19 Employee Recognition and Rewards Ideas You Need to Implement


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Employees who feel their efforts are being ignored are more likely to disengage and quit their jobs. To avoid this, managers should consider investing in employee recognition and reward ideas.

Article 19 Minutes
19 Employee Recognition and Rewards Ideas You Need to Implement

With competition for talent constantly growing, businesses are always looking for ways to attract and retain their top talent while they expand. Although this is easier said than done, not all companies know how to keep their staff happy and engaged. Many fail to make employee recognition a top priority, with 5 in 10 employees admitting they don’t feel recognized enough.

It’s estimated that replacing a salaried employee costs 6 to 9 months’ salary. In addition, a disengaged workforce can cost companies approximately $450 to $500 billion per year.

While it’s apparent that people want to feel appreciated and valued for their hard work, recognizing your staff can make a significant difference,  boost their confidence, improve overall morale and help foster a positive company culture.

From a simple ‘thank you’ to awarding the employee of the month, recognition can come in many forms. But which methods are most effective? We asked 19 HR professionals to share their employee recognition and reward ideas.

1. Give your employees creative rewards

Employee happiness encompasses a lot of things. However, one of the most important things you can bring to the table is to be innovative in how you show your appreciation. While it may sound simple, rewarding an employee for a job well-done or a great idea during a brainstorming session can make the difference. Whether the acknowledgment is public or by way of an Amazon gift card or free lunch, it feels good to know that your efforts have been noticed. Plus, it offers an incentive to go above and beyond again.

Hosting a scavenger hunt is a great team-building activity and a fun reward, especially when you divide the teams according to the different departments within the company. This can be budget-friendly if you’re creative enough to devise the hunt yourself, but there are also professional companies who’ll pull out all of the stops and design something especially for your organization. This will teach everyone to work together, and it will also create a little fun rivalry between departments, which can translate into working even harder to come out on top in the office, too. And don’t worry- these hunts can be virtual, and just as much fun!

Alexandra Zamolo, Head of Content Marketing for Beekeeper

2. A little appreciation goes a long way

Employees aren’t satisfied with getting feedback in their annual review or quarterly 1 on 1s. They want to know that they’re appreciated for their day to day efforts and recognized for their ongoing contributions. We’ve found that the right employee engagement software has increased eNPS (Employer Net Promotion Score) by 52%. Something as simple as appreciation helps reduce the burdens associated with employee turnover.

Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing, Motivosity

3. Run engaging competitions

As HR managers look to implement rewards and recognition programs, it’s important to consider a platform that can be customized to support recognition across a variety of efforts. Ten Spot’s Challenges are customizable with templates that feature our most popular challenges.

Reward both small and big wins

From hitting weekly sales cold call numbers to winning a company-wide step challenge, Ten Spot rewards users with badges and prizes. The activity feed features ‘high fives’ and leaderboard updates to keep people engaged and motivated.

Implement a ‘Crush It’

These are weekly or monthly company- or department-wide all-hands meetings where each employee reveals their ‘crush’ and why they’re ‘crushing it’. Large companies can have people vote anonymously and reveal the ‘crush of the week/month’ in the next all-hands meeting. It’s a great way for employees to feel recognized by their peers and connected to one another.

We’ve implemented these ideas and more, but 98% of our workforce says ‘Crush It’ is their favorite meeting of the week. As a sales-first organization, sometimes other departments don’t always get the kudos they deserve. ‘Crush It’ helps other departments shine and showcases how teammates are contributing to the success of our business. It’s also helped build connections across departments, making them more supportive of each other and boosting morale across the board. A recent employee-wide survey revealed over 85% of our workforce feels recognized by their peers, which positively impacts their sentiment towards their colleagues and the business.

Sammy Courtright, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot

4. Gifting

A simple way to boost employee engagement and retention is by showing appreciation, especially through gifting. Loop & Tie, an employee engagement platform disrupting the $125B corporate gifting industry, has seen a 152% increase in business over the last year, doubling quarter over quarter during this pandemic. It’s proof that when teams can’t meet in-person, sending a thoughtful gift for recognition is the next best thing.

