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Building Morale with Creative Employee Recognition Programs

By Elliot M. Kass

If a company wants its staff to work hard, acknowledging their contributions through creative employee recognition programs is a good bet.

Appreciation and recognition build good morale, which sociologist Alexander Leighton defines as “the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose."1 So, a business that wants to thrive could do so by developing good morale through creative employee recognition programs.


Good morale, the experts say, means employees are productive, collaborate better, miss fewer workdays, and feel more satisfied by their work. If employees feel that their efforts are recognized, they’ll work seamlessly towards a common goal. Alternatively, when they feel unappreciated, the company will suffer.2


7 Tips for Building Creative Employee Recognition Programs


So, how can a company create a workplace teeming with happy workers who feel recognized and appreciated? Here are seven tips for instituting an employee rewards and recognition program presented at the early 2018 Total Rewards & Wellness Conclave in Mumbai,3 followed by some affordable and creative ways to build employee recognition programs.


1. Foster a culture of appreciation: Employees are considerably less likely to leave a company when they feel recognized and acknowledged.


2. Identify and celebrate positive employee behaviors: To inculcate a positive culture, identify and recognize employee behaviors that align with the company’s goals and values.


3. Recognize employees the right way: More than one-out-of-three employees will go the extra mile and do outstanding work if they feel they are being recognized.


4. Make recognition frequent, timely, inclusive, and performance-based to encourage new behaviors and motivate employees to the fullest.


5. Award good behaviors and not just results: Shortcuts can be taken to achieve a result, but improved behaviors are harder to achieve and lead to more enduring outcomes.


6. Effectively communicate employee recognition by following the SAIL best practices:


  • Situation – Discuss the challenge
  • Action – Describe what was done
  • Impact – Explain the difference that was made
  • Link – Connect the achievement to the company’s values

7. Make every milestone on the employee journey count:


  • Recognize new employees’ early achievements. Be creative.
  • Demonstrate that the company places great value on employees’ daily efforts.
  • Use performance-based incentives to drive results and celebrate success.

Adding Fun to Employee Recognition


And now for the fun part! Here are 12 innovative and creative ideas for recognizing and rewarding employees that have all been tried, tested and adopted in programs by human resource experts and corporate HR departments:4


1. Hire an on-site massage therapist—it’s a creative recognition program that gives employees a break from their computer screens for some muscle soothing and much-appreciated relaxation.


2. Bring in a Yoga instructor to teach stretching, relaxation and strengthening exercises that employees can do at their desks.


3. Plan a trip to the local botanical gardens. Field trips to a natural setting tend to rouse interest, so it doesn’t have to be a botanical garden per se. Any nearby park, zoo, or nature preserve will do. Such trips are bonding opportunities that build esprit de corps and show the company cares.


4. Offer a group fitness plan. This not only encourages comradery and good health, but it is also a great way to get employees more engaged with their workplace.


5. Schedule a guest speaker who will both entertain employees and introduce them to new skills.


6. Offer on-site training sessions. Some employees strongly welcome this opportunity to improve their skills, learn new ones and advance their careers. Signing them up for a training course they are interested in can be a powerful incentive.


7. Reward employees with a new desk, office chair or laptop. Ergonomic keyboards, Bluetooth computer mice and wireless headsets will work too, based on the available budget. But whether an employee’s reward is large or small, the point is the same—that the company cares about its staffers wellbeing and wants to help them perform better and get more out of their work.


8. Send out a social media blast. Highlight individual employees in a company-wide Facebook post or a Tweet, and then share these with clients. This is a way to make recognition and acknowledgment even more public.


9. Create a hall-of-fame gallery. Set aside an area to put up photographs of employees and plaques honoring their achievements. These should note the traits and skills that make them so important to your team. To roll this out, hold an “opening” like the kind that are held for new art exhibits.


10. Hire a comedian. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. In keeping with the theme of employee appreciation, staffers can be polled to find out which performers would be best received. And be sure to look for ways to link the entertainer’s performance to the company, it’s industry, and the values it stands for.


11. Provide personal desk gifts. This is a very affordable idea that allows employees to indulge their whimsies by receiving trinkets to adorn their desks. Each of the staffers to be recognized should be able to select an item in line with their personal tastes. Posters, troll dolls, paper clip art, and magnets—they’re all in play!


12. Hold a build-your-own sundae event. For large group acknowledgements, hire a local caterer to bring in their equipment and let your employees’ imagination do the rest. Treat the event like an ice cream social/happy hour. This is a way to celebrate a big mission accomplished, or a change of pace from a pizza party to end a work week.



To get the most out of its workforce, a company can build creative employee recognition programs that publicly reward the accomplishments of its employees. This can be done in a fun way that builds morale and increases employee engagement.

Elliot Kass

The Author

Elliot M. Kass

Elliot Kass is a journalist who has covered global business and technology from New York, London, and San Francisco for more than 30 years.


1. “Morale,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morale
2. “10 Affordable Ways to Improve Team Morale at Your Company,” Justworks, https://justworks.com/blog/boosting-team-morale-on-a-budget-the-ultimate-top-10-list.html
3. “Notes from the Total Rewards and Wellness Conclave 2018,” SelfDrvn Enterprise, https://selfdrvn.com/7-tips-designing-effective-rewards-recognition-programs/
4. “25 Fun and Inexpensive Ideas to Celebrate Your Employees,” Mitrefinch Inc., https://mitrefinch.com/blog/25-fun-ideas-employee-appreciation-day/