February 26, 2024
March 1, 2024

15 Great Employee Recognition Ideas: How to Show Appreciation at Work

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If you want to employ people who are consistent, responsible, loyal, and productive, you need to create a culture of employee recognition at work. Showing employees appreciation reinforces their value and drives productive behaviors—plus, people deserve to feel valued, right?

The best way to spread an effective culture of recognition is through employee recognition programs. These programs provide structure, and good ones also reach every employee. In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What is employee recognition in 2023?
  • Why recognition matters now more than ever
  • Ideas for employee recognition
  • Strategies to implement recognition programs

Redefining What Employee Recognition Means

The past few years have been all about change; changing employee expectations, changing where we work, and changing total rewards offerings. For employee recognition, change also needs to happen.

Traditional recognition practices, such as an employee-of-the-month wall and service awards, are still useful. However, these methods have a few limitations:

  • Employee of the month and similar programs usually only reward the top performers, often leading to the same handful of employees getting recognized. These programs lack the reach necessary to improve your culture for all employees.
  • Service awards and similar are often impersonal—acrylic trophies, watches, or plaques don’t do a good job of conveying value. Plus, these only recognize employees once a year (or once every five years!), which is not nearly enough.

The changes we need to make in 2023 and beyond are:

  1. Make recognition widespread and all-encompassing so it reaches everyone
  2. Make recognition more personal and genuine (no cookie-cutter gifts)
  3. Make recognition more frequent

By implementing employee recognition programs that check these boxes, you’ll reap the amazing benefits of having a rewarding workplace.

Benefits of Employee Recognition

It can be hard to obtain buy-in or to feel invested in employee recognition without a clear understanding of its benefits. But in today’s world of dissatisfied employees, high turnover rates, and low engagement, creating an appreciation-focused culture is vital. So let’s dive into some of the best benefits of employee recognition.

Employee recognition makes employees want to stay

Recognition at work lowers voluntary turnover by 31% and makes employees feel 3X more loyalty to their company. In fact, nearly 70% of companies say that recognition has improved their retention rates.

When employees feel appreciated and valued by the company they work for, they’re much less likely to quit in search of a better opportunity.

Employee recognition increases employee productivity

Recognition increases employee productivity and performance by 14% and is the highest driver of employee work quality. Plus, the highest performing companies are 10X more likely to use employee recognition programs as competitive differentiators.

The most productive companies use employee recognition as an integral part of their culture. Why? Because employees work harder and smarter when they know their work is valued and appreciated.

Employee recognition helps employees stay engaged.

One study found that when managers recognize their employees, those employees are 40% more engaged at work. Another found that when employees feel like they’re recognized enough, they are 4X more engaged at work.

There’s a mountain of evidence to back up the fact that when employees are recognized, they’re more engaged. And higher engagement equals higher productivity, higher loyalty, higher profitability, lower turnover, and lower absenteeism.

(Check out even more information about why employee engagement is so important!)

When leaders prioritize recognition at work, employee morale, productivity, performance, and retention go up. Employee recognition can transform your workplace into a powerhouse of productivity and a lair of loyalty.

15 Employee Recognition Ideas

The good news is that recognition comes in all shapes and sizes. To reap the amazing benefits mentioned above, there are many different ways to show appreciation and convey value. Here are just a few employee recognition ideas to consider.

1. Spot Recognition

Spot recognition is just what it sounds like—on-the-spot recognition. Whenever anyone does something admirable, this type of program allows their manager or their peers to immediately send them a message of gratitude, congratulations, or praise.

Spot recognition is great because it’s immediate and specific. Plus, this program can be both monetary and non-monetary—simply decide whether or not managers and employees have budgets to give out with their spot recognition.

2. Birthday and Holiday Celebrations

Every employee has a birthday, and everyone celebrates holidays throughout the year. A birthday/holiday recognition program is great because you can give personalized gifts, cards, or point amounts to every employee throughout the year.

For holidays, one of your best options is Employee Appreciation Day. This is your best opportunity to show gratitude to everyone in the company.

