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GuidesEmployee experience27 creative employee recognition ideas to boost engagement

27 creative employee recognition ideas to boost engagement

Last updated

26 June 2023


Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Lara Leganger

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Is your company doing enough to encourage, support, and recognize your hard-working team members?

We all love acknowledgment for our hard work: It’s integral to feeling like we have positively contributed to the team and company.

In 2023, employee recognition needs more than occasional praise. 

Use our list of personalized and creative employee recognition ideas to help your teammates feel seen, heard, and appreciated—they definitely deserve it!

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition involves acknowledging and appreciating your colleagues’ individual and team efforts. 

Recognizing your employees will leave them feeling like you’re noticing, respecting, and valuing their ideas and hard work. 

Over time, employees who receive repeated, genuine recognition are more likely to feel fulfilled with their work. That improves company morale, efficiency, and productivity. Win-win!

You can implement two main types of recognition in a professional setting:

Structured recognition

Structured recognition takes a formal approach to acknowledging employees’ work. 

Managers often write this type of recognition in advance. It may be part of an annual performance review or other formal meeting. Structured recognition can also include rewards and incentives that require sign-off from higher-level company managers and executives.

Unstructured recognition

Unstructured employee recognition is the more casual option, but that doesn’t make it less effective! This style of praise is often provided more on the fly—think informal company callouts or a spur-of-the-moment compliment during a meeting. 

Despite its less formal approach, unstructured recognition is essential to a robust employee appreciation strategy.

Why is employee recognition important?

No matter the size of your company or team, it’s essential to reward and acknowledge hard work and great ideas. We all want to feel appreciated.

Aside from making the day of your teammate or employee, employee recognition also offers other company-wide benefits, including: 

Tackling workplace burnout

Did you know employees who don’t receive regular recognition are 2x more likely to experience burnout?

Workplace stress is common. To foster a healthy and productive working environment, your team needs to feel appreciated for their work. 

Recognition is an especially powerful resource during periods of tight deadlines and increased workloads. It can reduce burnout and negative stress emotions.

Holding onto leaders in the industry

A recent study found that people who work for companies that practice employee recognition regularly are 5x more likely to see growth within the business. 

Combating employee turnover saves your team valuable time and resources. It also holds onto high-quality, experienced professionals who are excited and energized to contribute to your products and services.

Increasing efficiency and productivity

Companies that regularly praise and support their employees can expect to save resources and costs they could lose through burnout, stress, and inefficiencies. 

80% of employees report feeling more motivated when they receive positive feedback and recognition from upper management. Talk about a powerful resource for efficiency!

27 creative employee recognition ideas worth trying

If you’re looking for some unique and genuinely fun ways to show your team some extra love, check out these creative employee recognition ideas:

Celebrate team birthdays

As an easy win for any team, taking the time to celebrate everyone’s birthday is an ideal way to build a sense of community. 

While mentioning birthdays during routine all-hands meetings is a nice gesture, we recommend going further to really show your appreciation. 

After asking permission first (as some people don’t like to celebrate their birthday, which is okay!), bring in fun treats and decorate the space. 

Bonus points if you ask the person what their favorite dessert and theme is beforehand to make each team member feel valued on their special day.

Offer late starts

Who doesn’t love the opportunity to sleep in and improve their work schedule flexibility?

Something as simple as giving your top performers an extra hour or two of rest throughout the month is a generous way to recognize outstanding work. 

We particularly recommend this option for teams who have just finished a long sprint—even an extra hour of rest will go a long way toward boosting team morale.

Plan an in-person team-building event

If your team is local, a great way to recognize hard work is by getting everyone together for something fun once a month or each quarter.

Ax throwing, escape rooms, mystery tours, or anything else your team likes are awesome options for injecting fun into your routine. And they show appreciation for your team while you do it!

Book a virtual team bonding event

Is your team located across the country or around the globe? You can still use creative employee recognition ideas to enhance your team’s connection.

Virtual events (like Zoom or Google Meet parties) are becoming more popular as more companies adopt remote work. 

Options for virtual get-togethers range from low-key to extravagant, including hosting a virtual team happy hour to participating in a virtual cooking class from websites like Airbnb Experiences.

Be creative and ask your team what activities they are most interested in. We’re sure you can find something fun, no matter where everyone calls in from.

