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According to Workhuman’s employee recognition statistics, employees who feel recognized are 73% less likely to feel burned out and five times as likely to feel connected to their workplace culture. Employee recognition involves acknowledging and rewarding employees for their work to show genuine gratitude in meaningful ways.

Recognizing your employees with a prize or award is a memorable way to signal your appreciation. These awards go beyond merely thanking an employee because they thoughtfully celebrate the employee’s work. In this guide, we’ll look at the basics of recognition awards and the best ways to reward employees’ work:

Incorporate recognition awards into your strategy for engaging your employees to show them how important they are to your company’s success. Let’s begin.

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What are recognition awards?

Recognition awards are accolades given as a form of employee recognition to reward work-related achievements or contributions.

Think about your staff like a soccer team. Some players focus on scoring points while other players defend their team’s goal. Both positions have very different roles, but should each be rewarded for the unique value they bring to the team.

In the same way, employee recognition awards can come in many different forms and every role deserves to be recognized. As you notice ways that your organization benefits from an employee’s work, acknowledge their unique contributions in a meaningful way. Highlight these attributes in recognition awards:

  • Impact: How does their work or specific achievement bring value to the organization?
  • Efficiency: How does their work ethic efficiently further the company’s goals?
  • Timeliness: How do their timely results help the organization move forward with its overall mission?

It’s important to be specific with recognition awards so that employees feel genuinely appreciated for their unique efforts. Also, give awards frequently so that employees feel it’s a part of the workplace culture.

Why are awards important for recognition?

Recognition gives employees the encouragement they need to know their work is noticed and appreciated. Giving employees this sense of importance through an award can have a huge impact on the way they view their organization and their work.

Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from workplace recognition. When employees feel genuinely acknowledged and valued, the organization as a whole, from company leaders to customers, can benefit. Some examples of these benefits include:

This image summarizes the key benefits of recognition awards for employees.
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  • Confidence: Awards carry a feeling of success or victory. Recognition awards can give employees confidence in their work because they frame employees’ work as an achievement. This newfound confidence can also encourage them to grow in their roles and take on more responsibilities.
  • Productivity: Since awards signify significance and success, employees will feel important to their company. This enforces the idea that their work requires great attention and efficiency. Therefore, awards can encourage employees to keep up their work or even take on bigger tasks, making them more productive.
  • Positive reputation: When customers or clients see how your company treats its employees, you’ll gain a positive reputation in the community. Plus, an employee’s positive attitude about their job will translate into helpful customer service and efficient work, which will draw a bigger crowd.
  • Employee retention: Employees who feel important to the company and recognized for their work will likely want to stay. By rewarding employees and viewing their work as significant accomplishments, an organization can effectively engage and retain its employees.

Recognition awards are like the first place prize in a competition. Only one person can receive the first place prize, and it has to be earned. Whether you give a tangible gift or recognize employees with an eCard, employees won’t forget your intentional efforts to celebrate them.

What opportunities are there for recognition awards?

Although you may understand the importance of recognition awards, it can be tricky to implement them as a regular part of your recognition program. Over-awarding can cause awards to lose their exclusivity. However, you should also avoid under-awarding, which risks making your employees feel undervalued.

Create a list of accomplishments unique to your company and employees to determine when awards are appropriate. Consider some of the following occasions that might warrant awards.

Employee of the month

Create an employee of the month program to highlight an employee each month. Use the program to appreciate each employee for their unique contributions, rather than hold everyone to the same standard. Make sure to include specific qualifications and boundaries for the program to ensure fairness and appreciation for everyone.

For example, you might implement a rule where the same employee is not allowed to be awarded twice within a certain time period. This provides more employees the opportunity to earn the award. You can also establish a standard for receiving the award, such as meeting a work-related goal or receiving customer recommendation.

Going above and beyond

When an employee does more than their job requires, reward their extra efforts to show your gratitude for their exceptional work. Look for employees who exceed expectations, exhibit company values, and work diligently to further the company’s goals.

