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Employee Recognition Ideas

When it comes to motivating and engaging employees, there are three effective ways to go about doing so: through a rewards system, a recognition system, or a combination of the two. In this post we’ll outline the pros and cons of each so that you can begin to tailor your own reward and recognition plan for your organization.

Remember to keep in mind the best practices for employee recognition when using any of these ideas and the differences between rewards and recognition when choosing between the two types.

Tangible Rewards

Many organizations choose to celebrate the success of an employee by offering tangible rewards, such as a Starbucks gift card or a $50 voucher for a meal at a local restaurant. While these items can be motivational, they can sometimes have the opposite effect. For example, giving a Starbucks gift card to someone who doesn’t drink coffee or tea can cause that employee to disengage from the organization as they’ll feel as if you don’t really know them. Purchasing such items can also be a real strain on company resources. Therefore, if you choose to go with a tangible reward, unless you know the employee really well and are 100 percent sure that they’ll appreciate what you’re giving them, opt for open-ended rewards such as a prepaid credit card so that your employee can purchase something that they really want.

Intangible Recognition

Recognition is all about delivering positive reinforcement with intangible items such as praise at a staff meeting or dinner with a respected and admired executive. What can make recognition a bit tricky is that depending on the individual, he or she may want to be recognized for his or her accomplishment publicly or privately. When in doubt, turn to front line managers to find which technique will work best for the employee, and consider incorporating these low-cost recognition options:


  • Awards: This is the ideal way to recognize those employees who love being in the spotlight. Make sure that the award is one of significance and is worthy of a certificate, plaque, or trophy to really encourage productivity and engagement.
  • Team Food: No one will say no to being served up some delicious morsels or going out for team beers after work as a way to honour the achievement of a co-worker.
  • Company-Wide Email or Newsletter: This is best used when coupled with another recognition strategy, though it should always be considered as this ensures that everyone in the entire company learns of the employee’s achievement.


  • Timely and Sincere Praise: Employees thrive off of encouragement and praise, and nothing beats hearing immediate and sincere recognition of one’s excellent work.
  • Handwritten Note: A handwritten note of appreciation isn’t only quick and easy, but it shows that you sincerely value that employee’s work.
  • Free Pass/Days Off: Everyone’s struggling with work-life balance, and so offering a free day pass to employees where they can forgo coming in to work and instead spend time with their kids, at the beach, or travelling. It will go a long way in showing you’ve recognized their efforts and that you care about their work-life balance.
  • Networking Assistance: Career advancement is a surefire way to drive engagement and productivity, and so helping foster a “help network” for a worthy employee will not only prove you recognize their value, but it’ll keep them motivated too.

For most organizations, an effective award system will be a blend of both rewards and recognition. Keep the rewards and recognition frequent and focused, and you’ll quickly see a difference in team productivity and morale.

Harness the power of employee ideas.