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Employee Recognition

Top Appreciation Award Ideas to Recognize Outstanding Employees

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Table of Contents

What are Appreciation Awards?

Why Employee Appreciation Awards Matter

When Should Employee Appreciation Awards be Used?

What Should You Reward Your People With?

13 Employee Appreciation Award Ideas

How to Implement Your Employee Appreciation Award Ideas

Employee appreciation award ideas have come a long way in recent years as organizations have pivoted away from outdated “Employee of the Month” trophies to instead make recognition a fundamental part of their cultures. 

It’s easy to see why. After all, recognition isn’t just a basic human need, it’s a powerful tool that can be used to increase motivation, boost engagement and send your productivity soaring.

In the current climate, where the battle for talent means that attracting and retaining the very best people is increasingly front-of-mind, getting employee appreciation right is vital. But it’s not always easy.

So, whether you’re searching for ways to fine-tune your existing program or building one from the ground up, here you’ll find some tried and tested appreciation awards ideas to take your recognition to the next level. 

In this article you’ll learn…

✅ What is employee appreciation?

✅ Why is employee appreciation so important?

✅ The benefits of employee appreciation.

✅ 13 employee appreciation award ideas.

✅ How to implement new employee award ideas into your organization. 

What are Appreciation Awards?

Employee appreciation awards are one of the main tools that employers have to recognize their people.

Typically handed out by management / leadership, though also from peers and colleagues, appreciation awards are an opportunity to recognize people’s accomplishments or thank them for their hard work. 

Traditionally appreciation rewards have always focused on performance. Think of the ubiquitous ‘Employee of the Month” trophies or awards handed out to the organization’s “Top Seller”. 

But increasingly modern employee appreciation is rethinking awards as something to reinforce every aspect of your company culture rather than simply reward your organization’s top performers. After all, there’s more to life than sales targets, so taking the opportunity to recognize all of your employees’ accomplishments can make a real difference. 

appreciation award ideas

Why Employee Appreciation Awards Matter

Everyone wants to know that what they’re doing matters, that their day-to-day efforts have an impact and that their work has purpose. Employee appreciation awards are an effective tool to ensure that your people know that they are valued and to show your appreciation for their efforts. 

This will not only boost morale and help your employees to feel validated and appreciated, but, if used correctly, it can also create a virtuous cycle that constantly reinforces your company culture. 

Imagine for example that you work in hospitality and that your culture revolves around exceptional customer service. Perhaps you could launch an employee appreciation award that recognizes the team member who generates the most positive Google reviews each month. 

Or maybe you work in healthcare and want to encourage your employees to support one another and help to cover the gaps if someone is sick or can’t come into work? If so, a “Shift Pick Up” award can help to celebrate those people who always go above and beyond to step in and support their colleagues.

Whatever you choose, the key is to make your appreciation awards as unique as the people participating in them. Find the right balance and you won’t only help to boost morale and make your people feel more appreciated, you’ll also reinforce the key components of your company culture

Even the simplest employee appreciation ideas can add up to make a big impact. Indeed a simple pat on the back can have a huge impact on employee performance. Remember, if your employees feel recognized then they’re more likely to enjoy their jobs. They’re also more likely to believe that their efforts are worthwhile, to go the extra mile and to be the best version of themselves they can be. Crucially they’re also less likely to look elsewhere for work. 

All of that, and more, from the simple act of saying “thank you”. 


“Take time to appreciate employees and they will reciprocate in a thousand ways.”

– Dr. Bob Nelson –

When Should Employee Appreciation Awards be Used? 

Employee appreciation isn’t something that you should save for your Christmas party or set aside for the annual company retreat, it’s something that you should practice regularly in order to achieve the best results. According to Jim Harter, Chief scientist at Gallup: “Recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis – weekly, maybe daily.” 

It’s all to do with how our bodies react to recognition. You see, when our work is appreciated our brains release dopamine – AKA the happy hormone – this means that we are hardwired to react positively to recognition. And because dopamine is associated with feelings of satisfaction, fulfilment and happiness, our bodies crave more and more of it. 