Every role in the company has opportunities to go above and beyond. To truly make your employees feel recognized, call out their specific contributions and how they went beyond their basic job requirements.


Working with others isn’t always easy, but effective teamwork can achieve great results. When your employees work especially well together, be sure to reward them and thank the team for all their contributions.

Reward teams who accomplish significant projects or work together to reach a goal. For example, you might send an eCard, like this one created by Circa Logica Group, which celebrates employees’ teamwork.

This screenshot shows an eCard created with eCardWidget by Circa Logica Group to reward employees for excellent teamwork.
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By rewarding employees for their team efforts, you’ll encourage them to work together to achieve greater results. Plus, collaborating toward a common goal can ensure that employees don’t feel overwhelmed by having all the responsibility placed on them.

Company representation

While your company’s digital marketing and social media presence play a significant role in representing your company to the public, it’s outstanding customer or client feedback that truly boosts your company’s reputation. Rewarding employees who receive positive feedback will communicate the importance of your company’s service quality and reputation.

You might wait to receive this feedback naturally or ask for feedback by sending out a survey to your customers or clients, asking how their experience with your employee has been and what could be improved. If you send out a survey, encourage customers to give specific examples of how they’ve been helped and what stands out about your employee’s service. That way, you’ll have a specific commendation to pair with the award.

This reward will show employees that service is a high priority of your company. Plus, incentivizing positive customer service can boost your company’s reputation in the community when employees work hard to earn that award.

Work anniversary

Reward employee retention, like significant anniversaries at the five, 10, and 15-year points in an employee’s time with your company. Celebrating lengthy stays shows your gratitude for employee loyalty and cultivates a sense of family in the workplace.


Give rewards to employees who have taken initiative for work-related projects. This will motivate employees to take leadership and look for ways to push things forward.

Company values

Just as your company aims to uphold its values, employees should also be held to this standard. By rewarding employees who exhibit the company’s values, you’ll communicate that these values are worth being celebrated and highlight these employees as successful representatives of these values.

You might create awards for each value, then establish a timeline for giving them. For example, you could give a weekly award to an employee who most exhibited a certain value in the past week.

Team choice

Hold a company-wide vote for the employee that most deserves to be rewarded for their hard work. Ask employees to vote for someone other than themselves and to include the reason they believe a certain person should receive an award.

Then, when you reward the winning employee, read out or summarize all of the positive feedback received in the poll. This is an opportunity to make employees feel appreciated, not only by management, but also by their peers.

What types of recognition awards should I give?

After establishing when you’ll give awards, you’ll need to decide what awards you’ll give. Recognition awards offer an opportunity to get creative with your gratitude, and there are a variety of tools you might use to recognize your employees. We’ll explore seven examples of recognition award ideas:

This section explains that donations are a great recognition award for employees.
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1. Donations

Although charitable donations seem like an unconventional award, they’ll mean a lot to the employee who is passionate about a specific nonprofit or cause. Similar to contestants on a game show who compete for a donation to their charity of choice, nonprofit donations can be a meaningful way to reward employees for their hard work.

Encourage employees to give through your company’s corporate giving program and ask them for a list of nonprofits they support. For example, an employee might request that your company makes a donation to the local animal shelter whenever they earn a reward.

After making the donation, send your employee a charity eCard with the donation information. eCardWidget allows you to streamline this process by making the donation with an eCard. This award helps employees feel like they’re accomplishing social good through their corporate work. Also, it connects your company to the community and gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your company’s values on a regular basis.

This section shows that certificates are an easy way to recognize your employees with an award.
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2. Certificates

As a classic reward, certificates are a simple way to reward employees for their workplace achievements. Create certificate templates for different accomplishments. Then, add an employee’s name, print, and sign the certificate whenever they earn one. For example, you might create templates for the following achievements:

  • Completing a training course
  • Being mentioned in a positive customer review
  • Receiving an office superlative, such as earliest to start the day

To make the award more special, frame the certificate before presenting it to your employee. You might present the certificate in front of the whole office to draw special attention to the employee’s achievement. Also, provide a place in the office to hang the certificates to proudly display your employees’ contributions.

