Employee Recognition: How to Motivate and Reward Your Team

Employee recognitionIf you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of your clients.

Likewise, if you care for your workers, they will care for your business.

When people feel valued, other positive emotions result, such as motivation and loyalty. If you truly want your organization to thrive, you must put the time and energy into ensuring that your employees feel important.

Whether you are a CEO, business owner, or administrator, every team leader is tasked with motivating their team members. In this article, we will arm you with the tools and steps to implement an employee recognition program that will make your team and business thrive.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify opportunities for professional growth and create a more meaningful career.

What Are the Fundamentals of Employee Recognition?

Effective employee recognition and rewards can significantly improve employee engagement, resulting in higher productivity, better job performance, and increased company loyalty (Satish, 2023).

Further, it decreases employee turnover (Igomu, 2023), as people will remain loyal to employers who make them feel valued.

Recognition could also improve self-efficacy, as Zhang et al. (2023) found to be true with teachers. People naturally gain confidence in their ability to achieve when motivated by recognition. There is a solid relationship between empowerment and individual performance (Qatawneh, 2023).

By recognizing your employees, you are empowering them, and by providing this empowerment, their performance will increase.

Now that we’ve explored just a few of the multitude of benefits of employee recognition, let’s discuss a few key points in employee recognition.

  • All staff members should be given equal opportunity to be rewarded for their efforts. Therefore, recognition should be achievable to all team members.
  • Employee recognition should be provided for a specific behavior or achievement. It should also be delivered in a timely manner.

We will discuss tangible and intangible recognition methods; however, recognition comes in many shapes and sizes. Employee recognition can be attained in a variety of ways, and team leaders have the opportunity to lean on their creative side.

Missing the obvious in employee recognition

To learn more about the fundamentals of employee recognition and more specific examples of these key areas, check out this informative TEDx talk from Claire McCarty.

Examples of Companies That Get Appreciation Right

Everyone has an innate need to feel appreciated. If you’re presently searching for a job, perhaps you’ll consider a company with a reputation for appreciating their employees, such as one of the following.


As one of the largest companies in the world, Google has a reputation for treating its employees well. They provide generous salary and benefits packages, and their on-site amenities are enviable.

The Googleplex headquarters in California has on-site gyms, medical professionals, massage therapists, and cafes and kitchens that offer free meals. Their method of showing employees they are appreciated involves providing these desirable perks.


Known for its unique company culture, Zappos has been described as valuing employee empowerment, happiness, and work–life balance.

Like Google, this company has on-site amenities like fully stocked kitchens and game rooms. With unlimited vacation days and opportunities for advancement, clearly, Zappos highly values its employees.


Also offering unlimited paid time off, HubSpot is well known for rewarding its team with monthly reimbursement for books, tuition, and fitness. They offer employees autonomous working methods and the choice to work from the office, remotely, or in a hybrid model.

After four years of working for HubSpot, you are offered a four-week paid sabbatical. A healthy work–life balance is something this company encourages in their employees.

US Military

Although many will argue that any position in the United States Military is a thankless job, there are numerous ways to be rewarded. Service members are promoted in rank for their accomplishments and time in the service. With these promotions come more money and prestige.

Individuals can also earn reenlistment bonuses as an enticement to continue their service following the end of a contract. Ribbons and medals are earned for display on specific uniforms, and coins are collected for display in the home or office. These also contribute to promotions.

Further, superiors can write letters of commendation for service members to recognize their valiant efforts.

17 More Work & Career Coaching Exercises

These 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises [PDF] contain everything you need to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

How to Build a Successful Employee Recognition Program

In building an effective employee recognition program, consider the following steps.

First, you must have an objective. What will you be rewarding or recognizing employees for? Then, determine the interests of your employees. What are team members most interested in receiving for their hard work? Additionally, will you be providing tangible or intangible motivations? Lastly, we touch on the value of peer recognition and how to implement this effective technique.


Initially, you must determine what you will be rewarding your team members for. Would you like to recognize work anniversaries? Do you want to praise job performance? Loyalty, customer service, acquisitions?

No matter the objective, consider tying the rewards to the company’s overall mission to make it relevant for employees (Igomu, 2023).

For example, public school teachers in the United States could be nominated as Teacher of the Year in their school, district, state, or country. Nominations require that the teacher form strong relationships with their students; be engaging; deliver high-quality, research-based, and standards-driven lessons; and go above and beyond in the area of education. Award candidates strive for the same elements that produce successful students to achieve this honor.

Likewise, if you connect the recognition objective to the overall organization mission, you will hit two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Determine interest

Ensure the recognition is actually what your employees want. Survey how your employees want to be recognized to ensure support.

For example, some individuals may thrive on public acknowledgment, while others cringe at the thought of being recognized in front of peers. The book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace may be a beneficial read in understanding what employees want. For instance, older employees may value meetings and time spent with their boss, while others couldn’t care less for this type of recognition.

