Employee Recognition Ideas: 11 Ways to Provide Meaningful Recognition

Many companies don’t consider the true benefits of recognizing employees. It’s common for senior leadership to assume the company has plenty of perks that already accomplish this, like gym memberships and quality benefits packages. So, why dedicate more resources to bringing employee recognition ideas to life when you could be spending elsewhere?

What you’re failing to consider are the hidden costs of turnover. When employees disengage, the likelihood that they will look for alternative employment increases. And when an employee moves on, you’re forced to spend time and resources interviewing, training and on-boarding the candidate who takes their place.

On average, turnover costs companies approximately double the average employee salary. So how can you avoid this unnecessary expenditure of precious resources? Workplace recognition helps employees feel valued, improves retention, and attracts new talent.

Employee recognition provides additional benefits as well: Forbes reports that over 80% of employees are more motivated when they feel appreciated, 71% of highly engaged employees work at organizations where peers are recognized at least monthly, and that engaged employees are proven to be 31% more productive.

The bottom line: companies need to be investing in employee recognition ideas for their employees if they aren’t doing so already.

So, where do you start? First, we’ll break down what makes a reward meaningful — it only really takes three things.

Keeping your employees engaged with creative employee recognition ideas is key to retaining top performers.

Three Keys to Meaningful Employee Recognition

First, managers need to understand what their employees value most and leverage that in order to strengthen the employee-manager relationship. The next step is learning what motivates the employee and tailoring recognition to that individual employee.

Remember that every act of recognition should be three things: personal, specific and unexpected.

1. Personal Recognition

Personal recognition strengthens the bond between the recognizer and employee being recognized. An Aon Hewitt survey of millennials found that they are most satisfied when recognized with thank you notes and verbal thank-yous.

The best part? Personalized recognition is easy to achieve. Simply tailor your recognition to something relevant to that employee. For example, if your employee has a favorite restaurant they eat at every week, rewarding them with a gift card to that restaurant demonstrates that not only are you appreciative of their work, you also know them well enough to provide a personalized reward.

2. Specific Recognition

Specific praise tells the employee exactly what they did to deserve the praise and encourages similar behavior for the future. A generic recognition is far less likely to make the impact you want because it lacks the specificity employees need.

Specific and personalized recognition ensures employees that you know exactly what they did to deserve praise.For example, let’s say Sarah has taken the lead on a major project — a time-sensitive initiative she tackled in record time — and the project has just wrapped up. She receives a message from her boss that simply says, “Great job!” Sarah is far less likely to feel truly recognized for her work because she worked hard on a project that required specific elements of her skillset (time management, team coordination, and knowledge of the product) to get done, all of which were not highlighted here.

But let’s say her manager creates a custom note that highlights specific aspects about Sarah that made this project a success. Her manager could write something like, “Congratulations for getting this huge project done in record time! Your time management skills, leadership, and expertise were key to pushing this to the finish line, and I appreciate your hard work and long hours!” Sarah is now likely to feel more recognized for her work because her manager called out specifics on what she succeeded at.

3. Unexpected Recognition

Scheduled recognition, like service awards and birthdays, is a vital part of any recognition program, but relying on only these occasions to recognize employees can become stale. Recognition loses its impact when it becomes routine, and employees will start to feel like recognition at their company is disingenuous.

But when an employee receives unexpected recognition, the value of recognition is heightened since it’s not anticipated. Don’t rely on a schedule to recognize employees — recognize accomplishments in real-time as they happen to maximize your impact.

This right type of recognition will help you — and the company — prove that you are invested in recognizing employees and that you want it to work for both of you. Let’s look at some unique examples of employee recognition ideas.

Employee recognition should be personal, specific, and unexpected.

How to Give Compelling Recognition

Remember: you want every employee recognition idea to be personal, specific and unexpected. Be sure to articulate what the employee did to deserve the reward and communicate the value. Then, offer them meaningful rewards like these:

1. Host quarterly core value awards ceremonies.

Host quarterly celebrations to recognize employees that embody the company’s core values. Winners should embody and live by your company core values every day, and rewarding them for this behavior not only provides satisfaction for employees, but reinforces your company’s values as well. You can even let your workforce vote for which employee should receive the reward, reinforcing peer-to-peer recognition at your company. Employees who win these awards feel like key drivers of the company’s culture, mission, and success.

Invest in an employee's professional development as an employee recognition idea.

2. Invest in their professional development.

Recognize your employee’s outstanding work by sponsoring entry into a networking event or a professional development course of their choice. This shows the employee that the company is invested in boosting their professional value. Learning and development is a key way to recognize millennials at your company, since they are reported as being one of the most ambitious generations. By investing in an employee’s professional development, you demonstrate that your company is interested in expanding that individual’s opportunities at the company. Studies show that employees who feel like they have a chance to move upward at a company are less likely to leave, reducing turnover.

3. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.

Recognition shouldn’t just occur from the top-down. Help your employees recognize each other for achievements and milestones to improve collaboration between departments. Whether your company chooses to use a digital recognition platform, a manual gift card program, or handwritten thank-you cards, make it easy for employees to make others feel valued in the workplace.

4. Match the employees’ donation.

Studies show that prosocial behavior at work significantly improves engagement and even sales numbers. Let the employee choose the charity they want to donate to and support their initiative by matching their donation. This demonstrates that your company is invested in supporting your employees in and outside of the workplace.

