Employee Recognition

60 awesome employee recognition ideas for 2019

The workplaces of the future are the ones who give a pat. A pat on the back for a job well done that is.

Remember the last time you felt appreciated?

That moment of glory – so unexpected and in front of all your colleagues (even that guy in accounts who prefers Star Trek to Star Wars)?

It’s the same for all of us because appreciation is a basic human need.

Employees respond to appreciation because it’s affirmation that their work is valued. In fact, “60% of best-in-class organisations stated that employee recognition is extremely valuable in driving individual performance.” (Source: Aberdeen Group, Employee Engagement Survey, 2013)

Employee recognition has some serious ROI attached to it – 50% higher productivity and an estimated 20% increase in critical business outcomes. Even if you’re not a numbers person, those figures do validate giving your employees a pat on the back.

employee recognition

With this in mind we have put together a list of 50 epic employee recognition ideas to get your employees engaged and bring the ROI along with it:


1. Communicate to understand.

Conduct a quick employee survey to see how your employees want to be recognised. Based on the responses received, you will have more clarity as to how to implement these into your overall employee recognition strategy.


2. Be passionate about your employees’ passions.

Each week allow a set amount of time for employees to work on any social or personal development projects they’re passionate about. By showing support for their passion, they understand that you also value them as an individual.


3. Don’t stop the party, ever.

Employee recognition means that you should celebrate, celebrate, and then celebrate your employees successes and wins some more. Take the time to highlight employees who have made extraordinary work strides, but make sure to do this in the moment. This is a fun way of saying ‘you’re appreciated’ and, over time, can lead to a strong sense of pride and ultimately a high level of employee engagement.


4. Breakfast or lunch is on us.

Who doesn’t love free food? That was a rhetorical question of course ;)

Help your managers become better leaders by encouraging them to offer a catered breakfast or lunch to their teams every three months; depending on the size of each team. This is a great way to give employees a chance to engage cross-functionality with other employees and to build company culture.


5. Personalised, public messages.

There’s something heartwarming and sincere about receiving a personal ‘thanks’ from your manager. If an employee has gone the extra mile, don’t hesitate to thank them. Bonus points if this occurs in a public setting for other co-workers to see. Remember, a culture of employee recognition sparks employee engagement.  


6. Show that you care about their health

Health is a priority, but often work-life balance can be a struggle, and not everyone has had the opportunity to learn about the importance of diet and exercise. In fact, figures from Stats SA show that absenteeism costs companies between R12bn - R16bn per year, much of which is due to workplace stress and burnout.

Consider bringing a professional dietician or holistic doctor into the office to book consults with your employees, should they wish to chat about their health.🌿


6. Get out of the office for the day.

Sometimes even the most retrofitted workspaces can hinder an employee’s creativity and focus. Take your whole team to go and find a trendy spot out of the office with (stable) Wi-Fi. Together with your team enjoy the change of scenery and then watch as the productivity and inspiration soars.


7. Employees do social, so should you.

Employee recognition means celebrating employees for reaching milestones and achievements (both personal and work-related) across your organisation’s social networks.

Not only does it create a virtuous cycle, the recognition that they receive from their social groups adds to their sense of pride.

As an employer, there’s something in it for you as well. While many employers are of the opinion that social engagement is a thing employees do in their free time, it can also be a strategic way to create trust with prospective customers.  According to Nielsen, “84% of consumers’ value recommendations from friends and family above all forms of advertising – and additionally, 77% of consumers are likely to make a purchase after hearing about it from someone they trust.”

Recognising your employees for their achievements on social networks turns them into employer advocates which can amplify your market reach.


8. Sticky notes – it’s a thing.

Don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note. Employee recognition can mean taking the time to write a personalised ‘thank you’ sticky note this can go a long way. Stick it somewhere that’s immediately visible like on your employee’s chair or desk – it’ll serve as a welcoming surprise to them.  


