Why you should care about employee recognition
Investing in employee recognition and appreciation strategies is as essential for your organization as it is for your workforce, if not more so. Offering a competitive compensation package is, as always, a necessity for attracting and retaining talent. Yet, research has shown that unless you invest in staff recognition, you’ll still bear the burden of employee turnover.
According to Gallup, employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit the job, and that includes your top performers. For each collaborator that walks out the door, expect to spend at least one and a half to two times their annual salary to replace them — not to mention the damage turnover can do to your culture and the remaining team’s morale.
It’s only logical that putting thought into recognition and appreciation — closely related concepts, but not the same — can improve employee retention.
Even companies that have already made recognition and appreciation part of their DNA may have to adapt to remote work, which isn’t going away entirely after the pandemic. There are plenty of ways to go about this, and you’ll want to find those that communicate your unique culture and align with your values.
To make a start, keep reading and discover the differences between recognition and appreciation, and 39 ideas to give employees the recognition and appreciation they deserve & improve morale.
Understanding employee recognition vs. appreciation
When it comes to employee management, recognition and appreciation aren’t synonyms, but they walk hand in hand. Both concepts are needed and must have ample space in forward-thinking companies, helping shape thriving cultures with engaged, high-performing employees.
The lack of recognition and appreciation can do severe damage that is hard to reverse. As we shared in our guide to celebrating success at work, a 10-year study with over 200,000 US employees reported that 65% of respondents had not received praise within the past year. On the flip side, 78% of participants revealed that more recognition would make the work harder.
Employee recognition is the acknowledgment of someone’s efforts. You may recognize a staff member or team for achieving (or surpassing) goals, finding creative solutions, performing above expectations, or taking the initiative and proposing something bold — even if it doesn’t pan out.
Recognition is earned respect, meaning it acknowledges valued behaviors and accomplishments. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Kristie Rogers (assistant professor of management at Marquette University) affirms that earned respect
“... distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and … affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents. Earned respect meets the need to be valued for doing good work. Stealing credit for others’ success and failing to recognize employees’ achievements are signs that it is lacking.”
Recognition goes a long way in cultivating a sense of belonging and improving retention and eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score). However, timing is critical. Don’t wait until quarterly meetings and performance appraisals to acknowledge a job well done. Instead, make positive feedback part of your company’s essence, show that you’re aware of wins and milestones as they happen, and even implement your own employee rewards and recognition program.
Given its performance-based nature, recognition doesn’t cover everything you can do to show your personnel you care and improve their engagement (and, consequently, the results they deliver). Also, outstanding performance isn’t a constant — and even if you feel it is for some employees, incessantly rewarding the same person isn’t the best to build a team spirit.
Appreciation, however, focuses on recognizing the employee’s value as an individual and communicates a humane workplace culture. It helps your staff understand that they’re still valued, even if they face challenges and don’t achieve a goal — or if their work isn’t directly connected to goals and OKRs.
Appreciation fosters connections, takes off pressure, and makes people more invested in the organization.
Appreciation is a form of owed respect. As stated by Kristie Rogers,
“Owed respect is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organization; it meets the universal need to feel included. It’s signaled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable.
In environments with too little owed respect, we typically see Tayloristic overmonitoring and micromanagement, incivility and abuse of power, and a sense that employees are interchangeable.”
Challenges in remote environments
Remote work is here to stay. While it offers many benefits, such as saving commute time, increased productivity, and access to a broader talent pool (as well as more opportunities for workers), it demands different strategies for engagement.
Even if they love working remotely, your employees miss out on spontaneous recognition that happens in the office (that is, if you’ve been building a feedback culture). The “great job with the new strategy!” and “excellent presentation!” that start watercooler conversations won’t happen, but the psychological need for recognition and appreciation is still there.
Fortunately, as you’ll see in our employee appreciation ideas, there are ways to foster positive feedback within your organization.
39 ways to give employees recognition & appreciation — even remotely
Employee recognition ideas
1. Keep track of & celebrate all wins (big & small)
If you think that this isn’t necessary because contributors are “only doing their job,” you’d be surprised at how this kind of recognition can boost their happiness, engagement, performance, and results for your business.
But don’t just recognize accomplishments that generate considerable revenue. A small deal may help bring in other clients and support your portfolio; similarly, an email from a client happy with your customer service is a win for retention and new business via referral.
Small wins stack up and compound. Celebrating them can help with momentum.
2. Express interest
Communicate that you know that it’s not easy to pull off their achievements. Don’t just say “thank you” — show that you’re interested in the process and, if you haven’t followed it closely, ask how your employee did it. You might also learn something new.
