24 Employee Recognition Ideas that Increase Productivity, Engagement, and Enjoyment of Work

  • Lorea Lastiri
  • May 4, 2022
  • 19 min read

Monetary rewards has long been used to recognize employees that do exceptionally well. However, there are many other employee recognition ideas that work wonders. These include sending cards, care packages, company swags or personalized gifts, creating a wall of fame, offering a traveling trophy, giving time-offs, a feature in the company’s newsletter or social media channels, identifying with employees’ personal pursuits, and more

Employee recognition used to be just a “nicety.” But today, it is a “necessity” for any organization that is looking to have a highly enthusiastic and productive workforce. This is because it has a positive impact on employee experience.

However, coming up with effective ways to recognize employees is not as easy as it seems. Many of the traditional employee recognition programs can easily become boring and come not as inauthentic.

So how do you effectively recognize your high-performing employee so as to boost their happiness, engagement, and productivity? You’ll find the answer to this question in this article.

Specifically, we’ll show you 24 employment recognition ideas that increases productivity, engagement, and enjoyment of work. We’ll also tell you why each method work, and how to implement it.

Let’s start the discussion with what employee recognition is, and what its benefits are.

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What is employee recognition and why is it important?

Employee recognition is the acknowledgement of those who work for you for what they do. What employee recognition does is to show that the organization values the efforts and achievements of its employees. 

True, everyone in an organization contributes in one way or another towards achieving its goal. However, employee recognition is more than a generic “thank you” to everyone.

Rather, it is a specific acknowledgement of employees’ efforts in exemplifying company values or achieving particular organizational goals.

In essence, employee recognition is specific. Recognition works best if it is also relevant, timely, and given regularly.

employee recognition

Thus, the characteristics of good employee recognition include: 

  • Specific. Recognition should be tied to a particular accomplishment or business objective. For example, the employee should be told what is impressive about his/ her behaviour/ efforts that warrants the special recognition.

    Connecting the specific behaviour/ effort to the success of the organization also helps employees see their value to the company as a whole.  

  • Timely. Employee recognition should immediately follow the event that necessitated it as soon as possible.

    The saying “strike when the iron is hot,” also applies here. Waiting too long after the fact to recognize an employee may make the recognition less authentic.

  • Relevant. Whatever you’re “giving” the employee to appreciate him/ her must be something that is relevant to the person’s preferences and values.

    For example, it will be meaningless, even insulting, to recognize an employee with a premium bottle of alcoholic wine if that person detest alcohol for personal or religious reasons.

  • Regular. Employees put in little efforts everyday that sum up to the big work that keeps the organization running. Waiting to see the big work before recognizing efforts may dampen morale and affect the little efforts.

    So, employee recognition should be regular. Encourage employees and appreciate them even the frequent little efforts.

Types of employee recognition

Depending on how the recognition is given, who gives it, whether or not there are witnesses, and whether or not there is a recognizable pattern, employee recognition can take four forms.

  • Verbal vs written

  • Top-down vs Peer-to-peer

  • Public vs private

  • Structured vs unstructured

1. Verbal vs written employee recognition 

When it comes to how to give employee recognition, you can either say it out or write it down.

Verbal employee recognition is acknowledgment that you say out loud. It is usually very effective because it expresses appreciation in the moment, and such appreciation can spur employees on to produce more of what caused you to say the appreciative words.

Verbal recognition is very easy to give. For example, the next time you find an employee hard at work, move over and say a quick “well done.”

However, verbal recognition can be challenging for some because it’s in the moment, and there may not be time for much reflection. This is where written employee recognition comes in. 

Written recognition is acknowledgement that you put in writing in appreciation of an employee achievements. The written acknowledgement could be on paper or electronic. Examples include customized thank you cards, notes, texts, or emails.

However, employees tend to value paper appreciation notes more, especially those that come with handwritten text. So, while firing a text or email may do it, you may hit the mark better by penning down your appreciative words on a paper or card. 

2. Top-down vs peer to peer recognition

When it comes to who gives recognition, it surprises many that it mustn’t always be the boss. 