9. No tricks just treats.

Encourage managers to bring in doughnuts or speciality coffees on a chilly winter’s morning or chilled iced coffees during the summer months for their respective teams. That way employees can start their day feeling appreciated.


10. Give the kids a fun day out

School holidays can be tricky for working parents as often they have no one to look after their children. Why not create a whole day full of fun activities for your employees’ children? This could include jumping castles, drawing activities and a movie, with hired helpers to look after the kids for the day. Your employees can get on with their work, knowing that their children are well looked after and entertained.


11. Make an (Appreciation) day of it.

As part of your employee recognition strategy, you could organise a formal Employee Appreciation Day for everyone at work. Depending on the size of your organisation, this could include catered food, rewards, spot prizes and team-building activities. It’s a great way for employees to feel valued and to boost morale.


12. Gamify it.

Let them play games and turn ordinary achievement badges into workplace currency.

Each time an employee goes above and beyond at work, reward them with a badge. The first three employees to collect all badges in a set, are rewarded with a prize at the end of the quarter. Gamification is a great way to change behaviour, motivate employees towards a goal and ultimately maximise the effectiveness of your organisation.


13. Draw them out.

With employee turnover volumes rising faster than greased lightning, these days celebrating another year at an organisation is a big deal. So next time an employee reaches another year at your organisation, why not have a caricature drawn of them? It’s something they can share with their peers and friends on social media. Bonus: You also continue to build a great company culture as well as tap into the employee advocacy effect to give your Employer Value Proposition a boost.


14. Employee recognition can mean that you need to make it personal.

Employee engagement and wellness go hand in hand because in some instances it can be the difference to attract top talent. Organisations don’t give enough consideration to the importance of differentiation especially since the war on talent has gone nuclear. Employees want to feel that their personal well-being is valued as much as their contributions. Every day people go home with their work and come to work with their ‘home’ - the two are almost indistinguishable. It is important to understand this and accommodate the whole person.

Conduct a wellness survey to ascertain if employees want a wellness program at work. Whatever the outcome of the survey is, show your employees that their well-being means as much to you as the customer and organisation. Sometimes it could be as easy as a draw to sponsor a few sporting kits.


15. Encourage workplace recognition.

If you have a peer-to-peer recognition program at your company, you can further boost engagement with some healthy competition. Each time an employee gets gives or receives recognition, their name goes into a ‘hat’ and at the end of the week or month (depending on your rewards budget), the two employees with the highest recognition given and received will win spot prizes. Think coffee vouchers, cinema tickets or complimentary muffins at the company bistro.


16. Drinks on us

A simple ‘work drinks’ on a Friday could be just what everyone needs. It’s a simple, but effective de-stressor, where everyone can relax and socialise together after a tough week. Pick a local bar or restaurant that’s close enough to walk to so that the team can start the weekend off on a high note. 🍹


17. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated.

Who wants to spend their birthday at the office? Nobody - unless you’re Dr Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory - wants to spend their birthday at work dealing with deadlines, inboxes that won’t empty or the inability to find a spoon in the shared kitchen.

Give your employees the day off on their special day. It will make them feel like a valued member of the team - and it’s a small gesture with big impact. Upon their return to the office, they should feel appreciated, energised and rearing to go.


18. Bring the office home.

Understandably not all office departments can allow work-from-home days, but for those departments that can; work-from-home days should be encouraged.

Nothing says, ‘I love my job’ more than being able to work from home – no meeting distractions, just task-driven action.

Besides an overall happiness indicator, no commuting or traffic jams will undoubtedly get the productivity levels up. According to Gallup, employees who spend 60% to less than 80%, that’s three to four days, working offsite are 31% more likely to ‘making more progress in their workday’. Depending on the nature of your organisation and its departments, this statistic suggests that a fair level of autonomy and flexibility could yield better employee engagement and performance.


