23 creative employee recognition ideas that hit the mark

Employee recognition is one of the key ingredients to a positive employee experience. But coming up with creative employee recognition ideas is tough.

When things get busy (when are they not?) it’s easy to stick with the same stale ideas or just let employee recognition fall by the wayside entirely. But as you already know, ignoring employee recognition is a bad plan.

Whether you’re starting a new employee recognition program or looking for ways to refresh your existing program, this collection of creative employee recognition ideas will help you hit the mark.

Pro tip: Use video to add a fun, personal touch and loads of creativity to your employee recognition. (We’ve added a few easy video ideas below.)

New to video? No problem. Biteable has you covered with plenty of brandable video templates and ready-made scenes perfect for recognizing any and every employee — from employee of the month, to workiversary, and everything in between.

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Reach your people with Biteable Teams. Personalized branded videos, easy collaboration, and dedicated training.

Why employee recognition isn’t optional

The bottom line is that failing to give employees recognition costs companies money. Employees that feel unrecognized are less productive, more prone to burnout, and more likely to find other jobs.

The numbers speak for itself. Your companies will be more successful if you deploy a few creative employee recognition ideas.

Employee recognition vs. employee rewards

Don’t get us wrong, employee rewards are good. They go hand in hand with employee recognition. But rewards without recognition lack impact. And recognition starts to feel empty without some attached tangible value.

Employee rewards

Employee rewards are tangible items that usually have some monetary value. Giving rewards is a transactional action which is typically tied to specific performance goals or work accomplishments.

Employee recognition

Employee recognition is intangible and has an emotional value. It involves giving specific and meaningful praise for a job well done. Recognition builds employee relationships. Also, employee recognition is free and can be given any time.

You’ll notice many of the creative employee recognition ideas on our list involve tangible rewards. But to make an impact, these rewards have to be tied to recognition. A gift card is less meaningful if it’s not accompanied by genuine praise.

When it comes to employee recognition, creativity is key

Obviously, we wouldn’t call our list “boring employee recognition ideas”. Creativity is more exciting, but that’s not the only point here.

In addition to being more fun, creative employee recognition programs also mean variety. Not every employee responds well to a surprise thank you meeting or a shout out on Slack. Some people prefer more low-key recognition like a thoughtful gift card or even a feature on a bulletin board.

Keeping a wide range of creative employee recognition ideas in your toolkit helps ensure you hit the mark for all personality types.

On that note: without further ado, here are our 23 favorite creative employee recognition ideas.

Creative employee recognition ideas: 23 of our faves

Here are 23 of our favorite creative employee recognition ideas to help you make an impact.

1. Create a culture of recognition

Believe it or not, we often forget to give recognition when people deserve it. It’s easy to assume the manager or team leader is handing out the high-fives. But this type of regular praise falls through the cracks when things get busy.

A culture of recognition won’t create itself, even if there’s an employee recognition program in place. It has to be an intentional effort. Top leadership must demonstrate recognition themselves and encourage team members at all levels to do the same.

2. Start a #Kudos channel on Slack

Slack and other instant messaging apps are an excellent way to give employee recognition. Everyone can see messages in public channels, which makes the recognition public. And public recognition is the most powerful type of recognition.

At Biteable we like to create quick kudos videos to make our Slack channel shoutouts extra fun and special.

We also enter everyone who’s received kudos in our Slack channel into a monthly drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card.

You don’t have to use our exact idea for recognizing employees with an Amazon card. But the incentive for getting kudos in your Slack channel has to be significant enough that people will take the time to regularly recognize their peers with a quick shoutout.

3. Give public praise during all-hands meetings

One of the easiest ways to ensure managers are giving public recognition is to establish a standard that whoever runs the meeting gives some sort of praise to at least one team member as part of the agenda.

This is a slam dunk for giving public recognition. It’s also an easy way to get people to look forward to meetings.

At Biteable, we share praise from the #Kudos Slack channel at our all-hands. That way we’re never short on things to recognize team members for. But you don’t have to create a Slack channel to pull from. The foundational tactic here is making employee recognition as public as possible.

4. Give everyone a day off after they complete a big project

This is one of our favorites here at Biteable. Time off is important to most employees, and Biteableers are no exception.

Whenever our team finishes a big project, they get a day off. After all, they just did a whole lot of hard work for the company. Why not reward them in kind?

Send the team an email with a short video announcing the day off and thanking everyone for their hard work. The video will save the announcement from getting lost in the inbox, and a short video feels a whole lot more special than a few lines of email text.

5. Start a secret recognition Santa program

Even though this is based on a holiday event, it’s not limited to the holidays. Rather than having people secretly give each other gifts, employees secretly give a randomly assigned teammate recognition for something they’ve done well.

The recognition can be simple verbal praise. Or you can make it a bit more material by having them write a note or give a physical token of recognition.

6. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

We love this employee recognition idea because team members are in a perfect position to give one another regular and relevant praise for big and little achievements alike.

