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Article

14 minutes

Meaningful Employee Recognition Ideas to Boost Morale

Global HR

Author

Lorelei Trisca

Published

July 16, 2024

Last Update

July 17, 2024

Table of Contents

Professional recognition ideas

Personal recognition ideas

Ideas for recognizing remote employees

Fun recognition activities

Give your workers the recognition they deserve with Deel

Key takeaways
  1. Employee recognition is acknowledging and showing appreciation for the efforts and achievements of your workers.
  2. Recognition motivates and empowers employees, making them more productive and engaged.
  3. Recognize your remote workers just as effectively and sincerely as you would in an office environment.

Recognition is vital for fostering a positive work environment and improving employee morale.

There are several creative and effective ways to recognize employees for their hard work and contributions. We curated 30+ recognition ideas and grouped them into professional, personal, remote working, and fun categories.

Professional recognition ideas

The following ideas are focused on a professional context.

Employee recognition program

Launch an employee recognition program and ensure your workers are aware of it so they can aspire to it. Formal systems make identifying deserving employees easier than less formal systems. For example, quieter employees who tend not to get noticed can be recognized.

Employee of the Month leaderboard

Set up a leaderboard to publicly celebrate employees each month. For instance, recognize people who’ve shown initiative or done well on a project.

Tip: Celebrate a wide range of behaviors and achievements so everyone has a chance of receiving recognition.

Recognize tenure

Recognize worker loyalty by rewarding their tenure at your organization.

For instance, most people have heard of the time-honored ‘gold watch’ employees earn after 25 or 30 years of service.

But there are lots of other ways to reward tenure besides gold watches. For example, gift certificates, meal vouchers, years of service trophies, or even a commemorative plaque or a company memento can be meaningful.

Tip: Don’t wait 25 or 30 years to reward tenure—every five years of service is worth celebrating.

Raises and bonuses

Offer raises and bonuses to show your workers you value their efforts.

For instance, financial incentives like these may be routine in annual performance reviews. But by recognizing the excellent work people have done as part of the process, you’ll let them know their efforts are appreciated.

Formal and informal meetings with leadership

Arrange formal meetings, informal coffees, or lunch catch-ups with senior leaders. These meetings help your people feel noticed by those who influence your organization. Plus, this type of recognition will strengthen relationships and foster engagement.

Skills sharing

Ask your most savvy employees to share their experiences and skills with others. By asking someone to share their knowledge, you’re showing them that you value their capabilities and trust their ability to convey their knowledge.

Recommendations and mentions on LinkedIn

Recognize your employees by recommending or mentioning them on LinkedIn or other social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Such a public show of appreciation extends far beyond your employees’ immediate workplace networks. Plus, it shows your willingness to make a broad recognition statement for your people.

Upgrade workplace technology

Reward your team by giving them newer, more capable technology. This may include new computing equipment, the latest phones, more comfortable seating, or software upgrades.

Your workers will appreciate receiving better equipment, mainly if it’s sought-after (e.g., computers powered by the latest CPUs).

Convey positive client or customer feedback

Share positive feedback from clients or customers with your team. Most people like to know they’re making a difference, and hearing unsolicited feedback can be satisfying and motivating.

Promote career development through honest feedback

Promoting career development through honest feedback involves providing employees with constructive, actionable insights into their performance. This approach acknowledges their contributions and guides their future growth and development within the organization.

Honest feedback is crucial to employee recognition because it demonstrates a genuine investment in the employee’s career and personal growth.

Feedback focusing on career development helps employees identify specific skills they need to develop. This targeted approach enables employees to seek relevant training and development opportunities, aligning their growth with organizational needs.

Example: An employee aiming for a leadership position receives feedback on their leadership potential and areas to develop, such as decision-making or team management skills, guiding them towards relevant courses or experiences.

Complimentary resource

Provide professional development opportunities

Reward your employees by promoting their professional development. Professional development rewards include:

  • Courses
  • Professional qualifications
  • Tertiary study
  • Other ways of enhancing their professional skills and capabilities

Promoting professional development shows that you genuinely support employees career growth. It also benefits your organization by upskilling and future-proofing your workforce.

Peer-recognition programs

Start a program that encourages recognition from peers. This form of recognition is different from top-down acknowledgment, as it feels inherently authentic and genuine.

By implementing a formalized program to facilitate peer recognition, you can also help to make it more regular and forthcoming.

