24 Tried and Tested Employee Recognition Ideas

Don’t you just love it when an all-hands meeting wraps up with your boss or manager appreciating the team? A Forbes survey found that 37% of employees consider recognition important, with 72% of businesses agreeing that recognition has a positive impact on employee engagement. This explains why employee recognition ideas have become a hit at workplaces over the years.

Recognizing an employee’s contribution and intrinsic value to the organization is instrumental to their productivity. Picture it as a domino effect, where appreciation leads to motivation, which in turn leads to engagement at work. Having written about virtual employee recognition before, this time’s post is going to talk about employee recognition ideas that offices with any work arrangement can try out. So,

1 What is Employee Recognition?

What is Employee Recognition

Employee recognition fills our basic need for professional and personal fulfillment. It refers to those actions that observe and appraise individuals in a transparent and objective setting. Recognition is also labeled as employee appreciation and employee engagement  

Employee recognition should follow the MUST rule, which stands for

1. Meaningful

The first rule of employee recognition is to make sure that you’re recognizing the right individual. Make a note of why the person deserves appreciation. Meaningful recognition specifies what the employee did right, and establishes a direct connection between performance and objectives. This way, they know the impact or effect they have had on meeting goals.

2. Unified

No one should be forgotten or missed out. Creating a unified scale of recognition ensures that every member in every department within your organization gets noticed and commended.

3. Spotlight

Extra-mile employees deserve the spotlight as an example of the professional conduct and capabilities expected of each employee. 

4. Timely

Giving timely recognition makes it easier to verify the quality of work and who was responsible for it. Timely recognition also conveys to employees the expectations and metrics that the business uses to consider them for future promotions, raises, and additional perks.

2 When Should You Recognize Employees?

When Should You Recognize Employees

Ideally, you should make it a habit to recognize right away. The employee recognition ideas you wish to implement should fit the employee taking into account

  1. The team member’s skills, existing areas of knowledge and experience.
  2. Years of service with the firm
  3. Achievements racked up till date.

The first step to recognizing employees in a timely manner is to institute a feedback and appraisal program on a yearly, half-yearly, or quarterly basis. The goal of this program is to set a performance benchmark against which individual members are evaluated. 

Next, there should be levels to indicate consistency in performance, with those having a track record of being high performers bumped into the highest category. Creating tiers is at your discretion, but doing so also gives all employees a goal to aspire to. You can then finalize the employee recognition ideas suited for the occasion and employee. 

The other silent advantage to immediate recognition is that it increases an individual’s awareness of their own worth. The fact that a company, no matter how large or small, is making the effort to acknowledge and recognize its workforce is a sign of progressive and encouraging work culture.

3 Innovative Employee Recognition Ideas

Innovative Employee Recognition Ideas

3.1 Formal/Traditional employee recognition ideas

Formal/Traditional employee recognition ideas

Tête-à-tête with the leadership

For many, the idea of conversing with leadership can be downright terrifying. However, we forget that those who came before us also had to start somewhere. Enter informal sit-downs, where employees of every experiential level convene at a common room. 

It’s a learning opportunity for all involved because leaders can share their experiences (yes, even the rookie mistakes) and new hires can put forward suggestions to help the business grow or explore the market. 

1. Awards and rewards

Create awards for different categories. It can be something as informal as “Best dressed” or “Most winning smile” to the more work-specific awards, such as the 

  1. Exceptional coach
  2. The Marketing Genius
  3. That-Extra-Mile 
  4. The Growth driver
  5. The Client Whisperer / Best in Customer Excellence

The best part about rewards is that they can be as specific to a department as need be. For example, the creative team can come up with their own set of awards, while sales can have a different nomenclature. The end result is the same- awards match with how a particular employee has contributed to the organization’s growth.

2. Peer recognition programs

Peer recognition programs make mutual appreciation easier for coworkers. This is one of those employee recognition ideas where the appreciation also tends to be more heartfelt and meaningful. This is because colleagues who work in the same team or collaborate on projects frequently would have a first-hand account of their colleague’s expertise, approach to problem-solving, and attitude to work.

Peers can form a group on meeting platforms (if the colleagues are distributed) or conduct after-office hours or informal social meets. These programs strengthen the bond between colleagues.

3. Training and Upskilling

No one wants to be doing the same job for the entirety of their career. With training, employees will acquire skills in other knowledge areas that make them an asset to a different business unit or department within the organization. For example, a copywriter can move up and take over as a product marketing manager provided it aligns with their interest. 

Initiate a conversation with employees regarding their future goals and areas of interest. You can then recommend resources, materials, and people to keep in mind when the time is right. They can register their interests either through manual or digital means in order to reserve their place for appropriate study courses, classroom, or project-based training. Recognizing someone’s potential down the line and taking measures to invest in their development makes employees feel more valued.

