18 Employee Recognition Ideas Every Business Should Try

Looking to reduce turnover, improve performance, or just build a strong, engaged team? The common thread is employee recognition. This means acknowledging what your employees invest into your organization and creating real connections between the people who make up your company.

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Why is employee recognition important?

The importance of employee recognition efforts simply can’t be understated. When you recognize and reward employees, your business benefits in the following ways:

  • Happier employees. When you recognize employees and their hard work, you show that you value their contributions. Employees who don’t receive this recognition might lack enough incentive to work their hardest. That means poorer work quality and more time and resources needlessly spent on tasks that could have been more easily completed.
  • Better leadership. When you appreciate your team, your team is more likely to appreciate you. Gratitude is a two-way street, one that leads to you and your employees feeling more excited to work together. The strengthened teamwork that results can lead to more employee engagement, productivity, and overall healthier company culture.
  • Lower turnover rates. Employees who aren’t recognized or valued might struggle to think of their position with you as a good job. In turn, they might begin seeking work elsewhere. If they consistently find new jobs successfully, you’ll experience higher rates of employee turnover. The amount of time and money you lose to training new employees during high turnover periods can put a serious strain on your operations.

18 great employee recognition ideas

Wondering where to start? Here are some of our top recommendations.

1. Don't let important dates go unnoticed

From birthdays to work anniversaries to project accomplishments, the reasons to celebrate are endless. Take time to recognize your employees on the days that mean most to them—it’ll show them how valuable they are to your business. Order a cake or a gift (or both!) for those special occasions.

2. Get to know your employees

Understanding your team individually doesn’t just benefit you once—when appreciation days and gift-giving come around, you’ll be able to personalize your gifts and feel confident that you’re delighting your team members.

3. Organize team events

To boost morale and show appreciation for the people who are behind your business success, schedule team outings once in a while. Provide food, fun team-building activities, and awards. If taking a whole day isn’t realistic, even a group lunch can be a surprisingly impactful event.

Check out this video on our company culture at SmartBiz, featuring a team field day!

4. Shout your employees out

No matter how you decide to go about it, recognizing the hard work your employees invest in your business will encourage and motivate not only the individual but the team as a whole. At company-wide meetings, share major wins, outstanding performance, and terrific teamwork.

You can even take it a step further by praising your employees publicly: introduce the high-achieving employee on your social media channels so your customers can get to know your team.

5. Small gestures do count

Showing your appreciation doesn’t have to take up your monthly budget or an entire workday. Even a quick sticky note, greeting card, or morning coffee can go a long way. For example, a short note thanking the employee for a recent effort and describing how their work has improved operations is a great form of recognition. Plus, this note takes just a moment to put together and you can even leave on your employee’s desk.

6. You don’t need an occasion to celebrate

Donuts on a Wednesday, walking meetings to the nearest coffee shop, after-work events—Why not? Surprise treats are a great way to make staff feel valued, any day of the week. They’re especially great recognition ideas if you struggle to talk about how and why employee contributions matter. Surprise treats do the talking for you.

7. Feature your team on your website

Your website is probably your customers’ first look at your business before they walk through the door. If you’re proud of your employees, a great way to show it off is by introducing them to your customers on your website.

It might not be possible to add everyone, but this small change can make a big difference. Schedule a team photoshoot to get the highest quality photos, share a fun fact, or even let your employees write their own bios for a personal touch.

8. Give employees a voice

These gestures are always welcome, but often not enough. Appreciation and trust should be at the core of your company culture. Do your employees have the freedom to choose the projects they work on or are they assigned even the daily responsibilities? Are their concerns, ideas, and suggestions heard and taken into consideration?

Without a solid relationship built on genuine understanding and respect, a birthday cupcake or gift card won’t mean much. In fact, it could even seem insensitive if an employee has spoken up about an issue but has heard no other response.

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9. Encourage education

If you value your team’s success, you should give them the opportunity to grow through continuing education. Whether that means training, community events, or specialized programs, opportunities to learn mean more qualified staff. Providing these options means that you support your team members in their individual careers and encourage them to develop their skills to become more effective in their work.