The top-down employee recognition is acknowledgement that comes from the boss to his/ her subordinates, or from the company to an employee. This is what most people immediately think of when they hear “employee recognition.”

However, anyone in an organization can acknowledge the efforts of another person. This is called peer-to-peer employee recognition. This form of recognition does more than motivate employees, it is also one of the best ways of getting feedback.

In peer to peer recognition, managers can appreciate fellow managers, team members can appreciate one another, and an employee can even appreciate a manager.

3. Public vs private employee recognition

When it comes to witnesses, there can be public and private employee recognition.

Private employee recognition is employee appreciation that is known only to the employee. It is a way of letting the person, and only the person, know that his/ her particular efforts/ achievements are appreciated. 

Private recognition is usually given to the employee on a one-on-one basis, behind closed doors, or sent through a personal channel.

Examples of private employee recognition include:

  • Privately commending an employee for a presentation

  • Sending a thank you note, text, email 

  • Having a one-on-one dinner with a manager or the CEO

Private recognition is excellent for employees that are timid and may not handle public praise very well.

On the other hand, public employee recognition is one that is made known, not only to the appreciated employee, but also to his/ her fellow employees.

So, it is a way of telling everyone in the organization that particular efforts/ achievements are appreciated.

Examples of public employee recognition include:

  • sparing appreciate words for an employee’s effort during a team meeting

  • posting appreciative thoughts about an employee efforts in the team’s communication channel

  • Featuring the employee in the company’s newsletter or magazine

While private recognition will motivate the appreciated person, public recognition will motivate both the appreciated person and others. A great idea to enhance public recognition is to have a dedicated space for it like an employee recognition platform which also allows for collecting points and getting rewards which is another motivator for praising colleagues.

4. Structured vs unstructured employee recognition 

When it comes to whether or not there is a recognizable pattern that the recognition follows, there can be structured or unstructured employee recognition.

A structured employee recognition is one that is arranged according to a specific plan. It can also be called formal employee recognition. 

Because the structured employee recognition programs are planned out, they happen at predictable times. There are known criteria (that are in line with the company’s corporate goals) for qualifying for the recognition.

The structured recognitions happen at ceremonial events, and are usually top-down. That is, the acknowledgement comes from the company to the employee, and sometimes from particular bosses to subordinates. 

Examples of structured employee recognition include: 

On the other hand, an unstructured or informal employee recognition does not follow any pattern or specific plan. As such, it does not happen at a predictable time.

It is usually more frequent than structured employee appreciation. It may or may not involve a ceremony, and it can be top-down or peer-to-peer.

Examples of unstructured employee recognition 

  • Milestone celebration

  • Awards of points for particular achievements (in a continuous recognition system)

  • “Thank you” or “Well done” cards

  • Appreciation email

Effects of meaningful employee recognition

Recognizing employees does wonders to their satisfaction, motivation and productivity. Specifically, it:

  • Promotes employee satisfaction

  • Boost employee engagement

  • Boosts morale

  • Improves productivity

  • Lower turnover

  • Attracts talents

employee recognition

1. Promotes employee satisfaction

Recognition is a basic employee need. One statistics has it that 52.5% of employees want to be recognized by their managers. 

This is because, by nature, everyone wants their contribution to be impactful, and for such impactful contributions to be appreciated.

Interestingly, employee recognition tells employees that their contributions are impactful and well appreciated. Thus, recognizing employees fulfills a basic employee need, and this promotes employee satisfaction.

2. Boost employee engagement

Employee engagement is the mental and emotional connection that employees feel towards their places of work.

It is much more than employee satisfaction (which means being happy in the organization). Engagement describes the commitment of employees to the organization, and whether they are actively involved in advancing organizational goals. 

When employees feel recognized, not only will they be happy, they’ll be more involved in advancing the organization. In fact, it’s been reported that78% of employees are highly engaged when they experience strong recognition.

3. Boosts morale

Employee morale is the overall outlook and attitude of employees while associated with an organization.

So, the behaviors of employees at work are reflections of their morale. With low morale will come unnecessary complaints about work and fellow workers, conflicts with co-workers, increased absenteeism, lateness, insubordination, etc.

