Although employees need to be recognized, thanked and praised when they do good work throughout the year, many companies tend to just recognize employees at periodic events, such as a holiday party or end-of-the-year awards ceremony.  If you’re such a company, here’s some guidelines to make that recognition more fun and meaningful to your employees.


Make it personal. Recognition works best when it is personalized to the individual.  Whether it’s verbal or written (or ideally both), use the person’s name, identify specifics as to what he or she did to deserve recognition (what you saw firsthand, why what the person did was significant, what the report indicated, what the client said, etc.), and tell a story that brings the value of the recognition to life (e.g., “On his own initiative, Tom, decided to drive the needed parts an hour away on his own time to meet the client’s deadline. The client was so ecstatic that they immediately renewed their contract with the company.”) Have the person being recognized spend a little time with the person who will be presenting a formal award prior to the event so they can get to know each other and supplement any formal presentation with some informal recognition from you.


One year when I was managing 16 employees, I took an hour or two at the end of the year to write each of them a personal note in which I reflected on their contributions to our department over the past year, how excited I was for their success, and how proud I was to have them work for me.  Everyone loved it and a couple of my employees were so touched they even cried.


Make it meaningful. Do something that you know would especially connect with the person you are recognizing.  Ideally, this would mean you know the person well enough to know their preferences, family situation, hobbies, etc.  If this isn’t the case, it’s never to late to take time to speak with each employee about what would be a meaningful way to recognize him or her. Most people value public praise, for example, but some (perhaps 20 percent of employees) do not. Don’t force them into the spotlight if you know it will embarrass or upset them.  Instead, do something more private, such as a note or thoughtful gift for a hobby or pastime they have.  If you don’t discuss this directly with the person, ask their coworkers or even their spouse to find out what might best connect.


ARAMARK, the food service company, names days after deserving employees. They send an email out announcing “Next Tuesday will be Bob Smith Day (or whomever they have chosen) and why they are honoring that person.  On the day they have a lot of fun:

They might have the person picked up by their manager at their home and personally escorted to work, they might have the person’s name spelled out in balloons over the front entrance or have everyone line up to give the person a standing ovation as they enter the building. They ask everyone to answer the phone on the day: “Welcome to XYZ Company. Today we are celebrating Bob Smith Day.” They might make a scrapbook and set up lunch for the employee with the president of the company. If the person being honored is more private, they adjust accordingly, perhaps calling their spouse to see what hobbies the person has, having everyone chip in for a thoughtful gift for fly fishing or gardening or whatever.


Have fun & be creative. If you do the same thing to recognize people year after year, we have a technical term for that. It’s called BORING. Shake things up; do something you’ve never done before.  If you have a hard time deciding what, ask your employees or ask for a volunteer (a young person in your department?) or two to help come up with something that everyone will be excited about.  They’ll scope out options and determine the one that most people would like to do.


When I worked with Hallmark, I remember one store manager who would make up achievement awards for his staff, eg, “Most Likely to Volunteer to Help,” or “Most Contagious Positive Attitude.” He’d then read the award and description of the person at a group lunch and have everyone guess who it was.  They’d always guess right, but the activity helped to cement the value each person brought to the team in a fun, specific way.


In another example, years ago my wife came home and told be the date of their company’s Christmas party, which was going to be a buffet at a local hotel. “Really?” I said. “We could do something better than that.  Tell them we’ll host a Casino Night at our house.” She did and the company was thrilled. We moved all our furniture out of our house and hired a company to bring in a roulette, blackjack and craps tables, using the budget they were going to spend on dinner.  We bought a variety of snacks (people don’t eat much when they are gambling) and a bunch of prizes for the winners of the evening, including a lot of no-cost gifts, eg, “A night of baby sitting,” “Your car washed by the VP of Sales,” etc.  We also called upon everyone on the executive team to donate an experience, eg, “A weekend at Tony’s cabin,” or “The use of Mary’s BMW for a week,” etc.  Four out of every five people at the event won a door prize of some type.

The event was such a success they asked if we would do it again the next year!