Three Unique Employee Recognition Ideas (You Can Steal)

June 16, 2022

Many companies think of recognizing employee milestones in the work environment — even birthdays — but often fail to think about other celebrations that focus on improving employee engagement. Employee recognition programs go a long way towards boosting morale, engaging employees and building community within your organization.

Companies have an opportunity to move beyond the traditional “years of service” recognition programs (although those are important too!) to consider innovative ways they can implement effective employee engagement strategies that recognize staff members at all levels and in all areas of the organization.

Here we take a look at three unique recognition programs that could help build a culture of recognition and improve the employee experience within your organization:

1) CEO Recognition Program

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a new CEO joined a leading healthcare system that had over 28,000 physicians and employees. One of his first initiatives was to recognize the extraordinary contributions of the system’s caregivers — those who went the extra mile and delivered 5-star customer service or advanced “systemness” in support of the organization’s objectives.

After drafting program eligibility criteria, the organization was able to quickly launch this initiative through their Inspirus® Connects employee engagement platform. Recognition that comes from the very top of the organization — the CEO — can be especially meaningful and impactful, not only because it feels good for those being recognized, but because others witness (and covet) the experience as well. It gives everybody a clear line of sight into what the most senior member of the organization believes is important. And, as this organization found, it’s not difficult to do. Here are five easy steps to replicate this program in your organization:

  • Determine what you want to recognize
  • Create the criteria you will use to recognize employees — in this case it was those who, during the pandemic, were on the front line, upholding organizational values while risking their own lives to care for others
  • Determine what the award will consist of (monetary or non-monetary awards, or both)
  • Communicate the program criteria and nomination process to employees
  • Celebrate award recipients!

2) DEI Celebration and Recognition Program

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are top-of-mind issues for most organizations today. Making the commitment to keep DEI front and center for all employees can be amplified through a recognition program that celebrates and recognizes those who are making a difference both within your organization, and externally.

DEI is so broad that various types of awards could be created and awarded at different times during the year — for instance, both monthly and quarterly awards. One client did this by creating two different categories of awards:

  • A monthly award where all employees could recognize others through an eCard for behaviors aligned with desired business outcomes. Those recognized were placed into a raffle making them eligible to receive one of several $50 gift cards issued monthly. Both those sending and receiving rewards were eligible for the raffle. If a raffle is not suitable for your organization, consider selecting winners randomly through a Diversity Council or other such unbiased group. 
  • A quarterly award selected by a Diversity Council based on employee(s) that demonstrated topmost inclusive behavior. Each quarter the Council selected one recipient to receive a $200 gift card.

How could you support your DEI objectives through employee recognition in creative and aligned ways?

3) Health and Wellness Challenge

Healthy employees are productive employees: the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports that 90% of employers link wellness to productivity and performance. Keeping employees healthy can increase productivity and have a positive impact on insurance and the bottom line.  

An employee reward program can keep health and wellness top of mind. For instance, one organization instituted a “fruit and veggie” wellness challenge — a 30-day challenge to employees to eat at least one fruit and one serving of vegetables every day in a specific month. Employees were asked to record their fruit and veggie consumption on a daily calendar page provided to them and to turn in their completed calendar for entry into a drawing. The prize: bonus paid time off (PTO) days! Simple and easy — especially when announced and encouraged through your employee engagement platform.

Best Practice Tips

Creating recognition programs doesn’t have to be time-consuming — or costly. In fact, your “awards” don’t even need to be monetary. As Saira Peesker points out in an article for The Globe and Mail, when it comes to employee motivation, positive feedback and praise can be as sought-after as money. Recognition and a certificate or e-card can be all it takes to make an employee feel valued and make the moment memorable.

Communicate broadly about your employee recognition opportunities — before, during and after the award timeframes. Celebrate successes and, as one of our examples illustrates, make an effort to recognize those who nominate others as well. Engaging employees to be ambassadors of the recognition process can boost employee morale and be very powerful. Peer-to-peer recognition has proven to be a great motivator for employees.

Recognition matters — research from Quantum Workplace indicates that “when employees believe they will be recognized, they are 2.7X more likely to be highly engaged.” That’s something all companies can get behind.

A good source of ideas for your own unique recognition program can come from your organization’s strategic objectives and initiatives. Looking to boost employee engagement this year? How about recognizing top performers who have done an exceptional job with this. Focusing on customer service? How about recognizing employees who have gone above and beyond to exceed customer expectations. The possibilities are limited only by your own creativity.

The key: thinking more broadly about how to recognize employees for their efforts in new ways. 

What creative ways can you think of to recognize employees throughout the year that support of your mission, vision, values, and strategic objectives? The possibilities truly are endless. 

Topics: wellness, recognition, employee recognition, diversity, team culture