This section urges employers to practice employee recognition with a plaque.
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3. Plaques

Plaques are a step up from certificates and may be reserved for more significant accomplishments. These should be more formal and presented from the company rather than one person. For example, the plaque might read, “Technology Incorporated proudly presents this plaque to John Doe for his outstanding performance at the company for 10 years.”

Consider these occasions for presenting an employee with a plaque:

  • Work anniversary
  • Promotion
  • Employee of the year

Because plaques might represent a more significant occasion, accompany the award with a ceremony or party. In the example above, a company leader might present the plaque to John Doe at an after-work party and give a small speech highlighting John’s specific contributions and accomplishments.

This section explains why trophies make great employee recognition awards.
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4. Trophies

Trophies can be a fun gift to make your employees feel appreciated. Since certificates and plaques can award serious work accomplishments, consider using trophies for more fun recognition opportunities.

For example, you might treat trophies as a type of workplace superlative. Give a trophy of a bird and a worm to the employee who arrives the earliest every morning and call it the “early bird” award. Schedule a miniature award ceremony during everyone’s lunch break one day and give the awards in front of everyone in the office.

This section gives an overview of employee perks that can be given as recognition awards.
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5. Employee perks

Workplace perks are great rewards for exceptional work since they make the work day more convenient for your employees. Consider the following perks you might give to exceptional employees:

  • VIP parking spot: The closest parking spot to the office entrance
  • Company car: Use of a company car, even just for travel in between home and the office
  • Branded merchandise: T-shirts, water bottles, laptop bags, and other merchandise with the company’s colors and logo
  • Upgraded desk: A standing desk or higher quality workspace, according to the employee’s preference

These perks can be combined with other awards to make an employee feel like their accomplishment has earned special treatment. For example, the employee of the month might receive a special parking spot for the month along with a plaque recognizing their exceptional work.

This section discusses how to give employees time off as a recognition award.
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6. Time off

Research shows that regular breaks from work can make employees more productive. Consider rewarding accomplishments with some extra time off, not included in their allotted paid time off. For example, you might offer:

  • An extended break: Allow employees to take a longer lunch break, start the day later, or leave the office earlier than usual.
  • A half day of work: Allow employees to either come into the office or leave the office after lunch.
  • A full day off from work: Offer a long weekend or a break in the middle of the week with a full day off from work.

After employees put extra effort into their jobs, they might appreciate a break! Thank them for their efforts by giving them a chance to rest without having to worry about the amount of sick days or PTO they have left.

This section explains how free celebration lunches to can be great recognition awards.
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7. Celebration lunch

Celebrate your employees’ accomplishments with a free meal. Tell them to forgo packing lunch before coming in to work the next day.

You can ask for their restaurant preferences or give them a company card to purchase the meal themselves. If they’d rather eat in the office, pay to have the meal delivered.

If company leaders work closely with the employee, encourage them to take the employee out to a restaurant as a thank-you meal. You might also consider allowing the employee to invite their coworkers for a larger celebration.

No matter which rewards you choose, be sure to develop a thorough recognition award plan before implementing any changes. By establishing a clear plan for awarding your employees, you’ll ensure everyone is rewarded fairly and has equal opportunity to be recognized. To learn more about employee recognition and engagement, check out the additional resources below!

Employee Gifts: A Complete Guide + Top 10 Gift Ideas. Explore this guide to learn more about the gifts you can give employees.
Employee Coaching: Complete Overview and How-To Guide. Learn how to motivate employees through performance reviews and motivation.
Corporate Social Responsibility: The Definitive Guide. This guide explains the basics of corporate social responsibility and different types of corporate giving.

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