Employee recognition

A survey by World at Work reported that 88% of organizations have a staff recognition program in place — this can range anywhere from Employee of the Month to bonuses or gift cards.

But these traditional employee of the month ideas are starting to grow a reputation for being inauthentic and, frankly, boring.

In fact, according to our 2019 Employee Engagement Report— representing a 16-percentage-point drop from the previous year.

You can’t simply have a recognition program in place and assume that all of your employees will automatically feel as though their contributions are appreciated. You have to have to come up with staff recognition ideas that actually work.

So what does a successful employee appreciation program look like?

Each company is different, so what works for one organization might not work for another. But, generally speaking, recognition programs should be comprehensive and feedback should be given on a regular basis.

Before we look at some of the tactics used in successful recognition programs, let’s first see some of the more common reasons employee appreciation doesn’t always work as intended.


Secret Sauce of Employee Retention

Pitfalls of Employee Recognition

There’s nothing worse than giving it your all at work and not receiving any sort of acknowledgement for your efforts. Anyone who’s ever worked for an employer that rarely (if ever) gave out compliments knows how demoralizing it can be.

One thing that follows in close second is receiving empty praise that has no meaning behind it. Consider these findings from CareerBuilder and Badgeville:

  • 50% of employees believe increased recognition would reduce voluntary turnover

  • 40% of employees who don’t feel meaningfully recognized will not go above their formal responsibilities

So if you’re going to praise your employees, make sure that recognition is genuine. Otherwise, it may end up actually doing more harm than good.

Leah Andrews, speaking of an old employer in this article by FastCompany, addresses the importance of genuine employee recognition:

Around the holidays, “the company refused to offer anything other than joke awards, because they didn’t want to single anyone out for appreciation. Some years we were given a token gift; other years there would be nothing.” Leadership might’ve thought that taking a fun, lighthearted approach to recognition was actually an asset–a sign of a healthy, supportive work culture that knew how to kick back. But in Andrews’s experience, that approach just seemed like an excuse not to take positive feedback seriously.


Surprising Effects of Employee Recognition

01. Lunch drawing

Keep in mind that recognition doesn’t always have to come from the top. If you have a peer-to-peer recognition program in place (which you should!), enter your employee’s name into a hat every time they recognize ones of their colleagues. The more kudos they send, the higher chance their name will be chosen. At the end of the week, draw out two names from the hat and let those employees enjoy a meal on the company.

02. Social butterfly

Take to your company’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to recognize your employees in a public setting. Highlight who they are, what they’ve done, and why it was such a great deed.

03. Birthday celebration

Allow employees to use a floating holiday for their birthday. They deserve a day off!


SOURCE: StockSnap

04. Off-site day

Take the whole team to work off site for the day — work at cafes, libraries, or anywhere with Wi-Fi. You’d be surprised at how a change of scenery can really boost productivity.

05. Sticky notes

Leave a handwritten note saying “thank you” and why you’re thanking them on a Post-It. Stick it on your employee’s desk so that when they come into work the next day, they’ll be received with a pleasant surprise.

06. Rotating trophy

Find a fun trophy, stuffed animal, or figurine that you can pass around the office. Give it to an employee who has exemplified one of your organizational values, and let them keep it on their desk for a week. Come the next week, let that employee hand it off to one of their peers who has done the same.

trophySOURCE: giphy.com

07. Surprise treats

After an employee has left for the day, stick a candy bar, their favorite snack, or treat in their desk drawer. They’ll be able to start their day off on the right foot after they’ve found their tasty surprise.

08. Recognition Day

Organize a formal employee appreciation day at work. Make a whole event out of it with food, awards, and team-building activities.

employees-near-lakeSOURCE: StockSnap

09. Daily wins

If an employee landed a huge account or pushed a new feature live, have them let their peers know. Post it on your internal chat or announce it during meetings. It’s a great way for employees to highlight their own achievements in front of their colleagues.

10. Project plan

Let employees pick out an upcoming special project to work on. It shows that you trust them to keep accountable for their responsibilities. It can also serve as a professional development opportunity where workers get to try new things.

11. Wall of fame

Snap photos of your employee’s accomplishments or take candid shots of them hard at work. Celebrate their contributions by creating a collage showcasing their blood and sweat — and hopefully not their tears.

wall of fameSOURCE: giphy.com

12. Spontaneous treats

Bring in donuts one morning or chilled drinks on a hot afternoon. Let your employees take a quick break to kick back and relax before they go back to the task at hand.

13. Show off recognition

Have employees send each other kudos, whether through a peer-to-peer recognition platform or physical cards. Display them around the office so everyone can see all the great things that have been happening around the company.

14. Send a card

Rather than giving employees a pat on the back or high five, send a card to their home. Snail mail has largely become a lost art. Who wouldn’t be excited by receiving an encouraging personal note unexpectedly?

15. Cheer tee

Has someone done a spectacular act or gone the extra mile at work? Have teammates sign a company tee with a thank-you message.

16. Prize tokens

Whenever you see someone doing something great, give them a token. Make them tradeable for prizes such as a bike, t-shirt, or a gift card to a store of their choice or their favorite local restaurant.

prizesSOURCE: giphy.com

17. Hackathons

You’ve probably heard of hackathons before. Let your employees take a whole day (or even just half) to work on a project of their choice either in groups or on their own. Then have them present it in front of the leadership team so that the top ideas can be implemented into everyday operations.

18. Commute help

Transportation can get costly when you consider the price of gas, car maintenance, and parking — or even just a bus pass. Consider reimbursing your employee a free bus pass or giving up your parking spot for a week.

19. Implement a peer recognition program


Knowing you’re doing a great job is one thing, hearing others say it out loud adds a different meaning. We found in The Surprising Effects of Employee Recognition and Appreciation that 44% of employees give regular peer-to-peer recognition when they have a tool that makes it easy. Give your team the opportunity and encouragement to recognize one another, so everyone is invested in the process! Learn more about Cheers for Peers. Better yet, book a demo to see it in action.

Some of the above ideas may seem relatively inconsequential. But it’s always the small things that make the biggest differences.

Try a different tactic here and there with recognition to make it truly meaningful. Your employees will appreciate it and so will your organization’s bottom line.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. 

Employee Engagement in Tech