The problem however is that the effects of dopamine wear off fast. So when it comes to employee appreciation, frequency is important. And don’t worry about overdoing it. According to the experts, there’s no such thing as too much recognition, as long as it is honest and genuine. 

When it comes to implementing employee appreciation within your organization, try to build awards into your regular routines. Team, department or all-staff meetings are great opportunities for regular appreciation. Employee milestones also provide a chance to regularly appreciate your people’s efforts, so why not build awards to recognize workplace anniversaries or coincide with the end of a big project? 

However you choose to structure your employee appreciation awards, just remember, consistency is key.

What Should You Reward Your People With? 

Once you’ve decided who you’re going to award and when you’re going to recognize them, the next big consideration is what you’re actually going to reward them with. 

Should you give them a trophy? A gift card? Maybe a plaque on the boardroom wall? Or simply some cold hard cash? 

appreciation award ideas

It’s a tough decision because what you decide to reward your employees with can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your employee appreciation activity. But the good news is that you don’t have to spend big in order to leave an impression. In fact, companies can achieve some exceptional results without breaking the bank.

Google, the tech giant that’s regularly recognized as one of the world’s best places to work, have actually found that money alone doesn’t motivate staff. Interestingly the company discovered that cash incentives actually made people less happy while rewards like gifts or experiences were far more effective at motivating its people.

The key is to give your people something tangible, something that they’ll actually remember and ultimately treasure rather than just a few more bucks in their bank account. That’s particularly true as the workplace has changed in the wake of COVID-19. In our remote world, this kind of physical gifting also adds a personal touch that can help to create connections even when your workforce is spread far and wide. 

As the old adage goes: “It’s the thought that counts” so put a little extra effort into coming up with appreciation awards that are truly memorable. One of our favourite examples comes from one of our clients that runs a regular competition where a top performer can win the chance to have the company CEO come and wash their car for them. It’s an example of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that can create truly memorable rewards.

5 Stats that Prove the Power of Employee Appreciation Awards

40% of employees say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

Business productivity increases by 31% when employees are happy. 

Top-performing teams receive 6x more positive feedback than less effective teams.

In the last year, 65% of people admitted they received no recognition for good work in their workplaces.

64% of employees believe that employee appreciation is even more important in a remote work environment.

13 Employee Appreciation Award Ideas

Looking for some inspiration? Here are some employee recognition award ideas that you could incorporate into your organization to show appreciation to your team. 

Tenure awards

Recognizing employee milestones can really help people to feel that their service is valued. Whether they’ve worked at your organization for a year, 5 years, 10 years or maybe even longer – these are landmark moments in their careers and priceless opportunities to celebrate their success. 

Did you know?

Replacing people can cost nearly 10 months’ worth of salary per employee. One way to keep a hold of employees who have been with your organization for a long time is to recognize their milestones and give them something to look forward to. 

Employee MVP

Traditionally appreciation has always been a top-down activity, where management decided who will be recognized and when they should be awarded. But increasingly organizations have begun to explore the benefits of peer-to-peer recognition, where colleagues have the opportunity to hand out appreciation awards to their colleagues. These awards are extra special as they help to bring people together, making sure that everyone has a say in who gets appreciated and why. 

Team player award

As the saying goes: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” But if that’s the case, why do so many awards focus on individuals? You can buck the trend however by appreciating your best team players, the employees whose collaborative spirit is key to success. It’s a great opportunity to showcase how much your organization values teamwork and also inspire others to become the best collaborator they can be. 

appreciation award ideas

Recruitment legend 

When it comes to attracting top talent, your current employees are often your most valuable resource. As advocates for your organization, they have the power to spread positivity, to promote open roles to qualified candidates within their network and boost your brand as an employer. By taking the time to appreciate their efforts you can encourage everyone in your organization to act in your business’s best interests, helping you to beat the competition to the very best talent. 

Customer service champion

We mentioned this earlier in the article, but for businesses that operate in retail and hospitality, customer service is vital. But it’s not always easy to deliver. That means those team members that go above and beyond to deliver great service and uphold your reputation are ideal candidates for employee appreciation awards. 

84% of executives say that innovation is important to their growth strategy.