Sara Rodell, Founder at Loop & Tie

5. Focus on their wellbeing

The most important asset a company has is its people, and companies should think about ways to show their appreciation for their hard work. Below are some ways companies can recognize staff for their efforts:

  • Virtual holiday celebrations: from cooking Zoom classes to online game show extravaganzas, there are plenty of online ways to gather as a team
  • Wellness perks and gifts: gift boxes, massages and discounted or free products and services are the perfect way for employers to share their appreciation for employees. The secret to a good gift box is the items that are in them and how personalized they are
  • Wellbeing/leadership programs and incentives: individual coaching, meditation sessions and other development opportunities help employees feel that their company cares for them and their personal growth

Through appreciating one another, our communication and engagement have improved, we’ve found better ways to work together and our retention rate is very high. Our team understands the struggles of building a business and we also celebrate our success together. With some creative thinking and focus on employees’ wellbeing, companies can appreciate their employees.

Jenna Anderson, CEO and Founder of AccessElite

6. Peer-to-peer shoutouts

One of our most effective employee recognition tools is a Slack channel called #you-are-awesome. In this channel, anyone can give a shoutout or praise to any other team member. For example, recent messages include one from our sales manager to an operations associate, and another one between peers in the marketing department for a high performing article. The praise is so effective for employee recognition because it’s open to peer-to-peer, which means that it often includes perspectives that a manager may have missed. Also, this channel celebrates the small day-to-day wins, and so doesn’t wait for a large goal or initiative to be completed. After the praise goes up, other team members pile emoji reactions on to it to celebrate. It’s a fun and clear way to recognize the work your employees do.

Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding

7. Cash rewards

It’s important to continue motivating employees while we navigate the new normal within the pandemic, and digital gift card programs with new “freebie” components can be a great way to do just that. While Amazon gift cards, restaurants or even standard gifts may be a nice gesture, nothing beats cash, which employees can use wherever they want or whenever they want to help make it through these challenging times.

Solutions such as the Purewrist Employee Gift Card Program featuring customizable tap-and-go prepaid contactless payment bracelets have emerged to create a new, streamlined avenue for HR professionals to distribute digital cash rewards across the company. Protecting your staff is just as important as motivating them and through these programs featuring sleek wearables, complete with a Mastercard prepaid contactless solution, employees will be empowered to make safe and secure online and in-store contactless payments with the rewards they receive, in addition to proudly representing the brand.

Alternatively, each employee can simply receive a digital Mastercard debit card that allows the company to transfer gift card funds to an employee’s account, and a number for this digital card that, similarly to your standard debit card, can be entered and used at any e-commerce site or added to their mobile wallet (ApplePay, AndroidPay or Samsung Pay). Either option allows employees to let their rewards accumulate or spend them as they see fit. HR departments have plenty to manage, so these types of programs can help offload and streamline reward distribution.

Suresh Palliparambil, CEO of Purewrist

8. Awards for excellence

At the end of each quarter, we host a meeting where our CEO recaps the previous quarter, successes, failures and other momentous mentions. Before this meeting, we send out a company-wide email that asks for a nomination of a coworker for the PDG Excellence Award, which has been going on before COVID-19, but is more important than ever. Each individual has an opportunity to write in their nominee, giving some background information that explains why they deserve the award, some of the action steps that were taken and how these are above and beyond the normal requirements of the nominee’s job and the impact this individual’s achievement have on the organization. The winner receives a $250 gift card, and it’s certainly helped to foster friendly competition among colleagues.

We also have a public Slack channel, appropriately named #PDG_Praise, where employees can give a “shout out” to fellow PDGers for doing “good stuff” like impressing clients, sharing a lead, lending a helping hand or simply being kind in a time of need. This is a newer thing for us and it’s been successful in showcasing all of the hard work our people have done, giving kudos publicly to people who are newer and may have never met other coworkers in person and an all around great way to keep employees engaged with one another and all of the hard work that is going on at the company.

Cristy Waite, Director HR, OD at Performance Development Group (PDG)

9. Recognize achievements

Keep it simple and meaningful! I’ve found it very effective to encourage employees to recognize each other. At one company I worked at, employees could recognize each other for demonstrating our core values. The acknowledgment could be given via email or paper form, which helped employees in all types of jobs to be able to participate. Employees could then cash in the recognitions for the reward of their choice.

Focusing the recognition on our core values helped ensure that the right behaviors were rewarded. What was really special was that employees could be the recipients of praise from others outside their own departments or even by customers, which happened often. To celebrate accomplishments, some departments would post everyone’s recognitions where the rest of the team could see them and would read them in staff meetings. It was very meaningful to have a culture that encouraged excellence while motivating employees to look for ways to praise others. It helped keep everyone moving in the same direction. Employees felt appreciated, leading to increased engagement, and were inspired to continue going above and beyond.

