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10 Quick Recognition Ideas to Boost Employee Engagement

Although recognizing your employees is easy to do, it's also one of the easiest things to forget. Don't let this happen! Recognition provides reinforcement and spurs motivation — both key components of engagement. The suggestions in this article are designed to get your creative juices flowing so you can provide timely, specific, and meaningful recognition.

To quote cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash, there are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise. Recognition for a job well done is essential in the workplace. Your employees want to be recognized for their contributions, results, and above-and-beyond efforts! People never tire of hearing praise. They may respond, "Oh, it was nothing," but inside they're saying, "Yes! They noticed!"

Bring morning coffee and muffins

Did your team just complete a high-priority job, on time and under budget? Or maybe it landed a long sought-after contract. Whatever the reason, a great way to reward your team is to host a "Morning Coffee and Muffins" event. It doesn't cost a lot, and you can have some fun with it. After all, who wouldn't want her boss to bring in, set out — and clean up — breakfast? No one, that's who. Not only does it enable you to recognize the group for a job well done, but the social nature of the event will help build team cohesiveness, itself an engagement driver.

Ask your employees what they like

It's no good recognizing an employee's hard work by giving her a gift card to a local seafood restaurant if she's fatally allergic to shellfish. Similarly, it's silly to thank someone for his above-and-beyond efforts by presenting him a clock that will only collect dust on his desk. Recognition is impactful only when it means something to the person being recognized.

So, how do you find out what's meaningful to your employees? Simple: Ask them. Create a simple survey — three to five questions, tops — to ask for their input. Questions might include the following:

  • If you were to earn recognition or a reward, what would be meaningful to you (for less than $100)?

  • What are your passions or hobbies?

  • Do you prefer to receive recognition in public or in private?

  • As your supervisor, what else should I know about your views on recognition?

Armed with this information, you can ensure you don't dole out the wrong types of recognition!

Create peer-recognition opportunities

For some people, management recognition just isn't all that important. This is particularly true of people who don't respect their superiors. After all, a compliment from someone you think is a bozo won't mean that much! But even people who love their bosses also enjoy the occasional kudos from their peers. This is especially true for Gen Y workers, who need constant feedback, some of which can certainly come from their co-workers.

When you create a culture of recognition, everyone can take part. If done right, it'll spread. All you have to do is encourage your team members to recognize the efforts of others in a private or public manner. To get the ball rolling, why not distribute a nominal amount of money to each employee — say, $100 in company "funny money" or a few fives and tens in actual legal tender — and instruct them to dole it out to deserving colleagues over the next 12 months as they see fit? (Of course, you may have to lay down some ground rules, the first being that they can't keep the money for themselves!)

Take advantage of technology

You aren't limited to recognition in the real world. You must also harness technology and social media to offer virtual kudos. This is particularly important for Gen Y and, to a lesser degree, Gen X employees.

Not so sure? Consider these stats from a 2012 Cisco Connected Technology Report:

  • Sixty percent of Gen Y compulsively check their smartphones for e-mails, texts, or social media updates.

  • More than two out of five members of Gen Y report that they would feel "anxious" if they were unable to check their smartphones.

  • Forty percent of Gen Y say that their company policy forbids the use of company-owned devices for personal activities. Of that group, 71 percent — almost three out of four — disregard said policies.

Gen Y in particular is immersed in technology. They came of age with the Internet at their fingertips. In addition, they prefer instant feedback — and today's technology offers a great way to provide it, quickly and inexpensively. Giving a virtual "pat on the back" can be as simple as tweeting, sharing a message on the company's intranet, posting on your organization's Facebook page, texting your team, or sending a congratulatory e-mail.

You aren't limited to using these traditional technological tools, however. One employee recognition solutions company, O.C. Tanner, offers a free mobile app, iappreciate, which enables you to nominate employees for awards and recognition, create thoughtful recognition presentations, set dates to recognize team members, invite people to recognize others, and even create certificates to save and print. Users can also use the app to send quick e-notes to team members for an "above and beyond" job. O.C. Tanner isn't the only company offering these types of tools, however. Other organizations such as Achievers, BI WORLDWIDE, Hinda Incentives, and Kudos have gotten in on the game.