High morale on the other hand brings about a positive attitude and increases employee motivation.

By promoting happiness and engagement at work, employee recognition enhances employee’s outlook towards the organization and boosts morale.

4. Improves productivity

Employee recognition is directly related to increased productivity. As seen, when employees feel appreciated, they are more happy, enthusiastic, and motivated. This makes them put more effort into work, and this increases their productivity.

Another reason why recognition boosts productivity is that people tend to repeat what gets recognized. Thus, if a person’s particular achievement is recognized, the person will strive to reach that mark again. If the recognition is public, others in the organization will also strive to reach that mark, so that they’ll also be recognized.

So, employee recognition improves the productivity of both the person recognized and others in the organization. 

👉 Check our article and find out how to increase productivity

5. Lowers employee turnover

A damning statistics is that 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving.

As previously mentioned, every employee wants his/ her contributions to be recognized. If that recognition is not forthcoming, not only will it dampen morale, but the employee is more likely to quit.

Thus, programs that recognize employees and make them feel appreciated will help employee retention strategies, preventing your talents from jumping ship.

6. Attracts talents

When employees leave organizations because of not being appreciated, they will join organizations where their efforts will be appreciated. 

Thus, an organization’s employee recognition programs actually make them attractive to talents in competing organizations.

Employee recognition ideas that work

There are different ways to recognize employees’ efforts and achievements.

Some (like private lunch and care packages) work best for appreciating individual employees. Some (like catered meals) work best for appreciating an entire team, while some (like public praise during meetings and social media shout outs) are excellent for both individuals and teams.

employee recognition

Below are some of our favorite employee recognition programs:

1. Give praise during an all-hands meeting

Company all-hands meetings should not be for updates alone. They present excellent opportunities to publicly praise high-performing employees.

When it calls for it, make recognizing employees a part of the agenda. During the meeting, mention the employee you want to recognize and the specific reasons for the recognition. Shower praises on the employee and even have everyone else give him/ her a 30 seconds or 1 minute ovation.

This is one of the best forms of public employee recognition. Seeing everyone including top bosses give a particular employee a standing ovation will spur everyone else on.

The all-hands meeting mention plus ovation is also excellent for recognizing teams. As with the individual, after mentioning the team’s achievements, mention the leading team member or all members of the team, dole out the praise, and get everyone to applaud them. 

2. Send a card

Sending an employee a card is a simple but effective way of privately recognizing efforts in written form. Unlike verbal appreciative words, cards are things that employees can hold onto for many years as a memento.

So, instead of telling employees “thank you,” consider giving employees “thank you” cards.

When using cards to recognize employees, you can physically hand it over at work, leave it at the employee’s desk,  or send it to his/ her home. When sending cards, include a handwritten note that specifies why the person is receiving the card.

That is, specify the person’s achievement or the particular thing about their work that you appreciate.

3. Give a bonus

Monetary rewards is one of the first things that come to mind when it comes to recognizing outstanding employees. It has bee used from time immemorial. However, it is traditional, it still works outstandingly.

There are different ways to implement this. One is to have an amount as standard. Know that a particular amount that may be significant to some employees, it may not be significant to others (especially high paid employees).


So, instead of a standard amount, you may consider having a standard rate (something like 20% of take home pay).

You should note that bonuses as employee rewards may not work for everyone. So, it is best to combine it with a card. It’ll work better if you also send the employee a note. In it, specifically mention the outstanding work that earned the employee the reward, and expressly thank him/ her.

👉 Read also our article: how to motivate with bonuses

4. Send a care package

A care package, also called a goodie box, is a basket packed with goodies – an assortment of items.

First, everyone likes goodies. Secondly, care packages are sent to someone to show your appreciation or that you care. These make care packages great gifts for employee recognition.

Also, you can get creative with what to include in a care package. So, you can create care packages that appeal to the employee you are recognizing irrespective of his/ her  preferences and values. You can also include a handwritten note or card in the care package for your employee.

Care packages are excellent recognition ideas for remote employees. 

5. Celebrate birthdays

Another wonderful way to recognize employees publicly is to celebrate their birthdays.

