15 Ways to Appreciate and Recognize Your Employees

Think back to a time when something you did at work was called out by your manager. “I wanted to give a shout-out to Amber for stepping up and filling in during Joe’s absence and saving us all from …” Or maybe it was an unexpected public thank you from a coworker. “Yes, it was a big job but I couldn’t have done it if Brendan hadn’t stepped in and helped out with …” That’s a great feeling. And it probably inspired you and gave you an extra boost of motivation to keep up the hard work.



Yet 1 in 5 workers have never been publicly recognized for their contributions. 78% say they’d work harder if they were recognized. If your company is one of the 48% that don’t have a recognition program, you might want to rethink that. 82% of employees at companies with recognition programs say they are satisfied or very satisfied at work. Overall, the more verbal recognition employees receive, the more they report feeling satisfied. Furthermore, employers who do put a priority on recognizing excellent performance receive back, in return, 15% more loyalty and a 50% reduction in reportable accidents.

A healthy organization is one that helps an individual understand how their work connects to the organization’s goals, and it recognizes individual contributions and achievements. In turn, the employee is even more committed to success.



What motivates an individual? There are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is when we do something in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. Awards could be external things like bonuses, trips, prizes, gift cards, or certificates of appreciation.

Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in an activity because you find it truly rewarding and gain a sense of personal satisfaction from the work you’re doing. For intrinsically motivated people, it is very important that you align their strengths and career aspirations with the type of work that they are doing.

Your goal as a Leader is to better understand which kind of motivation resonates with your employees. Maybe Steve is extrinsically motivated and the hope of winning the trip to the Super Bowl is enough to motivate him to meet his sales goals for the year. Maybe Brianna is motivated by the opportunity to lead the new Lean Six Sigma project for the department and report out her findings to the Executive Leadership team. The goal in your workplace should be to strike a healthy balance between the two.



There’s an important link between “Motivation” and “Appreciation”. Acknowledging an employee, either through formal recognition programs, or expressing appreciation, can make them feel motivated and satisfied at work. This, in turn, increases their commitment to success, which leads to more recognition. Both motivation and recognition are vital to maintaining a healthy organization and team. 



“Recognition” and “Appreciation” are both integral to employee success and ultimately to their satisfaction. Many people don’t truly understand what the distinction is between the two, and there is an important difference. 

Recognition is usually a top-down corporate policy. Often there are formal programs and tools in place by which a manager can acknowledge the stellar performance of a team or team member. The recognition occurs after a major milestone event and it focuses on performance results. “The new website was launched on time and within budget!” “We exceeded our sales goals by 10%!” “We introduced our new service and signed up 100 new customers!”

Appreciation is less formal, but equally, if not more, impactful. It can be initiated at any level, for any meaningful act. Unlike recognition, appreciation is not connected to a particular milestone or goal, and it’s personalized to the person who’s receiving the acknowledgment. Appreciation focuses on the value of the individual, rather than their performance results. “Kudos to Charlie for figuring out that workaround – he saved me from at least a week of spinning my wheels!” “I brought in bagels today, to thank Kristin for volunteering to spearhead the coat and mitten drive!”

Recognition has proven to be one of the best methods of improving work motivation and employee engagement. In fact, it’s been estimated that 1 minute spent on recognizing behavior can yield 100 minutes of initiative in return. According to a recent study conducted by Bamboo HR, the majority of employees prefer to be recognized in the following three ways:

  1. In person verbal recognition from a supervisor
  2. Direct recognition from a supervisor via email or text
  3. In person verbal recognition from a peer



Everyone likes a pat on the back now and then. It doesn’t take a lot of money to show employees how much you appreciate their hard work. Try using one or more of these ideas with your employees to foster a strong sense of achievement and motivation:

  1. Ask for their feedback
  2. Verbally praise employees in public or in private
  3. Trust them to do their job
  4. Give them a team lead role or title promotion
  5. Send a hand-written note
  6. Post a shout-out on a social media site or send a company wide email
  7. Create a “Brag Board” or “Wall of Fame”
  8. Print Certificates of Achievement
  9. Bring in lunch, bagels, donuts …
  10. Give out gift cards or gift certificates
  11. Celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and other milestones
  12. Brown bag a picnic lunch
  13. Host a potluck, cook-off or bake-off
  14. Donate to a charity of their choice
  15. Give them a long lunch or a “Get out of work free” day



These acts of appreciation and recognition help lead to increased employee satisfaction and help with overall retention. You don’t have to wait for a formal recognition program or a top down corporate policy, you just have to be sincere and timely. Even if you don’t have a large budget, it doesn’t cost anything to tell your employees they are doing great work–yet so many Leaders fail to do so! If you care about the engagement of your employees, try any of the ideas listed above, keeping in mind that you may need to pick different ideas for different employees. Remember, acknowledging and thanking people for their hard work this past year will go a very long way in helping your employees feel valued and appreciated. 

Want more great tips and insights into effective leadership and management? Check out our blog.

And take a look at our Online Programs if you’re looking to upskill your team, develop leaders in your organization, and create a high-performance culture in 2021.

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