Reward and recognition team meeting

Simple Recognition Ideas that Create Meaningful Experiences for Employees

Appreciation is consistently cited as one of the top ten things employees are looking for from their leaders. Why is there a disconnect between the appreciation employees are looking for and how often leaders are providing recognition? Rewarding and recognizing the right behaviors and excellent performance isn’t just a nice thing to do, research shows a lack of employee recognition is a top reason employees leave an organization. The solution is easy; tell your high performers they are, in fact, high performing.

Developing our leadership skills to hardwire this principle is fundamental to being an excellent leader. It’s not enough to occasionally reward and recognize people. We need to hardwire reward and recognition so that it happens often. It needs to be woven into the fabric of the culture.
Janet Pilcher, from Hardwiring Excellence in Education

People Want to Feel Valued

Humans are emotional beings; we like to hear where we excel, that we’re appreciated, valued, and our contributions are making a difference. When you take the time to recognize a job well done and to connect an employee’s performance with the organization’s goals, people develop a deeper sense of purpose for their work. When employees connect to the reasons why they do what they do, they have greater pride and ownership in their work and perform at a higher level.

Ideas for Recognizing Your Employees

Recognizing and rewarding people for their efforts boosts morale, increases engagement, and results in a more productive working environment. Expressing appreciation for someone’s contribution to the organization motivates them to continue their hard work. When we reward and recognize behaviors and performances we want to see replicated, other team members are more likely to repeat those behaviors.

Impacting your team members with a well-deserved “Thank You” does not need a large budget. Here are some creative ways to recognize and reward your people:

Individual Ideas

  • Coffee or a meal with a leader, such as the superintendent or department head.
  • For teachers, collect special notes of recognition from students and parents and deliver them to their classrooms.
  • For staff, collect special notes of recognition from peers and present to them at a school-wide event.
  • Up-front/special parking space.
  • Create a token of appreciation program that rewards employees by providing tokens/points for going the extra mile that can be traded in for gift cards, office supplies, etc.
  • One-on-one connections with the team member to recognize performance and give a sincere ‘thank-you’.
  • Thank you cards or a handwritten note.
  • Display a recognition board in your school or district to feature team members and their accomplishments.
  • Hold a regular awards ceremony centered around values or strategic goals.
  • Team member-nominated awards.
  • Support what they support: contribute time to a charitable cause of the employee’s choice.
  • Start meetings off by asking individuals to recognize a coworker’s job well done
  • Give people opportunities for development and additional responsibilities/ projects that nurture their interests.
  • Recognize people on your organization’s social media accounts.

Team Rewards

  • Bring in breakfast or lunch for the team.
  • Celebrate large accomplishments with a party or off-campus field trip.
  • Plan an event the team can bring their families to enjoy as well.
  • If your team uses tracking metrics, turn it into a game inspiring a little friendly competition.
  • Have a team/department/school of the month and announce the recognition in the district newsletter and on social media.


Think differently.

Recognizing employees isn’t just a “nice-to-have” gesture but a strategic imperative. Understand that appreciation fosters a deeper sense of purpose and belonging, which directly correlates with higher performance and retention rates.

Plan differently.

Shift from traditional, budget-heavy recognition methods to creative, personalized approaches that resonate with employees. Whether it’s a handwritten note or a team breakfast, thoughtful gestures can have a significant impact on morale and engagement without breaking the bank.

Act differently.

Implement a culture of recognition systematically and consistently. Incorporate regular one-on-one acknowledgments, team celebrations, and opportunities for personal growth to embed appreciation into the fabric of your organization. By actively valuing your employees, you cultivate a positive work environment that drives sustained success.

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Man smiling at a woman in an office; they are deep in conversation