Looking for ways to motivate and reward your employees? You have come to the right place. Here are our top 25 employee recognition ideas from Human Resources (HR) professionals and small business owners around the United States. Many of these will put a smile on your employees’ faces without putting a strain on your small business’ budget.
Looking for a simple way to remember your employees’ birthdays, work anniversaries, and promotions? Gusto lets you do all of that automatically.
-Reagan Toal, Marketing Manager, Federal Brace
One of the main things we use for employee recognition is a “Customer Quotes” board, where we tack up things that customers have said when our team went above and beyond in providing a great product or service. It might be something like “Received great help with my installation from Sam. Thanks for the awesome product!” or “Jennifer was awesome with scheduling our shipment and payments. Will definitely recommend your company to my other clients.”
As a whole, this helps us not only focus on an employee’s specific strengths, but also motivate us all to give our 100%. After 25 quotes are up on the board, we take them down, read them as a team, and everyone gets lunch on the company tab for the great work. It happens maybe once every two to three months, which, as a small business, is another team building experience!
Throughout the last year, since we’ve implemented this plan, we’ve seen our team grow closer, working together more often, and have also been able to achieve more and more of the goals we put in place each quarter. Our revenues have grown from last year by a significant percentage because of their efforts. We’ve got a great team!
-Tom Turner, Co-Founder, CEO & Steward of Purpose, DSi
DSi has done something a bit different than a rewards bulletin board. They’ve developed a recognition system for employees called the Applause Board. This system recognizes employees who embody the core values of DSi.
When an employee sees a co-worker living out a value through a task, project, etc., the employee fills out an applause card and posts it for everyone to see. In addition, this Applause Board also nominates that individual for DSi’s Hall of Fame (which chooses one winner per core value every quarter!).
-Darren Green, Founder and CEO, Wooden Blinds Direct
If an employee goes above and beyond the call of duty, we make sure to include a bonus in their pay packet, which we keep secret until the morning of payday. We also give our employees rewards in the form of shopping vouchers, again, unexpectedly; we call them into the office and let them know just how much we really do appreciate their hard work, and then hand them an envelope of, usually, $50 worth of vouchers.
-Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
We’ve found that a good way to recognize our sales team for good numbers is with lottery tickets. It’s a small, fun gesture to let our employees know that we notice their effort. And our sales team likes the friendly competition–it’s amazing what a little incentive can do.
-BuddyPunch – 6 Things You Can Do to Encourage Employee Loyalty
Research shows that emotionally connected employees are the best employees. These workers are engaged and productive, and they feel validated and appreciated. Showing your workers gratitude in the form of a simple, “Thank you,” or “I really appreciate what you’ve done,” can go a long way toward helping them to feel more engaged, and improving worker satisfaction. Plus, appreciation has been shown to motivate employees to work harder.
-Emily Sidley, Senior Director of Publicity, Three Girls Media, Inc.
Because our entire team telecommutes, we find virtual parties are a great way to connect with each other and recognize employees for a job well done. For example, management will send everyone coffee gift cards, and we’ll meet on a video chat with coffee to chat with each other for a half hour. We’ve also had virtual pizza and craft parties, and we’re holding our first virtual white elephant party in December for the holidays.
Virtual parties cost us about $250 each. At Three Girls, we really try to show our employees we appreciate them and their hard work. We’ve found recognizing them as individuals goes a long way in driving motivation. Our current team is the strongest it’s ever been. They’re taking care of our clients well, producing high quality work very efficiently.
-Tammy Bjelland, Learning in Bloom
One of the ways I suggest small businesses recognize employees is by making their own employees the subject matter experts in designing their training. For example, choose a top salesperson to create a sales script to use in onboarding a new hire. That practice fulfills two functions: recognizing the employee for their strengths and developing valuable assets to compile in a company-wide training program. Recognizing employees as subject matter experts improves employee engagement in training efforts in addition to daily operations. This practice results in zero additional cost to the company apart from the time invested in developing the training assets.
