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25 Employee Recognition Ideas on a Budget

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Recognizing your employees is a great way to improve engagement. Here are 25 affordable ways to do it.

Recognizing your high-performing employees can lead to higher employee engagement and satisfaction. And since it's been proven that happy employees are more productive employees, instituting employee recognition in your business can help boost your bottom line.

While some might think recognizing employees is a costly venture, it doesn't have to be. There are several ways you can reward employees for their hard work without damaging your bottom line.

25 employee recognition ideas

There are many ways to recognize your employees, from awards to gifts to parties, none of which need to break the bank. Here are 25 creative, budget-friendly employee recognition ideas.

1. Peer recognition

While it may not seem like much, peer recognition awards can go a long way in making employees feel valued. It also helps build camaraderie and good rapport amongst team members, which can improve communication and overall productivity. Consider making space in team meetings for employees to recognize each other for a job well done or an award circulated amongst small teams, like a monthly MVP.

2. Personalized rewards

If you want to give a tangible reward, consider personalizing it to the employee you are recognizing. This makes the reward feel special to the specific employee, rather than a stock award that's given to everyone. Think about things your employee enjoys and base your reward off of that – for example, if they're a big coffee lover, give them a coffee shop gift card or insulated coffee mug; or if they have a goal to learn guitar, a few lessons with a local instructor.

3. Give a social media shout-out

One of the greatest powers of social media is that it is out there for everyone to see, which can make a recognized employee feel extra special. Create a post highlighting your employee and their accomplishments, and emphasize their value to the company.

 4. Make it a game

A great way to engage employees in the workplace is to make your recognition program a game, where employees earn "badges" for hitting important metrics or goals. Rewards can be given at key points along the way. This gives employees something to work towards and encourages team collaboration.

5. Include a "featured employee" section on your website

On your website's homepage, create a section for a "featured employee" or "employee of the month," where you recognize high-achieving employees and shine a spotlight on them for your customers to see. Include information about your employee and some of their major achievements.

6. Have a party

Everyone loves a party. When you host yours, make sure everyone on your team knows the reason for the party. Set aside time to individually recognize your high-achieving employees. To make the party budget-friendly, consider making it a potluck, where everyone brings in a dish to share.

7. Have a drop box

Provide a drop box where all employees can drop in cards recognizing their peers for a job well done and then read the cards at the next team meeting. This is a simple way to make sure everyone's hard work is recognized, since it can be hard to be aware of everything going on as a manager.

8. Incorporate your company history

New Belgium Brewing has a tradition where they send brewery employees who have been with the company for five years on a trip to Belgium, where the founder of the company found his inspiration. While an all-expense-paid trip to Europe might be out of your budget, you can find ways to work your company history into ways to recognize your employees. For example, if you own a dog food company, you can provide a month's worth of dog food to your dog-parent employees.

9. Match charitable donations

If your employees are passionate about philanthropy, offer an option where the company matches their charitable donations to an organization of their choice. You can also offer paid time-off (PTO) days to allow employees to volunteer.

10. Celebrate birthdays

This may seem like a given, or something reminiscent of elementary school, but recognizing employees' birthdays is a fun way to make them feel special. Take time to wish them a happy birthday and recognize their various accomplishments and contributions to the company. Carve out some time during the day to devote to a small celebration.

11. Have a trophy

To borrow another token from childhood, giving employees a physical trophy is an affordable, lighthearted way to recognize good work. You can incorporate team jokes or references with the trophy to personalize it to your team.

12. Give thank-you notes

Thank-you notes are a simple, classic way of showing your appreciation. Give a genuine and heartfelt handwritten card or letter. This can go a much longer way in showing true appreciation than a showy party, since it comes straight from the heart.

13. Let employees choose

Allowing employees to choose from a list of preselected rewards is an easy way to ensure they end up with something they really want and will appreciate. Offer things like gift cards, movie or game tickets, PTO days or free lunches.

14. Be creative

The possibilities of recognizing your employees are limited only by your imagination. Think about things your team might like or find funny. For example, one company has custom, comical oil portraits painted of their employees, while another commissions caricatures for each employee's one-year anniversary.

15. Carwash at work

Who doesn't appreciate a good carwash? Surprise your employee by having the carwash come to them, right at work. There are several companies, like Washos, that offer on-demand car washing services.

16. A meal on the boss

Rather than hand employees a gift card, make it an opportunity to get to know them better with a one-on-one meal with you. Be sure to frame this as a reward, and make it a chance for you both to get to know each other better.

17. PTO

Everyone appreciates an extra day off, so offering a day of PTO that your recognized employee can take whenever they want is a great way to reward their hard work. To make it fun, you can print out a "PTO Certificate" that they can present to you whenever they choose. Be sure not to attach any restrictive conditions, as that can tarnish the effect of the reward.

18. VIP parking

Reward top performers with the best parking spot in the lot for a month, complete with a parking sign denoting the special spot.

19. Bring your dog to work

If you have lots of dog owners in your office, consider creating a bring-your-dog-to-work day as a reward. Make sure you are considerate of any dog allergies or phobias before you present this as a reward.

20. Food trucks

A food truck is a fun way to spice up lunchtime and support local businesses. You can hire a food truck to set up in your parking lot and serve your employees lunch as a reward for their hard work.

21. Casual dress days

If you work in an office with a strict dress code, consider offering a day of casual dress as a reward. You can choose the day so it doesn't affect any important meetings or clients, and your employees can relax and enjoy the comfort of a sweatshirt and jeans during their workday.

22. Summer hours

A great way to boost employee motivation is to offer summer hours, where employees can leave at 2 or 3 p.m. on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day to allow them a chance to recharge and take advantage of the better weather.

23. Personalized "yearbook"

To recognize employees who have been with the company for a long time, create a yearbook full of their notable achievements and milestones, and have a small ceremony presenting to book in front of their colleagues. It's a great, personal way to recognize an employee's years of hard work.

24. Spontaneous events

Is it a beautiful Friday afternoon? Take your employees for a beer on an outside patio. Is it snowing? Have a snowman-building competition on the front lawn. Offering employees spur-of-the-moment chances to have fun and unwind together can make them more engaged with the company and excited to do their work.

25. Refresh the breakroom

If the microwave threatens to burst into flames at the 30-second mark or the couch is ready to collapse, providing a small improvement to the breakroom can be a great way to show employees your appreciation. 

Why should you recognize your employees?

Employee recognition is a way to show your employees that their work is seen and appreciated, as well as to demonstrate to all your employees what success looks like in the context of your business. Recognize those who go above and beyond, meet significant achievements or reach important milestones.

Employee recognition can have several benefits for your entire organization, including:

  • Retaining top talent
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Encouraging high performance
  • Making employees feel valued
  • Demonstrating what success looks like
Image Credit: jacoblund / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski Staff
Kiely Kuligowski is a and Business News Daily writer and has written more than 200 B2B-related articles on topics designed to help small businesses market and grow their companies. Kiely spent hundreds of hours researching, analyzing and writing about the best marketing services for small businesses, including email marketing and text message marketing software. Additionally, Kiely writes on topics that help small business owners and entrepreneurs boost their social media engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.