19. Casual Fridays were so last year.

Make Monday the new casual Friday. Not only does Dress Down Mondays set the tone for your employees to feel relaxed on the least popular day of the week, it eases them into a brand-new work week.


20. Change it up

Show gratitude for your employees’ hard work by changing and putting effort into how their office space looks. Everyone likes a change of scenery every now and again, and no one wants to stay in the same office chair for years to come, right? Redesign the office space every six months to spruce things up and keep things fresh. Add a new interesting element each time, such as a plant or prop.

New office layouts and design provide the opportunity for interaction between employees, better organisation and increased productivity. Even the smallest change such as a lick of paint can have a surprisingly positive effect.


21. Treat ‘em with kindness.

Okay so maybe the branded company mugs weren’t such a hit with the clients. But it’s the era of the social enterprise and it’s all about repurposing. Simply add a few snacks and sweets accompanied by a thank you note, and you have yourself an inexpensive appreciation gift plus a very appreciative employee. Also, a surefire way to start depleting those mugs. You’re welcome!


22. Make them feel like a kid again.

We often hear people say work is play and nothing says play like an ice-cream van serving ice-cream outside your office. Everyone deserves a treat and it’s a great time to show employees how much they mean to the organisation.

Top tip: To ensure you stay within budget, pre-select two or three flavours with your supplier and hold off on the toppings for another sunny day.


23. Recognise big life events

Is someone in the team getting married? Did a team member recently graduate? Or what about a new parent-to-be? These are exciting times for employees and celebrating these life events is so special to them. 🎉 With bountiXP, you can send recognition, rewards or comments instantly to any employee, which will make recognising these life events so much easier.


24. Bring in the pros.

With a small effort in the wellness direction, you can easily help your employees avoid or even reduce burnout. Bring in professional mobile massage therapists and get everyone in the office relaxed. It adds to the office well-being and can decrease absenteeism and improve employee morale.

Top tip: To manage costs, you could send a blast email company-wide and offer these sessions for free to the first 10 employees who respond.


25. Don’t get the shakes, get the shot.

Office spaces are the ideal breeding ground for illness that leads to low productivity and absenteeism. Providing free shots during the flu season isn’t exactly recognition but this action does demonstrate to your employees that you value their health and well-being.


26. Bring in a Yoga or Pilates instructor for the day.

Stress forms part of our daily lives. But how we manage it can be the difference between a breakdown or breakthrough. Arrange various morning or the afternoon slots for Yoga and/or Pilates sessions to help your employees relax and de-stress. Ask the instructor to cater to all levels of fitness so that everyone can participate in gentle stretches and strength work.


27. Leave it all on the track.

There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition on the field between co-workers. If your organisation has a sports area or access to a playing field, go basic to support a teamwork theme with games such as tug of war and two-legged races.

At the end of the day, hand out a few trophies or rewards and revel in the day’s collaborative efforts.


28. A coffee a day

People love coffee. So much so that they’ll have it almost every day. Invest in a coffee machine that your employees can use every day. It’ll take help reduce their own budget on cappuccino runs!


29. Identify and fast-track promising leaders.

Employees who feel valued tend to more loyal to their employer. Working alongside HR develop a leadership development program for those employees who show potential. Guide them along their journey and bring in industry guest speakers, share free online course material and help them grow into their roles.


30. Healthy snacks

Did you know that only 1 in 3 South Africans take their full lunch break? What’s more is that many employees try to avoid birthdays in the office, simply because of the cake and sweet temptations.

Bring a weekly bowl of fruit and nuts into the office for healthy snack alternatives for those missing out on the sweet treats as well as for those employees that may be missing out on lunch.


31. Encourage continuous learning.

There are tons of free online courses from Coursera, FutureLearn, Shaw Academy, Udemy and the like. These are low-cost ways to transfer knowledge to your teams and create a culture of continuous learning. More so, it also creates a sentiment that you care about their learning and development.


