Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Unexpected Forms of Employee Recognition

Employees often feel as though their efforts go unrecognized or unappreciated at work. This can lead to resentment and can even prompt employees to begin job hunting.


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Fortunately, there are many ways employers can show employees appreciation by giving them recognition for their hard work and results. There are some obvious things, like employee reward programs and bonuses, but there are also many informal (and sometimes unexpected) types of recognition that can go a long way toward showing employees that you recognize and appreciate their efforts.

Here are a few examples:

Improve the project options for the employee:

  • Let the employee have more freedom in future projects. By allowing the employee to have more freedom and control over a project, you’re showing trust in his or her capabilities.
  • Offer the opportunity to participate in voluntary projects that can aid in employee development. For example, some employees would like to join the company mentoring program as a mentor for others. Alternatively, offer the employee the chance to represent the company in some capacity, such as at a public event. This elevates the employee’s stature in the organization.
  • Bring the employee in on a high-level project. Bringing employees into projects they would have typically been excluded from shows that you value their opinions and contributions and view them as a key contributor.
  • Offer an allowance of unstructured time. This means giving the employee leeway to work on a “pet” project or something they’re interested in that wasn’t originally part of their role. This can give employees recognition that you not only appreciate their work but also trust that they will find other ways to contribute on projects they find personally rewarding.

Provide miscellaneous rewards, and customize them when appropriate:

  • Offer personalized rewards. For example, if the employee has an interest in photography, perhaps a voucher for a photography class would be an appropriate reward. This, of course, requires a little input from the employee, but can be tied to goal achievement and can make the employee not only feel recognized but also can allow him or her to associate this new activity as a positive work benefit.
  • Give food as a reward. This could take many different forms. For example, some employers opt to bring in lunch for the team at the conclusion of a successful project or milestone. Others opt to take individual employees out to lunch as a thank you. Still others provide gift certificates for local restaurants to allow employees a nice treat as a form of employee recognition.
  • Offer simple tokens of appreciation that recognize whenever an employee goes the extra mile. For example, this might be a Starbucks gift card, or it could be vouchers for a local movie theater. The key is that it’s something simple that can be used for anyone and doesn’t take a lot of money yet shows that you recognize his or her efforts.
  • Let the employee choose from a set of miscellaneous bonus options. Offer a group of possible rewards, and let the employee choose which one they would value. Some may like the movie tickets, others may appreciate the coffee, etc.

Get upper management in on the recognition:

  • Praise the employee’s work in front of upper management. This may seem obvious, but it often goes overlooked and is such a simple and effective way to show the employee that you not only recognize his or her efforts but you also want to be sure that others in the organization see it too. In most cases, this should be done informally—even conversationally, whenever possible. Be careful not to embarrass anyone (some employees may be reluctant to be in the spotlight, so tread lightly).
  • Have a person in top leadership give a formal recognition letter, either publicly or privately. This could come in the form of an executive e-mail to the company, praising a personal or team accomplishment. Or it could perhaps be in the form of a letter sent to the employee’s home.

Give extra time off:

  • Let them go home early, with pay. This could be at the completion of a project, or could just be given as a surprise form of recognition of hard work in general.
  • Provide extra paid time off (PTO). When appropriate, going a step further and providing extra days off may be a great way to recognize how much an employee has been working. (As with many of these suggestions, be careful to implement this one carefully as to not appear to be providing extra benefits to only select “favorite” employees—give the same form of recognition for the same type of accomplishment for everyone.)

Encourage employees to give recognition to other employees. Managers may not always know every detail of what every employee is doing, but if you allow employees to give recognition to others, it can foster camaraderie. It can be a way to learn more about the milestones the employees are achieving.

Naturally, not all items will be appropriate for all employees. Employee personality and goals should be taken into account. Be sure to administer reward programs consistently, avoiding favorites and avoiding discrimination.

What types of unique or interesting employee recognition methods have you tried? What have you found to work best?

1 thought on “Unexpected Forms of Employee Recognition”

  1. Every employee deserves praise and gratitude from his/her bosses for the good honest work that he/she has done for the company. Giving rewards–monetary or in kind–to productive competent employees stimulates their interests to stay long in the company.

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