Organize brainstorming sessions away from the office

Spur creativity and productivity by meeting in a different location than the company office space.

Although this isn’t a reward in the traditional sense, the change of scenery, choice of venue, and opportunity for interaction all work towards making your team happier and feel valued.

Recognize employee skills

If your people have skills that help them perform well in the workplace, call them out and recognize them.

For example, if there’s a particularly savvy spreadsheet user, ask them to coach other team members who may need assistance (if they’re comfortable doing so). Or, if someone is an excellent public speaker, ask them if they would like to speak at a workplace forum. They can also help others in the team improve their public speaking abilities.

You do not only recognize some essential competencies, but you’re also encouraging the development of new ones.

Providing mentorship opportunities can be a great step toward uncovering an employee’s leadership potential. Then, if the employee is interested in upward internal mobility, you can provide additional leadership training.

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Mention employee achievements in your company communication

Mention the achievements or successes of your people in the company newsletter. Newsletter shout-outs are a great way of widely sharing your recognition of their efforts.

You can also give shout-outs at internal team meetings or in internal communications.

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Personal recognition ideas

Let’s now consider recognition ideas that have more of a personal focus.

Say ‘thank you’ individually

Take the time to sincerely thank individual employees. You can do this face-to-face, during a call, using sticky notes, or sending them a handwritten card.

Tip: Whatever you choose, the personal touch adds genuine appreciation to your recognition.

Personal gifts

Give your people personal gifts such as flowers, plants, sweet treats, a photo book, or gift cards to show your appreciation.

Tip: The more personal you can make it—their favorite type of chocolate or wine, for instance—the more appreciated it will be.

Make life easier for those who work extra hours

If some of your people work long or unusual hours, show your appreciation by making their daily lives safer and more convenient:

  • Offer on-site or discounted parking
  • Arrange ride-share services or offer taxi vouchers for people to get home when they work late
  • Arrange meals or food-order vouchers
  • Upgrade security systems to promote out-of-hours personal safety
  • Install pods for your people to have power naps

Support physical and mental health

Boost the health of your workers, both physically and mentally, by encouraging good habits and better eating:

  • Stock your staff kitchen with healthy snacks
  • Motivate your people to stay hydrated with water fountains and branded reusable water bottles
  • Encourage and allow time for your people to take breaks, go for walks, or take power naps
  • Provide access to gyms or subsidized gym memberships
  • Offer free or discounted mental health programs
  • Gift your people with health-tech devices

Healthy initiatives will also benefit your organization. Workplace health programs result in 27% fewer sick days, 26% lower healthcare costs, and a 32% reduction in workers’ compensation claims.

Support a charitable or community effort on behalf of an employee

Donate or match an employee’s contributions to a charity or community cause. It is a personal way to show that you’re paying attention to causes that matter to your people while contributing to the community.

Celebrate birthdays

Celebrating a birthday is a simple and personal gesture that makes a person feel appreciated. You can wish your employees happy birthday:

  • In-person celebrations
  • By circulating an email
  • By writing them a card
  • By giving them chocolates or a cake
  • By decorating their desks
  • Organizing a casual team lunch

Sabbaticals for long-term employees

Offer your long-tenured employees sabbatical leaves.

Note: Sabbatical leaves should not be confused with more extended vacations or long-service leave—they allow workers to take an extended break (e.g., six months) for physical and mental rejuvenation.

People often use sabbaticals to pursue personal interests, such as further study, gaining new skills, travel, or volunteering.

Sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid. Either way, they allow your long-tenured employees to de-stress, re-energize, and broaden their personal and vocational horizons.

Sabbaticals can have significant benefits for your people and your organization. They’ve been shown to:

  • Improve engagement through the knowledge, skills, and energy that people gain, motivating them when they return to work
  • Reduce employee turnover due to an increased sense of loyalty
  • Attract talent to your organization due to the appeal of sabbatical programs

Host an employee appreciation day

Having a company-wide employee appreciation day is an opportunity to show your people that you value their contribution in a way that gives them public recognition. For example, in the US, National Employee Appreciation Day is the first Friday of March.

Use this date (or choose another one) for employee appreciation. Whatever date you choose, use the day for an awards ceremony, a team-building activity, or to publicize the good work that your people are doing.