-Nicole Marie Harris, CEO & Co-founder, One Last Frog
One of the unique ideas for employee recognition and motivation is having a quarterly congratulatory drinks and dinner to congratulate the employee who did something that completely stood out among the rest for that quarter.
We send out a congratulations email to the entire staff specifically recognizing an employee’s accomplishments and how happy we are to have them be a part of the team. Then we invite the team for champagne and appetizers at a nice local restaurant for a quick happy hour. We do this because it creates a more open, appreciative, interactive company culture, and this tailors to our millennial employees where interpersonal relationships and recognition plays a solid role in their happiness and job security at a company.
The results I have seen are a boost in morale in the other employees–for example, after these recognition happy hours others want to have the spotlight so they will step up their game significantly and build healthy competition. Each happy hour is quarterly and costs around $300. A small price to pay for the big results we get out of it, which are longevity with the company, less time spent on hiring and training, and a happier office culture and company environment.
-Becca LeBlond, HR Supervisor at FM Outsource
We have a few tips and tricks we use to motivate our staff, and to recognize the high flyers. Our monthly scorecards reward the top performers on every team, and allows colleagues to track how their performance compares, so they know which areas they need to improve on. We see that people use the scorecards as a starting point to improving their job performance, and it’s usually the scorecard high-flyers that progress the fastest within the business.
Our yearly awards ceremony is the highlight of our event calendar and puts our top performers in the spotlight. We put a lot of effort into making this particular event spectacular, to really make it clear how much everyone’s efforts are appreciated – no expense is spared.
-Tiffany Servatius, Human Resources Manager, Scott’s Marketplace
Every month, each team member is given Bonusly points (an app designed for employee recognition) to reward their peers for all types of things – going above and beyond, coming up with creative ideas, supporting local companies, helping other departments, birthdays, anniversaries, and much more.
We wanted our recognition program to be 100 percent transparent, so the entire company gets to see what their peers are being recognized for. In addition, other team members can add on points if they too would like to recognize that peer for the same thing.
Once a team member achieves a certain point level via Bonusly, they qualify for a spin on our prize wheel for gift card prizes such as: Scott’s Marketplace, local breweries, local coffee shops, local restaurants, and other local activities.
-Bret Bonnet, President, Quality Logo Products
In addition to limitless snacks, beverages, and video games, I think our most unique perk is our employee retention program. Besides the standard additional PTO time with each passing year, Quality Logo Products rewards employees with a cash bonus of $1,000.00 once they reach and celebrate 3 years at the company. It’s the 5 year mark though when things start to get REALLY interesting. After 5 years all employees are rewarded with an additional 5 days of PTO and an all-expenses-paid vacation. We FORCE the employees to take the extra time off and go on vacation.
Since implementing the program, we’ve seen employee tenure/retention improve by significant measures (25%), and while a costly program, it’s proven very effective and we plan to continue to offer this unique perk for many years to come.
-Marina Byezhanova, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Pronexia
In 2014, we implemented an annual reward program to express our gratitude for employee loyalty. We decided to give each employee a tiered anniversary gift starting with a lunch at year 1, progressing to an all-expenses-paid stay at a hotel of their choice at year 3, and culminating in a round trip plane ticket anywhere across the globe at year 5. We saw an immediate impact on employee motivation, much more than we would have received had we offered a cash-equivalent bonus.
13. Jason Vissers- Merchant Maverick
I worked the registers at a busy crafting retailer. One manager in particular always made sure the break room was stocked with donuts and other snacks. It was a small gesture but one we appreciated, and which boosted our morale. Never pass up an opportunity to demonstrate that you care about those you depend on!
-David Moncur, Principal, thinkMONCUR
At Moncur, we have a biweekly employee award program where team members pass a little wooden statue we call Peggy to another member who has done outstanding work or showed incredible acumen. Being a digital and creative agency, we take it to the next level by requiring each member to dress Peggy up in a style that reflects the awardee and encouraging them to post her “adventures” on a designated Instagram channel. The results have been hilarious, impressive, and great for camaraderie—I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from my employees around this experience.