Do your team members want to be recognized privately or publicly? Would they prefer tangible or intangible rewards? These are just a few questions to consider when gauging your teammates’ interests.

Types of rewards

Conducting a quick internet search of types of awards will produce countless ideas. Truth be told, this is where you can act on your creative side. Rewards can be more easily understood when categorized by reward tangibility.


Tangible rewards are types of recognition you can see, touch, or hold. Tangible rewards, such as compensation and benefits, provide employees with financial security and stability, which can increase their job satisfaction and reduce their stress levels (Igomu, 2023).

Awards, such as certificates, medals, or plaques, can demonstrate recognition.

Some companies distribute turkeys around the holidays. Bonuses may be given to employees who go the extra mile.

Sahibzada and Khawrin (2023) found that salary positively correlates to job satisfaction. In an Afghan province university, a Google Form was used to collect data from 60 lecturers. The data showed that as salary increased, so did the lecturers’ reports of positive job satisfaction.

However, the same significant correlation was found between job recognition and job satisfaction. Said another way, employees who felt they were valued also reported high job satisfaction, which leads us to intangible rewards.


Intangible employee recognition methods cannot be physically held. Often, recognition doesn’t have to cost a dime. In fact, nonfinancial approaches effectively improve business performance, profitability, and employee retention (Tang, 2023).

Intangible rewards such as recognition, career development, and work–life balance can enhance employees’ sense of value and belonging within the organization, increase their work engagement and motivation, and ultimately contribute to their job satisfaction (Igomu, 2023).

Employee recognition shows appreciation for employees. Intangible forms of recognition may include providing additional time off for employees or a special parking spot in the company parking lot.

Public praise can be a powerful way to recognize your teammates. According to the social information processing theory, humans look to their peers to help develop their self-concept (Festinger, 1954). More on peer recognition in just a bit, but to learn more about this theory, among others, you may peruse our article Job Satisfaction Theory: 6 Factors for Happier Employees.

An employee of the month may be chosen to spotlight a teammate in the organization newsletter or include their picture on the wall. An employee appreciation day could be designated to recognize the entire company’s hard work. It could be celebrated with a company picnic or a trip to a local amusement park.

As another impactful method to express recognition, try writing a message of appreciation to someone close to each of your teammates from you as the employer. This small act of kindness shows the appreciation you have for someone supporting your teammate at home and in their personal life.

For more ideas involving tangible and intangible rewards, check out our article Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace (Including 90+ Examples). From allowing a more flexible dress code to permitting pets in the office, this article contains several novel ideas.

Peer recognition

Recognition doesn’t just have to be executed by the leadership. It can be implemented between peers. Leaders should establish an environment where everyone is expected to notice when someone shows good performance.

Trust is built when people recognize their teammates performing well. Promote peer-to-peer recognition by creating a shout-out wall for team members to publicly display compliments and kudos to each other.

Why Recognition Improves Employee Engagement

This video from Gallup provides enlightenment concerning employee-to-employee recognition.

Implementing Your Program for Employee Recognition

Now that you have a solid understanding of how to build a successful employee recognition program, let’s look at how to implement your program so that it is effective. Take all the following elements into consideration: communication, consistency, fairness, and reassessment.


To communicate the type of reward, you must convey well-defined criteria with transparent communication (Igomu, 2023; Satish, 2023). The reward and how to achieve it should be effectively and clearly communicated.

Perhaps hold a meeting or send a detailed email explaining the reward. Post the criteria in a high-traffic area, such as the breakroom. Ensure you get the word out company-wide, including remote workers.

Be specific when recognizing someone. Explain why they are being praised to continue the behavior. For example, a potential script could read: “Ryan is the Employee of the Month because of his can-do attitude and willingness to assist one of our newer team members.”


Be consistent. Conduct the chosen program with fidelity. If employees expect recognition and earn it, they deserve it.

You may need to schedule the appreciation time to ensure consistency. Mark it on your calendar or set a reminder to solidify appreciation as a priority and to hold yourself accountable. As mentioned, you could also charge your employees with the task of recognizing their peers.

The frequency should be more than just once per year. Further, the recognition needs to be somewhat immediate when success occurs. Timeliness will make the reward more impactful.


There must be a fair distribution of rewards (Igomu, 2023; Satish, 2023). Be cognizant of discrimination. Everyone should have the same opportunity to earn recognition.

Consideration may be given to employees with special circumstances, such as those who work part time or may be new to the company. These employees may be performing to the best of their ability; however, their results may not equal those of their peers.

Don’t recognize only the results; recognize the growth it takes to accomplish those results. Further, positive leaders consider individuals and recognize their employees’ unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs (Bass & Riggio, 2006).


As the motivator, you must regularly assess and reassess the recognition program and make necessary adaptations to ensure its continued effectiveness (Satish, 2023). Reward programs should remain flexible (Igomu, 2032). If something doesn’t appear to be working, you should be prepared to switch gears quickly and determine what will be effective.

