20 Proven Ways To Recognize And Reward Employees For Great Work

Lori Li
10 min read
Mar 4, 2020


There are two kinds of companies: those that recognize and appreciate great work and those that simply expect employees to do their jobs. 

If you’ve ever worked for the first kind of company, you know how motivating it can be when your hard work is overtly appreciated.

Not only does it feel good to be noticed, it also encourages you to go above and beyond the next time.

On the flip side, if you’ve ever worked for a company that rarely if ever recognized their employees’ efforts, you know how demoralizing it can be.

You might bust your tail for weeks on an important project and not even hear a thank you—which doesn’t exactly inspire you to invest the same amount of effort in the future.

Recognition Is Craved By Everyone At Some Level

Our 2019 Employee Engagement Report revealed that only one-third of workers received recognition the last time they went the extra mile.

This lack of recognition can have devastatingly negative effects on an organization’s well-being.

It’s all too common; just one-quarter of employees feel highly valued at work.

When employees don’t feel valued, they’re increasingly likely to look for new opportunities. This is a big deal because not only does turnover hold your company back, it also costs a lot of money.

The good news is that you can reduce turnover by improving your organization’s approach to employee recognition and rewards.

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Companies With Recognition Programs Do Better

When we work hard and do a great job, we want to be recognized for our efforts. That’s just human nature—the way we’re wired.

That being the case, employee recognition programs are associated with a number of benefits, including increased employee engagement and productivity, which together add up to a healthier bottom line. Believe it or not, a recent Harvard Business Review item revealed that 40% of workers would put more energy into their jobs if they were recognized on a regular basis.

Beyond that, because employee recognition makes workers happier, it also makes it easier to retain top talent, helping you avoid incurring those hefty turnover costs. At the same time, happier employees are more likely to evangelize on behalf of your organization, which can make it easier to attract top talent, too.

Add it all up, and that’s the recipe to a happier, more collaborative culture—which is the foundation for a successful organization.

The Scientific Evidence For Recognition Is Bulletproof

At this point, you understand the benefits of employee recognition and why it’s important that organizations like yours prove to your employees that you appreciate their hard work.

But you might be wondering about the specifics.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more persuasive employee recognition statistics to remove any doubt you might have about the importance of implementing a recognition program at your organization:

The numbers speak for themselves.

Up next, we’ll briefly examine 20 ideas for employee recognition and rewards to give you a better idea about what, specifically, a successful program might look like, just in time for the employee appreciation day on March 6th. 

01. Handwrite a letter

When you take time to recognize your employees’ hard work, they are more likely to perform at the same levels in the future. Employee recognition is positive reinforcement, and your workers will likely be motivated to work just as hard the next time.

One of the easiest ways to recognize great work is by writing an employee recognition letter—by hand if you have it in you (and can write legibly!).

Here’s what an employee recognition letter might look like:

Dear [Employee First Name],
Thanks so much for your hard work of late. In particular, you’ve done a great job on [project or initiative], and I wanted to take the time to recognize that work directly.
While I have you here: You’ve been doing such a great job lately that I wanted to discuss the possibility of [giving you cool projects to work on, promoting you, or something else].
Regardless, your hard work is undoubtedly noticed by management and your colleagues, and you’re a great example of the people we want to work here.
Thanks again [Employee First Name]!
Talk soon,
[Your First Name]

For more ideas of what an employee recognition letter looks like, go here, here, or here. For advice on how to write an employee recognition letter, check this out.

02. Make a personalized employee recognition certificate

Sometimes, a recognition letter might not be enough. When your employee really goes above and beyond, you might want to give them a bona fide employee recognition certificate that’s framed to impress.

Don’t have an in-house graphic designer? No problem.

Companies like Office Depot and Staples offer employee recognition certificates. A quick Google search should turn up a number of similar options, too.

03. Try awards and employee recognition plaques

When a letter or a certificate won’t cut it—maybe your employee’s 10th anniversary is coming up, for example—you may want to take recognition to the next level by putting together a fancy-looking employee recognition plaque.

You don’t have to make these on your own, either.

Companies like Edco, Things Remembered, and Crown Awards offer all kinds of award options.


04. Give positive feedback in meetings

It’s one thing to congratulate employees on a job well done in a private email or a one-on-one meeting. It’s another thing to give positive feedback in front of their peers.

When it makes sense, sing your team’s praises when other people are around to hear them, too. Your recognition will also impress the employee’s colleagues.

05. Use employee feedback tools

Recognition doesn’t always have to come from the top down. Sometimes, recognition can pack an even bigger punch when it comes from colleagues.

By investing in employee feedback tools, you can create a feedback-driven culture where everyone is encouraged to recognize everyone else’s hard work on a regular basis. It’s an easy way to keep your entire time motivated throughout the year.


06. Mix it up with gift cards and physical rewards

A $25, $50, or $100 gift card to Amazon, Whole Foods, or a local restaurant is a relatively easy and affordable way to strengthen your employee recognition program.