Innovation awards

Innovation is the lifeblood of successful businesses. We’re living in a period of unprecedented change and it’s those companies that consistently come up with fresh ideas that are likely to win out over their competition. If you want to stand out from the crowd make sure to appreciate those employees who are constantly innovating. Companies like Google and Tesla have done this with tremendous success, promoting a culture that empowers employees to develop new products and services. 

Health and safety awards

If you work in a sector where workplace hazards are commonplace, then you know the value of a strong safety record. If that’s the case then incentivizing safety, by recognizing those employees who excel at upholding the very best standards, can go a long way to making your workplace as safe as possible. Not only does it recognize those people who do the most to improve this aspect of your operation, but it also keeps the subject front-of-mind for every other employee, showing just how much your organization values health and safety.

Social star 

Every company has them, the people who engage in every social activity on your event calendar and even organize a few of their own. They don their ugliest sweater each Christmas, bring their tastiest casserole to the annual potluck lunch and are always first on the scene at the summer BBQ. The very best company cultures have an army of these people and the easiest way to recruit them is to make sure their efforts are appreciated through a dedicated award. 

Rising star award

Organizations are facing a number of challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining the next generation of talent, with Millenials and Gen Z among the hardest to recruit. This is where tapping into employee appreciation awards can help. A rising star award is a great way to make your new starters feel valued, even if they’ve only been at the company a few months. Not only does it show how much you value them, but it’s a chance for you to recognize them outside of any other performance-related awards that they might need a few more months of tenure to qualify for. 


Millennials who say they have a great workplace are 59x more likely to strongly endorse their company to friends and family.

Culture advocate award

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of a strong company culture. But company cultures are so much more than a few paragraphs that get written down in an employee handbook or some values that get scrawled across the meeting room walls. It’s something that your people live and breathe each and every day. A great way to bring your culture to life is to appreciate those people that display the kind of values that you want to build your culture around. You can choose a different value each month and then build a reward around it, this makes it something for your people to strive for and makes sure that your culture is front and centre each and every day they come into the workplace. 

Learning legend 

Not all awards have to recognize someone’s contribution to the company, sometimes they could celebrate their own personal accomplishments. This award is a perfect opportunity to appreciate your organization’s most avid learners. These are the people who are busy studying for professional qualifications, looking to pick up a new ability or simply attending every single lunch’n’learn your HR team can cook up. They’re the people who embody the growth mindset and help to spread that vibe among your entire workforce. 

Java superstar 

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the big difference, like offering to make your colleagues a cup of coffee in the morning. This is an example of a simple award that appreciates those intangible contributions that people make to the company culture. You don’t have to stop at caffeinated beverages either. You could celebrate the person who shares the best GIF on the company Slack channel, or who brings the funniest joke to the Monday morning meeting. The only limit is your imagination. 

Hybrid hero

The shift to remote / hybrid working in the wake of the global pandemic has been a learning curve for all of us. One of the biggest challenges that employers face with our new way of working is making sure that teams feel connected, even when they’re working miles apart from one another. When it comes to appreciation awards, it’s easy for remote workers to feel out of the loop. So why not create a dedicated category so that your people feel appreciated wherever they work from? 

How to Implement Your Employee Appreciation Award Ideas

So you’ve decided that you want to embrace the power of employee recognition, you’ve brainstormed some inspired appreciation award ideas and you’re ready to get started – now what? 

Rolling out your employee appreciation award ideas can be a challenge all in itself, but getting it right can help to turbocharge your organization’s recognition program. 

How you announce them will be crucial. You could combine it with your annual office party and make the awards an event all in themselves, or announce them via your regular newsletter or company communications. And don’t forget you’ve also got to manage your new employee appreciation awards program too. 

That’s where an employee recognition platform like Bucketlist can help. 

Our digital-first platform makes employee appreciation easy, giving you the power to automate awards, level up your peer-to-peer recognition and deliver rewards that your people actually want. Best of all our platform is completely customizable. So from branding to points systems and awards to rewards, you can tailor it to suit the unique needs of your organization. 

What Employee Appreciation Awards Can Achieve for Your Organization

🚀 Boost morale

📈 Increase productivity

⬇️ Reduce turnover

🤝 Aid recruitment

😊 Elevate engagement 

🫶 Support team building 

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