4. Reward ideas and suggestions

Welcoming suggestions from everyone at work can make the workplace better. The next idea could make internal processes more efficient, improve morale all-around and enable colleagues to do better at their respective jobs. 

You can place a suggestion box in the office for people to drop their suggestions into, or start an online thread to accept submissions. Once all ideas are submitted and reconciled, the best ones can be selected based on votes. After you experiment with the suggestions, The people who suggested them can be recognized and rewarded through special mentions in meetings.

5. Publicize and commemorate achievements

If you haven’t considered running a company newsletter before, here’s your chance! Giving a public shoutout to employees informs the entire business of what the achievement is/was. Teammates and departmental managers can accordingly offer their congratulations which provides the employees in question a confidence boost! 

This employee recognition idea hinges on cooperation from all business units or departments. Managers or team leads have to provide context to the achievement-based off on their progress report and which members achieved which key milestones. This information has to be compiled and provided to human resources in order to craft the recognition email.

3.2 Informal employee recognition ideas

Informal employee recognition ideas

6. Send a “thank you” card

A thank-you card is thoughtful and simple (it can also be discreetly left at a desk for the person to find when they come in). You can either buy a card from any gift shop or create one online via Greetingsisland or Punchbowl. One of my colleagues sent me a Boss day card via Teams, which I didn’t expect. And it made my Monday a lot nicer. If you’re like me and prefer to give and receive appreciative gestures that are subtle, then go ahead and send out that thank-you card!

7. Surprise them with goodies

A gift basket containing a selection of items can uplift the recipient’s spirits and make them feel appreciated. The budget for a basket can be decided beforehand in order to pick items that the company can afford and is also useful to the person. 

If you’re looking for sites that ship worldwide, give these a try

  1. https://www.giftbasketsoverseas.com/
  2. https://www.hampers.com/international
  3. https://www.aceofheartsgiftbaskets.com/

These also put together hampers for different occasions and holidays, such as Halloween or Diwali! 

8. Celebrate special days

Make a note of everyone’s birthdays and work anniversaries so that you don’t miss to greet them when another year rolls by. A team celebration in honor of someone’s special day is one of the best employee recognition ideas to show individual members you care enough to remember!

9. Organize employee competitions 

Arrange for a little friendly competition with simple and engaging contests. If you wish to start small, go for a talent show or a show-and-tell where everyone shares their talents with the team. You can also organize a cosplay where everyone shows up to work in a favorite character or hold minute-to-win-it games that require everyday props lying around at work! 

Whoever wins can get complimentary vouchers to their favorite shopping outlets, amusement parks, spas or eateries!

10. Send out informal work desk gifts

Whether your office is online or in-person, our work desks speak volumes of ourselves as people. Personal effects set us apart, which is why gifting your employees work desk gifts is a great employee recognition idea. 

You can find out how your colleagues and employees keep their desks and confirm what they like before buying them anything. Ideas for work desk gifts that won’t fail you include

  1. Stationery with their initials on them.
  2. Journals and notebooks
  3. Photoframes
  4. Succulents (low maintenance plants that are easy to care for) 
  5. USB sticks
  6. Anti glare glasses
  7. A neck or head massager
  8. A charging dock
  9. Cable organizer.

11. The wall of fame

Turn one of the walls in your office into a literal wall of fame! Hang up a laminated frame featuring the employee of the week, or month. This way, anyone walking past that corridor will see who is featured and can look forward to their own turn in the future. The wall of fame boosts morale and makes the culture internally more collaborative, friendlier and honest. 

3.3 Employee recognition Ideas with Monetary benefits

Employee recognition ideas with monetary benefits

12. Gift cards and corporate discounts

Your office won’t be the first to welcome online order packages belonging to various employees. Since that’s where most of the day goes, many employees get their items shipped to a work address. Send your employees on a shopping spree with gift cards and business discounts to select stores. They can also start an account at their favorite outlets and use the points remaining on the card towards a purchase.

13. Bonuses and incentives 

Most customer-facing roles work on commission and profit-sharing. Every time a sale closes or the company lands a new account, the incentives and recognition go to the sales team. Create a tiered bonus system that awards the monetary perk based on the size of the account and the steps followed by the employee to manage the lead. 

Your employees will also appreciate monetized incentives because payouts add to their earnings.

14. Redeemable Points Value System

A points based-or value-based system scores employees on a scale (which you can set according to your performance metrics). The employee can convert these points into overtime pay or avail them for company-related expenses as part of their job. They can also use the PVS to reduce the number of LOP leaves as and when they take emergency leave. This is one of the best employee recognition ideas that benefit the employee because they have a safety net to prevent leave or cost imbalances.

