Recognizing your employees is vital to their happiness, yet many of them feel underappreciated. According to our research, not even one in three employees feels strongly valued on the job.
The obvious solution is to ramp up your employee recognition programs ... but that can be easier said than done. You can’t just hand out “employee of the month” trophies and call it good. A generic pat on the back can make someone feel like just another faceless worker. When it comes to genuine recognition and appreciation, the best way to make it meaningful for your employees is to tailor it to them and their accomplishments.
To get you started, here’s a list of suggestions for different kinds of teams and different needs. No matter your situation, you’ll find employee recognition ideas that work for you.
If You Have a Large Team
When you’ve got a big group of employees to recognize, it helps to use ideas that can be applied to many people at once. These suggestions can easily scale from a group of 5 to a group of 50 with minimal extra effort.
1. Casual day
For companies that usually insist on formal attire, give your employees an opportunity to dress it down for a while. Make jeans the norm and encourage a more casual work environment.
2. Family day
Set aside one day every month or each quarter to allow families to stop by for the afternoon. Give tours of the office so family members can learn more about what their loved ones do.
3. Hack day
Reserve a day every so often for employees to work on passion projects. This boost in creativity will be a win-win for everyone. Sit back and watch the ideas take form.
If You Have a Small Team
On the other hand, if you manage just a couple of people, you can make use of ideas that would take too much time or resources if used for a larger group.
Enrichment opportunities shouldn’t be limited to top performers. Offer further training in the field or send employees to a conference. Bonus if the location feels more like a mini vacation.
2. Breaking bread
Take the team out to lunch or cater breakfast. A chance to relax and eat together with their teammates can be a great way of thanking them for their hard work.
3. Commute on me
Getting access to the primo parking spot at work will never get old. Offer up the best parking, provide free public transport for a week, or give out a gas card to help cover commuting costs.
4. Making it personal
A thank-you note or public shout-out can go a long way to celebrate the little wins. Take it a step further and take your employee out to lunch or coffee to discuss their outstanding performance and make it a point get to know them personally.
If You Can Spend Money
Recognition doesn’t have to be paid for, but sometimes having company funds to dedicate to it can help. But don’t just dump money on a fancy trophy — that won’t mean anything to your employee. Be thoughtful about how you spend, and you’ll end up with a great and meaningful gesture of appreciation. Take a look at these ideas that companies are using.
1. Significant numbers
Here’s an example from Tom Walter, CEO of Tasty Catering.
“Once a month, we recognize all full-time staff with an anniversary date in the month. The owners publicly recognize the person and value they have added to the organization as well as give them $50 per year they have worked with the company. Yes, we have people with 20 years who have received $1,000!
“The money is nice, but being recognized in front of the whole Tasty team is a big moment, and employees often give impromptu speeches after they are presented with their reward. The speeches thank teams and individuals who have contributed to individuals’ success.”
2. Significant recipients
Hamilton Powell, CEO of Crown & Caliber, found a way to make employees happy by giving money to someone else.
“When one of our employees has done a great job, we like to do some extra something that makes them feel special. In addition to giving them a cash bonus, we match that bonus with a charity of their choice.
“Most recently when we recognized an employee, she chose to donate the money to a charity she loved called As Our Own, which seeks to end child slavery in India. It was a pretty powerful moment.”
If You Can’t Spend Money
Of course, not all companies can afford those staff recognition ideas. Maybe you’re a small start-up with limited resources, or maybe you’ve got a really large workforce, and individual awards would quickly add up. Here are some examples of valuable recognition that doesn’t cost a dime.
1. The power of words
Cara Day, CEO of Daychild, has a great story of the power of simple words.
“I wrote single adjectives on a huge whiteboard before a staff meeting. During the meeting, everyone's interest was piqued because I didn't say anything about the words on the board. At the end, I circled one word and then described the person it was written for and how the word related to a quality they hold and display on our team.
“Everyone was curious as to which word was going to become their word, and they loved what I said about each of them. It's relatively quick, free, and is something they will always remember.”
2. King or queen for a day
Nima Noori, founder and CEO of TorontoVaporizer, applies the principle in an unusual and funny way.
“We have an honoring ceremony where the highest achiever for the month is honored for their achievements in front of the team on a company night outing. They are then given a ‘Master’ custom-made crown with their name on it, and then for one week straight, everyone in the office refers to them as 'Master.'
“With this Master status, the achiever also then takes on leadership duties, like leading the team chant. So, the status is not only an honor, but one that also comes with privileges!”
