The Modern Types of Employee Recognition and Rewards for a Post-Pandemic Era


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, March 6, 2023

Employee recognition is no longer just a pat on the back. With many types of recognition, here’s what you need to know to keep your staff happy.

Article 6 Minutes
The Modern Types of Employee Recognition and Rewards for a Post-Pandemic Era

What is employee recognition? 

When you work hard and bring value to an organization, you might not expect a raise or a promotion for every task you complete to a high standard. However, you’d probably want to know your work is being recognized and avoid feeling like you’re being taken for granted. Employee recognition simply means that you’re identifying and rewarding individuals for their contributions to the overall business. 

Why is employee recognition important? 

It’s easy to do, doesn’t require much time or financial commitment and, best of all, it improves employee motivation and efficiency. When you show appreciation to your staff, it fosters an environment that encourages hard work and high standards. 

If you’re a senior executive, president or manager at a business, employee recognition might seem trivial and is easy to overlook. That’s a common mistake and one of the driving factors behind employee unhappiness and quiet quitting. So, it makes a lot of sense to ensure your employees feel seen, heard and respected. 

We all want to feel acknowledged - it’s a basic human need, so use the power of gratitude to your advantage and make formal recognition a key part of your business routines. 

What are the main types of employee recognition? 

When it comes to highlighting great work and rewarding your employees, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The most popular strategies used by organizations are split into two categories: structured and unstructured. Let’s take a look at each and understand how they yield positive engagement and motivation from employees. 


Structured recognition is deliberate and traditional, involving a top-down method of showing gratitude to employees. These measures are official, sometimes ceremonial and often anticipated as they’ll take place at specific times and in the form of awards. Here are some examples: 

  • Employee of the month 
  • Milestone awards 
  • Top performer awards  
  • Retirement celebrations

It often feels like every business does that anyway. Most companies already practice structured employee recognition and there are many benefits to doing so. Firstly, these types of awards come from leaders, so they draw a lot of attention and are intrinsically valuable because employees can feel a sense of accomplishment. Therefore, structured recognition is a great way to build and maintain relationships with your staff. 

However, there are drawbacks. Although a structured approach comes from the top down, it can feel like nothing more than a formality, with a level of predictability eventually making it stale. An employee of the month award may come from senior leaders, but when it's presented by a member of HR and everybody receives the same trophy or gift, it can feel very impersonal. They can become quite expensive when implemented across an entire organization with a lot of employees. 


Considered a more ‘modern’ approach, unstructured methods work on the basis that there should always be space for spontaneous recognition and praise shouldn’t only come from managers. Instead, colleagues are encouraged to recognize each other and show gratitude for great work. 

There are a lot of ways to show unstructured recognition, often simple and with no need for a large budget. In other words, it means giving praise without it being an official event. A manager could order an employee lunch as a way to show appreciation, or simply walk over to their desk and offer gratitude. 

Digital tools make it easy for companies to make unstructured recognition a daily routine. Certain technologies allow members of staff to post appreciative messages to peers on a shared board, while others gamify recognition and rewards to get everybody involved. 

It’s vital to add unstructured recognition to your repertoire for several reasons. Firstly, it alleviates long waits between official awards and often feels more personal, as staff are receiving praise directly from peers or managers. This type of recognition also focuses on specific actions or skills, meaning workers feel special and become more motivated. 

There aren’t a lot of drawbacks, but as a manager or leader, you’ll have to be conscious of favoritism, as this will raise negative feelings amongst employees when perceived. It’s a learning curve at first, but once you nail the habit of regular unstructured recognition, you’ll foster a positive, productive and motivated work environment. 

When do employees deserve recognition? 

If you’re successfully implementing structured and unstructured employee recognition, this should become a daily function. It’s great that you know how to provide R&R, but what are you actually appreciating? Here are some of the key moments when your employees deserve to be rewarded. 

High performance 

Completing a project or hitting targets feels like an achievement - something you should be rewarded for, right? When your employees smash their goals, it’s time to show appreciation. Performance rewards are a good way to show staff how much you really care and let them know they’re doing a great job. 

Learn more: What Makes a High Performance Culture? 6 Characteristics All Businesses Need 

Effort-based rewards 

Meeting targets is great, but there’ll be times when some employees are still working towards them. Instead of only highlighting staff who have reached their goals, take the time to thank those who are constantly putting in the effort to get there. 


When employees reach a milestone, such as a work anniversary, it prompts a period of self-reflection. Most of us have probably been there before - it’s your fifth year working at a company and you have an epiphany, thinking about the past, present and what the future holds. At times like this, opening a letter to a gift card can seem thoughtless and impersonal, leaving you feeling unrecognized for the time and effort you’ve spent there. 

So, whether it’s the end of the year, project completion or an anniversary, try to think outside the box. Let your employees know you’re thinking about them. Don’t just leave it at ‘well done this year’ - take time to explain to them how their efforts impacted the organization and why they’re important to you. 

Learn more: Your Employees Are Craving Recognition. Did You Notice These 4 Signs? 


Do you know anyone that celebrates the little things, like half-birthdays? Well, it pays to recognize employees as much as possible. This doesn’t mean putting on a party every time they’re half a year older, but there are certain times when it’s appropriate to take notice of an event. 

For staff in a typical 9-5 working pattern, most will likely spend the majority of their birthday in the office. As such, take that as an opportunity to celebrate them. Not everyone likes to draw a lot of attention, so it’s worth noting that you should get to know them first, but even a small form of recognition will go a long way.

When you consider the current methods you use to show recognition and rewards, are they truly benefitting employees? To meet everyone’s needs, you’ll need to utilize a blend of structured and unstructured recognition. So, try using other strategies to show appreciation and gratitude. 

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