Do recognition, awards, and rewards make a difference in the workplace?
A whopping 83.6% of employees report that recognition affects their motivation to succeed at work — and 77.9% express they would be more productive if leadership recognized their efforts more frequently.
But to bring about increased employee engagement, recognition needs to entail genuine, thoughtful gestures that employees actually appreciate. This article provides 37 meaningful recognition ideas for individuals and teams to get you started.
The benefits of employee recognition
Recognition is the act of acknowledging and appreciating individual or group efforts, achievements, or special qualities. It validates their contributions and helps them feel valued and important.
Recognition matters for not only employees but also the company as a whole. Acknowledging and appreciating individual efforts boosts employee morale and motivation and can stimulate greater commitment to the company. Ultimately, it’s beneficial for all organizations to enshrine recognition in the company values.
It’s also important to differentiate between generic and personalized acknowledgment. Generic recognition — as in, “You’re all doing a great job keeping our customers happy” — sounds routine and hollow.
Genuine, personalized recognition, on the other hand — as in, “I love how you went the extra mile by reaching out to our sick colleague” — shows an interest in employees as individuals. This authenticity leads to greater employee satisfaction.
For many leaders, expressing this type of personalized appreciation requires extra effort in the midst of their busy schedules. It’s easy to miss opportunities to recognize team members. That’s why a solid, vetted list of recognition ideas like the one below is a helpful tool.
To arm you with a wide spectrum of appreciation tools, we’ll cover the following three sets of recognition ideas:
- Individual employee recognition
- Team recognition
- Company-wide recognition
Individual employee recognition ideas
When you take the time to recognize an employee’s specific achievements and milestones, you’re sending them a powerful message. You’re showing them they’re seen and truly valued for what they bring to the table.
Think about it — we all have unique talents and standout moments. By tailoring your recognition to fit each individual and their achievements, you’re acknowledging not just their work but also their character, their values, and, ultimately, their life’s journey.
A word of advice: whether you opt for a quiet, personal “thank you” or a big public shoutout, consider how it will make the person on the receiving end feel. For instance, if someone is an introvert, they might not appreciate a public display of gratitude. On the other hand, for others, more visible appreciation will make the gesture feel meaningful.
At the end of the day, it’s all about making them feel valued, so keep that person’s needs and personality in mind.
Here are 15 meaningful ways to recognize individual employees:
1. Personalized thank-you cards
Going old-school with handwritten notes shows care, sincerity, and a personal touch. It’s good practice to have different sets of cards in your desk drawer so you can tailor the card design to specific individuals.
Nothing says “thank you” like a substantial bonus for good work — especially when awarded at an unexpected time.
Tip: Bonuses are best given in private unless an entire group or all staff is receiving them.
3. Public praise
Acknowledge individual achievements at team meetings or in the company newsletter.
Other ways to do this are to spotlight employees’ stories or achievements on the company website or use a social media shoutout, profiling the person on the company’s social media channels.
Tip: Make sure the employee won’t feel embarrassed by being singled out publicly. Check with them first to see if they’re okay with receiving public praise.
4. Travel or experience vouchers
Offer concert tickets, museum passes, or short getaways for outstanding performance.
5. Gifts based on personal interests
Show that you know your employees by selecting tangible rewards that align with their hobbies or interests. These might include any of the following:
- Flowers or plants you know they like
- Personalized mugs or T-shirts (they could feature a memorable accomplishment, an inspirational quote, or an inside joke)
- Arts and crafts supplies
- Magazine subscriptions
- Gym memberships
- Spa days
- Yoga sessions
- Gift cards for stores you know they enjoy
Tip: Add personalized handwritten cards to these gifts.
6. Surprise care packages
Send specially selected boxes that contain snacks, wellness items, and/or fun surprises.
7. Personalized workspace upgrades
Provide a fixed amount from the team’s budget so the employee can choose a new decoration, equipment, or tools. This works well for both on-site and home offices.
8. Flexible work hours for a week
Give an employee the much-appreciated gift of choosing their work hours for a week — and even coming in late if they want.
9. Unexpected time off
Time off is a valuable commodity for most employees, so granting them an extra paid day off will show you really mean it when you say you value their contributions.
10. Learning opportunities
Sponsor a course or workshop tailored to the employee’s interests. Consult with the employee’s family or friends to select an appropriate course that the recipient will be excited about.
Tip: To help ensure this gift will be received well, make sure the employee is not in a state of stress where they can’t appreciate the idea of “one more thing to do.” And to keep your gesture from being misinterpreted — as in, “Are you telling me to up my game with this free course?” — add a note that makes perfectly clear this is a gift of appreciation, not of covert admonishment.
11. Professional development funds
Offer a stipend for books, courses, or conferences. This will help employees feel their efforts at self-improvement are being noticed and rewarded.
12. Mentoring opportunities
Pair promising younger employees with senior staff for accelerated personal and professional growth. Done right, this token of recognition will inspire not only the recipient but also the senior employee, who’ll feel appreciated for being considered a capable mentor.
13. Special assignments
Offer employees projects they’re passionate about or give them new, challenging tasks. More than just saying “thank you” for great work, this token of appreciation signals to your employee that you trust them and place great value on their career.
14. Skillshare sessions
Invite the employee to teach a skill they’re really good at to their colleagues. Like #13, this expresses trust in — and validation of — the person’s talents and capabilities.
