7 Quick Tips for Writing Great Employee Recognition Letters

October 21, 2020 Aaron Kinne

4-minute read

woman writing a letter

The business benefits of employee recognition are well documented and supported by extensive data and research. According to a SHRM/Workhuman Employee Recognition Survey, not only does recognition significantly boost employee engagement, it’s also been shown to slash churn and improve retention. In fact, in that same study, 68% of organizations with recognition programs reported a direct and positive impact on retention.

In addition, a vibrant employee recognition program drives excellence, reinforces company values, nurtures trust, ties together geographically dispersed teams and – not insignificant – provides insights into the lifeblood of an organization through a rich trove of data.

Yet despite its numerous benefits, many managers – and employees themselves – fail to give employee recognition awards as often as they should. Why? One of the reasons often cited: “I don’t know what to write.”

With that in mind, I’m going to give you helpful advice for writing a nominating essay using your platform’s employee recognition software that is authentic, memorable, and impactful – one that will celebrate their outstanding work and make them feel appreciated, connected, and part of a bigger picture. 

Here are my seven quick tips for writing a powerful, inspiring employee recognition letter:

  1. Give details. Be as precise and explicit as possible as you share exactly what the employee did that merited your recognition. 
  2. Talk about results. Be specific – not just about what was done – but also why it was worthy of recognition. In other words, what were the results that were realized as a result of the employee’s actions?
  3. Consider your words. Language has tremendous power. Choose your words carefully and make your message pithy and impactful in your nominating letter. Consider words like “because” and “as a result” to transition from action to success. No recognition should ever include the words, “Thanks for all you do.”
  4. Make it original. Cut and paste is not your friend when it comes to recognition messages. Try not to use the same phrases in every recognition essay you write. After all, the contribution was unique, so take the extra moment to explain how and why.
  5. Use their name. Using a person’s name is a powerful way to build connections – just like looking someone in the eyes when you’re speaking to them. It’s another way to acknowledge and see them – and it connects them to their own identity and importance.
  6. Tell a story. Tell the story of their success and use emotionally evocative language that captures the sequence of events and the “moral” of their hard work.
  7. Say “thanks.” Make sure somewhere in your essay you include the word “thanks” or “thank you.” It might seem like a no-brainer, but it means a lot.

Anatomy of a great letter

Your employee recognition words could read like this:

“Thank you for your success in project management. Much appreciated.“ 

Or … they could read like this – a genuine, authentic expression of how you truly appreciate your co-worker’s achievement:

“I have seldom seen anyone as tenacious as you were, Nina, on the roll-out of our ABC project – from the late nights you spent building support materials, to the countless meetings you spent building consensus. Our customers noticed, too, and Bill called me today to tell me that they just got approval on the job. This is due in no small part to your perseverance and energy. You truly embody our company value of determination. Thank you for your passion and commitment to excellence.”

101 words to use in your letter

To help you out even more, here are 101 words to inspire you as you write your messages of recognition.

Five foundational terms 

Name (the nominee’s name), Because, Thanks, Results, (Name of Core Value being recognized)

Words for:

Quality 

organize, improve, excellence, exceptional, striking, aware, brilliant, elegant, eloquent, intuitive, strong, outstanding, merit, talent, distinction

Leadership 

capable, oversight, vision, navigate, command, conduct, cutting-edge, star, champion, vanguard, role-model, respect, direction, insight, inspiring, admired, courageous, engaging, enterprising, invincible, masterful 

Effort 

overcome, succeed, excel, achieve, grasp, generate, develop, design, productive, accomplish, volunteer, produce, discipline, create, resolve, execution, triumph, victory, complete, masterpiece, conquest, initiative, outcome

Attitude 

thoughtful, responsible, creative, energetic, enthusiastic, resourceful, motivated, dedicated, innovative, reliable, vibrant, wise, flexible, versatile, consistent, considerate, commitment, confidence, imagination, passion, tenacity

Teamwork 

help, support, benefit, advocate, save, encourage, revive, dependable, reliable, prepared, cooperation, advice, fortify, sponsor


Think about it … has there been a time when you didn’t give recognition to a deserving employee because you didn’t know what to write? If so, you’ve missed an opportunity to energize, enrich, and lift up that person. Try these tips the next time a recognition moment presents itself, and seize the powerful benefits recognition can bring to your employees – and your business.

RELATED POSTS

Back to Basics: What Is Employee Recognition?

Gartner Report: How to Select a Recognition and Rewards Solution to Boost Employee Motivation and Engagement

Recognition Data: The Key to Workforce Trends and How Work Gets Done

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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