30 Creative Employee Recognition And Appreciation Ideas
By Mieke van der Merwe ·
People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards.
In the late 90s, management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. coined the phrase “war for talent” to describe the increasingly fierce competition employers faced in recruiting and retaining skilled employees.
Reasons for this competitive hiring market included:
the rapid globalization caused by the rise of the internet,
an aging workforce, and
a growing tendency to “job hop” (instead of staying at the same company for 30-40 years like previous generations).
Now, 24 years later, the war for talent rages on. The global talent marketplace is more competitive than ever. Factors like rising employee expectations, remote work, and a greater desire to do satisfying work are leading to high employee turnover rates.
As a result, companies around the world are asking how they can create an appealing workplace that leads to engaged, productive, and loyal employees.
In a recent employee survey, O.C. Tanner asked its staff “What drives great work?” Employees answered in their own words, and the survey found that recognition was the most important consideration for 37% of respondents.
What this means is that employee recognition is one of the most powerful tools available to employers to keep their staff engaged.
Below, we’ll discuss 30 simple ways you can reward employees for their hard work and achievements to raise employee morale, boost engagement, and build loyalty.
What is Employee Recognition?
Employees are motivated by a wide range of different things. Some prioritize remuneration, some want to be challenged by their work, some want their work to make an impact, and others care more about flexibility in terms of working hours or location.
Yet, across the board, no matter their primary motivation, employees crave acknowledgment and recognition for the work they do.
Everyone enjoys feeling appreciated. It’s human nature to seek validation and, with the right leadership, this can be a powerful motivator that makes employees feel valued and inspired to do their best work—and to stick around.
To improve employee morale and improve retention, consider making employee recognition a fundamental part of your company culture.
There are many different ways to celebrate good performance and work ethic, and we’ve included 30 ideas for creative ways to recognize employees below.
But before your get started, here are some things to keep in mind:
Some ways of showing employees recognition will be more applicable to certain types of roles than others. For instance, a leaderboard or and hall of fame may be better suited to sales than roles like operations management or HR.
Client-facing roles likely have entirely different key performance indicators (KPIs) than non-client-facing roles.
KPIs are crucial to effectively monitoring, managing, and rewarding your employees’ productivity and effectiveness. These will look different for different industries and roles. At heart, KPIs should allow you to measure what constitutes excellent, average, and below-average performance.
Rewards should suit the personality and desires of the individual: whether it’s travel, massage, time off—not everyone will appreciate the same kinds of rewards. For instance, someone with kids might value time off more than getting sent on a work trip, while others might jump at the opportunity to travel on the company’s dime.
The better you know your employees on an individual level, the better you’ll be able to tailor recognition initiatives to reward them in ways that will be meaningful to them.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employees what matters most to them and what kinds of rewards they find most appealing. Make use of your HR professionals (or hire some!) to gain insight into the best staff appreciation ideas by talking to your team members.
Employee Recognition Ideas to Boost Employee Engagement
Here are 30 ways you can make your employees feel noticed and appreciated.
Keep in mind that none of these ideas is a silver bullet that will solve all your problems. Trying to patch deep underlying issues with a beer fridge or a pingpong table can backfire, as many startups have discovered to their detriment.
As such, a blended approach that combines addressing employees’ real concerns with gestures of recognition will likely meet with greater success than only deploying small fixes.
Build a Culture of Recognition to Celebrate Successes Daily
To truly gain the benefits of employee recognition and make your workplace space with a positive employee experience, make recognition a core part of your company culture. Below are some employee appreciation ideas to help you achieve this.
1. Launch an Employee Recognition Program
While sporadic, spontaneous praise has its place, it only allows you to recognize the achievements you’re aware of. Meanwhile, many employees’ hard work may go unnoticed, especially if they’re not the type to broadcast their wins from the rooftops.
Many employees work hard and get things done quietly, and this hard work should still be recognized.
Implementing a formal employee recognition program with a dedicated recognition platform is one way to address this challenge. This way, you’ll ensure that you never neglect to reward team members that go the extra mile.
2. Encourage Peer Recognition
Encourage employees to celebrate each others’ wins to embed recognition deeply into your culture.
This could include asking employees to nominate their peers for special awards ior creating a “wins and motivations” channel or platform where team members can shout out their colleagues for performing particular tasks well or thank them for their contributions to specific projects.