Next, here are some employee recognition ideas from me. In addition to writing about HR topics for Fit Small Business, I consult with dozens of small businesses around the country on HR practices. Here’s what has worked for them for recognizing a job well done.
-Christy Hopkins, HR writer, Fit Small Business
15. Try the Old Employee of the Week or Month
People like being recognized, and sometimes simplicity is best. Having an Employee of the Week award, or an Employee of the Month award, can help motivate staff to do a great job. You can have a bulletin board, a plaque, or even a button they could wear that could demonstrate they won employee of the week or employee of the month. This can, but doesn’t need to be, accompanied by a small monetary bonus for the job well done.
16. Use Automatic Delivery Kits for Virtual Teams
There are some great services out there at reasonable prices that you could use to recognize your team members. Ranging from full-on meal cooking kits to beauty and hair products, you could subscribe to one of these programs and change the shipping address each month to one of your team members for a surprise award. This works especially well for businesses with remote staff.
17. Create a Rewards Box for Each Manager or Department
Have a larger company with separate managers for each department? Give each manager or department control of their own recognition with a box of recognition goodies, like awards, gift cards, cash, and more. Let them dole it out at their own pace, and then replenish it every quarter.
18. Customize A Specific Reward for Each Person (with the same budget)
If you have a lot of personalities on your team, you can’t necessarily motivate them all the same way. Some might want cash, while others would find a half day off means a lot. Set a budget for each employee and give them the options to choose their award if they meet a certain goal or marker-i.e. a bonus check versus a gift card to a spa day. If the employees get to choose the prize, they should be even more motivated to get there!
19. Reward Passion in the Workplace with “Choice” Hours
Let employees work on a project with another department for two hours per week. You’ll be amazed at the excitement that a marketing person might show on their day to work with the finance team or vice versa! Many companies report that creative ideas and solutions to long-standing problems can come out of this due to the alternative perspectives.
20. Recognize Talents Outside of the Workplace
Recognize that employees are more than just that. If you have a more wild crowd, try hosting an employee talent show or (clean) standup comedy contest with refreshments and snacks after a big project deadline has been met.
Another good area to recognize achievement around is philanthropy. If you have an employee who raises thousands of dollars for charity, recognizing that could mean a lot to them. A simple shout-out in the employee newsletter, on social media, or in a weekly meeting could mean a lot to someone.
21. Try Team Awards over Individual Ones for Bigger Motivation
Are teams more important than the individual in your company? Then try to use awards or prizes for entire teams like a dinner out on the company, a team outing, or even a half day off. Not only are you recognizing their achievements, you will also boost a healthy competition among teams to reach their milestones!
22. Be Spontaneous
Although this article is mostly about planned recognition, you could also be spontaneous. Announcing a Friday half day only 24 hours beforehand due to a big project deadline being met can go a long way towards keeping your employees excited and motivated to work for you. Keep them on their toes, and try to do something spontaneous monthly or quarterly.
23. Have a Rewards Suggestion Box
If you want to get your team involved in the rewards game, let them vote on who should get the employee of the month or whatever awards system you have in place.
You could also simply have a rewards box where people can put anonymous notes, and then those praises are read at team meetings.
24. Try Gamification (aka make a game out of rewards)
There are web-based software employee games, including Badgeville & WooBoard, and there are also just plain old homemade scorecards. Make a game of rewards by incorporating a company Bingo game or tic-tac-toe where team members have to do certain things to get a mark, like get a 5-star customer review or make a sale.
25. There’s an App For That
Employee recognition and awards applications, like YouEarnedIt & Kudos, are now all over the place. Many of them allow you to award points that employees can redeem for actual items or for cash. They also usually allow peers to award points to each other, which can be a nice motivator among team members.
Over To You
What do you do to recognize your high achievers and great teams? We would love to hear more employee recognition ideas from you!