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September 3, 2021

5 Employee Recognition Awards That Are Actually Rewarding

5 Employee Recognition Awards That Are Actually Rewarding

Employee recognition can affect everything from engagement to retention to your overall profits. Seriously. The key word here is “can.” Even though most organizations (96% according to our own research with HR.com) have some kind of recognition program, 81% of HR leaders don’t feel it’s very effective. Let’s get into the who, how, and what to do to make your recognition awards more effective.

Employee awards ideas.

Ultimately, motivation is intrinsic and comes from within, but employees are more engaged when they are appreciated for their hard work. Don’t think of it as bribing or coercing, but rather making the effort to acknowledge the hard work that is already being done.

How do you decide what to reward? First start with your company values. If you don’t have any values, create some. Value-driven recognition doesn’t just encourage the behavior you want, it helps build the company culture you want. 

Ideas for employee recognition awards.

Who and when are you going to recognize? There are the usual recognition ideas (a great place to start):

  • Service Awards. Recognize your employees once a year on their work anniversary. This is a great way to recognize them for their years of service and should be a big deal.

  • Spot Recognitions. Recognize people for great work as they do it. You can give out points or a gift card as you notice someone doing something exceptionally well.

  • Peer-to-Peer Recognitions. Encourage team members to recognize each other. This is a great way to engage employees in the process.

  • Sales incentives. Incentivize your sales team so they keep bringing in the big bucks.

  • Rewards for Meeting Goals. Many companies have their employees set goals quarterly. Rewarding people for meeting their goals will help those goals mean more.

  • Team Recognitions. Let’s be real, most things are a team effort. 

But let’s think outside the box. Keep people on their toes. Think of awards that go along with your company.

Your awards could be funny, practical, for teams, for top performers, etc. 

Rewarding award winners.

  1. Create a program for MVPs or employee of the month awards. You should be rewarding everyone on your team, so how do you help top performers feel extra special?

    At Awardco we call ours the A-Team. This award is nominated by peers. It is specifically for high performers who also exemplify our core company values. Nominators have to fill out two sections: “Please describe why your nominee choice deserves to be recognized on the Awardco A-Team.” and “Please provide an example of how your nominee choice has exemplified Awardco values.”

    One person is added to the A-Team each month and it is announced in a creative way like hiring a celebrity from Cameo.com to announce it. Of course it comes with a reward, in this case 500 points in the Awardco platform to be used on items from Amazon Business, tickets to events, hotels, local deals, swag, and more.

  2. Come up with funny employee rewards. Is there something specific to your company that you could play off of? Like if you’re a veterinarian it could be the, “cleaned up the most vomit” award. A bit gross, it’s true, but it shows that you value the mundane and undesirable tasks.

    A bit of humor does wonders for morale and camaraderie in the office. However, there are some things you shouldn’t do when incorporating humor. Let’s learn for a moment from fictional Michael Scott...


First of all, the rewards he chose were not rewards people wanted. Aside from being insulting in nature, something like a trophy often just collects dust. Or they’re kept on a desk and left behind when a person changes jobs or retires. One of our clients told us that 50% of their service awards were left behind when their employees retire. Yikes. 

Second of all, while they were specific (and specific is good), they didn’t highlight the actual talents of his team. Don’t give out awards just to give something out. Be specific as you recognize, and if you’re not sure you can ask the people who work closely with the person you’re trying to recognize for more specifics. There are some positive lessons we can learn from Michael Scott but we shouldn’t follow his example of how he ran the Dundie Awards.

  1. Value-Driven Rewards. This may be a no-brainer, but the key to effective rewards is rewarding the behavior that you want. Rewards based on core values help incentive employees to build the company culture you want. If you look at rewards like a prize you need to make sure your employees know what the rules of the game are, aka what they need to do to earn the rewards. Value-driven rewards apply to all employees whether they're in sales, product, manufacturing, or any other role. It is a great way to be inclusive with your rewards. Anyone who exemplifies values is eligible. 

We recently revamped our core company values to include a list of attributes we value, and we recognize each other as we exemplify those values daily. With Awardco’s employee recognition and reward software you can turn your values into tags so employees can actually tag each recognition with the specific values. Another good practice is reviewing the values regularly so employees know that is the focus for the rewards program (and not just some nice words that live on the company website).

  1. Team Activities. Team Activities as a reward can be a win-win because you reward people and the activity itself can be an opportunity for team building. Working toward a common goal and celebrating together helps unify a team. Reward them with an activity they like that you can all do together. You should do team activities together often anyway, so if you’re using an activity as a reward make it extra special. Maybe it’s an activity with a higher budget or a weekend getaway.

    For an added bit of (friendly) competition you can pit teams against each other to meet certain goals. If you’re doing a health and wellness program you could have different departments compete against each other to meet their wellness goals. Just make sure your wellness programs are inclusive. For example, avoid things like weight loss competitions, but you can encourage people to set goals about working out.

    If you want to incentivize sales you can separate people into teams or partnerships to compete against each other. Competition can backfire if people get too competitive, so if it’s not a good fit for your team, set team goals that unites rather than divides. When you know what motivates your team, you can choose the best options for how to reward them.

    Is your team remote? No worries! You can still do team activities by sending them an activity in a box. You could include games, a recipe and materials to have a remote cook-off, or an arts and crafts kit.  
  1. Cash? They say money talks, but we’re actually going to advise against it. Many people actually value tangible rewards over cash. Weird? Yeah. The thing is, while you can use cash rewards to buy yourself whatever you want, it usually goes straight into their bank account with the rest of their money. Because of this it doesn’t feel as special. You want a reward to feel like a reward. Something extra, luxurious, special, and other fancy words. Cash is something that comes and goes every day. Consider how you can make rewards an experience. 

The best rewards for employees.

Now that you have an idea what types of rewards you can do here are some quick reminders. Make sure each reward is METS:

  • Meaningful to the individual.
  • Evokes emotion through an experience.
  • Timely.
  • Special. 

Do free recognition rewards work?

Yes, they can! The key is helping employees feel appreciated. That doesn’t always require a monetary reward. It can include something like a handwritten note from a team member or multiple team members (we do this digitally with our MemoryBooks). 

You would be surprised how often a recognition reward is just as meaningful without attaching monetary value to it.

Awardco can help with employee recognition awards.

Overwhelmed with all these ideas? Having multiple programs may seem overwhelming, but with Awardco you can manage them all in one place. Awardco can help! Manage all your programs from the same place, reward and redeem points instantly, automate annual celebrations, and more!  


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