42 Meaningful Employee Recognition Ideas to Boost Engagement
"Everyone wants to be appreciated," said Mary Kay Ash, "so if you appreciate someone, don't keep it a secret."
Mary Kay Ash, the legendary founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, understood how to motivate people through recognition.
But recognition is easy to overlook, even though it can be simple to do.
Evidence suggests that up to two-thirds of workers leave their jobs if they don't feel appreciated.
So, recognition is something that your organization shouldn't take lightly.
In this article, we'll give you 42 powerful employee recognition ideas to reward your people and make them feel valued, appreciated, and more engaged at work.
❓ What is employee recognition?
Employee recognition is acknowledging and showing appreciation for the efforts and achievements of your people.
But it's also more than that.
When you recognize your people, you give them feedback that motivates them and makes them feel valued for what they do.
These attributes of employee recognition are essential, as they manifest in tangible benefits for your people and your organization.
🏆 What should employees be recognized for?
Companies should recognize their employees for a variety of personal and workplace outcomes, including:
- Project wins or successes;
- Meeting personal goals;
- Professional certifications and qualifications;
- Charitable or community-giving efforts;
- Skills, mentorship, and thought leadership.
Demonstrating company values
- Embodying the core values of your organization;
- Consistently producing a high standard of work;
- Practicing soft skills and raising morale;
- Promoting cooperation and teamwork.
Going above and beyond
- Outstanding work on a project or activity;
- Challenging norms to improve outcomes;
- Coming up with new ideas and taking the initiative;
- Demonstrating a commitment to excellence and going the extra mile.
- Work anniversaries;
- Tenure milestones.
❗️ Why is employee recognition important?
Do you remember the last time that you received recognition at work? How did it make you feel?
Recognizing your people is a powerful way to show appreciation for their efforts and accomplishments. It benefits your people and your organization in several ways.
Employee recognition plays a vital role in improving retention.
Up to two-thirds of workers are likely to leave their jobs if they don't feel appreciated, according to a recent survey.
Effective recognition programs reduce employee turnover by 31 percent compared to ineffective programs, suggests Bersin & Associates.
Improving employee retention is vital as it helps to increase:
- Company morale—covering for vacant roles and training new hires takes its toll on employees.
- Productivity—departing employees take skills and expertise with them, and it takes time for new hires to learn their roles.
- Customer relations—research shows that lower staff turnover means higher customer satisfaction.
- Workplace culture—teams with lower turnover are likely to feel more engaged.
Business leaders should focus on productivity, argues Michael Mankins, a partner at Bain & Company.
Plus, research shows that the best companies are 40% more productive than others and have higher operating margins.
And organizations that recognize their employees are more productive and perform better suggests Deloitte.
Employee recognition is one of the critical actions you can take to boost your people's morale, suggests Robert Half, a recruitment specialist.
When your people go above and beyond, letting them know that your organization appreciates their efforts will make them feel valued and engaged.
Employee morale is closely related to employee motivation. It's about what drives your people and how they feel at work.
And with better morale, your people will be more satisfied, productive, and loyal.
Recognizing your employees fuels their sense of purpose by highlighting the impact of their work and how it affects others.
Having a sense of purpose at work plays a role in keeping a job or pursuing a new one.
57% of younger Americans prioritize enjoyment and making a difference over money or skills, according to an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll.
Employee recognition enhances employee engagement, says Dewi Tobing, a Director at Korn Ferry.
When your people a more engaged, they'll be more enthusiastic about their work and focused on making a meaningful contribution.
In one well-known example of employee engagement, The Cheesecake Factory motivates its staff through novel recognition programs that circulate stories of excellent service throughout the company. It's one of the reasons why The Cheesecake Factory is consistently voted amongst the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune Magazine.
Tip: Drive engagement in your organization with an effective employee engagement action plan.
6. Innovation and creativity
Perhaps a lesser-known benefit of employee recognition is fostering innovation and creativity.
Recognizing people for their creative ideas will motivate them to continue being innovative.
It's a way of saying your innovative ideas are making an impact. Keep it up.
7. Company culture
How you recognize your people impacts your company culture.
You reinforce what your organization values when you recognize an action, behavior, or milestone.
Although it's sometimes hard to define, culture is fundamentally vital for organizations.