32. Buy subscriptions of the latest online and offline business or industry publications.

Cover the cost of the latest online and/or offline business or industry-related publications that your employees don’t usually have access to. Share it with the whole company for further reading.


33. Forget yearly, give quarterly

When it comes to the end of the year, those fortunate enough to receive bonuses for their hard work really appreciate it. The extra cash goes a long way. But there are times throughout the rest of the year when extra cash might also be needed. Allow employees the option to choose if they would like a bonus paid out at the end of the year or quarterly as they meet their targets. It’ll ensure they’re sticking to their quarterly targets too!

According to Business Insider, Workfront gives quarterly bonuses and one employee even bragged saying it is the most generous compensation plan he’s ever had the chance to be apart of.


34. Gift a book.

Buy a few Kindles and rent them out in the same way you do with the office library books. Alternatively, offer a book/gift voucher on Amazon for employees’ hard work.


35. Green the office.

Transform the office into a sanctuary. No need to go full-forest, just a few plants here and there. Studies have shown that plants at work can raise productivity and increase attentiveness.


36. Bring your fur child to work day.

Make the office a dog-friendly space. Even when people are having a stressful day at the office, their best friend is there to support them throughout the day. It also encourages social employee interaction.


37. Get standing desks.

Not everyone wants them, but those who do often can’t go back. A study by researchers at Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center School of Public Health found that standing desks improve productivity and can lead to greater employee interaction.


38. Start a no-meeting Friday trend.

Give Friday back to the people and banish meetings on Fridays! Afford your employees the time they need on an already short day to prepare for the next week, stress-free and meeting-free.


39. Host a monthly all-hands meeting.

Keep people on the same page, and don’t leave it for the year-end event. All-hands meetings build enthusiastic teams and develops an exciting company culture. It gives all employees a chance to see what other departments are doing plus there’s an opportunity to ask-and-answer questions and make new employee introductions.


40. Take your team to lunch.

Apart from helping your team enjoy a well-deserved mental break, lunches are an excellent opportunity for teams to build lasting connections. Also, it gets your employees away from the eat-alone-at-my-desk scenario, which is known, to lower productivity levels and mental alertness.

Top tip: To keep costs within range, perhaps the lunch could be activated when the team reaches a specific short- medium-term milestone.


41. Free branded apparel.

Everyone loves free stuff, so why not give your employees free company-branded apparel to say ‘thank you’. It’s a low-cost, simple way to convey the message that you appreciate their efforts.


42. Get the jokes cracking and hire a comedian.

Everybody likes to laugh, well almost everybody. Humour is said to be the most significant dimension of the brain because it gets people to think asymmetrically, enhances creativity and energises us. Laughter can enhance employee performance and is a great stress management tool too. Hire a comedian and rally the teams for a belly-aching comedy session.


43. A long weekend

Would your employees work harder during the week if they knew they could have Fridays off? Ask the team if they would prefer to work longer hours from Monday to Thursday so that they have Friday off and then put that plan into action!

One company, Perpetual Guardian, measured work performance, job satisfaction and stress levels before and after implementing a 4-day week, and found that there were no downsides to having a shorter week. In fact, the same job performance was maintained during the 4 days, with a decrease in stress levels and improved work-life balance.


44. There is power in pizza.

Imagine you’re an employee, midway through a very daunting proposal when momentarily you look up and there’s your manager ushering boxes and boxes of deliciousness through the office. There’s just something about pizza - it’s probably why it’s a classic go-to move for upping the office morale. It’s simple, people love pizza, but they’ll love you even more for showing up with it.


45. Park like the CEO.

Every morning two work situations can become very stressful: The long queue at the coffee machine and inability to find parking. Reward exemplary employees with a dedicated parking space for a week – it’ll be one less thing for them to worry about. It’s a small gesture that will go a long way to your employees feeling appreciated.