3. Donate to a charity of their choice
Donate to your employee’s preferred charity as a thank you for high performance and noteworthy achievements.
4. Write a LinkedIn recommendation
It’s narrow-sighted to think that doing so would push an employee to a competitor. By writing a LinkedIn recommendation without being asked to do so, you’re more likely to increase retention, as you’re showing that you care about the person, not just your business.
5. Write a handwritten thank-you note
Make recognition personal with a handwritten note. Your employee will know that you were personally involved with the recognition and appreciate you taking the time.
6. Recognize employee achievements on social media
The most personal way to do so would be via your own profile. Tag the team member(s) you’d like to praise.
7. Foster a culture of continuous feedback
Don’t wait to praise your staff — give instant praise instead (public or private). Leapsome can make this process fun and easy for your entire organization, and feedback can be automatically shared on Slack and MS Teams.
8. Offer financial rewards
This can be done as bonuses and stock options. Develop a bonus plan and/or offer spot bonuses for exceptional performance. Unexpected bonuses can even be better for recognition, engagement, and retention.
9. Recognize achievements during team- & company-wide meetings
Positive feedback doesn’t happen as often as it should, and when it does, it sometimes stays in direct messages and 1:1s.
Mention wins during meetings with several participants, but be conscious of individual preferences. Kim Scott, author of the bestselling management book “Radical Candor,” points out that public praise can make some individuals uncomfortable.
10. Celebrate exceptional work over time
Show that you take note of outstanding work ethic and quality standards by recognizing exceptional work over months or years instead of specific wins.
11. Organize internal company award ceremonies
Create different awards for exceptional performance, accompanied by financial rewards or gifts. This doesn't have to be too formal if that doesn't suit your culture. You could, for instance, think of fun award names that fit the brand and align to your company values.
12. Reach out to all levels
Develop a culture in which executives recognize the work of people they don’t directly work with. A simple thank-you email or note from them can help your staff understand that their contributions impact company goals.
13. Give them gift cards
While recognizing individuality is generally a good idea, it’s hard to go wrong with a gift card and a thank-you note.
14. Invest in a peer-to-peer recognition program
Google, for instance, has a bonus system by which peers can give colleagues monetary rewards for a job well done. You don’t need to go the same route, but this might help you get some ideas.
Online apparel retailer Zappos has a similar system that awards credit for future purchases on the website or toward branded items, movie tickets, and charity donations. Employees can also nominate colleagues who “wowed” them with a covered parking spot for a week (they call it the “Master of WOW Parking” program) or receive a Hero Award.
15. Reward individuals according to their interests
Pay attention to your staff’s personal interests. Of course, you can’t get to know everyone this closely in large organizations, but direct managers could offer rewards that show that the company values their achievements and who they are.
As an example, you could reward someone who is passionate about diving with a diving excursion or reward a crafty person with an art workshop.
Employee appreciation ideas
16. Celebrate tenure
Acknowledge your employees’ contributions by celebrating company anniversaries. Think of gifts or awards to thank them as they reach one, three, five, or even more years of service.
Show your staff that you’re available to talk about their concerns and ideas, and be genuinely present during conversations.
18. Reward periods of intense work
Let your personnel know that you’re thankful after a period of particularly hard work. Some options are organizing a team activity or offering spontaneous (paid) time off.
19. Give compliments based on qualities
Share sincere, respectful compliments based on qualities you value about an individual contributor, even if that’s not attached to a win — e.g., appreciating that someone is always welcoming to newcomers.
20. Celebrate their birthday
Provide a cake for each person’s birthday or all birthdays of the week or month (if at the office). Also offer a small gift to each contributor on their birthday.
Whichever the case, when it comes to food and beverages, be aware of individual preferences and restrictions.
21. Give an extra vacation day on their birthday
Because who wouldn’t want that?
22. Check in with them
People may not reach out to you to voice struggles and concerns, but asking how they’re doing (and being available to listen) goes a long way to strengthen your relationship. Ask what they’re doing and what they need to succeed and be happier at their jobs. Perhaps you can help them. You may do this during 1 on 1 meetings or spontaneously if they are not your direct reports.
23. Be transparent
Transparency is one of the best things an organization can offer to its contributors. Be open about your vision, plans, internal processes, and structures. Share goals and be honest about difficulties that may lie ahead.
Additionally, let each person know where they stand individually and in what areas they can improve — structured 1-on-1 meetings and 360° reviews are the ideal opportunities for constructive feedback.
