11 Types of Employee Recognition

November 2, 2020 Aaron Kinne

8-minute read

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When it comes to employee recognition, a commonly asked question is: “What types of things should I recognize?” 

It can be a tricky question. After all, there’s a broad spectrum of efforts and results that deserve to be recognized. It could be celebrating something an employee did with little effort – yet had a phenomenal impact on the organization. It could be something that failed despite a herculean effort – yet produced a valuable learning moment. Or it could be an otherwise ordinary contribution – yet the employee made it uniquely special.  

In other words, the real value of an employee’s effort is measured not just in what they accomplished, but in how they accomplished it. With that in mind, here are some instances when employee recognition deserves your careful consideration. To bring each scenario to life, I’ve also included some real-life employee recognition examples that managers and peers have written, celebrating the good work the humans in their organization have done.

  1. Recognize employees for things you’d like to see them do more often.

Did the employee do something great? Something you want them to keep doing? Then recognize it. Employee recognition is one of the purest and most powerful forms of positive feedback – and a great way to reinforce and encourage the actions you’d like to see happen again and again.

Example:

“You are a consummate idea generator and a key reason why we’re delivering exceptional content to market. Thank you for continuing to bring a pragmatic product sense to the team and generating thought-provoking content that leads to new business. I look forward to seeing more innovation from you in the future. Keep pushing!”

  1. Recognize employees for something you’d like to see others doing.

Did you see an employee do something you want others to emulate? This is another great opportunity to recognize an employee – particularly when you have an online feed of recognition moments, like one provided in a Workhuman® Social Recognition® program. It’s a powerful way to send a message to other employees about what your department and company value most. 

Example:

“Your thoroughness sets a new standard for preparation and is something every employee should replicate. Your patience and teamwork are unmatched, and is a playbook for everyone at our organization. Thank you for leading by example!”

  1. Recognize something that embodies company values.

Recognizing behavior that is a clear embodiment of your organization’s tenets shows the employee – and your whole team – what it means to practice company values. When you see behavior that closely aligns with those values, be sure to call it out.

Example:

“This is a great example of patiently looking at a problem, troubleshooting, and finding the answer. I also appreciate the extra step you took by asking the vendor to add this to their documentation. You’ve embodied our company values of ‘Imagination’ and ‘Innovation’ at its finest. Thank you!”

  1. Recognize something that has helped your company achieve its mission and goals.

Like values, a company’s mission, vision, and goals can sometimes feel very disconnected from day-to-day work. When you see activity that moves the needle on your core principles, recognize it. This is an outstanding way to make core values real in your employees’ everyday lives.

Example:

“Undertaking a design system rebuild is a hugely challenging prospect by normal standards – let alone one for a full-scale global enterprise platform. It's a testament to how effective this team can work together, collaborate, coordinate efforts, and be passionate about having the opportunity to make a real impact on our mission and goals – and our bottom line.” 

  1. Is it something above and beyond the call of duty? 

One of the definitions of engagement is the application of discretionary effort – which is a fancy way of saying ‘she did something she really didn’t have to do.’ Sometimes this involves taking on tasks that are not our responsibility or are – at the very least – a stretch. Sometimes it involves working late or buckling down on productivity in order to complete an assignment. When employees do tasks they don’t have to do – or take on responsibility they don’t have to take on – they almost always deserve recognition.

Example:

“While you’ve done an outstanding job, I also appreciate that being the creator and editor of the newsletter is not part of your job description. Thank you for stepping out of your everyday roles and taking the time to brainstorm on the stories you wanted to tell and collaborating with me on fine-tuning the content.” 

  1. Is it something others are noticing and talking about?

If you’ve got customers, vendors, managers, senior executives, or other employees buzzing in your ear about something great one of your team members is doing, chances are you have an opportunity for recognition. (If they haven’t beaten you to it.)

Example:

“I wanted to thank you for the wonderful article you recently wrote! I shared it with the entire customer success team to make sure everyone saw it! It's a great resource for our team as a refresh of the messaging – or to share with customers. Not only has your content made a profound impact, but it has helped our teammates in other departments with their communication with customers, as well. When people from other areas of the organization recognize your work, it shows the depth and breadth of your contributions.” 

  1. Is it something that is otherwise thankless? 

Think about recognizing the effort and attitude that goes into completing thankless tasks – even if they’re routine. Thankless tasks are some of the most challenging to complete, day after day. So it’s incredibly motivating when, every once in a while, an employee realizes someone is noticing and grateful for their daily grind. Don’t go overboard with this sort of recognition if the tasks are routine. But an occasional acknowledgement of such contributions can go very far in building employee engagement and motivation.

Example:

“When I ran into laptop connectivity issues after hooking up a new monitor, I reached out to you and you responded within 10 minutes. What made your response special is that it was Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend. You patiently talked me through some troubleshooting steps and I was able to get up and running. While we were talking during the reboot, I asked if you were working. You told me it was your day off.”

  1. Is it something they’ve recently been recognized for? 

Here’s your chance to be truly creative. If there is a new aspect of the work that you think deserves credit and acclaim, then by all means recognize it. But if it is something the employee has been specifically thanked for within the last month or so, why not revisit that recognition post and add your congratulations?

Example:

“Just wanted to add my thanks for the outstanding work and support you've provided over the past few months. We can always rely on you for your calm, reassuring demeanor, your vast experience, and the creative thinking you bring to each progress. We are moving forward with another soon-to-be customer, and that is – once again – in no small part due to your fantastic contributions. Thanks as always!”

  1. Is it something that has impacted company or team business results? 

Results usually deserve praise and appreciation. It’s rare when we can draw a direct line from employee actions to business results. When you can do that, be sure you include recognition in the mix.

Example:

“Thank you for delivering a high quality, compelling, on brand, and ‘of the moment’ digital event. In less than six weeks you expertly pivoted from the cancellation of our physical conference and leaped into bold new thinking that resulted in our livestream event. You were fearless in pursuit of our audacious goal of 10,000 registrants and charged furiously at it – obliterating the goal and achieving more than 15,000 attendees. This level of business success took thoughtful planning, decisive and quick action, creativity, and relentless outreach to secure exceptional guest speakers, high-profile customer stories, and new sponsorships.” 

  1.  Is it something that is an everyday part of their job? 

If an employee executes an everyday task in a particularly successful or impactful way – one that catches your attention – you should recognize that action. If you believe an employee deserves recognition – but can’t quite put your finger on why – give it more thought. Is she bringing something unique to the organization? Is he innovating in some way that impresses you? Thanking someone for mundane tasks sets the bar low on recognition and cheapens its impact on everyone – so be sure when you do recognize, it is for a clear reason.

Example:

“Your commitment to building and executing on a robust customer marketing plan is admirable. You clearly define your goals, strategy, and tactics, and take the time to communicate these to the team. You take a collaborative approach to working with your colleagues, and are always prepared, present, and on time to meetings.”

  1.  Did they do something that made your life much easier? 

Yes, this may seem personal, but so is recognition! Sometimes employees are thoughtful and give you small favors of time, attention, or energy that make an enormous impact. If it was a small thing, it is worth a small award. If someone reached out to give you a big hand with a project, then give them a big thanks.

Example:

“Thanks to you, I was able to unplug for a week and enjoy time with my family. I have full confidence in you and it was great to know we weren’t going to miss a beat. Thanks for your commitment to me and to the organization.”

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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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