Keep in mind, however, that you don’t want to only give your team monetary awards to show your appreciation. Gift cards should be one tool in your company’s employee recognition arsenal.

07. Take your team out and share a meal

Everyone needs to eat. And for some reason, eating on the company dime makes your favorite meal taste that much better.

Every now and again, consider taking your team out for a meal. Depending on the occasion, it could be a midweek lunch, it could be a fancy dinner at the end of the quarter, or it could be a formal holiday party.

Surprising Effects of Employee Recognition

08. Let employees take an extra day off

Even the most enthusiastic employee in the world likely wouldn’t mind a surprise day off.

If you are able, give your hard-working employees the option to take an extra day away from the office. They can use that time however they want—hanging out with their families, relaxing on the couch, or catching up on extra sleep. They’ve earned it.

09. Take your team on a ‘field trip’

Employee recognition doesn’t have to be confined to the office.

You can say thank you to your employees by planning a group outing. Whether that’s to a speaking event, local conference, public park, a sporting event, or a local museum is up to you.

Not sure what an office “field trip” might look like? Check out this list for some inspiration.


10. Sing praises on social media

Employee recognition doesn’t have to stay within company walls, either.

Recognize your team’s hard work by singing their praises on social media, and on LinkedIn in particular. It’s an easy and affordable way to make sure plenty of people know how much of a rockstar your employee is.

11. Create a company Wall of Fame

At TINYpulse, we believe that happy companies are capable of doing great things.

One way to build a happier company is by creating a Wall of Fame in a visible location in your office. Each month, add an employee’s photo to your Wall of Fame to make sure that they are recognized, very publicly, for their great contributions.

12. Give out company swag

You can also opt to recognize your employees’ hard work by giving the products branded with your company’s logo.

While the phrase “company swag” might not always paint the best picture in our minds, there’s no rule that says swag can’t be awesome.

Think outside the box and look into getting your company’s logo stitched into a Patagonia backpack and things of that nature.

13. Schedule a team community service project

When your team knocks it out of the park in the office, you can kill two birds with one stone (recognition plus time off) by scheduling a team service project out of the office.

You might try to cook food for the needy, volunteer at a senior living community, or clean up some open space.

Whatever you choose to do, your employees will enjoy giving back as well as time away from work. Plus they'll work together doing good, which helps build a stronger team.


14. Write a thank-you Post-It note

It’s simple but it’s effective: Spend a few minutes writing some quick words of praise on post-it notes and stick them around your employees’ workspaces.

A few kind words can go a long way toward inspiring your team.

15. Make a charitable donation on your employee’s behalf

Recently, Box made a change to its employee referral program. The storage company used to give employees $7,000 bonuses for successful referrals. Now, they give employees $500 to donate to a non-profit.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but a recent Barron’s article points out that Box has seen an uptick in employee referrals due to the change in the program. In large part, that’s because we get more satisfaction from giving than we do from receiving.

Taken together, you can boost employee recognition by making charitable donations on your employees’ behalf. As an added bonus, you can write off such contributions.

16. Hand out a company trophy

One way to enliven your organizational culture is by creating a unique company trophy that showcases your brand’s personality.

Give a high-performing employee said trophy, and then have that individual hand off the trophy to someone else in the near future, when that person goes above and beyond.

This recognition idea doubles as a great team-building opportunity, too—and a chance for employees who don’t necessarily interact much to talk with one another.

17. Invest in professional development

Today’s workers, and younger employees in particular, care a great deal about professional development. In fact, many of them look for whether a company offers professional development opportunities when considering where to work.

Despite this, only 25% of employees believe they have enough career growth opportunities, our research has revealed.

You can fix this by investing in professional development throughout the year and supporting high achievers with additional development opportunities on an ad hoc basis.

18. Send out a company newsletter

Depending on the frequency you prefer—say every week or every month—you can send out a company e-newsletter to your team that highlights some of their best work.

Not only is this an affordable employee recognition idea, it also makes sure that employee contributions are recognized in a public setting.

19. Let your employees work from home (for a day)

Believe it or not, research suggests that remote workers are happier than everyone else. If your company expects employees to be in the office every day, you may want to consider letting your top-performing employees work from home every now and again.

A recent Glassdoor study found that intangible benefits, like flexible work options, increased job satisfaction more than cash itself. At the very least, you may want to consider giving your best workers the option to work from home once a month and see how the idea turns out.

20. Encourage your team to work on special projects

Working on the same kinds of projects and tasks over and over again isn’t exactly the most inspiring existence.

Understanding this perfectly, Google enacted its famous policy that encouraged employees to spend 20% of their time working on side projects—if for no other reason than to avoid Wallace Stevens’ malady of the quotidian.

When employees go above and beyond, encourage them to broaden their horizons by working on special projects that fall outside the scope of their recurring responsibilities. It’s an easy way to inspire your team while helping them develop new skills—creating more talented workers along the way.

To learn more about how TINYpulse can help your organization improve its employee recognition and rewards program—or to book a demo to see TINYpulse in action—check this out.



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