24 Unique Employee Reward and Recognition Ideas

Dave Cherrie
February 4, 2021

Last summer, a Gallup poll found that only 31 percent of American workers were engaged in their jobs, and 14 percent were actively disengaged at work.

Last summer, a Gallup poll found that only 31 percent of American workers were engaged in their jobs, and 14 percent were actively disengaged at work. The COVID-19 pandemic helped fuel these poor numbers, but even before the drop, the engagement rate was just 38 percent. That means more than half of the workforce isn’t too thrilled about their jobs.

Recognition and rewards help to increase engagement. If employees feel appreciated, valued, and inspired, they apply more passion and hard work to their jobs. That translates to nice bottom-line results: more productivity and more profits.

Moreover, you don’t need to bend backward to get your employees stoked about work. Here are 24 unique rewards and recognition ideas that engage people and change attitudes.

General Recognition Ideas

1. Gamification

Make sales and work functions fun by gamifying them. In this way, employees see their everyday tasks as a path to “victory” rather than boring things they have to do. Gamification introduces a competitive element to work—even if an employee is competing toward his or her own goals.

2. Shout-outs

When an employee or team does something well or goes above and beyond, tell the world—or at least the staff. Shout-outs build morale, cement your appreciation, and encourage employees to continue to do great work.

3. Employee chat

Recognition only works with good communication. Chat applications—via computer, tablet, or smartphone — keep employees connected and allow them to spread the news when a coworker has done a great job.

4. Social media shout-outs

Highlight the employee or team of the month or the winner of a work contest on your Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter accounts. Besides publicly recognizing deserving employees, you show your audience what a dedicated crew you have ready to serve customers’ needs.

5. Spontaneity:

Not every unique idea for recognition and rewards needs to be planned out or gamified. Spontaneously bring in doughnuts or other treats, order a longer lunch hour, or do something else unexpected (Double Token Day!) to recognize good work—or just to let your employees know that they are appreciated.

In order to design a rewards program that increases performance, you must first understand what matters to your staff. Learn how by downloading our guide to reward programs.

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Individual Recognition Ideas

6. Reward tokens

Grant digital tokens via gamification objectives or just on the fly to recognize individual achievements by your employees. With the right employee engagement app, these tokens can be redeemed for gift cards or other perks from the convenience of the worker’s smartphone.

7. Time-off incentives

Provide PTO as a reward. This can be as small as a longer lunch or being able to go home 15 minutes early for a week, or as big as a half or full day off to be used at a later date.

8. Peer recognition

A shout-out from a coworker can be as meaningful as one coming from a manager. Encourage and reward employees to consistently support each other—and give them the means to easily do so.

9. Personal notes

In our technology-dominated world, a handwritten note of thanks shows that your appreciation is genuine—and that you took extra time to show that appreciation.

10. Unique individual gift ideas

Rewards and recognition don’t need to be the same thing every time for every person. Don’t be afraid to be creative—it shows a personal touch that you’re tailoring your praise to the individual.

11. Birthdays

Everyone loves to hear “Happy birthday!” on their birthday, so be sure to acknowledge people’s special days to the staff when they come around.

12. Anniversaries

Unlike birthdays, work anniversaries represent service to the company. Recognizing these days shows employees that their hard work, year after year, is valued—and remembered.

13. Just saying “thank you”

Simple gratitude lets the recipient know that their effort has made your life better. Also, saying “thank you” is infectious. Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to show their appreciation to others.

14. A traveling trophy

As an additional reward for a gamification goal, present the winner with a small, even silly trophy (e.g., a gaudy plastic telephone that displays “Most Sales Calls Made”) to be displayed on their desk. The trophy is transferred to whoever reaches that goal for a time period, inspiring employees to earn the trophy—or try earning it back.

15. Branded work merchandise

Although you should provide some basic work swag to all employees, hand out the nicer stuff (e.g., tote bags, golf shirts) as rewards for winning gamified contests or as occasional, discretionary bonuses for outstanding work.

Team Recognition Ideas

16. Friendly competition

With gamification, teams and departments can compete toward certain goals. This strengthens morale among coworkers, who have an incentive to work together. Just be sure the competitions remain friendly because, at the end of the day, you’re all on the same team.

17. Branded team merchandise

Enable teams and departments to order their own branded merchandise—coffee mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps, and so on. For example, HR could all receive shirts that say, “We are the humans of human resources!”

18. Team gatherings

Provide budget and time to teams and departments for small events such as catered lunches and happy hours just for them. This gives teams a chance to hang out independent of their work responsibilities.

Organizational Rewards

19. Gamified company-wide rewards

Instead of individuals and teams competing against each other, gamify tasks and goals across the entire company so that everybody is striving toward an overall victory. Prizes can be awarded to everyone as well as individual leaders.

20. Company-wide outings

Plan events such as picnics or attending a ball game for all employees and maybe their families. These outings can be a reward for a great quarter or year or for reaching a gamified goal, or they can simply be a thank you for contributing to the company’s success.

21. Margarita parties

Pick a day to close up early (if possible—you can try this after work hours as well) and host a margarita or another sort of happy hour for employees to congregate without worrying about what they still need to get done. Just be sure everyone gets home safely.

22. Dunk the managers

As a reward for reaching goals or just because your employees will love it, rent a dunk tank and let staffers soak their managers. The lead-up to this can be gamified, with departments earning points to dunk their team managers, and individual leaders earning the right to put their willing coworkers in the tank.

23. Community volunteer opportunities

Local communities always need assistance—from soup kitchens to highway cleanups to clothing drives—which businesses can volunteer to provide. This isn’t so much a reward as an opportunity for teams to bond while delivering help, but internal recognition should be given afterward for your employees’ service.

24. Bring your pet to work

Give employees a chance to earn the right for everyone to bring their pet to work on a Friday. Your people will love it, and their pets will love it. Just be sure you have a good supply of poop bags on hand…

This list of unique ideas just scratches the surface of recognition and rewards for your employees. With a great performance engagement platform on your side, games, prizes, and chat become even easier for you and your managers—and more fun for your employees.

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