Flexible work options

Since 2020, the value of flexible work has become increasingly important, and it’s become a key part of defining the future of work. People appreciate the versatility that flexible work options offer. Offering flexible options also demonstrates trust, promoting your people’s autonomy.

Show your people that you value their time, effort, and commitment by offering them flexibility at work, including:

  • Early or late starts
  • Working from home
  • Extra days off
  • Block-out periods for personal matters
  • Compressed hours
  • 4-day working weeks
  • Part-time work
  • Job-sharing
  • Purchasing additional leave

Recognize employee achievements outside work

Many of your people may have interests outside work that mean a lot to them—show them your appreciation by recognizing their achievements in these areas.

Examples include sporting victories, musicianship, artistic accomplishments, significant charitable causes, or academic qualifications that aren’t directly related to work.

This type of recognition shows that you:

  • Pay attention to what drives your people outside work and where their interests lie
  • Make an effort to recognize achievements of great personal value to your people

Experiential rewards

Rewards that feature an experience, such as wine tasting, a nice meal, hot-air ballooning, a day trip, tickets for a concert, or a cooking class, are a step up from gift cards or other small gifts.

Experiential rewards are a great way to recognize, motivate, and engage your people. They’ll likely remember the experience and the person or organization that gave it to them. These rewards may also motivate your team to aspire to the experiential reward.

Ideas for recognizing remote employees

If the years since 2020 have taught us anything, they’ve shown us that the future of work embraces remote employees. As a result, you should recognize your remote people just as effectively and sincerely as you would in an office environment.

Here are some great ideas for ensuring that physical location doesn’t impede relationship-building and camaraderie in your workplace.

Say ‘thank you’ remotely

Thanking your people remotely can be just as sincere as in person. Use Slack, Teams, or other messaging apps, or send them a handwritten note.

Send care packages

Surprise your remote employees by sending them care packages containing food items, flowers, plants, company swag, candles, or gift cards.

Supply work-from-home tech

Offer your remote employees a range of work-from-home technology options.

These may include:

  • Headsets
  • Extra monitors
  • Mechanical keyboards
  • Docking stations
  • Standing desks
  • Other tech accessories to make the remote working experience easier, more productive, and more enjoyable for your people

When you reward your people with higher-quality equipment than other organizations may offer, you differentiate yourself from competitors and make your people feel more valued.

Offer remote learning opportunities

Remote learning is an excellent way to enhance worker skills and improve their sense of self and vocational worth. Offer subsidized or free remote learning for your people and encourage them with study time allowances and flexibility.

In addition to work-related learning, promote broader areas of learning related to personal skills or interests, such as writing, public speaking, or creative pursuits.

Set up a virtual peer-to-peer recognition system

Encourage your workforce to recognize each other in ways that aren’t location-dependent. You can easily do this with messaging technology such as Slack or Teams:

  • Create a Slack channel focused on employee recognition
  • Facilitate peer recognition by creating a virtual messaging board
  • Encourage employees to give and share kudos, post ‘thank you’ messages, or simply call out a nice gesture
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Host virtual forums to connect and recognize

Bring your team together virtually (or the entire organization) so that remote and in-office workers can meet and engage with each other.

For example, recognize achievements, celebrate birthdays, call out project wins, or highlight personal milestones in a virtual forum.

You can also ask people to talk about their hobbies, passions, or other out-of-work interests to help build camaraderie and trust as your people get to know each other.

Fun recognition activities

We’ve examined many good ideas from a professional, personal, and remote working perspective. Still, some are more fun than others, which we included below.

Team bonding activities

Take advantage of team bonding activities. Encourage your workers to unwind, leave their usual work environments, get to know each other, and have fun.

There are lots of ways to do this, many of which can be done both in-person and virtually, including:

  • Trivia sessions
  • Casual sporting activities, such as bowling or kayaking
  • Picnic days
  • Creative pursuits, like painting classes
  • Cooking or baking classes
  • Escape rooms
  • Wine or cheese-tasting
  • Charitable or community-giving days, such as cooking for the homeless

Schedule a hackathon

A hackathon is a fun and inspiring way to develop a product, idea, or initiative in a dedicated event. It is a popular way of fueling innovation in tech firms.

Hackathons allow workers to engage in novel activities different from their regular routines.

Schedule weekly team lunches or brunches or hire food trucks

Reward your workers with lunch or a brunch treat each week (or month). Allow them to meet, talk, and engage with each other in a casual environment away from the office.