The exact method of encouragement will vary from company to company or team to team. But if you want people to give peer-to-peer recognition, you have to incentivize it with rewards, recognition, or both.

You can also encourage employees to give each other recognition by making it fun and easy. Empower your people to freely dole out the praise with this “Great Job” video template.

7. Pop surprise thank-you meetings

Public employee recognition is always better than giving recognition in private.

A fun way to turn private recognition into public recognition is to call a quick impromptu meeting without telling the team what’s going on ahead of time. Just tell them it’s something that needs to be addressed right away. When everyone gets there, simply give someone a public shoutout for their good work.

The only word of caution here is not to overuse this technique or take too long to deliver the praise. Many companies already suffer from an overload of meetings. And it’s important to ensure that these surprise recognition meetings don’t become disruptive.

8. Celebrate milestones

Work anniversaries are an easy way to give recognition because they’re predictable. They’re also more important to people than you might expect.

Additionally, work milestones are infrequent enough that companies can offer relatively substantial rewards like a hefty gift card or a tangible present. For major milestones, you can go one step further by taking the whole team out to lunch or throwing a little office party.

9. Applaud personal achievements

This is one of the least obvious employee recognition ideas. Most employee recognition programs focus on work achievements, which makes sense because work involves business relationships.

But most managers have an idea of what people are working on at home, and it makes people feel like their supervisor really cares when they take the time to understand the personal goals of employees and give them public kudos for their achievements.

Feeling like their employer cares about them is a big deal to people. That’s why this employee recognition tactic is so valuable.

10. Hand out rewards on the spot

This is a way to take casual, everyday recognition to a new level. Managers can keep a supply of small rewards and hand them out when they give team members a bit of casual praise.

Coffee cards or Uber ride credit codes are excellent on-the-spot employee recognition awards. Anything worth a few dollars that people can use easily during their daily routine works well.

It’s an affordable way to make a gesture of recognition more tangible. And everyone likes prizes, even small ones.

11. Recognize employees with a traveling trophy

As we mentioned earlier, rewards usually have monetary value. But not always. In this case, the reward doesn’t have monetary value to the employee who gets it (unless they sell it on eBay, which is a definite party foul). But it does have value in that it enhances public recognition.

It’s a fun and simple employee recognition program.

Buy or make a trophy, preferably something unique, or fun, or related to the work your company does. Then give the trophy to an employee for some sort of distinction — employee of the week or month, or MVP of the most recent project.

From then on, continue to pass the trophy to the next employee who earns the distinction. Give the recognition and pass the trophy publicly in front of the whole team (or send an award announcement video to the whole team if you work remotely).

Not all employee recognition ideas have to be serious or stuffy. This one might even be downright cheesy, but it’s destined to become a welcome part of your company culture — cheese and all.

12. Let an outstanding employee choose the time or place

It’s not uncommon for companies to host team-building events or even work meetings at their favorite local restaurant or coffee shop.

To recognize an employee for something they’ve done well, why not let them choose the place for your next offsite event? Or, if you work with remote teams, you can let an outstanding team member choose the time, so long as differences in time zones don’t make things unmanageable.

Either way, the event gets done. But employees have an opportunity to earn direct input and make things a little less disruptive or more pleasant based on their tastes.

13. Don’t neglect the good ole’ bulletin board

The bulletin board, where companies post pictures of their employees of the month or other high performers, was a fixture in corporate offices for decades.

But employee recognition bulletin boards fell out of style after years of being parodied in TV shows and movies. And it’s fair to say that it’s a bit of a cliche. However, it’s not a bad idea. Don’t knock the bulletin board. It really does make people feel recognized and appreciated.

If yours is out of date or maybe you’ve done away with it, update it or bring it back. Or if you never had one, don’t be afraid to start now.

14. Put your team on the company website

Your website is one of the most public-facing assets your company has. And it’s standard to have an about page.

Your about page isn’t really complete without introducing your employees. After all, your employees are your company. And it makes people feel like their employer is proud to have them on board.

Additionally, customers like to see who they’re working with. Nobody wants to buy from a faceless corporation. Adding team bios to your about page does double duty: it makes your employees feel recognized and it makes customers feel more comfortable buying from your business.

15. Shout out employees on social media

In most situations, public recognition means giving recognition in front of the rest of the team. But social media gives you an opportunity to recognize employees in front of the wider public. It’s public recognition on steroids.

This is especially valuable in businesses where the performance of employees has a direct impact on the customer.

Showing the capabilities of your account managers, sales representatives, customer service agents, and other customer-facing team members can have a direct, positive impact on how much customers trust your business. And it encourages your teams to do their best work.

16. Send employee care packages

Never underestimate the power of the gift basket, especially in the world of remote work. There are so many gift basket options out there, so it’s easy to send a care package that will appeal to anyone.