And as the best examples of company culture show us, people are at the heart of a strong organizational culture.
By properly recognizing your people, you're showing them they are essential and their efforts matter.
Tip: A company culture based on employee recognition will ensure your people and your organization thrive.
👀 Types of employee recognition
There are many types of employee recognition, and a helpful way to group them is by scope and recipients.
By using a scope of recognition criterion, we can differentiate:
- Micro-recognition: small, frequent, easy-to-do forms of recognition. Examples include sticky notes, cards, messages on bulletin boards, and shout-outs.
- Informal recognition: ad-hoc and lacking a formal framework. Examples include after-work drinks, a team lunch, or low-cost mementos to show appreciation.
- Formal recognition is structured in a formal framework and is usually subject to criteria.
Examples include timeless acrylic awards, performance bonuses, and tenure-based rewards.
The recipients of recognition can be individuals, teams, or peers.
The type of recognition you choose should be suitable for whoever receives it.
One more distinction to be aware of is the difference between rewards and recognition:
- Rewards are tangible, such as a physical gift or money, and transactional.
- Recognition is intangible, often linked to goals and accomplishments, and is more relational.
Whatever type of recognition you use, keep it effective by making it:
- Specific to what's being appreciated.
- Relevant for the achievement or milestone being recognized.
- Delivered in a timely manner.
🏅 42 Employee recognition ideas to boost employee morale and engagement
There are many great ways to recognize your people—we'll look at 42 of them by grouping them into professional, personal, remote working, and fun recognition ideas.
👩💼 Professional recognition
The following ideas are focused on a professional context.
1. Employee recognition program
Launch an employee recognition program and ensure your people are aware of it so they can aspire to it.
Formal systems make it easier to identify deserving employees compared to less formal systems.
For example, quieter employees who tend not to get noticed can be recognized.
2. Employee of the month leaderboard
Set up a leaderboard to celebrate employees each month publicly. Recognize people who've shown initiative, for instance, or have done well on a project. Do it regularly.
Tip: Be sure to celebrate a wide range of behaviors and achievements so that everyone has a chance of receiving recognition.
3. Recognize tenure
Recognize the loyalty of your people by rewarding their tenure at your organization. This is a well-known form of recognition.
Most people have heard of the time-honored 'gold watch,' for instance, that employees earn after 25 or 30 years of service.
But there are lots of other ways to reward tenure besides gold watches. For example, gift certificates, meal vouchers, years of service trophies, or even a commemorative plaque or a company memento can be meaningful.
Tip: Don't wait for 25 or 30 years to reward tenure. Every five years of service is worth celebrating.
4. Raises and bonuses
Offer raises and bonuses to show your people that you value their efforts.
For instance, financial incentives like these may be routine as part of annual performance reviews.
But by calling out the excellent work that people have done as a part of the process, you'll let them know that their efforts are appreciated.
5. Formal and informal meetings with leadership
Arrange formal meetings, informal coffees, or lunch catch-ups with senior leaders.
These meetings help your people feel noticed by those who influence your organization. Plus, this type of recognition will strengthen relationships and foster engagement.
6. Skills sharing
Ask your most savvy employees to share their experiences and skills with others.
By asking someone to share their knowledge, you're showing them that you value their capabilities and trust their ability to convey their knowledge.
7. Recommendations and mentions on LinkedIn
Recognize your people by recommending or mentioning them on LinkedIn or other platforms like Twitter or Facebook.
Such a public show of appreciation extends far beyond your employees' immediate workplace networks. Plus, it shows your willingness to make a broad statement of recognition for your people.
8. Upgrade workplace technology
Reward your team by giving them newer, more capable technology to work with. This may include new computing equipment, the latest phones, more comfortable seating, or even software upgrades.
Your people will appreciate receiving better equipment, mainly if it's sought-after (e.g., computers powered by the latest CPUs).
Upgrading tech can also have significant benefits for your organization. Uber and Twitter, for instance, found that giving their people the latest, maxed-out M1 MacBook Pros improved their productivity.
9. Convey positive client or customer feedback
Share positive feedback from clients or customers with your team.
Most people like to know they're making a difference, and hearing unsolicited feedback can be very satisfying and motivating.
10. Promote career development through honest feedback
"Feedback is a gift," says Kim Scott, a feedback specialist, "not a whip or a carrot."