One great tool for this is HeyTaco, a peer recognition program that allows employees to reward each other with virtual tacos in public channels in Slack.
These tacos can in turn be redeemed for rewards that you set up, whether they’re gift cards, bonuses, a day off, or whatever you decide to implement. And, because tacos can only be given in group channels, they have the added bonus of promoting public recognition—a powerful reward system.
3. Track Performance Publically
Tracking employees’ performance publicly with tools like a leaderboard or a hall of fame can be an effective way to recognize productivity and effectiveness and motivate employees to work harder—particularly when paired with tangible rewards.
Keep in mind that this type of recognition device is more suited to some types of roles than others and incentivizing competition can have its downsides.
That said, a leaderboard, “employee of the month” award, or a hall of fame can be a great way to foster behaviors that embody your company values and contribute to the kind of culture you want to build. For instance, you could track and reward the most active participants in your peer recognition program.
4. Create a Culture of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety refers to the belief that it’s safe to speak up and ask questions, raise ideas, and call attention to concerns without being punished or humiliated. Building a culture of psychological safety in the workplace is vital to creating a space where ideas and collaboration flourish and team members feel supported and seen.
To achieve this positive employee experience, reward participation in discussions with attention and acknowledgment. Praise valuable contributions publicly and ensure that employees (and managers!) understand that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
Discourage the disparagement of ideas or questions and provide training to address negative management styles to promote psychological safety in your company culture. Remember that most people don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers.
5. Recognize Loyalty by Rewarding Tenure
Few things in this world breed resentment for a company as effectively as discovering that the new hire earns more than you do despite years of hard work and loyalty, or being passed up for a promotion you were perfectly qualified for in favor of a new hire.
If you want your employees to remain loyal, recognize and reward tenure whenever possible. Otherwise, you may send the message that loyalty doesn’t matter, which gives people very little reason to stick around in the long run. For some inspo here, Iowa Cubs owner, Michael Gartner, recently handed out $2,000 bonuses for every year an employee had worked for the team.
Also, hire and promote from within whenever possible. At the very least, alert your existing employees of new roles/listings so that they can apply to be considered.
Reward Effective Employees Personally With These Employee Appreciation Ideas
Recognition that is specific to the individual feels more personal, and often more meaningful. Here are some ways you can make rewards feel personal.
6. Say Thank You
Take the time to sincerely thank your staff for doing good work. In a remote work environment, send them a thoughtful message on Slack or include a heartfelt thank you in your next video chat.
Thanking team members individually adds a personal touch. You can do this face-to-face, during a call, or with a thoughtful thank-you card, handwritten note, or a sticky note left in their workspace.
7. Give Raises, Bonuses, Benefits, and Ownership
Financial incentives like raises, bonuses, and benefits like comprehensive healthcare are probably the most obvious ways to show your staff members that you value them and the work they do.
This is an increasingly important consideration, especially in industries where skill shortages mean that talented employees are actively being headhunted by recruiters and offered all manner of enticing packages.
One way to use financial reward to simultaneously reward good work and foster loyalty is to give your employees an ownership stake in the business, either in the form of stock options or a profit share program that’s tied to tenure and/or performance reviews.
8. Show Employees Appreciation With a Personal Gift
Celebrate wins, project milestones, birthdays, work anniversaries, and other important events with a personal gift.
Some gift ideas include flowers, a plant, a gift card, some company swag (like a branded t-shirt), or a nice bottle of wine. The better you know your employees, the more personalized the gift (or gift card) can be, and the more seen and recognized they will feel.
9. Give Employees One-on-One Time With Leadership
According to a Gallup poll, employees are up to three times more engaged when they have regular meetings with their managers. You can take this even further by giving employees one-on-one time with leadership, whether in the form of a short formal meeting, a coffee, or a lunch.
In addition to making sure that “the boss knows who they are,” these kinds of meetings can give employees a better sense of their role in the company and a greater understanding of the company’s priorities.
10. Ask Effective Employees to Share Their Methods and Skills
Ask your best employees to share their knowledge, methods, and skills. This will show them that you recognize the good work they do. At the same time, it can significantly improve the rest of your team’s competency and effectiveness.
This could take the format of a presentation to the team, a slide deck, or a guideline/process document. You could also involve them in onboarding new employees and/or training more junior team members.