If Your Team Has Many Different Personalities
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to recognition. Here are some creative employee recognition ideas that are tailored to people's individual personalities.
Employees who are outgoing respond well to public recognition. Make an announcement to the department, or even bring them on stage at the next company meeting. Getting applause from their coworkers for their hard work can be really gratifying.
If they really love the spotlight, you can invite them to give a short speech about their accomplishment. Let them share what they learned from it and inspire other employees.
If your employee is a little on the shy side, on the other hand, then the thought of having the entire company’s eyes on them might make them break out in hives. So consider recognizing them on a more individual basis. Handwrite a thank-you note, or chat with them one-on-one about their achievement.
If you would still like to give them public recognition, let them do it in writing. Highlighting their accomplishments in the company newsletter gives your employee the audience with none of the stage fright.
3. Full of team spirit
For the employee who’s all about building camaraderie and helping their peers, use rewards that tap into their team spirit. What kind of opportunities at work would get them revved up? Leading a project? Heading up a task force to plan team activities? If they love working with their teammates, recognize their passion and talents.
4. Always saying hello
Do you have an employee who always wants to collaborate with other departments, or likes to bring in other teams for brainstorming sessions? Recognize them for a job well done by giving them networking opportunities with company leadership. A one-on-one over coffee with a manager or director gives them the chance to make new connections and deepen their investment in your organization.
5. Loves to _____
And finally, don’t forget your employees’ lives outside of the office, too. What hobbies or interests do they like to chat about during breaks? The employee who waxes poetic about their cup of java would love a personalized travel mug. For the die-hard sports fan, decorate their desk in their favorite team’s colors. Recognition for great work doesn’t have to be strictly about the job.
If You’re Planning for the Holidays
There’s never a bad time to recognize your employees’ great work. But during the holidays, remember that people might be a little overloaded on gifts and festive feasts. It doesn’t mean you should put employee recognition programs on hold. But it’s also not the best time to shower them with rich treats like cookies or presents that will just get buried in the piles on their desks.
Embrace the “clean slate” spirit of the New Year! Here are a few employee appreciation ideas that celebrate your standouts without adding to their stress-outs.
1. Support for self-improvement
Do your employees have a New Year’s resolution to learn a new skill? You could help them find a way to take a class. Then arrange their schedule so they have time for an evening course. Does your company have a policy for providing financial assistance to employees who take professional coursework related to their job duties? (If not, maybe your New Year’s resolution could be creating one.)
Do they want to become leaner and meaner? A gift of a gym membership can give them the boost they need.
2. Clearing the clutter
Help your employees take a breather during the holidays (or get a fresh start for the New Year) by setting aside a day for office cleaning. It can be hard to carve out time for organization, especially during the hectic end-of-year months. Give them an officially sanctioned day when they’re relieved of as many duties as possible.
If you have an employee who puts in extra hours over the holidays — especially if they’re covering for team members on vacation — say thank you with an extra day off. It could be just what they need to get rid of the mental clutter of feeling tired or stressed.
Speaking of stress, a gift certificate for a massage could do wonders for an employee’s physical and mental state.
3. A few choice treats
Your employees will probably fill up on sweet candies and heavy food, so consider providing the office with a catered lunch of fresh and healthy dishes. It’s a great alternative to yet another holiday party filled with cake and soda.
For a great individual reward, give a restaurant gift card. An employee who’s burnt out from cooking big family dinners would love the chance to go out to dinner and relax.
In the spirit of New Year’s, consider popping a few bottles of champagne. This is more on the indulgent side, but your team would probably enjoy a glass or two of bubbly while you raise a toast to their accomplishments.
If You Want to Boost Camaraderie
Our research has found that, when given an easy tool, 44% of employees give peer recognition on a regular basis. Why not harness that energy for your recognition activities?
1. Simple platforms
Make it easy for employees to give peer recognition by using an online tool or other readily available system. Check out what employees from TINYpulse client Limeade had to say about being able to easily give peer recognition:
Increase interest with gamification. Award points or do raffle drawings for employees who receive the most kudos from their coworkers, as well as those who put in the effort to consistently recognize others.
3. Get crafty
You can also make a bigger production out of it occasionally. Try creating a book or poster for an employee, where their colleagues can write messages about what the employee does well. It’s a great physical reminder of their accomplishments, and it can be a good reminder during times of disappointment or high stress.
Whether you use one, two, or twelve of these employee recognition ideas isn’t important. What matters is that you commit to them. However you do it, make sure you’re celebrating your team and thanking them for all their hard work.
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