By giving effective feedback, you're helping to promote the development of your people. It shows that you want your people to grow and you're willing to invest in their careers.
Honest, constructive feedback is a powerful form of recognition that motivates and inspires. But constructive feedback isn't always easy to deliver, as you need to find helpful and meaningful words.
➡️ Check out our ultimate guide to creating a feedback culture to inspire your next steps.
➡️ Struggling with what to say when you give feedback? Here are 35+ positive employee feedback phrases to boost your process.
11. Provide professional development opportunities
Reward your employees by promoting their professional development. Professional development rewards can be:
- professional qualifications,
- tertiary study, or
- other ways of enhancing their professional skills and capabilities.
Even better if you make professional development a priority, with a firm competence development process that guides people.
12. Peer-recognition programs
Start a program that encourages recognition from peers. This form of recognition is different from a top-down acknowledgment: it feels like an inherently authentic and genuine form of recognition.
By implementing a formalized program to facilitate peer recognition, you can also help to make it more regular and forthcoming.
13. Organize brainstorming sessions away from the office
Spur creativity and productivity by meeting in a different location than the company office space.
Although this isn't a reward in the traditional sense, the change of scenery, choice of venue, and opportunity for interaction all work towards making your team happier and feel valued.
14. Recognize employee skills
If your people have skills that help them perform well in the workplace, call them out and recognize them.
If there's a particularly savvy spreadsheet user, ask them to coach other team members who may need assistance (if they're comfortable doing so).
Or, if someone is an excellent public speaker, ask them if they would like to speak at a workplace forum. They can also help others in the team improve their public-speaking abilities.
You do not only recognize some essential competencies, but you're also encouraging the development of new ones.
Providing mentorship possibilities can be a great step toward uncovering an employee's leadership potential. Then you can provide additional leadership training if the employee is interested in upward internal mobility.
15. Add employees to your company's 'About Us' web page
Make your employees feel valued by listing them on your About Us page. It's easy to do and is really low cost.
16. Mention employees in your company newsletter
Mention the achievements or successes of your people in the company newsletter.
Newsletter shout-outs are a great way of widely sharing your recognition of their efforts.
17. Shout-outs at internal team meetings or in internal communications
Give a shout-out to employees that have delivered outstanding work or gone the extra mile. It's a simple gesture that may be unexpected and will most likely be very much appreciated.
18. Survey your team for recognition ideas
There's a wealth of knowledge in your people.
One of the best ways to come up with helpful recognition ideas is to ask your employees directly.
Using their ideas will make them feel more included and invested in the process, enhancing the impact of recognition in a natural way.
19. Ask your people for feedback on workplace culture
Workplace culture is fundamentally important for your people's well-being and your organization's success.
The best examples of outstanding company culture emphasize the value of people in organizations.
Seek direct and candid feedback from your people about the state of workplace culture in your organization.
Is it good or bad?
What could we do better?
Where is it going well?
Seeking feedback demonstrates that you care about your people's opinions and well-being and recognize what's important to them.
Tip: You can use a pulse survey or an engagement survey to collect insights from your employees.
Let's now consider recognition ideas that have more of a personal focus.
20. Say 'thank you' individually
Take the time to thank individual employees sincerely.
You can do this face-to-face, during a call, using sticky notes, or by sending them a handwritten card.
Tip: Whatever you choose, the personal touch adds a genuine element of appreciation to your recognition.
21. Personal gifts
Give your people personal gifts such as flowers, plants, sweet treats, a photo book, or gift cards to show your appreciation.
Tip: The more personal you can make it—their favorite type of chocolate or wine, for instance—the more appreciated it will be.
22. Make life easier for those who work extra hours
If some of your people work long or unusual hours, show your appreciation by making their daily lives safer and more convenient.
- Offer on-site or discounted parking.
- Arrange ride-share services or offer taxi vouchers for people to get home when they work late.
- Arrange meals or food-order vouchers.
- Upgrade security systems to promote out-of-hours personal safety.
- Install pods for your people to have power naps.
23. Support physical and mental health
Boost the health of your people, both physically and mentally, by encouraging good habits and better eating:
- Stock your staff kitchen with healthy snacks.
- Motivate your people to stay hydrated with water fountains and branded reusable water bottles.