However, be careful that you don’t add too much to their workload without taking other tasks off their plate—after all, you want it to feel like recognition, not punishment.
Celebrate Employees’ Good Work Publically
Public praise and validation have the dual benefit of making the recipient feel admired and motivating other employees to strive for the same public recognition.
11. Give Credit Where Credit is Due
This may seem obvious, but many companies fail to acknowledge the entire team that contributed to a project’s success, praising the team lead or manager instead of celebrating all the employees that played a role.
When an individual employee plays a vital role in a project and this goes unnoticed, resentment may start to breed. Luckily, this is easy to avoid by building a culture of recognition and giving credit where credit is due.
12. Add All Employees to Your Company Website’s About Us Page
Regularly update your website’s About Us page to ensure that your whole team is represented. This is a simple, low-cost tip, but it can help to make employees feel valued.
13. Mention Successes in Your Company Newsletter
If you have a company newsletter, be sure to use it to mention specific employee successes and thank them for their hard work.
14. Give Shout-outs in Team Meetings and Via Internal Communication Channels
When a staff member has gone the extra mile and delivered exceptional work, a simple public shout-out can mean the world.
You can do this in your weekly standup, monthly team meeting, or post-project debrief. Internal communication channels like Slack are also a great place to acknowledge good work and give thanks.
15. Mention Employee Achievements in Social Media Posts (Twitter, LinkedIn)
Your company’s social media pages—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—are great channels to publicly call attention to your best employees’ wins and achievements.
Which channel is appropriate will likely depend on the industry you’re in, but Twitter and LinkedIn are safe bets for celebrating professional achievement.
16. Give Employee Recommendations on LinkedIn
On that note, vouching for your employees’ skills and writing them heartfelt recommendations on LinkedIn shouldn’t wait until they’re trying to land a new job.
When you actively build up your employees and recognize their value, they’re less likely to search for a new job in the first place!
Show Appreciation For Your Team With These Employee Recognition Ideas
While individual rewards are important, don’t forget to celebrate your team as a whole. We’ll discuss some of the ways you can do this below.
17. Offer Time-related Rewards
As the saying goes, time is money. What better way to recognize your employees’ hard work than to give them time as a reward?
This can take the form of:
Extended lunch breaks
Time for walks during the day
Late starts to the workday
Allowing employees to leave work early
Additional leave days
Inclusive leave policies are another great way to show your employees that you care about them as humans and not just as resources.
Some of the kinds of inclusive leave you might consider offering include:
Paid sick leave
Mental health leave
Leave for elective surgeries (such as gender-affirming surgeries)
Inclusive leave policies acknowledge the challenge of attaining work-life balance and make your company feel like a fair and equitable place to work.
18. Offer Perks as Rewards
There are plenty of perks you can offer employees as rewards for doing great work.
Some ideas include
Free parking spots
Flexible work hours
You might consider tying specific perks to specific milestones, KPIs, or tenure. For example, you might offer a 401K match increase at specific intervals of employment.
19. Upgrade The Tech Your Employees Use
Reward employees with tools that make their jobs easier. This doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars on the latest hardware. It can be as simple as buying some software that improves their efficiency, or automating tedious, time-consuming workflows like expense claims.
That said, investing in giving your employees the right tools for the job can often actually save you money.
For example, the team at Reddit found that equipping its engineers with the new M1 MacBooks cut down build times by 50%. Given how valuable developer time is, the investment was a no-brainer. Other companies have followed suit.
20. Make Your Work Environment a Welcoming Space
A simple way to show your employees that their needs matter to you is by creating welcoming and comfortable spaces not just for working but also for resting and recharging.
This could look like:
A well-designed breakroom
Quiet spaces where employees can gather their thoughts
Comfortable air conditioning
Amenities like water coolers, good coffee, and free snacks (or a vending machine).
These simple changes can do a lot for the office mood and help your team feel looked after.
21. Make It Easy to Go the Extra Mile
When employees go the extra mile and come in early or work late to get work done, do you make it easy for them to do so? Some ways you can do this include:
Offering on-site parking,
Upgrading your security and access system,
Providing individuals who have to work late with meals (e.g. ordering food for anyone who is still working come 7 pm),
Arranging rideshares so that team members who use public transport can get home safely,
Setting up nap pods where people can rest when they’re on a serious deadline crunch but need to recharge.