Post a rotating employee of the month picture

Have you seen rental car companies that post “Employee of the Month” awards on their walls? 

While it may seem outdated, publicly celebrating a top performer each month is an easy, effective way to encourage continual employee recognition at every level of your business. 

This is an excellent choice for companies with a larger team, as it allows different team members to get the recognition they deserve on a rotating monthly basis.

Encourage peer-recognition initiatives

Not all employee recognition should come from managers and team leads. Employees should be encouraged to praise their colleagues' work through company culture and established peer-recognition initiatives.

An easy way to do this is to start a shout-out initiative on your company’s Slack or Teams channels and heavily encourage your team to participate in regular callouts of great work. 

It’s a simple way to get people talking and allows you to lead by example and add positive feedback.

Organize a staff lunch

Who doesn’t love a free work lunch? Ordering spontaneous, warm lunches or treats to the office is always a crowd-pleasing choice to show appreciation to your hard-working staff.

For the best results, check for dietary restrictions and allergies before ordering. This event aims to inclusively celebrate the entire team’s effort, so you don’t want to leave anyone out!

Create employee highlight social media posts

External callouts of outstanding work are always a slam dunk for the company and the team member getting their flowers. 

Highlighting a person’s excellent work with a personalized social media post from the company account:

  • Gives the employee the attention they deserve

  • Shows that your company is a compassionate, caring place to work

It’s a super easy way to enhance company culture that you can implement regularly.

Host an employee appreciation day

Showing appreciation does not always need to be one-on-one, especially when it gives your team a chance to bond and celebrate their accomplishments.

Hosting a fun day of team-bonding activities allows your team to decompress and build stronger friendships and working relationships.

Officially, the first Friday of March is Employee Appreciation Day, but you can choose any day of the year to host something fun for your team.

Offer wellness days

Wellness days are a fantastic way to facilitate employee recognition. These offer paid time off for your team to rest and recharge.

You can offer wellness days in two ways: 

  • As a floating day that staff can take when it works best with their schedule

  • As a day off for your entire team to participate in a relaxing spa experience together

Either option is great for rewarding your team’s efforts after a difficult period of crunch work.

Give staff personalized company swag

Everyone loves personalized swag, and it's even better when the gift comes branded from the company they work for. 

Team shirts, coffee mugs, or industry-specific items are solid options for personalization. It also offers an ideal opportunity for a team photo-op for social media, making this idea a true win-win.

Acknowledge work anniversaries

Celebrating work anniversaries (especially as the numbers get higher) is an easy way to acknowledge and appreciate the long-term contributions of your top employees.

While many companies have drifted away from giving work anniversary gifts, we think this practice should make a comeback. 

When a person invests their time and builds a fruitful career at your company, you should celebrate and recognize their commitment. Boost morale and build a work culture with low employee turnover by investing in your long-term employees.

Leave encouraging notes

Who doesn’t love an encouraging note when times get tough? This is a fun and quick way to add a little extra to someone's day — especially if your team is moving towards the end of a heavy work period.

Using Post-it notes, sharing words of inspiration, or a callout to a person’s amazing work by putting the note on their desk is easy, fun, and fast (and people genuinely love it!)

Provide monetary rewards for top team members

As possibly one of the most sought-after forms of employee recognition, finding ways to financially reward your top workers is a benevolent way to incentivize continual excellence.

From annual raises to year-end bonuses, there are plenty of ways to reward your employees with additional money for their work. 

For the best results, we recommend being forthcoming about the amount and reasons behind each raise or bonus. This gives team members something to be proud of as they work hard on your projects.

Host team education sessions

Has a team member recently completed an educational program or attended an interesting lecture or conference?

If so, this is the perfect time to let them share their findings with the team and discuss the work that went into their success. 

While some people may not want to add more work to their colleague’s plate, we encourage teams to host more informal meetings to talk about recent events and wins. 

This normalizes information sharing so it doesn’t feel like a stressful experience.

Share positive feedback internally

If your team monitors the feedback you receive from customers, sharing positive comments internally is a great way to highlight excellent work. 

Whether the feedback is general, “I cannot imagine my life without this product!” or personalized, “Marie was the nicest customer service person I have ever spoken with,” you should share all forms of positive feedback with your team. 

For the best results, we recommend setting up a positive feedback display board at the office to post testimonials for people to read and reread whenever they please.