Employee recognition doesn't have to break the bank. Here are some low-cost employee recognition ideas that work.Low-Cost Employee Recognition Ideas that Work

With examples of compelling rewards in mind, let’s move on and cover some low-cost employee recognition ideas. Making your employees feel appreciated at work doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. The toughest part of giving meaningful recognition can simply be conveying sincerity. Finding a low-cost way to recognize your employees can actually be a more personal form of recognition — one that requires direct communication.

Here are some ideas:

5. Offer a day off.

Give the employee time to spend and celebrate with loved ones and/or relax on their own. Extra days to recharge helps prevent employee burnout and increases productivity. By cultivating a work environment that rewards employees by encouraging them to take time for themselves, you set your company up for success.

Alt text: Handwritten notes are a personal way to recognize employees for their hard work. 6. Leave them handwritten notes.

As we discussed above, personalized notes are one of the leading ways to reward employees — especially millennials — in the workplace today. Penning a personal note to an employee specifying what they did to deserve the praise is a huge morale booster and shows the employee that the company and their immediate colleagues appreciate them.

7. Provide lunch with an executive of their choice.

One unique way to reward employees is to connect with an executive. If an employee is recognized for outstanding work with the opportunity to connect with department head, they’ll feel like their work makes a real impact at your company. Your employee has the opportunity to build personal relationships with high-level executives, pitch their ideas, and deliver feedback over lunch.

Handwritten notes are a personal way to recognize employees for their hard work.

Employee Recognition Ideas that Come with a Price Tag (and Real Results)

While low-cost employee recognition ideas can be truly effective, investing in employee rewards can yield significant returns as well. The ultimate goal of recognition is to drive meaningful engagement so you can retain your employees for longer and avoid the cost of hiring and training new people.

An impactful way to recognize someone is to articulate what the employee accomplished and then recognize them for it with a tangible reward. Here are a few places to start:

8. Offer a paid vacation. Offer your employees a paid vacation to recognize them for their hard work.

Encourage the employee to take time off by paying for their trip. Ambitious companies can pay for a family member’s vacation as well. While this might cost your company money, it’s an effective way to recognize an employee for a job well-done. Even better: that employee is far less likely to leave your company knowing you have invested in their wellbeing by encouraging them to take time off.

9. Invest in their higher education.

The more you invest in your employees’ careers, the longer they’re willing to stay at your company. Employees who believe they can move up in a company are more likely to stay, so if you can demonstrate that you are invested in helping develop your employees’ careers you’re also investing in your company’s future. Offer to help fund their higher education and prove your commitment to your workforce by investing in career development for your employees.

10. Offer everyday home services.

All employees, and especially millennials, value a healthy work-life balance. But managing the stresses of work and those outside of the workplace can even make downtime difficult. To help, you can make your employees’ lives easier by picking up the tab for dog walking, babysitting services, house cleaning, laundry services, or other services that alleviate the stress of work-life balance. Beyond helping employees save time and money, this gesture shows that your company is committed to your staff’s wellness.

Make a donation to the charity of your employee's choice as one creative employee recognition idea.11. Make a large donation in their name.

Donating to the charity of your employee’s choice not only demonstrates that you support your employee on a personal level, but strengthens the employee’s relationship with your company. This gesture also provides good publicity for your company and establishes your business as a community leader.

Additional Advice: Get Management Involved

It’s imperative to get management deeply committed for your recognition program to succeed.

Management embodies your company’s mission and values, and their behavior sets an example for others to follow. By embracing the recognition program, your leadership sends a clear message that this is something they consider important and aligned with company values.

Get management involved with your employee recognition program for best results.The first step to involving management is educating them on their roles in championing the program and ensuring its effectiveness. Start by bringing your leadership team up to speed on the current state of recognition in your organization. For example, according to a survey by Bersin by Deloitte, nearly 80 percent of senior leaders thought their employees were recognized at least monthly. In contrast, only 40 percent of managers and 22 percent of employees thought they, or their peers, were recognized that frequently. There may be a similar gap in perception versus reality at your company.

Even with executive support, your chances for maintaining a successful employee recognition program are greatly diminished if your managers don’t commit to its success by adopting it. They must understand recognition’s ties to the company’s mission and how it can positively impact the company’s success, and its KPIs and goals. Recognition can also enhance managers’ own relationships with their direct reports, as well as the company’s connection to these individuals.

Once managers have bought in on the importance of recognition, managers need to know how and when to give it for maximum effect. To be effective, recognition needs to be meaningful to the employee receiving it. Given the diversity in the modern workforce, one of the best ways to ensure the rewards and recognition being given are meaningful is to let the recipient choose their reward. Many companies use a reward program that lets employees choose from a variety of options — everything from restaurant gift cards to charitable contributions. Making it meaningful ensures a lasting impact. Personalizing awards with career details, for example, increases the value of recognition programs and makes their impact more lasting.

The True Value of Employee Recognition

Employee recognition encourages productivity, profits, and innovation. When your employees genuinely enjoy coming into work, they work harder and dedicate more time to helping your company reach its full potential. Companies who invest at least one percent of their payroll in recognition programs report higher engagement levels (and not surprisingly, better financial results) than those who do not make this investment.

Leverage Fond to create moments that matter to your employees by requesting a demo today.

Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.