With this comes the prospect of promotions. Recognize the additional effort your team is investing in their positions and be open to offering them the title and salary they deserve.

10. Make incentives count

Think about the rewards you offer your employees to perform at the top of their game. Bonuses, prizes, and other monetary incentives can provide a boost, but are usually limited to the short term. To go above and beyond the one-time prize by communicating your team’s impact regularly.

Use a few minutes at the beginning of your meetings to recognize a highlight of the day, week, or month. Share your “shoutouts” through your internal emails or other communication channels. Making employee recognition a daily ritual can inspire your team to grow together.

11. Go beyond the workplace

Your relationship with your staff doesn’t end in the office. By really getting to know your employees, you’ll know what their interests and goals are outside of work. Be there for your team by supporting their passions and achievements. It might be a fitness milestone or a personal development goal—remember the details and offer your congratulations when the time is right.

12. Unite the remote office

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread shifts to remote work, and for some companies, this transition will be permanent. This distance can make it tougher to recognize your team members, but recognition and rewards aren’t impossible from a distance. Call your employees together for a virtual meeting where you individually praise everyone on the team for a recent work accomplishment.

When you take the time to highlight the great job your team members are doing in front of the whole crew, you’ll make people feel positively impacted. Better yet, since you’re giving each employee equal praise time in front of the whole team, you’ll ensure that your whole team feels equally recognized. You’ll also give employees the space to congratulate one another and thus forge stronger bonds with each other. These bonds make for better teamwork.

13. Create a digital employee recognition channel

Digital praise channels are among the employee recognition ideas most suitable to both remote and in-person teams. Create a channel for employee recognition in your team’s communication tool, then open the floor to all team members to praise one another for their exciting accomplishments.

These accomplishments could be major, like someone getting a promotion. They could be smaller, like somebody completing one more assignment than planned during a week. The goal is to create a space of constant positive reinforcement and make sure no one feels taken for granted.

14. Start a rewards program.

When your employees do things worth sharing, spreading that knowledge in the form of a reward can prove meaningful. For example, if an employee has locked in a major new client, reward them by paying for a learning opportunity in an area of their interest. Then, announce the news and reward to the whole team. This way, your employee gets the whole team’s praise, and all your employees know they can be similarly rewarded for great work.

15. Have a suggestion box

Recognition doesn’t have to come from the top down exclusively. Empower your employees to recognize others on their team by being open to suggestions. You can keep it old school, with a physical box in the office, or take it online with an email thread or chat discussion. At your all-hands meetings, be sure to share those employee names and how they embody your company’s values.

16. Use customer feedback

Do you collect reviews from your customers? Not only can they help you gauge how you’re doing, but you can use the feedback to spotlight the staff members that stand out. Some easy options that can help you get started are Google ® My Business and TrustPilot® .

17. Improve your break room or communal area

Do you like spending time in your break room? If not, here are some easy ways to revamp it. Start by cleaning up the space, upgrading furniture and appliances, and adding nice décor. Put into practice a system for everyone to chip in and keep the room maintained, and make sure it’s a relaxing environment for your employees.

With those steps out of the way, start thinking outside the box: what about books and helpful resources, games, comfortable seating? Take your break room to the next level and you’ll help spark conversations, interest groups, and education.

18. Say “thank you” more often

It can be easy to take for granted that your employees complete the tasks they’re assigned just because it’s expected of them. Saying thank you is the simplest first step, and it might even have a stronger impact than a fun team event or a surprise gift. At the end of day, you don’t know just how much it can mean to the person who needed to hear it.

In conclusion

Employee recognition isn’t a one-off gift or word of praise, it should be at the core of your company values and culture. Promoting a welcoming, motivating, and productive environment starts with the everyday exchanges you have with your employees. A simple “thank you” or “happy birthday” can go a long way. When you’re feeling creative, you can take your plans to the next level with fun events and activities, in and out of the office.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The SmartBiz® Small Business Blog and other related communications from SmartBiz Loans® are intended to provide general information on relevant topics for managing small businesses. Be aware that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide specific recommendations to you or your business with respect to the matters addressed. Please consult legal and financial processionals for further information.

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