25 Employee Recognition Ideas to Try in 2020 (Updated)

You care about your employees, and as a leader, you want to show it. That’s why we’ve put together 25 employee appreciation ideas and employee recognition ideas for you to try in 2020.

But first, what’s the difference between employee appreciation and recognition? Recognition brings awareness to someone’s performance, while appreciation demonstrates you value their inherent worth. Both matter, and are foundational to a strong company culture and employee experience.

Compiled below are a few high-level ideas with plenty of quick, practical tips sprinkled in to get you started for companies, teams, and employees. Give them a try, and see what works best for you and your people!

Employee Recognition Ideas for Companies

1. Create a celebrations channel in Slack

Gathering an entire team for celebrations can be hard even in normal times, let alone this uncharted era. Create a channel in your company’s Slack workspace (or other communication platform) to celebrate the good things — from shout-outs for jobs well done to work anniversaries, birthdays, welcoming new employees, and more.

2. Try a public recognition feed

It’s Management 101: “Correct in private, praise in public.” But with more of us working from home than ever before, “public” has become a different space.

Lean on tech to keep the employee recognition flowing! With a real-time, public recognition tool that encourages peer-to-peer praise, you can keep boosting morale (and reinforcing company values) from a distance.

Bonus points? Our studies show recognition programs strengthen company culture at organizations with dispersed, remote employees.

An example of employee recognition in the Kazoo recognition platform

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3. Open the floor to peer-nominated awards

Some of the best team-building and employee recognition ideas come from employees themselves. Platforms like this one make it easy for employees to nominate each other for custom awards that reinforce your core values, like Biggest Team Player, Most Driven or Best Communicator.

Or, lean into the power of laughter with a digital wall of fame like Best Dad Jokes or Worst Taste in TV. 

4. Shine a spotlight on employees on your social media

Let the world be your staff appreciation bulletin board: Spotlight your employees and their good work on social media. Whether it’s a shout-out on LinkedIn or an interview in your company blog (like this one with Kazoo’s quarterly Culture Code winner), this can be a really fun way to spread the love. Plus, it’s shareable, which helps spread the word about your company and the great work you’re doing! Just be sure to get employees’ permission before sharing names, photos, and personal details on social.

5. Make your staff feel heard with surveys

We’re not talking about annual engagement surveys. Try taking a quick pulse check to see how your staff is feeling, and be sure to address the results. It’s a great way to share the message: “Your feedback matters.” Need help crafting your first survey? Check out our 7 essential questions to ask.

6. Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day

Here’s one of the most straightforward employee appreciation ideas — in fact, there’s a whole holiday about it! The first Friday in March is the Valentine’s Day of employee-employer relationships. While it shouldn’t be the only time of the year you show your team you care, it’s a great excuse to do something special to show your gratitude.

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Employee Recognition Ideas for Managers

7. Help your employees pursue passions

Show your team you appreciate their unique creativity by giving them time to work on side projects of their choosing. Google has famously given each of their employees 20% of their time dedicated to a project of their choosing — but you can get the results with as little as 1-2 hours/month. What matters is demonstrating that you value each employee as a smart, capable person who has ideas worth listening to.

8. Recognize — and ask about — life outside of work

As we note in our Employee Experience Manifesto, we’re spending more of our lives than ever at work. And as employees, we want to be recognized by our employers as people whose lives and experiences matter. One simple way to let employees know you care is to ask. Worried about overstepping? Try just asking one personal, yet appropriate question before each meeting, like asking about family, a recent trip or new hobby.

9. Recognize soft skills

Soft skills like negotiation, communication and innovation are more important than ever before — but they can get lost in the metrics and numbers shaping our KRs. Set a reminder for yourself to recognize the intangible qualities behind your employees’ effort and think about ways to integrate that into your employee recognition program.

10. Be specific in your recognition

Build out your employee appreciation ideas with specific recognition. Hearing “Great job!” is much less effective than hearing “Great job leading that meeting. I could tell everyone was engaged because you took the time to really hear them out.” Giving general feedback can be confusing if the recipient doesn’t know exactly what they did well, while making your feedback as specific as possible is a good way to help the employee feel appreciated. (See our 20 examples of constructive feedback here.)

11. Systematize your recognition

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” professional boxer Mike Tyson wisely said. Most people agree that recognizing and rewarding employees is a good thing to do — but where good intentions tend to fall apart is in the execution phase. You want to give good feedback, you just don’t remember to actually do it on a regular basis. Fortunately, it’s 2020, and there’s an app for that — performance management software can help you organize and implement your recognition to ensure it’s never forgotten.