15. Health, Housing, transport & other allowances

Did you know that 80% of workers would rather keep a job with benefits than work for a company that pays them more but offers no benefits? The cost to the company factors in housing rent, medical insurance, and travel allowances. It’s also a good idea to revise this allowance periodically in accordance with the pay grade and seniority of the employee. 

Offering allowances to employees lets them know their well-being matters to the organization they’re working for. In fact, Clutch’s study found that 55% of employees consider health insurance as an important benefit key to their job satisfaction.

16. Food and grocery coupons

We all go out for grocery runs, but what if you could get your employees a better deal at their next pantry restocking quest? Grocery coupons are a practical employee recognition idea if you wish to help your staff out. 

They can save a few dollars on their bill or get a free item depending on the store’s terms and the total value of the bill. You’d also be doing the chain a favor by getting them, regular shoppers!

17. Sponsored experiences

Send your employees to a company retreat or a sponsored event, such as a TED talk. You can also opt for something simpler and more easily available, such as virtual escape games, murder mysteries or tours of famous landmarks. 

3.4 Non-traditional employee recognition ideas

Non-traditional employee recognition ideas

18. Flexible work conditions

A 2020 Global Trends report by LinkedIn found that workplaces with flexible arrangements saw a 137% increase in headcount. This follows the heels of the pandemic disrupting business-as-usual. Companies that previously distrusted remote work as a viable option are now reconsidering their stance, having seen that it doesn’t negatively impact office productivity. 

Offering your workforce flexible work arrangements is a solid strategy, particularly if you’re employing working parents. Flexible arrangements also give parents a fair shot at being considered for promotions since they can do justice on both the home and work front.

19. Survey the employees for gifts of their choice

Use Surveymonkey or Google forms (or any other survey software of your choice) to find out what gifts your employees are wishlisting. Once the choices are matched against responses, you can surprise them by getting it for them!

20. Caricature on a plaque

Create a plaque and have it personalized with a caricature or photo of your employee. It can also be proudly displayed at their desk and will be a permanent keepsake!

21. Donate to charity of their choice

If any or all of your employees spend some of their free time in volunteering activities, consider participating at the next event, or making a contribution to a non-profit outfit. They’ll love that you support their work outside of the office! 

22. Gift the tech deck

Ancillary gadgets are practical employee recognition ideas that enable a worker to do their job, whether they’re in the office or working from home. Items such as a laptop decal, glass cleaners, wireless earphones, memory cards, and hard drives can help your employees stay organized and focused when working.

23. Lessons to a hobby of their choice

Have any employees mentioned a new hobby they’re thinking of starting? Encourage them and have a conversation about the classes they’d like to be signed up for. If there’s a trial before committing, even better! You can even show your support by attending the first class with them or use the class as a way to develop your friendship and learn something while you’re at it! 

4 FAQs


4.1 What are good ways to recognize employees?

Some ways to recognize employees include

  1. A Gratitude or Kudos wall made on a meeting platform or on an actual wall.
  2. Public praise via email and messaging.
  3. Giving them vouchers to avail discounts at select stores.
  4. Celebrating personal events such as birthdays, anniversaries or reaching a new work milestone.
  5. Investing in their training and development.
  6. Having a 1:1 catch up to give and receive feedback regarding how they feel about work and what can be done to help them bring their best to the table.

4.2 How important is recognition in the workplace?

Employee recognition is vital to quantify the value and worth of every employee working in an organization. It lets employees see that their contributions and efforts aren’t going unnoticed and that there are tangible results tying back to those efforts. 

Employee recognition leads to satisfied and engaged workers who feel more confident about themselves, giving them a reason to be productive.

4.3 How do you praise someone professionally?

Here are some phrases you can use to praise someone in a professional context;

1.’Thank you, reading your email made my day.’

2. ‘Great colleagues like you make me realize why I love coming to work’.

3. ‘I/We could not have done it without you. I/We appreciate everything you’ve done to make this happen’.

4.’ I couldn’t help but notice the effort you put in for the project and just wanted to thank you for being YOU!’.

4.4 How do you make employee recognition meaningful?

Employee recognition can be made meaningful by taking the time to get to know the employee. Only then can you know their ambitions and what motivates them on a personal basis. 

You can then provide them with the tools to succeed and offer feedback that lets them work on the areas they need to and build upon what they already excel at. 

4.5 What is the difference between appreciation and recognition?

HBR explains the distinction between appreciation and recognition succinctly.

Appreciation is about who the person is, while recognition is about acknowledging what they do. Both are given on different occasions and for different reasons. Appreciation lets you connect with the employee on a social and personal level, thereby humanizing their actions. Recognition, on the other hand, praises them for doing something correctly or for surpassing expectations.