- Encourage and allow time for your people to take breaks, go for walks, or take power naps.
- Provide access to gyms or subsidized gym memberships.
- Offer free or discounted mental health programs.
- Gift your people with health-tech devices.
These initiatives will help your people feel and perform better. Plus, by offering them, you're showing that you support their self-improvement.
Healthy initiatives will also benefit your organization.
Studies have shown that workplace health programs result in 27% fewer sick days, 26% lower healthcare costs, and a 32% reduction in workers' compensation claims.
Tip: Implement a recurring walk-and-talk program in your team. Team Zavvy loves it so much that we made it into a ready-to-use template you can use directly on the Zavvy platform.
24. Support a charitable or community effort on behalf of an employee
Make a donation or match an employee's contributions to a charity or community cause. It is a personal way to show that you're paying attention to causes that matter for your people while contributing to the community.
25. Celebrate birthdays
Remember your employees' birthdays and celebrate them.
You can wish your employees happy birthday:
- in person,
- by circulating an email,
- by writing them a card,
- by giving them chocolates or a cake,
- by decorating their desks, or
- by organizing a casual team lunch.
Do you remember the last time someone wished you a happy birthday at work? Especially if you weren't expecting it?
If you're like most people, it really made you feel good!
Tip: Celebrating a birthday is a simple and personal gesture that really makes a person feel appreciated.
26. Sabbaticals for long-term employees
Offer your long-tenured employees sabbatical leaves.
Sabbatical leaves should not be confused with longer vacations or long-service leave; they are about allowing your people to take an extended break from work (e.g., six months) for physical and mental rejuvenation.
People often use sabbaticals to pursue personal interests, such as further study, gaining new skills, travel, or volunteering.
Sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid. Either way, they allow your long-tenured employees to de-stress, re-energize, and broaden their personal and vocational horizons.
Sabbaticals can have great benefits for your people and your organization. They've been shown to:
- Improve engagement through the knowledge, skills, and energy that people gain, motivating them when they return to work.
- Reduce employee turnover due to an increased sense of loyalty.
- Attract talent to your organization due to the appeal of sabbatical programs.
27. Host an employee appreciation day
Did you know that, in the US, the first Friday of March is National Employee Appreciation Day? Use this date (or choose another one) for employee appreciation.
Having a company-wide employee appreciation day is an opportunity to show your people that you value their contribution in a way that gives them public recognition.
Use the day for an awards ceremony, a team-building activity, or to publicize the good work that your people are doing.
28. Flexible work options
Since 2020, the value of flexible work has come into its own, and it's become a key part of defining the future of work.
People appreciate the versatility that flexible work options give them. You also demonstrate trust when you offer flexible options, as it promotes the autonomy of your people.
Show your people that you value their time, effort, and commitment by offering them flexible options, including:
- Early or late starts;
- Working from home;
- Extra days off;
- Block-out periods for personal matters;
- Compressed hours;
- 4-day working weeks;
- Part-time work;
- Purchasing additional leave.
29. Recognize employee achievements outside of work
Many of your people may have interests outside of work that mean a lot to them—show them your appreciation by recognizing their achievements in these areas.
Examples include sporting victories, musicianship, artistic accomplishments, significant charitable causes, or academic qualifications that aren't directly related to work.
This type of recognition shows that:
- Firstly, you're paying attention to what drives your people outside of work and where their interests lie, and
- secondly, that you're making an effort to recognize achievements of great personal value to your people.
30. Experiential rewards
Rewards that feature an experience, such as wine tasting, a nice meal, hot-air ballooning, a day trip, tickets for a concert, or a cooking class, are a step up from gift cards or other small gifts.
This is because experiences create memories, and memories are what influence behavior rather than the rewards themselves.
Experiential rewards are a great way to recognize, motivate, and engage your people—they'll likely remember the experience and the person or organization that gave it to them. It may also motivate your entire team to aspire towards the experiential reward.
🖥️ Recognizing remote employees
If the years since 2020 have taught us anything, they've shown us that the future of work embraces remote employees.
You should recognize your remote people just as effectively and sincerely as you would in an office environment. Here are some great ideas to get you started.
31. Say 'thank you' remotely
You can be just as sincere by thanking your people remotely as you can in person.
Tip: Do this using Slack, Teams, or other messaging apps or by sending them a handwritten note in the mail.
