more stress-free, and more loyal to their companies. They’re also less likely to jump ship, more likely to want to negotiate to stay, and more productive while they’re here. The benefits of recognition are immense, and the cost for those benefits is surprisingly low. Sure, you can’t get away with the cost of a few pizzas and nothing else, but you can certainly keep your costs low through business partnerships and other programs.
So, what’s your favorite employee recognition strategy? Share with us in the comments below and we’ll add it to the list!