Encourage creative party ideas

Hosting a staff celebration is always fun, but hosting a creatively themed party based on your team’s preferences is even better!

As an ideal option for teams working in specific niches, adding extra playfulness and fun into a team get-together can help your employees feel more seen and appreciated. 

If you’re stumped for ideas, ask your team what they’d like—we’re sure you’ll be surprised by the fun and intriguing ideas people suggest.

Increase the number of vacation days

Giving your employees additional paid time off is a fantastic way to keep everyone happy and healthy. 

This gesture doesn’t need to be big to be effective—something as simple as extending long weekends company-wide or adding a few extra vacation days as “personal days” to each team member’s calendar works. This goes a long way toward building a company culture that values employee recognition.

Mail thank you cards

Did you know that you can appreciate your team outside of working hours?

Writing a short and personalized card and mailing it to your teammate’s address gives them the joy of good mail and a fun surprise when they check their mailbox.

Plan a company retreat

Company retreats are a fantastic opportunity for team bonding and building connections. They also offer an opportunity for in-depth internal appreciation.

On your retreat, we highly recommend scheduling an all-hands meeting to provide an update about the company. This meeting is the perfect opportunity to highlight key contributions of team members in front of their peers, fostering an increased sense of personal pride in work projects.

Organize a team volunteer day

Give back to your team and local community by organizing a company volunteer day!

This is an awesome way to give back and support causes that are near and dear to the people you work with. Encouraging your team to participate in monthly or quarterly volunteer efforts enhances working relationships while allowing people to invest their time in causes that matter to them.

Do one-on-one dinner dates

If you’re looking for ways to recognize the hard work of a single individual, taking them out for a company lunch or dinner is never a bad idea.

This approach offers an excellent opportunity for this employee to bond and chat with higher-level management. The meal can increase company loyalty while allowing everyone to chat about their work and show appreciation. 

This could be an “Employee of the Month” perk you can offer as a fun challenge for your team. Whoever wins gets a meal from the company, and that's a tasty incentive to stay motivated.

Hand out recognition certificates

When you take the time to recognize your top performers, they will feel valued and appreciated (even if it is something as silly as a handmade certificate).

Holding a fun-spirited awards event to highlight the contributions of your team members will let them share their work and accomplishments with their peers.

If you want to make this event even more memorable and unique, tie it into a company dinner or team bonding plan. 

If possible, frame and hand out the certificates as something your team can be proud of—they sure do make incredible office decorations!

Strive for transparency and recognition in town hall meetings

If your company hosts regular town hall or all-hands meetings, schedule a block of time to specially highlight your team members’ outstanding contributions. It’s an easy way to infuse your working culture with recognition. 

You could use this time for structured recognition from team leads or open the floor for callouts from within the team. Whichever you choose, this simple practice is a fantastic way to publicly give people the recognition they deserve.

Pay for professional development courses

An often forgotten (but incredibly effective) way to show employee recognition is to encourage and fund their professional development. 

Offering people the opportunity to find and take professional development courses that interest them is a great way to show that your company cares about their development and growth. Of course, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

Additionally, team members who capitalize on this opportunity can come back to your team and share what they learned.

Offer half-days as a reward

We all love a cheeky half-day. Finding ways to give your team time back with a half-day is always a win after a period of hard work during crunch season.

This employee recognition idea is perfect for pairing with a long weekend or offering as a monthly bonus for top performers. 

Allowing people to leave work after lunch once a month is a surprisingly powerful gesture that goes a long way toward showing employee recognition and building company loyalty. 

Host a year-end party

Finally, year-end parties are fantastic for celebrating a year’s hard work. Whether you do an elaborate company party or opt for a more low-key dinner event, they close the year on a high note.

The end of the year is a natural time of reflection and appreciation, so why not capitalize on the feelings of the season? Give your team an event that makes them feel recognized and valued.

Improve employee satisfaction with Dovetail

Employee recognition is a requirement for building a happy team of all-stars, no matter what industry you work in. At Dovetail, we use creative employee recognition ideas to build a culture of respect and innovation. 

When people feel appreciated, they are more likely to work harder toward the company’s common goal. 

When employees feel their work is unnoticed, productivity, efficiency, and company morale can tank. This can destroy a company’s reputation and financial future.

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