Food trucks are a fun way to share a meal, try new food, and get outdoors. Organize one or more food trucks to come to your workplace (or take your team to them) and spend time connecting, eating, and enjoying each others’ company.

Host a puzzle or board game competition

Get the competitive spirits flowing by hosting a puzzle or board game competition. Board games are rising in popularity in today’s tech-dominated world and are a great way to release stress and exercise the mind tactilely.

Give your workers the recognition they deserve with Deel

At Deel, we understand that recognizing workers is a powerful way to acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation. We have the tools to help you build a culture of recognition that’s effective at boosting your workers’ growth and development:

Book a free demo to learn how to implement an effective recognition program with Deel.

FAQs

Employee recognition is acknowledging and appreciating employees’ contributions, efforts, and achievements within an organization. It involves formally or informally recognizing individuals or teams for their hard work, dedication, and accomplishments, which can include:

Organizations aim to motivate employees, boost morale, and reinforce positive behaviors through employee recognition, ultimately enhancing job satisfaction and productivity.

Companies should recognize their employees for a variety of personal and workplace outcomes, including:

Achievements

  • Project wins or successes
  • Meeting personal goals
  • Professional certifications and qualifications
  • Charitable or community-giving efforts
  • Skills, mentorship, and thought leadership

Demonstrating company values

  • Embodying the core values of your organization
  • Consistently producing a high standard of work
  • Practicing soft skills and raising morale
  • Promoting cooperation and teamwork

Going above and beyond

  • Outstanding work on a project or activity
  • Challenging norms to improve outcomes
  • Coming up with new ideas and taking the initiative
  • Demonstrating a commitment to excellence and going the extra mile

Milestones

  • Work anniversaries
  • Birthdays
  • Promotions
  • Tenure milestones

Recognizing your people is a powerful way to show appreciation for their efforts and accomplishments. It benefits your people and your organization in several ways.

1. Improve retention

Employee recognition plays a vital role in improving retention. Up to two-thirds of workers are likely to leave their jobs if they don’t feel appreciated. Improving employee retention is vital as it helps to increase:

  • Company morale—Covering for vacant roles and training new hires takes its toll on employees
  • Productivity—Departing employees take skills and expertise with them, and it takes time for new hires to learn their roles
  • Customer relationsResearch shows that lower staff turnover means higher customer satisfaction
  • Workplace culture—Teams with lower turnover are likely to feel more engaged

2. Boost productivity

Organizations that recognize their employees are more productive and perform better suggests Deloitte. Recognition encourages employees to maintain high standards of performance and productivity. It creates a positive reinforcement loop where employees are motivated to perform well to receive further recognition.

3. Reinforce a sense of purpose

Recognizing your employees fuels their sense of purpose by highlighting the impact of their work and how it affects others. Having a sense of purpose at work plays a role in deciding to keep a job rather than pursue a new one.

According to an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, 57% of younger Americans prioritize enjoyment and making a difference over money or skills.

4. Foster innovation and creativity

Recognition programs that highlight and reward innovation and continuous improvement can encourage employees to consistently seek ways to enhance their skills and contribute to the organization’s success.

Recognizing people for their creative ideas will motivate them to continue being innovative. It’s a way of saying their innovative ideas are making an impact and to continue the great work.

5. Strengthen company culture

A culture of recognition fosters a positive and supportive work environment where employees feel connected to the organization and its values. This can lead to better teamwork and collaboration.

There are many types of employee recognition, and a helpful way to group them is by scope and recipients.

By using a scope of recognition criterion, we can differentiate:

  • Micro-recognition: Small, frequent, easy-to-do forms of recognition—examples include sticky notes, cards, messages on bulletin boards, and shout-outs
  • Informal recognition: Ad-hoc and lacking a formal framework—examples include after-work drinks, a team lunch, or low-cost mementos to show appreciation
  • Formal recognition: Structured in a formal framework and usually subject to criteria

The recipients of recognition can be individuals, teams, or peers.

One more distinction to be aware of is the difference between rewards and recognition:

  • Rewards are tangible, such as a physical gift or money, and transactional
  • Recognition is intangible, often linked to goals and accomplishments, and is more relational

Whatever type of recognition you use, keep it effective by making it:

  • Specific to what’s being appreciated
  • Relevant for the achievement or milestone being recognized
  • Delivered in a timely manner

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