12. Host an event that includes families

Show employees you appreciate them as a whole person, not only for the work they do. At least once a year, invite the families or friends of your employees to a company event, like a holiday party or summer cookout. Besides being a lot of fun, employees will have the opportunity to show off their hard work to the people they love the most. (As a bonus, think about bringing in food trucks or creating event t-shirts!)

13. Offer meaningful rewards

Set aside the generic perks like gift cards and candy bars. Instead, try a robust rewards catalog containing over 30,000 products to customize for your company. There’s something for everyone! (Bonus: Learn how to run a strategic rewards program.)

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14. Minimize meetings

Meeting fatigue is a real thing. And it’s been slowly increasing over the past two decades. The result is that many employees feel tired and stressed, with little time left over to work on projects assigned to them.

One of the best ways to show appreciation to your employees is to show that you respect their time by creating a lean meeting culture. Can the information actually just be shared via email? Does the entire team really need to sit in on this conversation? The answers to those questions matter more than you might think.

15. Send thank-you cards

Technology has improved our lives and work in meaningful ways — but even today, the magic of receiving mail is powerful and moving. Take the time to choose a card, and write something meaningful inside by hand.

16. Be consistent

The truth is, a quick, verbal “thank you” once a week is more powerful than an expensive gift that comes once a year. (Plus, building habits that help you recognize your team every day — not just every now and then — is the first step toward creating a game-changing feedback culture.)

17. Recognize effort, not just results

The destination is valuable, but so is the journey! And it requires hard work on your employees’ part. Recognize effort, not just results, to create a culture of psychological safety that encourages your employees to take risks, innovate, and make mistakes. Plus, when you motivate employees to continue putting in hard work and effort, it ultimately leads to better outcomes.

18. Reward crossing a significant finish line with a surprise day off

Whether we use it to sleep in, binge on the new Netflix series or take a hike, we all love free time. Rewarding a job well done with a surprise day off can be very meaningful to the people on your team.

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19. Invite employees to rep you at events

Many companies send employees to fundraisers, awards banquets and trade shows every year. These are fantastic opportunities to shake up a new team member’s day-to-day rhythm and engage them in a different capacity with your company. Plus, it shows them you want them around for the long haul!

20. Give employees a stretch project

Reward work with…more work? It sounds counterintuitive, but think of all the times in your life a mentor or teacher encouraged you to stretch beyond your limits. Not only did it help you grow, but it also demonstrated their confidence in you — which is a powerful morale-booster. (Looking for more ideas? Check out our list of 20 proven morale-boosters!)

Employee Recognition Ideas for Teams

21. Involve everyone in long-term planning

One of the biggest ways to demonstrate that you value someone is to involve them in your future. As you develop your organization’s long-term goals (bonus tips here), solicit your employees’ ideas, energy, and feedback on your organization’s bigger picture. Not only will this demonstrate that you value them — you might be surprised by the great ideas you receive. 

Want to keep driving success with goal-setting? Learn how Kazoo’s Continuous Performance Management aligns and connects organizations.

22. Plan regular group gatherings

One of the best ways to show appreciation is to carve out time to just be with someone. It’s not just true in our personal lives — it’s also true at work. Make an effort to plan weekly, monthly or quarterly events for your team to mingle. It proves they’re worth something to you, and also enhances their ability to collaborate professionally.

23. Pair up team members for 1-on-1s

Coordinating 1-on-1s for your team to get to know each other is one of the best ways to strengthen bonds and drive engagement. (We do this at Kazoo!) It sends the message that you value the relationships they’re able to build with peers, because you’re giving time to do it.

24. Support employees’ values

Some employee appreciation ideas not only uplift your employees — they genuinely make the world a better place.

Try making a donation to an organization your team cares about. Better yet, do it in their name. What better way to show that you value a person? And doing so is easier than ever before with a meaningful rewards program that takes care of all the details for you.

25. Involve the team in the interview process

Pulling multiple employees into an interview process might sound complicated and time-consuming; but often, the benefits largely outweigh the costs. For starters, hiring decisions are critical to your company’s success. Getting multiple impressions of a job candidate, rather than relying on those of just one hiring manager, will greatly improve the quality of that decision. Another benefit is that the team members you involve in the process – whether they’ll soon be managers, peers or reporting to this new person – will know that what they think matters.

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Ready to start your own recognition and rewards program?

We hope these employee recognition ideas helped! Remember, meaningful employee appreciation and recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. Using these tips (or check out our resource library for more!), you can make employee appreciation a regular part of your workday.

Or, let us be a resource for you: The Kazoo all-in-one Employee Experience Platform makes real-time employee appreciation and recognition an easy part of every day.

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