Care packages are also a great way to help remote employees build a better workspace and offset some of the costs of working from home. Or, you can reinforce the recognition by sending a care package with a theme that matches what the employee is being praised for.

17. Offer early finishes or late starts

If an employee is ahead of schedule on a project or is regularly nailing their deadlines, reward them with a little extra time off and let that employee start a couple hours later or leave early one day.

Another approach is to start a program where anyone who’s ahead of schedule or really nailed something that week can start a couple hours later the following Monday or leave early on Friday.

18. Feature high performers in the company newsletter

Internal newsletters and magazines are common, especially in larger organizations. Why not use yours as a vehicle for recognition?

Keep an eye out for employees who are doing excellent work and give them a shoutout in the next issue of the company newsletter. This could be a simple one-liner, or you could really ramp up the recognition by writing up a feature on the selected employee.

19. Give LinkedIn recommendations

Sometimes employers are a little hesitant to do this, since it feels like helping employees get a new job. But it’s unlikely that an employee is going to pick up and leave just because their current employer helped them improve their online resume.

In fact, making employees feel publicly recognized and appreciated is likely to inspire them to stay. This idea for publicly recognize employees also signals to outsiders that your company is willing to invest in its employees’ professional development.

20. Leverage your company swag

Giving out company swag is another tactic that often gets left out of employee recognition programs because it feels tired and cliché. But company swag should make a comeback, especially with the rise of remote work.

Pajama bottoms and comfy work sweaters are a couple examples of company swag that remote employees will actually use, while making fun light of how we often work from home. You can also give employees mouse pads or small home office items that they would otherwise have to buy.

Company swag can be cool again. And cool company swag makes great employee recognition gifts.

21. Gift cards

You can go in two different directions with gift cards used for employee recognition.

Small gift cards for everyday recognition: Small gift cards in the ballpark of $5 (think coffee cards) are the monetary equivalent of a Slack channel shoutout. Not great for recognizing the employee who spent six months leading a groundbreaking project, but perfect for acknowledging everyday acts of greatness.

Personalized gift cards for special recognition: When an employee truly goes above and beyond, a larger and more personalized gift card is in order. Ideally, it should be one that shows you’ve done your homework. Ask around to find out what the person-of-the-moment likes. Music, movies, a favorite restaurant? Get personal here.

22. Employee appreciation day

Teachers get an appreciation day every year, so why not your employees? Take a page out of the PTA handbook and designate an annual employee appreciation day.

Fill the break room with goodies (hot chocolate bar anyone?), organize a catered lunch, leave swag bags at everyone’s desk — the sky’s the limit here. Maybe you could even convince the leadership team to wash employee’s cars. Who knows? Get creative with your recognition and roll out the red carpet.

23. Happy hour

Last but not least, no employee recognition program would be complete without the tried and true happy hour.

This isn’t a good fit for some company cultures and certainly not for the non-drinkers among us. But if you know a particular person enjoys a good happy hour, why not choose this option for their employee recognition? Send everyone over to the person’s favorite haunt after work for a little let-your-hair-down fun.

Employee recognition FAQs

Creative employee recognition is important. Even small acts of appreciation go a long way. In case you’re still struggling with ideas, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about employee recognition.

How do you recognize staff in a fun way?

From our larger list, here are five of the most popular ways to recognize staff in a fun way:

  1. Announce a bonus day off.
  2. Create a “secret Santa” recognition event.
  3. Make a silly traveling trophy.
  4. Organize a happy hour for an employee.
  5. Designate an employee appreciation day.

How do you reward a creative employee?

Here are three easy ideas to reward a creative employee:

  • Recognize the effort, not just the result. Reward failures along with successes.
  • Create an “innovative thinker” award. Make it a monthly or quarterly event.
  • Start an “outside the box” Slack channel. Encourage staff to call out creativity in action.

What is the best reward for employee recognition?

The best employee recognition is personalized and meaningful. Find out what the employee being recognized likes best. The reward could end up being a basket of goodies, a paid day off to spend with family, or a subscription to Apple music. It all depends on what will make that employee feel recognized.

What are some examples of recognition?

Some examples of recognition for employees include:

  • A #Kudos slack channel
  • Recognition during meetings
  • Peer-to-peer recognition
  • A personalized recognition video
  • A bulletin board of staff achievements
  • Social media shout outs

Get creative: Employee recognition done right with Biteable

A great employee recognition program only requires a handful of good employee recognition ideas. If you deploy just a few employee recognition tactics consistently, you’ll have an employee recognition program that makes your people feel happy and appreciated.

Even the best employee recognition ideas are better if you can communicate the recognition in fun, engaging ways. It’s no secret that video is one of the most engaging communication tools.

Biteable Teams gives your entire team the power to communicate with video. Easy-to-edit video templates, stock footage, and customizable animations, plus collaborative workflows and trackable analytics make video creation simple, fun, and effective.

Rise above the noise in your organization

Reach your people with Biteable Teams. Personalized branded videos, easy collaboration, and dedicated training.