Sometimes, simply acknowledging hard/high-pressure times, struggles, and failures (and learnings) can make all the difference between employees that feel engaged and motivated in spite of high-pressure work, and employees that feel burned out and hopeless.
In these types of scenarios, try to find ways to relieve the pressure. This can look like putting a pause on less critical deliverables and canceling meetings until the pressure is reduced.
The more distractions and responsibilities you can take off your team’s plate during high-pressure projects, the less stressed out (and more effective) they’ll be.
Generous overtime policies and effective project planning and resource management will also make employees far more willing to go the extra mile. If working overtime is the expectation, it’s usually a symptom of chronic under-resourcing, which tends to go hand-in-hand with high employee turnover.
22. Invest In Your Employees’ Health and Mental Health
Here are some great ways to invest in your employees’ health and mental health:
Time allowed for walks
Spaces for power naps
Access to gym facilities
Access to mental health resources
Company-sponsored fitness trackers
Healthy habit challenges and competitions
Employee health perks have benefits for the company’s bottom line too.
Studies have shown that workplace health initiatives lead to a 27% reduction in absenteeism resulting from sick leave, a 26% reduction in health-care costs, a 32% reduction in workers’ compensation and disability-management cost claims, and a nearly 6:1 return on investment ratio.
23. Organize Team Bonding Activities
While more cynical employees may roll their eyes at the mention of the word “teambuilding,” there are tons of fun activities you can arrange to promote team bonding while helping your staff blow off steam.
Some ideas to consider include:
Company picnics or barbecues
Halloween costume contests
“Secret-Santa”-style gift exchanges
Volunteering at non-profit organizations
Remember to be respectful of your team’s cultural and religious diversity as well as their range of physical abilities and select inclusive activities that allow everyone to participate and feel welcome.
Use Rewards and Recognition to Highlight the Impact of the Work Your Employees Do
It can be incredibly motivating to feel like you’re part of something big, working on something that matters, or that your contribution was instrumental to a project’s success.
Here are a few ways you can reward your employees with that warm, fuzzy feeling.
24. Pass Along Positive Client/Customer Feedback
When a client or customer offers positive feedback, share it with your team. Everyone likes to know that their work is making an impact and that their contribution is being noticed, especially when they have worked hard to deliver a good result.
25. Show Employees That Their Work Matters
Take time to make your employees feel like they’re part of something big, like the work they do matters.
Sometimes employees can feel like a cog in a machine and lose sight of the impact of their work or how they contribute to the success of the company. Reminding them of the impact of their work can instill a deep sense of pride.
26. Help Employees Feel Like They’re Making a Difference
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, published in May 2021, today’s employees expect their employers to take action on social issues including climate change (81%), automation (79%), and racism (79%).
It’s increasingly common for top talent to assess companies’ policies and values—and how they live out those values—when deciding where they want to work.
To attract and retain these employees, your company’s values and actions need to align with their ethics and priorities to allow them to feel that their work is making a positive impact on the world.
Challenge and Engage Employees Through Professional Development
One of the best ways to show your top talent that you see that they’re doing a good job is by giving them new challenges, whether that takes the form of a project or role that requires new skills, added responsibility, or a leadership opportunity.
Your best employees likely have tons of ideas about how your organizational processes, workflows, and even products can be improved.
This is a gift and an opportunity. Instead of seeing these ideas as criticism, recognize that they mean that these employees are invested in your company’s success. Giving vocal employees a seat at the table is a powerful way to acknowledge their insight, reward their passion, and compound their loyalty.
One way to implement this is by giving employees a platform to pitch ideas to leadership and selecting ideas to try out. You can take a vote on which ideas the rest of the department or company most want to see implemented.
This kind of initiative will also give you greater insight into what matters to your employees, which will, in turn, help you to tailor your rewards to their priorities.
29. Give Star Employees Opportunities to Grow
Even the most effective employees will eventually grow bored if they stop feeling challenged and their work becomes monotonous.
It’s crucial to offer your employees opportunities to grow. Give them new responsibilities and the trust to tackle these new tasks, whether they’re leadership opportunities or new types of skills or projects.
In a recent CIO article on improving employee retention, Nancy Parsons, president, and CEO of CDR Companies, emphasized the importance of providing career development opportunities that are tailored to each individual.
She says “this should begin with assessment, coaching feedback, and an understanding of one’s specific in-depth strengths, risk factors, and intrinsic motivators.”