At the end of the fiscal year, it’s common for organizations to acknowledge staff members who’ve given 10, 15, or even 20 years to the company. Each employee usually receives the same plaque, handshake, and five-minute speech slot. Their years of service diminished to one anti-climatic moment.

This scenario is a reality for many companies, as only 46 percent of employees rate their leaders and managers above average in providing recognition. Organizations looking to improve employee engagement need to build a culture of appreciation and awards.

Read on to learn why you need to recognize employees with personal awards and discover 12 employee recognition award ideas that can strengthen employee engagement across your organization.

Benefits of giving employee awards

Compensation may provide monetary satisfaction, but it doesn’t feed your employees’ underlying desire to feel valued. Implementing an awards system that speaks specifically to each employee’s unique contributions lets them know that you’re paying attention and appreciating their efforts.

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters. What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.” – Amy Whillans, Harvard Business School researcher

Thoughtful awards create memories that connect your employees to your company and can mean as much — or more — than other types of rewards. But according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trend Survey, only 33 percent of respondents believed their company wanted to improve their awards program.

For example, The Very Group (formerly Shop Direct), an online retailer in the U.K. and Ireland, supports over 50 million products. Since implementing their recognition and rewards (R&R) program, Shine, they’ve gone from providing 8 to 1000 awards annually, and they’ve sent over 355,000 recognitions to date. With Shine guiding the company’s practices, The Very Group was awarded the U.K. Employee Experience Award for Employee Recognition and Reward and earned a profit for the first time in ten years.

Best practices for employee awards

By following these simple guidelines for appreciation, you’ll be well on your way to recognizing employees with meaningful awards:

  • Frequent recognition: Don’t wait for yearly milestones or work anniversaries to recognize your employees for their contributions. Communicate recognition in real-time and on a frequent basis to make it a part of your everyday culture.
  • Public recognition: Your staff works hard, even when no one is looking. A public award ensures that those who continuously sacrifice behind the scenes are given center stage, to be celebrated by everyone.
  • Award actions that align with your company’s values: Your awards program should align with your organization’s values, brand, and the employee experience you want to create. This is the best way to shift your company into a culture of employee recognition and reinforce key behaviors that reflect your company values.
  • Incorporate reward points into the awards process: Award team members with points that they can redeem for a reward of their choosing by using an employee recognition platform that supports points-based recognition. Team members will appreciate being able to choose rewards that they actually want, rather than receiving the same generic mug or T-shirt everyone gets.
  • Have fun with award names: Making your awards unique and memorable starts with the name. For instance, instead of an award titled “Here’s to 10 Years of Service,” try “Thank You for Being Our MVP for 10 Years.”

Applying these best practices will ensure that your awards program is effective and meaningful to employees.

12 employee award ideas

Review these 12 employee award ideas and thoroughly consider the impact that each award will have on your team members, now and in the future. Keep in mind that your employee awards say a lot about the values you prioritize as a company.

1. Recognition master award

The recognition master award is for the person who recognizes others on the team most often. Leadership and other team members who actively recognize others are the heart of your awards program. Think of them as office influencers. It’s their constant recognition that helps you engage and retain other employees.

When employees are recognized and awarded they feel validated, work harder, and are excited about coming to work. They believe their contributions are valued and are much more likely to recognize their peers as well. To encourage frequent recognition, you should provide this award on a monthly basis.

Ensure that this award is given to team members at all levels of the company to show recognition should be practiced across the organization. Research shows that recognition is incredibly valuable no matter who’s giving it:

2. Most recognized employee award

Which employee continuously receives praise from their team and management? Award employees who were recognized the most every month and quarter. Consider handing out a most recognized employee award for each team, department, and across the entire company. This award incentivizes participation in your employee R&R program and lets your team know that you’re grateful for their commitment to the process. You can even reward employees with additional points along with this award to make it truly memorable.


3. Exceptional listener award

Employees want to feel like you care, and 90 percent are more likely to remain at a company where they believe their input is valued. The exceptional listener award is ideal for managers and leaders who solicit and act on feedback. Providing feedback improves employee engagement and productivity as it allows managers to address issues in real-time. Acting on input is critical and can have a significant impact on your team’s development. And give extra recognition to managers who take this feedback to their team and work with them to collectively come up with an action-based plan, so everyone is invested in the solution.

Traditionally, companies have solely relied on annual performance surveys. But advances in technology have made it possible to accelerate the feedback loop using tools like pulse surveys and always-on employee feedback channels such as a workplace chatbot. These tools allow you to act on feedback in real time, so your response doesn’t come too late to matter.

