5 Insider Tips for Better Employee Recognition

4 min read
Aug 10, 2022

You shouldn't have to burn yourself out putting in long hours, going above and beyond to gain any sense of acknowledgment of your efforts at work. If you've ever worked for an employer who seldom (if ever) gave out compliments, you know how demoralizing it can be.

In order to improve employee engagement within an organization, team members need to experience recognition and appreciation on a consistent basis. 

To improve employee recognition, it is important to keep the following 5 tips in mind:

1) Time is of the Essence

First and foremost, meaningful recognition is timely. Do not hold off on recognizing employees until their annual performance review. Instead, keep them motivated and engaged by giving employee recognition regularly. In doing so, you make it a part of your culture.

2) Be Specific and Authentic

Meaningful recognition is also specific and relevant. When recognizing employees, let them know why they are being recognized. Saying thank you isn’t enough, it's too vague. Tell employees what you are thankful for and how their actions impacted you or the organization. By being specific, you help to encourage repeated behaviors, set clear expectations, and promote company values. 

Receiving empty praise has no benefit to either party. According to Badgeville, 40% of employees who don’t feel meaningfully recognized will not go above their formal responsibilities. If you’re going to recognize your employees, make sure that what you're saying is genuine and back it up with facts. Be clear about what they did to help you—whether crushing a project or going above and beyond to delight customers.

3) Incorporate Different Types of Recognition

Remember that meaningful recognition can also come in a variety of forms.

  • Micro: Microrecognition, also known as day-to-day recognition, is more frequent and ongoing. This may include sending notes, giving cards, posting on bulletin boards, or anything that you can do to recognize employees reasonably quickly and quite easily. Microrecognition is the perfect way to support organizational values on a regular basis and make employees feel valued without requiring a ton of time and resources.
  • Informal: Informal recognition is given to individuals or teams for progress toward milestones, when they achieve goals, or when they complete projects. This may come in the form of a pizza party, potluck, or a trip to the pub for happy hour—a low-cost memento presented spontaneously. Informal recognition doesn’t necessarily happen every day but it is not as structured as formal recognition programs might be.
  • Formal: formal recognition is more structured. It usually involves a nomination and selection process and a ceremony or special event. Formal recognition programs happen less frequently and typically require a larger budget and more planning.

Using different types of recognition keeps things fresh and fun, and it also helps engage different types of people. For example, some employees may be less excited about public recognition in company meetings but would save every note or card they received privately. 

4) Launch Employee Recognition Initiatives

Take the time to create a great recognition program that supports your company’s mission, values, and employee needs. You don’t have to search high and low to find examples of employee recognition gone wrong.

One program that was immediately criticized by employees, customers, and industry experts alike is United Airlines’ Outperform Recognition Program, which launched in 2012 and is no longer in place—for reasons we’re about to explore.

For starters, customers were required to download an app to recognize an employee. After downloading the app, they were required to have the employee’s ID number and were limited to explaining their experience in 120 characters. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

The recognition program was practically impossible to participate in, and the airline was already known for poor customer service at the time. 

But more importantly, it didn’t ask anything specific of employees. What—specifically—are they supposed to be doing to provide better customer service? What values should they be living out? What experience should they consistently be offering to customers? None of that information was clear in this program. 

You might not be looking to recognize your employees through customer testimonials but the sentiment is the same. Don't dive into implementing a recognition and rewards platform that doesn't suit your organization. Keep it simple. Get on a human level with your employees to recognize what they want and how they want to feel appreciated. Perhaps a peer-to-peer recognition platform is a better fit, or maybe an annual awards banquet. 

5) Get Creative

If traditional means of recognizing and appreciating the hard work your employees put in day in and day out don't fit with the culture of your organization, make it your own! Brainstorm with your colleagues, leadership, and teams to figure out the best way to recognize your employees consistently and authentically that is custom to your workplace. 

If you're looking for some employee recognition inspiration, check out the following ideas:

Employee Appreciation Ideas

  1. Host a lunch drawing to highlight peer-to-peer recognition
  2. Recognize your star employees on social media
  3. Celebrate employee birthdays
  4. Recognize hard work with an off-site day
  5. Say it with a sticky note
  6. Say thanks with spontaneous treats and eats
  7. Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day
  8. Encourage employees to recognize daily wins
  9. Offer professional development opportunities
  10. Create an employee wall of fame
  11.  Show off your employee recognition programs
  12. Send a card
  13. Award employee recognition tees
  14. Pass out prize tokens and tickets
  15.  Implement a peer recognition program

Some of these employee recognition ideas may seem silly or gimmicky, but it's this consistent flow of recognition that keeps employees engaged, not one-time rewards. 

Using different employee recognition strategies and listening to what your employees want will make your efforts more effective.

If you take the time to say, "I appreciate you," you will always have the respect of your employees, which will benefit your organization long-term. Good luck!

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