If you're still using a bulletin board in the break room to recognize your best and brightest, don't beat yourself up about it. But also consider using technology in your recognition efforts. It won't just appeal to your Gen Y staff; Gen Xers and Baby Boomers will like it, too.

Issue "recognition tokens"

Sometimes, a simple (read: inexpensive) token of your appreciation can go a long way. So, what should you use as a "recognition token"? Be creative! Think of things that convey "above and beyond." Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy a giraffe (not a real one, obviously). Then, when someone on the team "sticks her neck out," let her keep the giraffe in her workspace. When that person sees another team member "sticking his neck out," she can pass along the giraffe along. It will become an identifiable recognition token among team members.

  • Buy some Kudos candy bars and give them out to say "kudos" for a project well done.

  • Buy some Life Savers candies. Then, the next time someone has a great "save" — for example, saving a deal for the company or saving time on a project, hand out the Life Savers. That says, "You're a lifesaver!"

  • Print some fake million-dollar bills, write a thank-you note on the bill, date it, and post it on the person's office door or cube. That's your way of saying, "Thanks a million!"

Arrange a call from the president

Winners of the Super Bowl, World Series, and other major sporting events receive a celebratory call from the president of the United States. So why shouldn't employees who go "above and beyond" receive a call from the president of your organization? The experience can be both unexpected and exhilarating — and motivate them to work even harder. This form of recognition is long lasting — plus, it does wonders to build engagement.

Of course, before making the call, the president needs to know what the recognition is for and some specific details behind it. That means you'll need to brief her ahead of time. But even then, this form of recognition takes only a few minutes — 15, tops — and best of all, it's free!

Allow employees to call in "well"

Every employer gets calls when employees have to miss work due to illness or personal issues. But you know what they'd like? To get a call from a deserving employee saying, "I feel great! I'm calling in well." Of course, these "well" days must be earned for above-and-beyond performance. Employees often work late into the night and on weekends. You may not witness that effort, but you should recognize the results. Many people who would bust their humps if they knew they'd get a day to do whatever they wanted! This perk is one that is treasured equally among Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y workers.

Let employees develop recognition ideas

In the spirit of engaging and empowering your employees, why not ask them if they're interested in spearheading a recognition program? For example, you might select a few hard workers to serve on a special recognition committee. This committee should also include members of the management team. Not only will this help bridge the gap between "management" and "labor," so to speak, but it will also give employees insight into budgets and constraints — in other words, what's feasible and what's not. That way, they won't feel frustrated if their ideas aren't approved. ("Great idea, Chris, but we can't afford a private chef this year. Let's think of another idea that may be more doable.")

Give employees a seat at the table

Employees who are not "at the top" are not typically invited to high-level, leadership meetings. But what if they were? Inviting outstanding performers to a meeting to which they would not normally be invited can be a meaningful reward. Of course, you can't invite them to a pre-IPO meeting, but you get the idea. Maybe you could invite the employee to a meeting with the leadership team to talk about strategic initiatives. Or maybe the employee could attend a meeting with another division in which he's interested. Recognition doesn't have to involve a thing — it can also involve an opportunity!

Create development programs

According to a 2012 report by PwC, 35 percent of Millennials (members of Gen Y) are attracted to employers that offer excellent training and developmental programs. PwC also notes that Millennials view training and development as a top benefit of working for an organization. As Gen Y assumes its dominance in the workforce, it's important to fold development into your recognition efforts. In addition to offering the ever-important pat on the back, development also keeps alive the mutual commitment between the employee and the employer and fosters engagement.

Developmental efforts can vary, depending on your organization's budget and resources. It may range from a one-hour internal development session to an outside workshop in which the employee has expressed interest. (As for the latter, this assumes the employee's attendance in said workshop will also help the company. That is, the employee could ask to attend a cooking course, but unless you're in the culinary industry, that may not be your best bet.)

For example, if the employee has a strong interest in developing her communication skills, why not schedule a one- to two-hour meeting with an internal Communications team member? The team member being recognized could then leverage the other department's knowledge. (Of course, you'll need to ask that Communications team member for her help. But remember: That person may see the opportunity to share her knowledge as a perk!) Or, if you have a larger budget, try sending your employee for some professional training. Encourage employees to acquire training in presenting, e-commerce, and more. Offering development opportunities rewards hard workers, fosters engagement, and ultimately generates revenue. Not too shabby!

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