4. Excellent feedback award

Managers and leadership need employee feedback to provide solutions that support the team’s needs. Awarding employees that provide regular feedback is an excellent way to encourage other employees to share, creating an environment where all team members feel comfortable giving feedback. This award should only be given if the feedback wasn’t submitted anonymously, of course. For both legal and ethical reasons, you never want to reveal an unidentified author, even for an award.

5. Coaching champion award

A recent Gallup study concluded that great leaders were also amazing coaches. Coaching is a specialized skill that takes practice to perfect. Managers consult and micromanage, but coaches provide feedback to help team members make decisions. By setting clear expectations, providing appreciation and praise, and placing team members in positions where they excel the most, coaches help employees grow and reach their maximum potential. They also establish genuine relationships with other team members based on mutual trust and respect.

The coaching champion award should be presented to coaches in the workplace who go the extra mile to help others grow personally and professionally. Recognizing good leaders and coaches helps you motivate and engage employees at all levels.


6. Living by our values award

Your company values unite your team members as they work to reach a common goal, and 75 percent of employees say it’s very important to work for a company with a set of core values. The award recipient should be someone who integrates the company’s values into everything that they do, acting as a team anchor during uncertain times.

Meijer, a superstore out of the U.S. Midwest, has seen much success with a similar award. After being in service since 1934, the company sought support from a recognition and rewards platform to engage its 70,000 team members. Now they provide two legacy awards, with one being The Fred Meijer Award. Meijer presents this award to the team member who exemplifies humility, generosity, and a passion for service, reflecting their core value of putting customers first.

7. Keeping us safe award

When employees don’t feel safe, they are reluctant to provide feedback that could help your company. If their input was shot down or ignored in the past, they might feel uncomfortable speaking up. Gary DePaul, the owner of HR Leadership Curators (HRLC), says that creating an environment of psychological safety helps “team members believe that their questions, comments, and suggestions are received fairly and perceived as valuable.” Give this reward to team members who contribute the most to making your organization a safe, welcoming space for everyone.

8. Always growing award

You want employees who are always looking to grow in new ways, both professionally and personally. Growth isn’t limited to career performance, so consider how employees have grown personally as leaders, coworkers, and individuals. You can give this award to an employee who has just received a professional certification, or one who has just graduated from a new field of study. In addition to providing this award, commit to initiatives that support employee development across all areas, from training and professional development to wellness.

9. Driving success award

Employees who are the biggest factors in your company’s success deserve the driving success award. This could be a team member who has made the most sales, revamped key company processes, or enabled the success of others. For instance, Meijer provides The President’s Award to recognize their team members that drive success in alignment with the company’s winning strategy.

employee awards and employee recognition awards

10. Team player award

Some employees hold the team together, from their willingness to provide support to effective communication to recognizing the contributions of others. The team player award is intended to recognize and encourage collaboration. This employee award communicates the expectations for your team and rewards those who meet them. Add a layer of validity by including a voting process and make this a people’s choice award. And if you’re having trouble identifying the team players at your company, take a look at these helpful tips.

11. Going above and beyond award

There’s always one or two team members who show up early, leave late, take on extra assignments without fuss, and give their all to every project. The recipient of this award does more than their outlined responsibilities. They are likely highly engaged, and you want to reward their commitment to the company to ensure they remain that way and that you retain them. Lack of recognition is the third most common reason employees leave their employers. Show your team examples of how engaged and self-driven employees behave, and they’re sure to follow in their footsteps.

12. Customer service award

The customer service award is for those team members who have demonstrated exceptional skills in client communication and relations. Keeping customers satisfied is no easy task, but delivering a great customer experience benefits everyone involved. According to Vanessa Brangwyn, Chief Customer Officer at Achievers, “Employees at companies with excellent customer experience are 1 1/2 times more likely to be engaged than workers at places with poor customer experience.”

Recognizing employees who provide great customer service helps your organization build on their success. Meijer found that increasing recognition from twice a month to twice a week resulted in a five percent increase in customer satisfaction scores.

Go beyond employee awards with a culture of recognition

The more recognition and awards team members receive, the more they feel a part of the team, appreciated, engaged in the process, and committed to the company’s long-term goals. Still, awards are only one part of your employee R&R program. Implementing a R&R solution is the key to making recognition a part of your culture. In fact, “organizations without R&R technology are 160 percent more likely than those with technology to recognize employees just twice a year or less.”