3. Employee Milestone Recognition

Recognizing effort and work is important, but every single employee has a life outside of work. When you recognize and celebrate employees’ personal milestones, you show that you care about them as people.

Some examples of milestone celebrations include giving employees some points when they graduate, when they get married, when they have a child, or when they move. Simply noticing when employees have important life events will go a long way.

4. Employee Wellness Programs

Investing in employee wellness is another great way to show that you care about them and their well-being. Wellness programs can be anything from gym membership reimbursement and a small stipend for groceries to team fitness challenges and healthy office perks.

One great way to push wellness initiatives is by incentivizing healthy behaviors—and Awardco helps you make incentives easy.

(How do you effectively support mental health in the workplace?)

5. Service Anniversaries

Another milestone that every employee enjoys is a service anniversary. Never, ever let a year go by without some form of recognition! Even if your big awards are every five years, make sure to offer some form of reward for every year an employee stays with the company.

This consistent recognition shows that you're always grateful for all the work each employee puts in.

(Extra tip: Use Awardco’s Lifestyle Spending Account feature to spread your service award budget throughout the year instead of leaving it for a single occasion. We’ve found that regular recognition is much more effective than a yearly reward.

6. Public and Private Shoutouts

Some employees really like being brought up in front of the company. Others, not so much. For this, consider creating both public and private avenues for recognition. For those who like the spotlight, recognize them in front of the company or on social media. For those who like anonymity, a private compliment or a handwritten card are great ideas.

7. Free Food

Providing free meals and treats to your employees is a great way to show them that you appreciate their efforts and are cognizant of their finances. This is also a great recognition idea for remote employees—simply have the food delivered to their house.

8. Workspace Upgrades

For those who work from home for any amount of time, helping them upgrade their workspace is a great way to recognize them. Give them office equipment, or better yet, give them an allowance to buy their own. 

Ergonomic gear, noise-canceling headphones, a webcam, or even a new office chair are all great ways to improve an employee’s work experience.

9. Professional Development Opportunities

Recognizing that employees want to learn and improve is vital to your workplace. In fact, 71% of employees say that training and development increases their job satisfaction. Offer training courses, shadowing opportunities, tuition reimbursement, online classes, raises, and promotions.

10. Above-and-Beyond Program

Recognition can drive healthy employee behaviors, so recognizing those employees who go above and beyond is important. A program that rewards those who really excel is a great way to recognize effort, especially when the reward is sizable.

11. Philanthropic Support

Employees want their company to care about the issues that they care about. Recognize that employees have movements that they’re passionate about, and support them by matching charitable contributions, giving them time off to volunteer, or planning a company-wide service project.

12. Breaks and PTO

Employee mental health needs to be a focus for companies, especially because burnout levels are so high. Recognize employees by giving them extended breaks throughout the day, providing extra PTO, or even setting up a sabbatical program for senior employees.

(Learn how to help employees with burnout)

13. Rotating Trophy

A goofy trophy, such as a handmade cardboard one or a stuffed animal of some kind, is the perfect reward that employees can share. For example, pass the trophy around each week to the employee who did the best on that week’s challenge.

This is a creative way to recognize effort and push employees to do just a little better each week.

14. Off-site Events

Host both company-wide and team off-site events to give employees a chance to get out of the office and get to know their coworkers better. Allow families to attend larger events. These parties are a great way to show how much you value employees.

15. LinkedIn Recommendation

Leaders can recommend their employees on LinkedIn, which can be a huge boost to an employee’s social profile. That sort of public demonstration of gratitude and confidence can also make employees feel great.

Bonus: Rewarding Rewards

No matter what recognition programs you implement, make sure the rewards you offer are rewarding. Personalized, meaningful rewards that employees actually want are the only ones that will convey gratitude and value. Or better yet, give employees points and let them choose the reward that they want.

Make Recognition the Foundation of Your Business

Employee recognition is your key to thriving through 2023 and beyond. When employees feel appreciated and valued, they’ll stay longer at your company and work their hardest, which improves your bottom line and saves you money in recruitment costs. Put simple, recognition is a win-win for everyone.