Rebecca Southern Mills, Freelance HR Consultant and Founder of Simplecated

10. Offer development opportunities

An impactful way to recognize and reward employees is to provide real opportunities for professional development. This doesn’t have to involve attending expensive seminars, although this is also a welcome way to boost employee morale. It’s all about offering opportunities for employees to do new things and in the process build their skills.

One way to do this is to allow an employee who has performed exceptionally well to pick a special project to work on. They could pick from a list initiate a passion project of theirs and use company resources to make it happen.

Employees feel valued when they know their manager/employer is vouching for them and is committed to their development. Recognizing an employee’s passion and strengths and facilitating them to explore these interests helps them feel that they’re part of a tight-knit team that’s supportive of them. In turn, as an employer you will have loyal, satisfied employees who go the extra mile to ensure the success of the company.

Paul French, Managing Director at Intrinsic Executive Search

11. Hall of fame

At the beginning of 2020, when our company went completely remote, we implemented an employee recognition program called the “Interplay Hall of Fame”, where we started recognizing two all-stars a month with a certificate and a bonus. We have bi-weekly all-hands zoom meetings, where our Interplay Hall of Famers are named publicly and everyone applauds their success. Employees that feel appreciated will work harder and be more dedicated. We know this to be true and we make sure our employees recognize each other and that the behavior is reinforced and influenced by the leadership team highlighting their contributions as well, with the public recognition in our all-hands meetings. To-date it has improved employee engagement, productivity, and it has added an element of fun that all staff look forward to bi-weekly.

Martha Aviles, VP of Interplay Learning

12. Get everyone involved

There are several things to consider when it comes to employee recognition that can have a big impact on its effectiveness.

1. Recognize employees in ways that are most meaningful to them. Some employees love a big shout out in front of their peers, others prefer and value meaningful face time with their boss or other top-level executives. What one person finds to be meaningful in terms of being recognized isn’t the case for everyone else, so recognize your employees in ways that will be most meaningful to the individual. Otherwise, your efforts may not have the desired effect.

2. Everyone in the organization plays a vital role All too often, we see top performers and the lead revenue generators as those who continually get rewarded. Administrators and employees who keep things running smoothly but don’t have as much visibility are easily overlooked and often feel slighted by rewards and recognition programs. This can often backfire and lead to feelings of being undervalued and can end in turnover.

3. A little goes a long way. While it can be hard to offer everyone big recognition, everyone at some point deserves to be shown their work is appreciated and valued by the organization. Showing a little recognition, however small, can go a long way in making everyone feel valued as they work.

4. Recognition should be on the top of managers minds on a regular basis, not something left to end of the year banquets or annual performance reviews. If you can focus on what’s working for people rather than what isn’t, you will see morale and motivation increase, which will lead to an increase in productivity.

Michele Mavi, Workplace Coach and Career Strategist and Founder of MonumentalMe.com

13. Personalized recognition

Thank the person publicly

Recognition is valid and more meaningful if you give it publicly. A shout out on social media or internal communication channels is just the right way to do it, butalso keep an individual approach in mind, and assess whether the person would feel embarrassed if publicly praised.

Write them a letter

A short note on how the employee’s achievement or constructive attitude has helped the company’s growth is always a nice touch. It’s a thoughtful, complimentary gesture that goes well with a gift.

Consider giving them a personalized gift

Your choice of a gift shows your appreciation. A gift mustn’t be an HR associate’s idea; at the very  least ensure that it’s presented as though the idea came from high management. It could be a yearly subscription to a magazine of their interest or anything they’re personally into; the important part is that you give the gift with a sincere message and attitude.

Show even more trust

The issue with rewards is that they may seem performative and not very sincere if they aren’t followed by more trust and looser management. Many employees find deep satisfaction and motivation in the ever-growing trust and freedom to make more critical decisions independently.

Use the performance review interview

Not only the highest achievers deserve recognition; every single person on your team deserves it. Regular performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to highlight what you appreciate in the employee’s work. It will also help create a culture in which performance review interviews aren’t something employees dread.

Reward entire teams

To lift the team spirit and show appreciation to the individual and collective efforts, find some fun ways to reward an entire team. Pay for everyone’s dinner, surprise them with a nice lunch at work or give them a day off.