32. Send care packages
Surprise your remote people by sending them care packages consisting of food items, flowers, plants, company swag, candles, or gift cards.
You can also send them items that cater to prevailing circumstances, such as gloves, sanitizer, and masks.
33. Supply work-from-home tech
Offer your remote employees a range of work-from-home technology options.
These may include:
- extra monitors,
- tactile keyboards,
- docking stations,
- standing desks, or
- other tech accessories to make the remote working experience easier, more productive, and more enjoyable for your people.
Focus on premium and sought-after work-from-home gadgets, like the latest Apple Pods.
When you reward your people with higher-quality equipment than other organizations may offer, you differentiate yourself from competitors and make your people feel more valued.
34. Offer remote learning opportunities
Offer subsidized or free remote learning for your people and encourage them with study time allowances and flexibility.
Remote learning is an excellent way for your people to enhance skills and improve their sense of self and vocational worth.
In addition to work-related learning, promote broader areas of learning related to personal skills or interests, such as writing, public speaking, or creative pursuits.
35. Set up a virtual peer-to-peer recognition system
Encourage your people to recognize each other in ways that aren't location-dependent. You can easily do this with messaging technology such as Slack or Teams.
Tip #1: Create a slack channel focused on employee recognition.
Tip #2: Facilitate peer recognition by creating a virtual messaging board. Encourage employees to give and share kudos, post 'thank you' messages, or simply call out a nice gesture.
36. Host virtual forums to connect and recognize
Bring your team together virtually (or the entire organization) so that your people, both remote and in-office, can meet and engage with each other. For example, recognize achievements, celebrate birthdays, call out project wins, or highlight personal milestones in a virtual forum.
You can also ask people to talk about their hobbies, passions, or other out-of-work interests to help build camaraderie and trust as your people get to know each other.
Don't let physical location impede relationship-building and camaraderie in your workplace.
🥳 Recognizing with fun
We've looked at lots of good ideas from a professional, personal, and remote working perspective, but there are some ideas that are simply more fun than others—let's look at a few of them.
37. Team bonding activities
Take advantage of team bonding activities.
Encourage your people to unwind, leave their usual work environments, get to know each other, and have fun!
There are lots of ways to do this, many of which can be done both in-person and virtually, including:
- Trivia sessions;
- Casual sporting activities, such as bowling or kayaking;
- Picnic days;
- Creative pursuits, like painting classes;
- Cooking or baking classes;
- Escape rooms;
- Wine or cheese tasting;
- Charitable or community-giving days, such as cooking for the homeless.
38. Schedule a hackathon
A hackathon is a fun and inspiring way to develop a product, idea, or initiative in a dedicated event. It's a favorite way of fueling innovation in tech firms.
Hackathons give your people a chance to do something different from their regular routines, something that's novel and ultimately satisfying.
39. Gamify the workplace
Gamification transforms routine processes into a fun, motivating, and competitive game-playing format.
Rather than regular training or project activities, offer your people a gamified approach they'll enjoy.
40. Hire food trucks
Food trucks are a fun way to share a meal, try new food, and get outdoors.
Organize one or more food trucks to come to your workplace (or take your team to them) and spend time connecting, eating, and enjoying each others' company.
41. Schedule weekly team lunches or brunches
Reward your people with lunch or a brunch treat each week (or month). Allow your people to meet, talk, and engage with each other in a casual environment away from the office.
42. Host a puzzle or board game competition
Get the competitive spirits flowing by hosting a puzzle or board game competition.
Board games are rising in popularity in today's tech-dominated world and are a great way to release stress and exercise the mind tactilely.
➡️ Give your people the recognition they deserve
At Zavvy, we understand that recognizing your people is a powerful way to acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation.
Recognition motivates and empowers your employees and makes them more productive and engaged at work.
We have the tools to help you build a culture of recognition that's seamless, integrated with your existing workflows, and effective at boosting the growth and development of your people.
- 🚀 Onboarding: Great experiences from day 1
- 🌱 Development: Make career growth a priority for everyone
- 🔄 360 Feedback: Recognition as a natural part of the day
- 👥 Connection: Match people for walking meetings or coffee chats
- ...and much more
Book a free 30-minute demo to see how you can bring out the most in your people through effective recognition.