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12 Ways to Engage Employees through Recognition

When it comes to managers and employee recognition, there are those who do it well, those who want to do it and don’t know how, and those who think it doesn’t matter. The latter two groups usually fall into one of these schools of thought:

  • I want to recognize my employees, but I don’t have the time or budget.
  • I want to recognize my employees, but I don’t want to leave anyone feeling left out.
  • I don’t need to recognize my employees — my best team members just know they’re doing a great job.
  • I don’t need to recognize my employees — gold stars and smiley faces are for kids.

Well, get ready for some mythbusting. Employee recognition matters, and it matters a lot. Studies show that employees who receive recognition are more engaged, more productive, and less likely to leave their roles.

And that means it has serious, monetary ROI. When Delta Airlines instituted an official employee recognition program they saw a 564 percent ROI. Can you think of any other programs that deliver those kinds of results?

Gallup can’t. According to them, employee recognition may be one of the biggest missed opportunities for managers today. And that concern about leaving some people out? Praising great employees sets an example of success for everyone else.

Best yet, employee recognition doesn’t have to be over-the-top. A quick Google search will return lists of rewards ranging from a sports car rental for the week to the chance to drop the boss in a dunk tank. This is not necessary (or maybe even wanted…).

Employee recognition can be much more time and budget friendly. Here are 12 simple and proven ideas to recognize employees for great work.

1. Name Drop

The next time you’re in a company-wide townhall or a meeting with leadership presenting the work your team is doing, get specific about the players involved. Yes, team effort matters. But this simple name shout out in front of important people goes a long way for someone who may not get a lot of leadership facetime.

2. Share the Credit

Next time you are publicly recognized, respond by sharing the praise with specific members of your team. They’ll feel great, and everyone else will want to work with a manager who is confident enough to give credit away, rather than take it.

3. Use Your Core Values

Does your company have core values? It should. Not only do they provide working direction, they make a great opportunity for public recognition. You can use core values to call out specific employee actions. Company-wide meetings or your internal newsfeed are a great place to do this.

4. Give Extra Time Off

Some companies have a monthly manager-rewarded day off that they choose a great employee to receive. Better yet is surprise time off. Give employees who’ve gone above and beyond an extra day to relax. They’ll be thrilled, and employees who take time off are more productive in the long-term. If you’re entire team is killing it, you may want to consider an even grander gesture, such as summer Fridays, since engagement runs low at these times anyway.

There’s a clear connection between vacation time and employee performance. Learn more in our free report, HR Mythbusters.


5. Special Treat

Invite your top-performer to lunch, bring donuts in for the team, pick up your best employee’s coffee order for her, tell everyone to head out early for the day — small gestures have a big impact.

6. Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Praise doesn’t just have to come from the top. You can both model and encourage random acts of peer-to-peer recognition in your company newsfeed, or set structures that facilitate it. For example, you may want to request peer feedback during your performance review process.

7. Handwritten Note

A little personalization goes a long way. Take a moment to jot down a few lines of praise for an employee. If you’re in the same office, you could attach it to a treat (like a special coffee or favorite snack) or even just put it on a sticky note on his monitor. If your employees are remote, you can send it in the mail. In our digitally-driven world, a (non-bill) surprise in our mailbox is welcome.

8. Big-Time Introductions

If you work for a big company, there’s a chance your lower-level employees may never have the chance to encounter your company’s leaders — unless you intervene. Invite successful employees to events with leadership, then take a moment to introduce them with a praiseworthy phrase, “This is Jane, she’s only been on staff six months and she’s making a huge impact.”

9. Amplify Customer Praise

Do you provide avenues for your customers to provide feedback? It’s a great way to improve products and services and make customers feel important. But too often managers only act on negative employee feedback from customers. Try also taking the positive notes and sharing them in a company newsletter or newsfeed, “Check out what customers had to say about our reps this month!”

10. Surprise Upgrade

The element of surprise is a great way to keep employees on their toes and looking for ways to impress at every turn. The next time a great employee is traveling, surprise him with an upgraded plane ticket or hotel room. The gesture shouldn’t cost too much (especially if your company uses travel points) but will make him feel important.

11. An Inside Joke

Funny beats out fancy every time. Create a homemade trophy (you could mount and spray paint a nail gold for “Nailed It” or a crumpled can for “Crushed It”) that gets passed weekly to an employee who is doing excellent work.

12. Keep Track

Oftentimes, it’s the best employees who aren’t so great at praising themselves. Keep track of their successes for them. Use your performance management software to track peer mentions in your newsfeed or personal notations. That way, when performance review time comes around, you can call out specific examples. Your employees will appreciate that you remembered.

The easiest way to master employee recognition is to think about the last time you felt valued. What did a boss or peer do for you? Often times, it’s a simple solution that does the trick and makes your employees want to work even harder to earn their next “gold star.”

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