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Employee Recognition: Creative Ideas for Any Business

Employee receiving appreciation from employer

People like to feel appreciated for their efforts beyond a regular paycheck. Establishing a culture of recognition can be an effective way to attract and retain top talent. Employee recognition is one way to increase morale, boost productivity, and ensure your employees remain happy, productive, and loyal over the long term.

Employee appreciation, expressed in various forms of recognition and benefits, doesn’t have to be costly. With a little creativity and a handful of ideas, you can give your employees the acknowledgment they deserve for giving your business their best effort. In turn, creating a culture that reminds employees that you appreciate them for who they are and the quality work they do can both strengthen their intrinsic motivation and encourage good feelings about a job well done.

Create a framework for regular employee recognition

Managers should have a framework for recognition to reliably integrate employee appreciation into the work culture. Using one that fits with their management styles helps keep efforts that validate employees natural and consistent. Employee recognition ideas of this variety include:

  • Recognize achievements in staff meetings. These achievements can be professional (receiving a professional award, taking on a difficult challenge, mastering a new skill, etc.) or personal (volunteer efforts, participating in a skill-based or athletic competition, welcoming a new baby or pet into the family, etc.). During each staff meeting, call out a few key people and their contributions and accomplishments from the previous week.
  • Include appreciation in the company newsletter. Meetings aren't the only place to recognize personal and professional achievements. These validations of accomplishment and appreciation can be included in a dedicated space on a company newsletter.
  • Acknowledge contributions in one-on-one meetings. Spend a few minutes asking questions about how your employees are doing, what they're excited about or proud of, and thanking them for the contributions they've made.
  • Ensure that major contributions — such as a project completed, deal signed, or major event gone smoothly — are routinely acknowledged in bigger ways.
  • Make team targets and wins visible. Working toward a common goal can enhance a sense of camaraderie among employees. Consider a form of a friendly wellness competition or even a chart that shows the collective progress toward reaching a target. If team members are working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can make the chart accessible online using a file sharing app for all staff members to access at their own convenience.
  • Establish an annual team retreat. Building a fun team retreat event — anything from an afternoon of activities to a multi-day experience — into the annual calendar can give employees a break from the daily grind while giving them and you a chance to identify team strengths, plan for future goals, and discuss how to tackle current challenges. Retreats don't have to disappear during COVID-19. Depending on your state or local COVID-19 orders, outdoor or virtual team-building activities may be viable and safe alternatives.

Effective managers track what should be recognized and ensure their employees know how much their efforts and accomplishments are appreciated.

Turn staff appreciation ideas into events

Has your team been working hard on a big project, putting in long hours to meet a target, or carrying lots of stress? One strategy to infuse positive energy into your employees is to create team appreciation events. The following team appreciation ideas can get you started:

  • Hold a catered lunch. Set up a spare room or meeting room and invite staff members to enjoy a fully catered lunch. If possible, consider decorating the space based on a theme that recognizes the team's accomplishment. During the time of COVID-19, a socially-distanced modification may be to stretch the lunch over a long-period of time and stagger the period in which employees come in and enjoy the experience to ensure an acceptable amount of space between individuals. If being indoors is too crowded for health reasons, try a catered, outdoor picnic. Of course, staying outdoors may limit the availability of this option to the warmer months, depending on where your business is located.
  • Host a team happy hour, virtual or in-person. Be sure to thank staff during the happy hour toast and give employees a chance to express any gratitude they may want to share with the team.
  • Treat your employees to lunch or dinner with a food truck. Bring in one food truck or several for a private food truck rodeo. If it's too costly to treat everyone to a full meal, consider bringing a food truck and giving a set gift card amount to each employee. If temperatures are too cold for eating outside and social distancing is a concern, consider setting up a temporary outdoor “café” outfitted with rented, outdoor heaters and small tables with one to three chairs each arranged 6-8 feet apart. You could even consider gifting a pair of company-branded gloves, scarves, or hats to encourage employees to have fun with the idea and kindle a sense of camaraderie in overcoming the cold weather challenge created by the novel coronavirus. If you’re unsure if your employees would be open to the idea, just ask!
  • Organize a fun, unexpected outdoor team activity such as a hike, disc golf, kayaking, a whale watch tour, a landscape painting class, or if your team is small and adventurous, perhaps a ropes course or zip-lining. Possibilities can be tailored to fit the needs of your team, such as keeping it outdoors and socially distanced during the coronavirus pandemic. Take care to select an activity that all team members can participate in and enjoy.
  • Celebrate an obscure holiday. There is a slew of annual holidays that are ripe for turning into a day of team appreciation ideas:
    • Jan. 29, National Puzzle Day. Celebrate your team's problem-solving abilities with a day filled with games, puzzles, competitions, and gifts.
    • June 1, National Swag Day. Surprise employees with gifts of business-branded swag.
    • June 30, Superman's birthday (for an office full of superheroes).
    • Sept. 6, Read a Book Day. Start a book drive for a charity, give 2-3 hours of paid time off to read, gift staff members a book relating to a project or the company, or launch an employee-driven book club.
    • Sept. 29, National Coffee Day, and April 21, National Tea Day. Arrange for a coffee or tea cart, provide a small gift certificate, or host an in-person or virtual coffee or tea break.
    • Oct. 16, World Food Day. Select a theme based on input from employees and share recipes or ask your company's employee resource groups to share a particular menu that reflects its interest or culture. Give back to the community by hosting a food drive for a local food cupboard.
    • Nov. 30, Stay Home Because You're Well Day. Show staff members your company values physical and mental health for great work performance.
    • Dec. 1, Rosa Parks' Birthday. Use this day for recognition of bravery in the face of a difficult team task (e.g. nailing a presentation), handling a crisis, or tenacity with a good attitude under challenging circumstances.
  • Create a health fair day that emphasizes your business cares about employee well-being. Consider bringing in chair massage services, arranging for an in-office yoga class that is also live-streamed on video for remote workers, and a healthy activity where participants can earn entries into a contest for health-related prizes. Remote workers can be given a gift certificate or time to do a healthy activity as well.

These events both serve as an opportunity to give employees a fun experience — such as awareness of a culture, event, or activity they might not otherwise experience — and provide an avenue for team building.

Send a handwritten thank you note

Large gifts or extravagant events aren't always in the budget. The simplest form of a thank you is also one of the most thoughtful and personal: a handwritten thank you note. There are many ways to incorporate this expression of gratitude to your employees.

  • Employee appreciation cards: Take the time to occasionally send a card acknowledging your appreciation for their hard work and dedication.
  • A simple note: Write a thank you note to recognize ongoing service, consistent dedication, and effort, or a major win, even if that win is in the form of tireless service and tremendous effort in the face of a disappointing outcome.
  • Handmade cards: Tokens of appreciation with a personal touch from executives who are typically busy show employees that they are a priority to leadership.

Reward employees with simple conveniences

Consider offering simple conveniences as gifts for staff appreciation:

  • Parking spot: Offer employees access to a nearby parking spot, making the trek to the office easier than usual.
  • In-office dry cleaning: Provide access to the in-office dry cleaning service for a period of time.
  • Car detailing: Surprise your staff with a complimentary car detailing service so they can have a squeaky-clean ride home from the office.
  • Extended lunch break: Award an employee an extra-long lunch that they can use on the day of their choice with advanced notice.
  • In-office coffee cart or station: Provide the occasional upgrade to the standard coffee or tea with an occasional gourmet coffee station.
  • Additional paid time off: Show your appreciation and gift your employees a bonus day off — if that complies with your company's policy and related regulations (check with HR first).

Little perks can go a long way toward helping employees feel appreciated and enjoy their workplace just a bit more.

Recognize service, but make it count

Employee service recognition programs are important. As employees are part of your company for a longer time, they become an essential part of your business's processes, relationships, and culture. When selecting employee appreciation gifts for service, think about what that individual employee would enjoy, and choose a customized gift (while remaining within budget):

  • Sporting event: Treat your sports enthusiasts with a ticket to their favorite team's game.
  • Gift cards: Purchase a gift card to your employee's favorite restaurant, store, or service.
  • Experience-based gifts: Give your employee a day of skiing, time with a fishing guide, a yoga clinic, crafting workshop, cooking class, or something that gives them a memorable and enjoyable day filled with their interests.
  • High-value swag: In addition to a personal gift, allow your employee to choose from a selection of high-value company-branded swag that corresponds with the milestone they reached.

Coming up with employee appreciation ideas that reflect your company culture can be challenging and fun. However, it's critical to invest in employee recognition and appreciation. It may be one of the simplest, yet most valuable tools at your disposal to increase morale, boost productivity, and ensure that your employees remain happy and productive over the long-term.

 

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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