If motivating individuals doesn’t seem to be effective, perhaps try a team-based recognition program. Presslee et al. (2023) observed the positive effects of a team recognition system for six fast-food franchise restaurant locations. Each team had the opportunity to earn a thank you note or token gift every two weeks. This is a fruitful program, especially if there is low employee motivation and individual performance is difficult to measure or costly.

PositivePsychology.com’s Motivation & Goal Achievement Masterclass©

We offer a comprehensive six-module coaching package to build motivation to achieve goals. With this masterclass, you can easily create a workshop or training program for your employees.

This intermediate-level masterclass is available online, and you can choose how in depth you go with the material, which can take a week of full-time self-study. You will become quite an asset to your company when you master the science and practice of effective goal management, and you can earn up to nine continuing education credits upon completing this masterclass.

Included in the masterclass is a practitioner handbook; exercises; 31 videos; 31 slide deck presentations; and lists of recommended movies, quotes, and books. The masterclass can be instrumental in setting up an employee recognition program that will not only be rewarding, but also help all team members be motivated and goal orientated.

See this short video for more on what is included:

A Masterclass on Motivation & Goal Achievement

A Take-Home Message

Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will.

Three things matter to employees: human connection, growth, and purpose. Further, effective organizations should address their employees’ innate need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Friedman, 2015; Riaz et al., 2023).

Remember that every organization is unique, and what may make one company’s employee recognition program successful may not be effective for another. Ultimately, creativity and flexibility will be important characteristics of your employee recognition plan.

Keep in mind that appreciation is not a participation trophy. It affirms good work and is critical for success. Ultimately, appreciation and employee recognition are essential for your team’s success. As a bonus, appreciating others puts you in a good mood as well.

If you have a favorite way to motivate or reward your team, please share below in the comments.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Employee recognition is the work-related acknowledgment of someone’s behavior or effort. Employee appreciation is rewarding people for who they are and expressing gratitude toward them.

Use the same elements for quality praise:

  • Praise a specific action that was completed in the work environment.
  • Praise in a timely manner following the desired action.
  • Be specific in the praise so that the individual can replicate the action.
  • Be genuine.

Reliability, self-motivation, strong work ethic, collaboration, and ambition

According to research by Ali and Ahmad (2017), the following employee rewards are valued the most:

  • Verbal and written praise
  • Promotion opportunities
  • Public recognition

While Ganta (2014) adds these two:

  • Paid time off
  • Bonuses/monetary rewards
  • Ali, M. Z., & Ahmad, N. (2017). Impact of pay promotion and recognition on job satisfaction (A study on banking sector employees Karachi). Global Management Journal for Academic and Corporate Studies, 7(2), 131–141.
  • Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Bosire, R. K., Muya, J., & Matula, D. (2021). Employee recognition programs and employee output as moderated by workers’ union activities: Evidence from Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), Kenya. Saudi Journal of Business and Management Studies, 6(3), 61–70.
  • Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117–140.
  • Friedman, R. (2015). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. Penguin Books.
  • Ganta, V. C. (2014). Motivation in the workplace to improve the employee performance. International Journal of Engineering Technology, Management and Applied Sciences, 2(6), 221–230.
  • Igomu, M. D. (2023). Reward system and employee job satisfaction among selected eateries in Abuja metropolis. FULafia International Journal of Business and Allied Studies, 1(1), 64–79.
  • Presslee, A., Richins, G., Saiy, S., & Webb, A. (2023). Small sample field study: The effects of team-based recognition on employee engagement and effort. Management Accounting Research, 59.
  • Qatawneh, A. M. (2023). The role of employee empowerment in supporting accounting information systems outcomes: A mediated model. Sustainability, 15(9).
  • Riaz, A., Manzoor, M. F., Sarwar, K., Hafeez, H., Masood, A., Kunmbher, D. M. I., & Naseem, A. (2023). The impact of Total Quality Management (TQM) on employee motivation and job satisfaction. PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, 20(2), 319–329.
  • Sahibzada, A., & Khawrin, M. (2023). The relationship between salary and recognition on job satisfaction: A study of Paktia University lecturers. Vidya-A Journal of Gujarat University, 2(1), 74–78.
  • Satish, R. (2023). A study on employee engagement reward and recognition in L&T construction. Russian Law Journal, 11(11s).
  • Tang, W. C. (2023). The relationship between non-financial rewards and employee retention in the retail industry: A case study of a supermarket chain group in Hong Kong. International Research Journal of Economics and Management Studies, 2(1).
  • Zhang, Y., Aramburo, C., & Tsang, K. K. (2023). Measuring teacher recognition through Honneth’s recognition theory: Development and validation of a teacher recognition scale. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 32(1), 111–121.

Let us know your thoughts

Your email address will not be published.


Read other articles by their category

Download 3 Work & Career Exercises Pack (PDF)