You can order a cake that’ll be shared in the office, some drinks to go around, and/ or a gift. It’ll also be good to include a card. A generic “happy birthday” card is fine.

However, what is better is a personalized card that thanks the person for his/ her contribution to the organization, then wishes him/ her a happy birthday. Remember to be specific when mentioning the “contributions.”

However, you should know that it is not everyone that celebrates birthdays or appreciates unexpected public celebrations. So, you should be careful about planning surprise birthday parties for employees.

One way to celebrate employee birthdays that will be welcomed by everyone is to give the person the day off. 

6. Give company swags

Company swags are branded items that companies use to promote their business. Companies can also give employees these corporate gifts as appreciation for their efforts or achievements.

Employees generally love to have company-branded items like mugs, bags, etc. It’s usually a source of pride. So, when these items are given to them in recognition for their work, employees cherish them even more. 

However, you should be careful to identify quality materials that employees will be happy to have. There are many employee recognition examples of company swags like pens that nobody wants. 

7. Give personalized gifts

A personalized gift for an employee is one that is made exclusively for a person. Personalization is done by having the employee’s name or picture printed or engraved on the gift item. For example, Canvas Prints are becoming quite popular among businesses as an ideal personalized gift option. These prints are stickable photo tiles, which makes them a unique gift.

Personalized gifts go a step further than company swags. While a company swag can be given to any employee, a personalized gift item can only be given to the employee it is specially made for. You can use the same print-on-demand service to make swag, but be sure to customize your shirts, caps, and everything in between to create a stand-out gift.

Employees generally love knowing that the item was specially selected and made for them.

8. Give a traveling trophy

The traveling trophy is also called a rotating trophy or team trophy. It is simply an award that would change hands often during special ceremonies. Giving a traveling trophy is a fun yet effective way to recognize employees.

Simply have a trophy made. Make it unique by customizing  it with engravings showing the company’s logo and/ or values. Then have the trophy given to the employee that has stood out in some way and deserves recognition.

This should be done in a meeting or a short ceremonial event. Be sure to specifically mention why the employee is being awarded.

The trophy is to remain with the employee for a period of time, kept on display on his/ her desk. The trophy enhances the public recognition of the individual for as long as it is with him/ her. 

The next time another person is deserving of recognition, you can then follow the procedure of arranging a ceremonial event for the employee to hand over the trophy to its new recipient.

One way of adding more meaning to the traveling trophy when using it to recognize employees is to always include a note.  Every time the trophy is being passed to an employee, he/ she should get a note that explains what the trophy stands for, and what he/ she has done to earn it.

9. Create a wall of fame

The wall of fame (often called wall of appreciation) is simply a space where you put the photos of employees who have done exceptionally well and deserve recognition. 

It is also a fun way to appreciate employees. Simply request and stick the picture of the employee being recognized on the wall. You can also use candid pictures of the employee hard at work.

To make it more fun, you can request and include a baby picture of the employee alongside a recent picture.

The wall of fame/ appreciation works best if you include highlights of the person’s contribution to the organization.

You can also make it interactive by encouraging other employees to post notes around the photo of the featured employee. This fosters peer to peer recognition, allowing the featured employee to receive the adulation of not just his/ her bosses, but also of his/ her peers.

The hall of fame is excellent for recognizing not only individual employees but also teams.

It is also one of many great employee recognition ideas for those with remote employees or virtual teams. Simply have the employee wall behind you where it is visible as your team holds its virtual meetings. If you want to make your team’s achievements conspicuous outside of the office, a unique and customizable photo book is the answer. Providing this to people who go above and beyond lets them celebrate successes with family and friends, not just colleagues.

10. Offer extended breaks

The work environment can be stressful, so opportunities to relieve stress are always welcomed. Breaks are such stress-relieving options.

However, time always seems to fly by too quickly during breaks. As such, employees usually love extended breaks which gives them more time to destress.

Extended breaks are particularly effective for recognizing teams. This is because breaks provide opportunities for employees to socialize. When only one person has the opportunity, the downtime can quickly become boring.