15. Anniversary celebrations
Anniversary celebrations are joyous recognition events that an entire team or department can participate in. So, make sure to keep track of the number of years your team members have been with the company or in a particular function, and celebrate with the team when milestones are reached.
Tip: Don’t let major employee anniversaries sneak up on you unnoticed. If you’re unsure of an employee’s longevity with the company, check with the HR department. They keep detailed employment records and can tell you when employees’ anniversaries are around the corner. In fact, it’s a good idea to obtain a running list of your team members’ major dates (employment anniversaries, birthdays) and check it regularly so you aren’t caught off guard when a big day for one of your employees is coming up.
Team recognition ideas
This important category in your employee recognition program celebrates an entire team’s efforts and successes. It recognizes the team’s project completions and special achievements and underscores the idea that while individual efforts are essential, collaborative achievements are equally significant.
In addition, team recognitions build camaraderie and promote team spirit — two vital ingredients in employee retention and satisfaction.
Here are 11 meaningful ideas that your teams will appreciate:
1. Feature team achievements on the company’s website
Regularly profile an entire team on your website and acknowledge its unique contributions to company success.
2. Peer-recognition programs
Implement software where peers can recognize each other’s work regularly. Explore recognition platforms such as Abundantly, Motivosity, Reward Gateway, or Bonusly.
3. Team celebrations, like lunches or outings
Organize team lunches at local restaurants or group outings to celebrate team achievements.
Tip: If your team includes remote workers, select events that they can be included in. Having a laptop with you in the restaurant so these individuals can take part in the lunch conversation — and even sending them a gift card for their own free lunch — will prevent them from feeling left out.
4. Lunch with leadership
Organize a team lunch with senior leadership in which the team can bask in their accomplishments and learn how their efforts impact the company’s success.
Tip: Like #3, make sure there’s a way for remote team members to participate in a coveted event like this.
5. Gourmet coffee or tea selection
Send the team gourmet beverage selections they can enjoy during breaks.
6. Mystery boxes
Reward excellence with a mystery gift box for the team as a whole or for each team member. Ideas for these boxes include the following:
- Assorted goodies that will appeal to all team members
- Healthy snacks
7. Themed days
Themed days can add some much-needed relaxation and fun after a team has pushed hard toward a goal or milestone. You could host events such as ‘80s days, pajama days, or other fun, themed dress-up opportunities.
8. Outdoor adventures
Get the team out of the office by organizing treks, nature walks, or outdoor team-building activities. Bonus: these activities can also improve team cohesiveness and communication.
Tip: Make sure your selection is suitable for all team members’ ages and physical abilities so that no one feels left out.
9. Game days for teams
Organize board or video game sessions for team bonding.
10. Collaboration opportunities with different departments
Organize collaboration days or projects with different departments to help coworkers mingle and gain varied experience.
11. Night-out tickets for team outings
Offer your team movie, theater, or show tickets.
Company-wide recognition ideas
This type of recognition acknowledges the entire staff’s group effort. It promotes a sense of belonging and reinforces the idea that every single member contributes to the company’s success as a whole. These events help to create a culture of recognition.
Here are 11 thoughtful ideas:
1. Public recognition in company-wide meetings
Use regular company meetings to express appreciation for the entire workforce, whether informally or as a formal awards ceremony. Be specific rather than speaking in generalities. For instance, instead of saying, “Hey folks, you did it again,” say, “Thanks to every team’s hard work this quarter, we ended with a $75K operating budget surplus. That’s a great foundation for new initiatives next year.”
2. Wellness programs
A wellness program for the entire staff expresses that management really appreciates its workers.
3. Showcase personal employee achievements
Dedicate a space for employee achievements in a common area. For instance, add a wall of fame to the cafeteria where you can showcase the achievements of individual staff members, such as sports trophies or won contests.
4. Family invites to company events
Host an event where employees can bring their families to the workplace.
5. Guest speakers for company-wide talks
Invite motivational or industry-related speakers for exclusive talks to the staff.
6. Yearly retreats or outings
Organize an annual special event for the entire staff, such as a picnic, barbeque, field trip, or game day.
7. Monthly lunch with leadership
Rotate your teams through a monthly lunch with leadership so that every employee gets a chance to connect personally with management over time.
8. Company-wide recognition ceremonies or awards nights
Regularly organize fun office parties with awards ceremonies, special music, or food.
Tip: Don’t forget to include meaningful avenues for your remote staff to participate.
9. Company-wide time off
Present your entire staff with a paid day off when important organizational milestones are reached. They’ll appreciate the extra 24 hours!
10. Company-wide gifts
Select a meaningful or fun gift for the whole staff to mark special achievements.
Tip: Make sure this is not a cheap promo gift but something that everyone will cherish.
11. Company-wide bonus
Offer your staff a bonus for exceptional achievements that benefit the entire company.
Making recognition a regular practice
Building a company culture of continuous appreciation benefits both the business and individual employees. But remember, recognition should always feel genuine, not like a simple corporate checkbox.
It’s important to set high standards of excellence so that when it’s time to hand out rewards and recognition, your deserving employees will feel they’ve really earned the accolades.
Tip: Use an online calendar, such as Motion’s AI-driven intelligent calendar, to manage the timing and reminders for recognitions and rewards.
Manage your recognition schedule with confidence
The most meaningful recognition and awards are those that show genuine appreciation and understanding of the employee’s unique personality and preferences. It takes effort for company leadership to do this well.
Consider using Motion’s intelligent calendar to help you keep track of important recognition dates and cycles so that you’re always on top of this important part of running a team.