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Employee recognition in the workplace
7 Min Read

7 Employee Recognition Ideas for the Business-Focused Leader

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Stefanie Jansen

Years ago, there was no such thing as employee recognition. Our parents and grandparents had no real concept of what it was to feel appreciated at work. You got a job, you did it, and you came home—every day for 40 years. But perhaps that’s why we’ve seen the alarming burnout rates and poor cultures of some companies today. And maybe that’s why today’s employees want a career they’re not only awake for, but proactively energized about.

Millennials entering the workforce now demand a thriving career where they feel utilized, engaged, and appreciated—a trend that’s caught on among their more senior coworkers.

In fact, lack of recognition is the number one reason why most Americans leave their jobs.

Today, 58% of employees say leaders could give more recognition in order to improve employee engagement. And when they don’t have it, they’re more likely to jump ship.

As a leader, you care deeply about your employees and their well-being. But at the same time, meeting business demands and answering to the board forces your focus elsewhere. The reality is, recognizing your employees is a business initiative. Employee turnover is expensive and can cost your company six to nine months of their salary to replace them.

Luckily, there are still easy ways you can give your employees the appreciation they deserve that makes it a regular, deep-rooted part of your culture instead of an “add-on” you have to remember every quarter.

7 Easy Ideas for Employee Recognition

If you search for “employee recognition ideas,” you’ll probably find lists and lists of quick hacks you can try. But true employee appreciation is more about quality than quantity. Here are seven employee recognition ideas that are meaningful, yet easy and (mostly) budget-friendly.

Don’t forget about peer recognition.

While recognition by a direct manager goes a long way in making employees feel noticed and appreciated, peer recognition is an equally effective, yet often forgotten form of praise that not only improves culture, but takes the onus off managers to be the sole providers of positive reinforcement. In fact, according to SHRM, peer-to-peer recognition is 35.7% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. Here at 15Five, we recognize that no success has ever been achieved by a single person or even a single team. That’s why we pair our manager-led recognition with peer recognition. When employees are called out at quarterly company meetings for superior work, they are always asked to name another contributing coworker who helped them get there, awarding them with public recognition, as well as a gift card for their efforts.

Send spontaneous internal messages.

One of the common misconceptions about employee appreciation is that it needs to be some grandiose gesture. Conversely, the most meaningful recognition that employees receive can also be the simplest. Think about the internal channel that will reach the most people within your company—email? Text? A messaging system like Slack? Properly recognizing employees can be as simple as sending out a monthly email of recent wins (and those who helped achieve them) or as spontaneous as sending a quick “thank you” (and applause emoji, of course) across your internal messenger.

Set aside time for recognition in your regularly scheduled huddles.

I used to work for a team that did weekly marketing “stand-ups.” The meetings were somewhat informal in nature and provided broad messaging and announcements to keep our team of about 50 marketers in-the-know without diving too deep into details. Without fail, at the end of each meeting, the facilitator would open the floor up for three (no more, no less) praises. Anyone in the department (whether the CMO or the entry-level copywriter) could thank or congratulate a fellow colleague on a success that week. But because there were only three slots available, praises were kept succinct and meaningful. The employee recognition idea was so effective that people began coming to the meetings prepared with their praise, which made others feel appreciated and part of the greater mission of the company.

Give the gift of choice.

Just like a parent rewarding their growing child with more responsibility when they demonstrate good behavior, praising your employees can also come in the form of more decision-making power of some kind instead of a tangible reward. Whether it’s as big as allowing them to choose your team’s next project or as small as letting them select their favorite food for next month’s snack bar, putting the ball in their court not only shows your appreciation for a job well done, but demonstrates your trust in their decision-making abilities.

Acknowledge your employees’ lives.

Perhaps recognition isn’t always about giving praise, but simply recognizing your employees as humans. Acknowledging their personal lives is another way of making employees feel valued without making it about work performance all the time. If your employee has shared details about his or her personal life (weddings, birthdays, babies, achieving a goal like running a marathon, etc.), take an interest in celebrating these milestones and pastimes that make them happy. Don’t have budget for a celebration? Pooling money from co-workers or just writing a nice card will go a long way. Remember—your employees spend most of their waking hours with you. Thank them by acknowledging who they are outside of work too.

Keep gift cards on-hand so you’re always prepared.

When I became a manager at a previous company, I was made privy to a whole new set of tools and tactics to keep my team engaged. One of these was a “manager-only secret”—a filing cabinet in HR that held gift cards upon gift cards for the sole purpose of rewarding employees for exceptional work. As a manager, I could go ask the HR executive assistant to browse the gift cards for one of my employees—no questions asked. Pairing my thank you note with a hand-selected gift card allowed for a more personalized reward, while giving the employee a little something “extra” gave them something they didn’t have to share with coworkers or family. No, not every team is going to have budget to be able to buy a whole kiosk of gift cards. But if you do, keeping this type of award system on-hand will save you time, arm your managers with more opportunities to show appreciation, and delight your employees with a well-deserved gift.

Write a traditional thank you note.

What’s more valuable to an employee than any bonus or perk? A good ole’ fashioned note that showcases your genuine appreciation for their work. A note can’t hide behind wrapping paper or a monetary amount—a note is from the heart. And because it’s from the heart, it shows your employee what you truly think about their contribution to the company. Plus, thank you notes are tangible, so they serve as excellent reminders to employees that they are a valued member of the team, even on their worst day.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But it’s a start to the little things you can start to incorporate into your company culture or leadership style to better recognize your employees. When employees feel appreciated, they’re more likely to continue practicing the behavior that led them there, making them more productive and engaged in their role. And when employees are engaged, they’re less likely to leave, saving you time and money while strengthening your culture with loyal team members.

Looking for more employee recognition ideas? Read how employee spotlights can increase connection and engagement.