Creative Employee Recognition Programs That You Haven’t Thought Of

Date: March 22, 2023

The best part about employee appreciation is room for imagination. The more creative you get with your employee recognition efforts, the more likely you are to tap into top benefits. That's why these creative employee recognition programs are essential.

While the utter importance of a structured recognition program is hard to ignore, it doesn't mean you have to do everything exactly by the book. Surprising your team with fun and unexpected tactics can boost employee morale, drive productivity, support company culture, and much more.

Let's take a closer look at creative employee recognition programs that can work for you and discover why these creative ideas for employee recognition are essential to fostering long-term engagement and participation in your program.

creative employee recognition programs

Why Creative Employee Recognition Programs Work

More than 70% of employees who receive consistent recognition rate their lives more positively than those who aren't properly recognized. Happy employees show better productivity, need fewer sick days, and rarely seek other employment opportunities.

According to Deloitte, by recognizing employees, you can improve engagement, productivity, and performance by an impressive 14%. Meanwhile, a 15% improvement in engagement can drive a 2% increase in margins.

Today, 81% of leaders say that recognition isn't a major strategic priority for their organizations. This could be one of the leading causes of the Great Resignation.

In short, creative staff appreciation ideas can help improve the company's bottom line by keeping employees productive, engaged, and satisfied with their work. As a bonus, it gives you access to top talent that other employers under recognized.

8 Creative Ways to Recognize Employees You Might Not Have Thought Of

When building creative employee recognition programs, it starts with learning what your staff values the most. You may need to research their preferences and pain points to make sure that your awards hit the target. Here are a few options to start with.

1. Customized Awards

creative employee recognition programs

Awards work great for showing appreciation to employees who achieve certain milestones, help the company grow, improve teamwork, and much more. You can customize these awards to suit your industry, company culture, and team preferences.

Some creative examples include:

  • Engraved trophy
  • Portrait on the office wall
  • Digital badge employees can add to their social media profiles

The more you know about what the achiever likes, the easier it can be to implement these creative ideas for employee recognition.

2. Above and Beyond Awards

Above and beyond awards usually go to team members who demonstrate exceptional work. This includes achieving top profits or landing a big client in a given period. You can go above and beyond to recognize an employee for this impressive achievement.

An example of a creative above and beyond award is a temporary new title for the recipient. For example, "administrator Derek" turns into "top achiever Derek" for the week. You can even change their badges or door name plates.

3. Wellness Awards

creative employee recognition programs

Wellness is an integral part of employee satisfaction. If you want to retain employees, it's imperative to take care of their well-being. Today, 80% of businesses with over 50 employees offer some type of wellness program.

Even if you don't have a program yet, you can recognize employees by arranging health and wellness rewards like:

  • A healthy lunch with a CEO
  • Rock climbing, kayaking, hiking
  • Massage

One of the most creative wellness awards is to give the achiever official napping time during the workday for a week or a month.

4. Awards for Living Company Values

Employees who support organizational values foster loyalty and a sense of belonging. Team members who stick by values are less likely to look for another place of employment. That's why it's important to recognize their efforts.

It's imperative to set up strict guidelines that help you understand who deserves this type of recognition. You can get creative and design a nomination procedure for this award. By bringing other employees into the process, you are encouraging peer-to-peer recognition.

5. Teamwork Awards

Helping another employee with their work, assisting a new employee with onboarding, and arranging seamless communication between team members are just a few reasons to reward your staff for teamwork. Others include team achievements, such as projects completed ahead of time.

You can tailor teamwork awards to the team's specific needs and preferences. Some groups would appreciate a pool party, while others would love to go to a ball game together.

6. Spontaneous Awards

While a well-structured employee recognition program is the key to reaping all the benefits, spontaneity is hardly prohibited. Encourage your management to be spontaneous about some of the rewards.  

Even if you are just giving out small financial bonuses, being spontaneous about them adds excitement to the process and makes it memorable.

7. Peer-to-Peer Awards

creative employee recognition programs

Allowing coworkers to publicly or privately praise each other is a creative way to encourage and implement peer-to-peer recognition. This type of recognition is 35.7% more likely to positively impact productivity than manager-only recognition.

They can:

  • Recognize peers for exceptional qualities and accomplishments
  • Recognize those who participate in recognition challenges
  • Recognize teamwork
  • Recognize people who recognize the most accomplishments

Using a recognition platform, you can take advantage of the built-in features to allow employees to recognize peers digitally. This can help analyze and streamline recognition efforts.

8. Recognition Challenges

Recognition challenges can take on creative forms. While sending kudos and thank you's online works great, offline gamification can be much more exciting.

For example, you can give all employees tokens or coins they can provide others with as recognition (each employee gets a token of a certain color). Then you can declare a week of recognition.

Each day, an employee should recognize someone else for a specific achievement (e.g., Monday—best team player, Tuesday—creativity buff, Wednesday—go-to person, etc.) At the end of the week, they share the results.

You won't need to consider expensive workplace incentives to get employees to participate in these challenges. They are always fun, competitive, and productive.

Get Creative With Each Recognition

Whether planning a public or private recognition, you need to get creative with each award. Creativity should never appear forced. The easiest way to gain inspiration for truly effective awards is to study your employees or ask them what they prefer. Employee feedback is essential to implementing the most effective and creative ideas for employee recognition.

When you give out a physical award (trophy, tickets, wall portrait, door plates), you can personalize them with the following.


Engravements aren't expensive. However, they make a tremendous impression. Engraving a trophy with a person's name is a much better idea than simply buying one impersonal trophy and passing it around every week.

Personal Note

Adding a personalized note to each reward can make an employee feel special. Kudos with a manager's signature or a "good job" with the team's wishes can go a long way. Handwritten notes work best since they create a sense of personal attention.

Company Swag

Adding company swag to each recognition tactic doesn't just make the employee happier. It helps promote your brand and encourage recruitment. 

Consider making small company swag items such as keychains, backpack pins, pens, and the like. They make a nice creative addition to any reward.


Remember how you used to get "good job" stickers in elementary school? You would be surprised at how well the same approach works for adults. 

Bright stickers with inspiring words (or famous quotes) make any reward more enjoyable, even if some people aren't willing to admit it. Anything that shows your genuine understanding of the person's needs and appreciation for their accomplishment works.

Get Creative With Gifts and Experiences

Experiential rewards are among the most effective ways to recognize and encourage employees. They are also one of the most creative ideas for employee recognition because they offer memories that will last a life time and can include a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. These appreciation tokens can stay with an employee for a long time after they use them up.

Getting creative with experiential awards can make them even more memorable. Think outside the box with such prizes as:

  • Laundry service
  • Spa appointment
  • Company excursion
  • Plant (with an option to leave it in the office)
  • Subscription to a book service

One of the most memorable teamwork awards is art. You can allow your team to select artwork for their office space. While the selection experience is a team-building process, the result on the wall is a continuous reminder of appreciation.

Having Fun With These Creative Ideas for Employee Recognition

Embracing the fun that comes with these creative ideas for employee recognition can improve the quality of your program and make your team feel more appreciated. While structure is the key to employee appreciation efforts, creativity adds fun to the process.

Using employee recognition software, you can combine creativity with a strict recognition format. It allows you to integrate individuality while maintaining a consistent structure.

Bucketlist's Reward and Retention Software can help you implement a successful employee recognition program with creative undertones. For more information, please request a free demo at any convenient time.

Go to Top