However, when it is the whole team, they can catch up on current events, personal affairs, etc. This strengthens relationships towards having a better work environment.

11. Offer shorter work day

This means giving the employee that you want to recognize the reward of not working full day. A shorter work day can be offered either as an early finish or late start.

  • Early finish. This means allowing the employee the opportunity to close work early or come to work late. For example, instead of a full 9 to 5 work day, the employee may be allowed to do 9 to 2. 

  • Late start. This means allowing the employee the opportunity to come to work late. For example, instead of the 9 to 5, the employee may be allowed to start work at 12. 

time planning

Shorter work day is an excellent reward for individual employees. This is because, unlike extended breaks, the time off work will not be spent alone around the office.

12. Give a day off

Even better than giving extended breaks and shorter work days is giving the deserving employee a day off.

“TGIF” is popular within work circles because employees look forward to the time off over the weekend. So, making a workday a “work-free weekend” is something that employees will love.

When giving a deserving employee a day off, include a note. In it, specifically state why he/ she has earned the reward. To make an off day a more meaningful recognition, instead of simply giving the following day off, let the employees choose a off-day.

A day off is also excellent for recognizing high-performing teams. Simply give the entire team a day off after they complete a project.

13. Offer extended leave

This takes employee off-time to new levels. Instead of giving an employee that did exceptionally well just a day off, you may decide to add a couple of days to their leave.

Employees usually plan out their leave time, to vacation, take personal development courses, etc. So, having some extra time is something that’ll sit well with employees.

Just like with the day off, instead of verbally communicating the reward, send a note. In it, state the reward, specifically mention how the employee has earned it, and state your appreciation for the outstanding service.

14. Arrange a private lunch

You can reward employees (the exceptional performers) with a one-on-one lunch date with one of the senior leaders of the organization.

A private lunch out is excellent for individuals, especially those who do not like public recognition.

This timeout will allow for meaningful  one-on-one conversations where you can get to know the individual better as well as communicate how much the company appreciates his/ her work.

15. Arrange a catered meal 

Everyone loves treats, especially when it is a surprise treat that is not expected. So, arranging a catered meal for the office is one way to appreciate employees for their work.

There are different options for this. One way is to hire a food truck, another is to have a food delivery service send food to the office, and another is to bring in a caterer for a buffet-style luncheon. 

You can arrange the catered meal for employee appreciation day. Unlike one-on-one lunch that is for appreciating an individual, the catered meal appreciates everyone in the office. It adds to team building efforts.

16. Add lunch drawings to your employee recognition program

A lunch drawing is simply a small get together where employees names will be drawn from a hat to receive an award. So, it combines a lunch with fun employee recognition awards.

This is one of the best employee recognition efforts because no one is left one. Everyone gets appreciated with the lunch, yet particular employees receive some special award. This could be the traveling trophy, a personalized gift, etc.

For the drawing, you may get employees to nominate someone for the award. The more times someone is nominated, the more entries the person gets to increase his/ her chances of being selected.

Thus, the drawing is one way to develop a peer recognition program in the office. This is because the person awarded is not selected by the leadership team, but from nominations of his/ her peers. 

The lunch drawing is also an excellent way to gamify an employee recognition program and make it more fun.

17. Offer professional development opportunities

Providing opportunities for professional development is one of the best ways to show employees that you care about their careers. So, such opportunities are excellent in an employee recognition program.

Some practical ways for you to include professional development opportunities into your employee recognition program are:

  • Subsidizing the cost of degrees.  

  • Covering the cost of professional certifications 

  • Covering the costs of technical skills training

  • Providing a formal mentoring program

18. Recognize personal achievements

Employee recognition programs usually focus on work achievements. However, employees have a life outside work that includes certain goals.

So, recognizing the achievement of such personal goals tells employees that you really care about them. It makes employees feel valued as individual, and not just as organizational resource.  

To recognize personal achievements, you’ll need to be attentive to employees. It may also require building relationships with your employees.

This can help you to understand your employees’ personal goals and when they achieve some of these goals, you can celebrate them in the workplace with official channels or create group videos that congratulate their accomplishments.

employee motivational

19. Recognize work anniversaries

Another fine employee recognition idea is recognizing work anniversaries or years of service. 

