20 Fast, Fun, and (Almost) Free Employee Recognition Ideas

Posted on October 15, 2013 by RSW

Effective employee recognition can drive performance, increase retention, and impact your bottom line. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of money—or planning. Check out these 20 creative, thoughtful, and low- or no-cost ideas that leaders can use to give employees the recognition they deserve.

1. Recognize employees in front of their peers. This makes the recognition more meaningful and reinforces desired behaviors to the rest of the team.

2. Hide thank you notes around the office and break room. Put cards behind the coffee maker, wedged in the filing cabinet, or stuck to the doorknob.

3. Recognize your heroes with a surprise lunch. Try bringing in a few large “hero” sandwiches with all the fixings.

4. Write your team a check for “One Million Thanks.” Enlarge a check on a copier machine, or order one online.

5. Get to know a new hire or an employee with whom you don’t normally interact. Information you learn, such as favorite food or color, could be useful in future recognition efforts.

6. Create a “Welcome” flyer for new employees to let them know you are excited to have them on board. Get other employees to sign it.

7. Studies show the first 30 days on the job make the biggest impression. Write thank you notes to employees on their one-month anniversary.

8. Employee recognition has more impact when it’s timely, so follow the five-minute rule. When you hear or see a positive comment about an employee, recognize that person in five minutes or less.

9. Use your company’s Facebook page to recognize team accomplishments. It’s a great way to show off your team to prospective clients and recruits.

10. Every workplace has challenging situations. Reward employees who keep their cool and composure with Popsicles®, ice cream, or a cold beverage.

11. Employees love showing off their pets. Have them bring in a photo of a current or past pet. Post the photos in the team area, and see who can guess which pet belongs to which employee.

12. Create a “Wisdom Wall” filled with quotes from your employees. It will show your team that you respect them and serve as inspiration for peers. Update the wall regularly.

13. Go to a dollar store and pick out a variety of low-cost gifts to use for on-the-spot recognition. Try to connect the item to an act. For example, a mini-flashlight for someone whose positive attitude shines in dark situations.

14. Create a poster for each employee with a positive attribute for each letter in his or her name. For example: Pam = Patient, Attentive, and Multi-tasker.

15. Did an employee run a marathon, donate blood, volunteer at an animal shelter, or buy a new house? Acknowledge personal achievements during meetings or in writing.

16. It’s often the thought that counts in recognition. If an employee likes rock climbing, give them a book on rock climbing with an inscription of your thanks. Or if someone is a movie buff, give a movie theater gift card.

17. Write a letter to employees’ spouses or partners. Thank him or her for their support, and let them know how much you admire and appreciate their partner’s service.

18. Call an employee to your office to say thank you. Since many employees assume that something is wrong when they are called to a supervisor’s office, they will be especially pleased to receive your honest gratitude for a job well done.

19. Celebrate diversity by taking your team “around the world” with monthly luncheons or potlucks. Have a different international theme each month. Try serving pasta for Italy, tacos for Mexico, croissants with ham and cheese for France, etc. Print and post national flags in the break room.

20. Create custom baseball cards for your employees. Include a photo and statistic (e.g., Worked 12 months without being absent).

Want more great ideas? Small budget, big impact: 10 employee recognition ideas

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