10 Great (and Free) Employee Recognition Ideas

employés souriants
Melissa Fasulo
November 28 2023

A culture of recognition is essential. We know what you are thinking… can it really be possible to reward employees without spending money?

Every employee loves a token of appreciation for a job well done. Demonstrating that you value their efforts is so important and it is the primary ingredient for building a positive employee experience. Before you jump the gun, and think that the only way you do so is with money, read on.

The truth is that cash rewards are subject to taxation. Deceiving, yes! It can leave your employee feeling bitter and disappointed instead of excited and motivated. So what are your other options? Well, we thought you would never ask.

Here are 5 simple and free employee appreciation ideas and perks to improve your recognition program (no, we’re not about to suggest gift cards)!

1. Shout Out on Social Media

If it was not posted publicly, did it ever really happen? Public recognition of an employee online shows that you care about them and makes them feel extra special for their accomplishments. Go that extra mile with the post. Perhaps include BTS footage of their most recent project, publish a Q&A article on them or share one of their memorable photos. Is it your employee’s birthday? Hooray, post it (with their permission)! You can also celebrate their careers in your company by sharing work anniversary messages. Remember to engage your audience to join in on the praise and cheer them along with likes or by leaving a comment.

The good news? It’s also a great and very simple way to improve your employer branding and your organizational culture and will definitely help with your social media recruitment.

2. Schedule Regular Huddles with your Team

Did you know a weekly huddle can reinforce your company culture? The intention behind those team meetings is to highlight employee achievement. Have a round table discussion with your entire team where each team member takes a turn to provide positive feedback on one another. We promise you’ll see some sort of magic… The power of giving and receiving feedback! This is also a time and place where ideas can be shared and open discussions are held in a respectful and positive environment. Huddles ultimately bring the team together. They make the employee feel less like a number and more a part of a familia—a tribe they can always count on for appreciation, encouragement and support. Each member should leave a huddle feeling seen, heard, and above all valued.

3. Give your Employees Autonomy and Flexibility

Whenever possible, give your employees the autonomy to make their own decisions. Now how could this possibly be a reward? Great question. Trusting your employees to make their own choices gives them more of the control they crave—which is truly invaluable. Allow them to choose which project they would like to work on, or even offer them the choice of a flexible work schedule. Maybe have them take part in a decision making process by asking them for their opinion and honest feedback. Call them up and ask for their thoughts. Send them a message asking their preferences. Finding ways to hand over the reins to your employee whenever possible exudes feelings of empowerment and increases their motivation. The verdict? Empowered, motivated employees are confident and happy employees.

One of the best ways to understand your employees—and what they truly want—is to ask them! Employee satisfaction surveys are an excellent tool for dialogue between managers and their teams and we strongly recommend that you use them. Learn about engagement surveys best practices here!

For a free employee engagement survey, click here!

4. Send Personalized Recognition for Hard Work

Yes… thank you notes are still a thing(yes, even—more!—handwritten notes). Never underestimate the power of expressing gratitude by sliding a small note every so often. Everyone loves to receive an appreciation message in their inbox. It is gratifying, humbling and influences our approach to that work grind. It also boosts pride and gives a sense of fulfillment. Make it a weekly habit to send recognition messages to your employee. Communicate exactly what it is that you appreciated from their efforts and how it has positively contributed to the success of your team. Keep it short, impactful and sincere. Remember, these small thoughtful acts go a long way when it comes to keeping employee morale high. Acknowledgment and expressing gratitude is everything.

5. Encourage Breaks and Time to Chill

Remind your employees the importance of walking away from their desk and schedule regular breaks to just chill out. Suggest they go for a walk, an extended lunch break, smash a quick workout, play with their dog or even revel in meditation. Perhaps propose that they keep in touch with friends and family by phone, or rekindle with a long lost hobby or passion. Remind them to take care of themselves, and highlight how important it is that they respect their work life balance. Personal notes as such are not only appropriate, they are essential. Showing your employees that you care about them by encouraging them to practice self-care and prioritize their health is profound. Do not be surprised by how much joy and employee happiness it will bring!

6. Create a Peer Recognition Program

Recognition should not only come from managers and bosses, but also from colleagues. You can create recognition channels dedicated to sending kudos for employee’s accomplishments and great work. Of course, you can send your own appreciation messages to break the ice and encourage others to participate.

7. Designate the Employee of the Month

Designating the Employee of the Month and setting up a wall of fame with pictures can be a great way to recognize achievements without stirring up unhealthy competition between coworkers. On top of outstanding performance, you can highlight daily contributions and values essential to your corporate culture, such as team work, collaborative skills, and creative thinking. Workers who are designated Employees of the Month in various categories will love receiving recognition, and their coworkers will be encouraged to see that everyone can be appreciated for their work and personalities.

8. Organize Recognition Meetings

You can organize team recognition meetings so that team members can celebrate their colleagues’ achievements. During this event, you should organize free team-building activities such as online games or collaboration games to make the most out of the meeting. Your teams will love getting a break from their work day and sharing recognition with their teammate!

9. Give Project Ownership

Recognition is all about autonomy and trust: your employees will love obtaining new projects to work on. Try to give them tasks that they can handle from start to finish and that stimulates their creativity. You will make them feel appreciated while fostering their individual growth!

10. Encourage Skill and Knowledge Sharing

Your employees need to know that they can grow at your side. A free way to foster their professional growth is to organize brainstorming sessions and skill sharing workshops during which teams can share their knowledge on specific tools, or tips to increase productivity and save time.

These workshops are great opportunities to make your employees feel like their knowledge is appreciated and can bring added value to the company and their coworkers. Moreover, your teams will love learning new things on a regular basis.

See? Employee rewards can be THAT easy. What they really want is to know that their company values them and the work they do. We guarantee that these employee recognition efforts will boost employee retention and workers’ willingness to excel and perform well at work. It’s a win-win situation!


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