The company where I work has a 92% annual retention rate. Even though we’re a small company, we work hard to keep people happy and productive. We use every one of those ideas and customize our recognition activities so that the message doesn’t fail. It has helped our team become a tightly-knit group of people who appreciate one another.

Emilija Simic, HR manager at TeamStage

14. Reward innovation

One of the best ways to recognize your employees’ hard work is to recognize it publicly. When someone shines in their role, I make sure to mention what they did and how they did it in meetings, in Slack and in company emails. I also make sure to tell everyone what the employee did that made their work stand out. I always do this because I want to stress the importance of thinking outside the box. Many times the person I praise the most isn’t the one doing super hard work - it’s someone who found a new way to solve an old problem. By stressing this point, I encourage others to do the same. Hard work is important, but finding solutions to ongoing problems in new ways is just as significant.

Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer for Better Proposals

15. Select the perfect gift

You know what says “I appreciate you” really well? Showing your gratitude in a way that’s special to every person. Sure, in certain cases, a traditional form of incentive helps, but if you want to demonstrate how much you value and appreciate a person who works so hard for the company, the better way to do that is to figure out what they actually want, what they’d be involved in, their hobbies or what they want the most.

Cindy Deuser, HR Manager at Thrive Agency

16. Find ways to ease stress

Choose rewards that complement your company culture and teams. If your employees struggle with work-life balance, consider gifting exceptional employees with time off that doesn’t count against their PTO. If your dress code is strict, implement a free dress day (or jean day) if possible.

For more routine ways to recognize employees, implement an employee of the week or month system; you can post their name and picture in a place within the office that gets the most traffic, post a virtual announcement via email or an app like Slack and/or recognize them during an all-company meeting.

Charlette Beasley, Careers and Workplace Analyst at FitSmallBusiness

17. Don’t underestimate online rewards

There are many different ways to reward and recognize the team and the most important factor is to consider what the team and each individual is going to value – no point in providing a hamper full of wine, cheese, cold meats and nuts to the tee-total vegan member of the team with a nut allergy!

Some people like public recognition, so organization wide announcements and acknowledgements of contributions made by individuals is a great way to recognize achievements and boost morale. An article in the team newsletter is a great way to highlight the efforts of the individual/team

The environment and location of the team may impact on the reward and recognition mechanism – with many working from home, a gift hamper, chocolates, flowers or box of cocktails delivered to the individual’s home is a great way of saying thank you. Taking the rewards online can be fun and unique, with virtual events such as cocktail making, chocolate and wine tasting a great way to bond the team, add some fun and reward their collective efforts. Consider vouchers too, so that the individual can choose their own rewards. This will help ensure maximum value.

Never underestimate a simple “thank you”, with an explanation of what you’re thanking the individual for and the impact their efforts have made, will go a long way to helping the individual feel valued.

Prior to the pandemic, “dinner on us” was always warmly received as a thank you for the additional hours put in by a team member, a way to thank them and their loved one for the sacrifices they have made, however this can still be achieved by “dinner in a box” being delivered to their home.

It needn’t be extravagant; a handwritten card means a lot to people in this tech driven world.

Depending on the interests of the individual and the budget, the options are endless, from spa days, exercise classes or membership, tickets to go and see a show to posting the individual’s photo on the “Employee of the Month” wall of fame in the office.

Well thought out reward and recognition schemes can greatly enhance employee engagement, morale, loyalty, productivity and efficiency. The question is, why wouldn’t you?

Charlotte Bate, Director at MAD-HR

18. Invest in their careers

Offer your employees discounts or vouchers for the courses or training they would like to undergo. This gesture shows you really appreciate your employee’s dedication towards your organization and wish to see them succeed in their career.

Gargi Rajan, Head HR of Mercer | Mettl

19. Put some thought into rewards

As a CEO involved in any employee recognition and reward program my team comes up with, an idea that has generated a lot of goodwill is tailoring the reward to an employee’s interest.

If an employee loves fiction, you can get them a book on their ‘To Be Read’ list. If they love wine, organize lunch and make sure you include their favorite bottle. It takes more effort, because you have to go out of your way to connect with your employees, but it’s more meaningful.

When an employee realizes you took the time to find out what they like, they feel more appreciated. The thought that went into procuring the reward counts and it will motivate them to continue working hard.

Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP

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