24. Ask questions
Be curious and humble by showing contributors that you, too, are interested in learning. Ask them, for instance, “What would you do if you had my job?”
If you work in HR and People Ops, proactively asking questions confirms that the company is invested in improving.
25. Provide training opportunities
Your business also benefits from contributors sharpening their skills and gaining new ones. Consider offering a development budget and motivating workers to attend conferences and take part in courses and workshops.
26. Offer pet adoption leave
Make your staff happier and support animal welfare to boot by offering paid “pet-ternity leave.” Animals and their tutors need some adjusting, and a week dedicated to bonding can do wonders and make employees more motivated when they return to work.
27. Support their commute (if at the office)
Daily commute can be stressful and pricey. You can make this a bit easier for your personnel by paying for monthly public transport tickets, bike upgrades and repairs, or rideshare credits and fuel allowance for those living in areas with difficult access to public transport.
28. Show your team to the world
Add your employees to your organization’s “about me” page, with a photo and brief text about each person.
29. Invest in team-building experiences
Whether in-person or virtual, team-building activities are great for fostering a more relaxed work atmosphere.
30. Organize joint volunteering activities
Support causes your company and your employees care about by volunteering as a team. This is also an excellent team-building opportunity.
Once a year, Discovery Communications hosts an Impact Day. On this day, the organization’s thousands of employees worldwide volunteer for various communities and initiatives.
31. Make paid charity days part of your package
Offer your workforce the chance to volunteer during workdays once a year or more.
32. Take your team on a trip (once that is possible again)
Once we’ve beaten the pandemic, consider taking your employees on a trip.
However, if yours is a large organization and you’re thinking of taking only top performers as a solution, contemplate if that communicates your company culture. You may send a message you don’t want to send, fostering competitiveness and exclusion.
33. Treat your team to wellness services
Treat contributors to wellness services or hire professionals to take it to your company. Alternatively, you may offer spa/massage vouchers. Like other ideas we’re sharing, this is something to consider for the future, when it’s safe.
34. Care about their mental health
Providing mental health support, such as therapy and extra time off (mental health days), can improve work-life balance, help you fight employee burnout and reduce absenteeism.
35. Surprise your staff with treats
Whether in the office or by sending treats to their addresses. As always, be mindful of individual preferences; you may want to keep track of those on a spreadsheet, provided that people voluntarily share this information (and that you keep it private).
36. Celebrate personal milestones
Send a gift and a handwritten note for occasions such as weddings and the birth/adoption of children.
37. Pay for lunch
If your company doesn’t already provide daily meals, invite your team for lunch or dinner sometimes. That also gives you the chance to get to know them better. However, make it clear that you know it’s their free time and that there’s no obligation to join you.
38. Do a praise circle
In each round, all team members share a piece of positive feedback to one person. It would be hard to do this regularly, but it could be part of a team-building event. The praise circle can be done in person or virtually.
39. Give them company swag
Although no one wants to get a company keychain for their work anniversary (or for any other occasion, really), you can give your employees high-quality, creative gifts that they’ll be proud to use. Some ideas are mugs with designs for different milestones, (elegantly) branded backpacks and hoodies, and eco-friendly products.
Key takeaways & final considerations
Investing in employee recognition and appreciation is more than a business culture strategy: it’s a must in today’s competitive talent market.
Recognition focuses on achievements. Appreciation communicates empathy and valuing someone for who they are and personal assets that are valuable for your organization’s culture and growth, even if not directly linked to results. Forward-thinking companies understand that they should invest in both.
Some ideas in our list are recurrent actions — such as checking in with employees, asking questions, and being an attentive listener. Creating a personal reminder can help you.
As an example, every Friday, think of two people who did a superb job or were kind to colleagues over the week, and recognize their efforts privately or publicly, based on what they prefer (if you don’t know, ask).
Always keep top of mind:
- Don’t always give the spotlight to the same people;
- Don’t congratulate just team leads for their teams’ work;
- Respect individual choices and circumstances (e.g., don’t send a bottle of champagne to someone who doesn’t drink alcohol; don’t schedule an event during the weekend if someone has caregiving commitments);
- Be mindful. If your company is struggling and you haven’t given employees salary bumps and promotions in a while, don’t host an over-the-top event;
- Don’t perform. Be genuine in your words and actions. Your team will feel it, and you’ll show them that you, too, are a great team player.
By recognizing and appreciating your employees, you set an example for which you can expect to learn the same recognition that you give others. A culture of feedback and growth starts with you.
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