46. Do away with early morning and late afternoon meetings.

Consider a no-early-morning-and-late-afternoon meeting rule. No meetings should happen before 9 am or after 4 pm. At these times employees are either occupied with the morning rush or are fixated on the evening’s duties – nobody will be paying that much attention anyway. Plus, as an employer, it shows that you care about and recognise that they have a life outside the office.


48. On-the-spot rewards.

Employees often feel higher levels of recognition when they are recognised in the moment of truth. If you see employees do great work or live company citizenship values, acknowledge it, on the spot. You can show your appreciation with tickets to the cinema, sports matches, gift cards or reward points, the latter only applies if you have a recognition program in place.


49. Reward extraordinary results.

When employees’ discretionary efforts result in an extraordinary outcome for the business such as enabling the company to secure a big client account or bring in a significant amount of revenue, you should consider giving those employees high-value rewards. The message it sends to the rest of your employees is how this type of behaviour helped achieve one or more of the company’s business outcomes.


50. Give time off, spontaneously.

Rewarding your employees with impromptu early departure from, or late arrival to, the office is such a good motivator. It also lets them know that their efforts don’t go unnoticed and that you understand their free time is valuable. Sometimes, all it takes is: ‘It’s such a great summer’s day, go have fun.’


51. Out-of-scope projects

Create opportunities for your employees to work on projects that are beyond their scope of duties. Firstly you can assess their level of readiness to take on more senior projects and secondly, you will help them grow in these different areas of responsibility. This demonstration of confidence in their abilities will make them feel valued.


52. Travelling trophy

Remember how memorable receiving a gold star was back in school? Bring that feel-good sentiment into the workplace and create a travelling special object. It could be a golden onion, a large green hat, anything that stands out when placed on an employee’s desk. Each time an employee demonstrates behaviour that is aligned with the organisation’s values present it to them. The ‘trophy’ can travel throughout the office as a sense of pride and accomplishment.


53. Draw a name and appreciate.

We all love the secret Santa concept. Get your employees to draw a name of a fellow employee and instead of buying a gift, they write down a valuable contribution by the employee whose name they have drawn. The notes of appreciation can be read at an all-hands meeting or placed in their office anonymously.


54. Warm welcome

Everybody loves a warm welcome. Arrange your reception area with a “Welcome to your office” refreshment station. Have freshly brewed coffee ready for their enjoyment. Decorate the welcome station with positive messages for your employees: ‘Our employee's rock’. ‘Beyond these walls are the greatest employees’. Have fun with it.


55. Brag board

It’s great to see your name in lights, so why not do so for your employees.

Create a Brag Board where you post all-things positive: Copies of training completed, messages of appreciation; thank you sticky notes, customer compliments and so on. It gives employees an opportunity to see the great work that their other colleagues are doing, and in turn, they feel proud because their achievement is publicly acknowledged.


56. Hold an annual employee appreciation braai day.

Every summer hold an annual employee appreciation braai day at the office. It’s a day to recognise and say ‘thank you’ to employees for their hard work.


57. Invest in their education.

Buy books to help further employees personal development or send them to a conference. This sends the message that you care and want to invest in their personal career development.


58. Performance tokens.

Employees who perform consistently well deserve to be appreciated. Reward them with ‘performance tokens’ that they can redeem to run personal errands, go to appointments or take longer lunches.


59. Break out the popcorn.

If it’s time to recognise someone wheel the popcorn machine into a common area such as reception or break room. The excitement and the anticipation of which individuals or team will be recognised can create a great spirit of camaraderie. Plus, did we mention it’s popcorn?


60. Say ‘thank you’ as often as you can

Recognition can come in many different forms, but the simplest and greatest is still a simple ‘thanks’. It goes a long way and can mean the world, especially when it is said often.

Perhaps these ideas have sparked enough in you to start your very own recognition program. Great! We have the perfect resource to help you build a recognition program that’s out of this world 🚀 Download yours now 👇🏼

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