However, these need not be yearly anniversaries because it’ll mean celebrating everyone once a year. To make it more meaningful, you should arrange the recognition for every 5 years. 

You may host a brief ceremonial event and present a plaque (years of service award).

It is important to add a substantial reward like a bonus, a gift card, or tangible item like an appliance. 

20. Feature in company’s newsletter

If your organization has internal magazines and newsletters, these can be used to publicly recognize the efforts and work achievements of employees who perform exceptionally well.

Simply identify employees deserving of recognition and have them featured in the next issue of the magazine. The feature could take different formats, such as including a brief bio, inspirational quotes, etc. However, be sure to highlight the specific contributions that earned the person the recognition.

A feature in a company’s newsletter is also a good way to recognise teams.

21. Recognize employees on social media

Recognizing employees on social media takes public recognition to far-reaching levels.

While the other public recognition options are limited to the team or the organization, recognition on social media appreciates the employee before the wider public – the whole world.

This is relatively easy to do. If an employee performs exceptionally well, give him/ her a shout out on one or more of your company’s social media handles. You can also share positive feedback that you receive which concerns employee.

This is actually as beneficial to the organization as it is to the employee. It makes your company more human before customers and social media followers. You’ll basically be showing these stakeholders how capable your staff members are.

This will have a positive impact because customers are more likely to trust your organization and bring you their business.

22. Give experiential rewards

These are rewards that are tied to an experience. They evoke more powerful and longer lasting emotions than gift items or more numbers on the paycheck.

For example, think of an all-expense paid trip to a sporting event, a concert, or a travel vacation. All while making good use of a travel policy template which can save your company on travel expenses.

You should give very exceptional employees experiential rewards once in a while. However, rewarding employees this way is relatively expensive.

23. Give time off to volunteer

Many employees are passionate about making a difference or giving something back to society, and they do this by supporting non-profits.

Allowing such employees the time to show more of that support is something they’ll hold dear because it shows them that you care about what they care about. 

So, an excellent employee recognition idea is giving the employee some time off to volunteer at a charity or non-profit organization of his/ her choosing.

You can make this a more meaningful recognition by combining it with other employee appreciation ideas like a feature in the company newsletter or a shoutout in the company’s social media channel.

That is, take note the exact charity the employee is volunteering for, and the activity the employee will participate in. Then make mention of these in the newsletter or social media channels, expressing how glad you are that the company’s own are having a positive impact on the community.   

24. Pledge a donation to employee charity

Like giving time off for volunteering, pledging a donation to your employee’s charity is an employee recognition program that tells the employee that you care about their passions.

You may decide to match the employee’s contribution to the charity over a period, or to make a huge one-time donation.

You may also want to honor the employee by giving his /her interests in the charity a mention in the company’s channels, highlighting how the company’s own are making positive contributions to society.


Employee recognition is simply acknowledging the efforts and achievements of your employees.

When recognition is specific, timely, relevant, and given regularly, it makes employees feel valued, boosting morale, promoting engagement, increasing productivity, and reducing turnover.

While giving monetary rewards is the traditional way of recognizing employees, there are many recognition efforts that work wonders both for individual employees and teams. These include time-offs via extended breaks, shorter work days, or extended leave, sending cards, care packages, or company swags, a feature in the company’s newsletter or social media channels, etc.

Using one or more of the different employee recognition ideas above will help you hit the mark. However, determining the employee deserving the recognition is sometimes not so straightforward.

This is where TimeCamp comes in. The time tracking solution will show you at a glance how much time your employees are spending on productive tasks. It’ll help you track your employees’ productivity, your teams’ performance, and your projects’ profitability.

Determine the outstanding performers in your organization for proper recognition. Do this by keeping track of your employee performance across projects. TimeCamp is one of the best tools for this.

Interestingly, you need not spend to use TimeCamp. There’s a free plan, and it supports unlimited users on both the mobile and desktop apps.

Get to know where your time goes with TimeCamp!

Track time in projects and tasks, create reports, and bill your clients in just one tool.

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