Employee Recognition Programs: 20 Examples

Looking to expand beyond your Employee of the Month recognition program and gift card rewards? Here are some ideas to throw into the mix.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
Published on Sep. 30, 2022
Employee Recognition Programs: 20 Examples
Image: Shutterstock

Employee recognition programs are important for motivating employees and rewarding them for hard work. With the end of the year fast approaching and employees going all out to meet product release deadlines, reach sales quotas and hit other key performance indicators, how is your team faring in preparing to recognize and reward those employees?

What Is an Employee Recognition Program?

Employee recognition programs are designed to thank an employee or group of employees for hitting a milestone goal or a variety of achievements. These programs come with a range of awards from a photo posted on a wall to honor the employee to dinner at a swanky restaurant.

If you’re seeking to expand the breadth of your employee recognition programs and the rewards you offer, here are nearly two dozen tools to throw into the mix

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What Is an Employee Recognition Program?

Employee recognition programs seek to acknowledge and reward workers for a range of accomplishments. The awards can be bestowed on an individual, a team, or the workforce at large.

Companies favor these programs because they can lead to improved employee morale, help retain and attract key employees, increase productivity and competitiveness, as well as boost revenues and profitability, the report states.

Eighty percent of companies surveyed said they had an employee recognition program, according to a 2018 report by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). 


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How to Set Up an Employee Recognition Program

According to SHRM, employers need to draw up a clearly written policy and guidelines that describe the recognition program and its terms. 

Guidelines for Employee Recognition Programs 

  • Establish eligibility requirements
  • Describe approval process
  • List awards that will be provided
  • Note frequency of award presentations
  • State performance goals to be measured
  • Set thresholds for awards

Source: Society of Human Resource Management

Employee recognition programs work best with the participation of department heads, who help select award recipients, SHRM stated in its report. These department heads can ensure time is set aside in meetings, for example, to recognize employees for their hard work.

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20 Examples of Employee Recognition Programs and Rewards 

Below are examples of both public and private employee recognition programs and awards. Depending on the company culture and the individual employee different types of recognition might be more effective. One employee might appreciate a company-wide shoutout of their accomplishment, while another might prefer a one-on-one acknowledgement.


Public Recognition Programs and Rewards

Community Service Award

Employees who volunteer on behalf of the company in the communities where you operate not only do good for the community but also for your company.

Once you establish the committee and criteria to select the recipient, consider having a joint-award presentation with not only a leader from your company but also a leader from the organization that benefited from your employee’s good work. 

Company-wide Congratulatory Email

One of the greatest benefits of a company-wide congratulatory email is the speed at which employee recognition can be acknowledged. This fast and efficient form of recognition can be delivered within minutes of the employee’s noteworthy work. Also, this virtual pat on the back can be saved in your email and referenced when you are writing performance reviews. 

Customer Service Award

Customers are king and serving the king can often be hard work. The criteria for this program can range from having the highest customer retention rate to the fastest time to resolve customer issues. In announcing this award during a company meeting or event, consider showing screenshots or videos of customers’ glowing comments as the award is handed out.

Employee Appreciation Event

Who doesn’t like a party? Especially an event that’s designed to honor employees for their hard work? And the beauty of this employee recognition program is it can be as creative and on budget as you’d like, from a simple fare, such as donut holes spelling out “Great Work,” served in a conference room to a lavish dinner at a Michelin-rated restaurant.

Employee of the Month

Like clockwork, this employee recognition program rolls around every month. As a result, it may be handy to have employees also participate with their nominations to go along with management’s nominations. The employee is honored with an announcement or celebration in a monthly meeting.

Employee-to-Employee Recognition Wall

Employees name their co-workers for this grassroots recognition program, which includes posting messages of appreciation on the wall, reports Indeed.com. This employee recognition program not only gives kudos to co-workers but it may also prompt colleagues to ramp up their game to receive similar recognition.

MVP Awards

Baseball isn’t the only place doling out the most valuable player (MVP) awards. Try corporate America too. This program aims to acknowledge employees who consistently go above and beyond and with results. This award is likely given out annually versus every month like the employee of the month recipient. 

Newsletter Kudos

Highlighting employee kudos in a newsletter may carry the same weight as in a newspaper for some employees because the presentation is more formal than an email appreciation and is more lasting than a brief conversation. However, not all organizations circulate a company newsletter to employees, making this employee recognition program more difficult to pull off.

Company Mission Awards

The vast majority of large companies, 85 percent, have a mission statement, according to the New York Times, which cited a 2006 Bain & Co. report. And more recently, companies are beginning to recognize those employees who exemplify the corporate mission statement.

Social Media Shoutouts

Social media provides a great platform for shouting out employee accomplishments. Achievements can be recognized as they are happening and the distribution can be wide. Companies may benefit when picking this form of employee recognition, because it gives job seekers an inside look. You may also want to post photos of these employees and tag them in your post, reports TalentLyft.

Years of Service Award

Over the years, employees have been recognized for the length of service at a company with a watch at retirement to a backpack with the corporate logo blazed across the front at the 1-year anniversary mark. This employee recognition program is important, especially when job hopping is more common.

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Private Recognition Programs and Rewards

CEO Appreciation Video

A video thank-you message from the CEO is a unique way to show an employee they are recognized and appreciated. This type of employee recognition program may be particularly special for remote workers, giving them confirmation their work is greatly appreciated at the highest levels of the company even without their physical presence in the office.

Event Tickets

Work hard, play hard. That’s what this recognition program can help your employees do. Honor them with tickets to the hottest concert in town or perhaps target it to their particular interests, such as admission to the local art museum, for a job well done.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are frequently used as a thank you in employee recognition programs. In fact, 80 percent of companies that offer employee incentives use gift cards as a reward, reports Incentive Federation Inc. (IFI) in its 2022 Incentive Marketplace Estimate Research Study.

Handwritten Note

In this era of email communication, a handwritten note expressing gratitude tends to stand out more. That’s because handwritten notes generally take more time to craft and leave the recipient with a tangible, personal form of recognition that they can hold versus looking at an email on the screen. 

Home Delivery Gift Box

There’s a certain joy that many people experience when opening a gift box and your employees are likely no different — a fact that many companies seem to realize. In a 2021 survey of 300 U.S. companies, Coresight Research found that 40 percent of corporate gifting was for employee recognition programs or internal awards.

One-on-One Lunch With the CEO

The benefits of a one-on-one lunch with the CEO are multi-faceted. It not only provides recognition to an employee for their contribution to the company but also provides an opportunity for both employee and CEO to learn more about each other and discuss their views on ways to potentially improve the organization.

Monetary Recognition Award

Cash is king for a number of employees when it comes to recognition programs, but surprisingly not everyone. Rather, 66 percent of survey participants preferred a personally-meaningful non-cash reward for smaller employee recognition programs, according to an Incentive Marketing Association study performed in 2015.

Preferred Parking

Time is money and trolling for a parking space in a crowded company parking lot is far from fun. The value of this employee recognition award is not lost on the University of California at Berkeley, which provides free lifetime parking on its main campus for its faculty who received the esteemed Nobel Prize, reports NPR.

Swanky Restaurant 

Ever wonder if the way to an employee’s heart is through their stomach? The odds of getting there may be better when you use a Michelin-rated restaurant for your employee recognition award. And a potential twofer, consider teaming it with a one-on-one meal with your CEO.


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