Payroll Solutions

We’ve all had the conversation. “Got a minute.” One of your valued teammates sits you down to tell you they are leaving.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Ugh. All that knowledge, experience, time, and energy walking out the door.

Employee turnover can kill a small business. It costs a lot of money, puts tremendous strain on the existing staff, and can be demoralizing.

How do you prevent employee turnover?

Employees not only want good pay and benefits, but they also want to be treated well and feel appreciated for their efforts. In this article, we will share some simple employee recognition ideas for small business for you and your team

To show appreciation, many employers conduct ongoing recognition programs designed to thank employees for a variety of achievements. In a recent survey by SHRM and the recognition consulting firm Globoforce, 80 percent of organizations reported having an employee recognition program.

Organizations adopt employee recognition programs to raise employee morale; attract and retain key employees; elevate productivity; increase competitiveness, revenues, and profitability; improve quality, safety, and customer service; and reduce employee stress, absenteeism, and turnover.

Rewards range from simple spoken or written thank-you notes and “spot” bonuses of gift cards to catalog merchandise and even vacation packages.

There are countless ways to reward employees that fit every budget. However, it is important to give some thought to how you structure your program in order to realize those returns on productivity and employee engagement.

Most companies start a program and it fizzles out over time, or they try to put too much in place and it becomes an administrative hassle and time-consuming nightmare.

To put together an effective employee recognition program focus on 3 key questions:

1) What events and behaviors do you want to recognize?
2) How much time/ resources do you have to dedicate to the program?
3) How will you track the program?

Remember consistency is key. People like being rewarded, and even more importantly, like being treated fairly. If Susan hears that Bob got a birthday card and she didn’t get one, Susan will feel let down.

Inconsistency will undermine the program and leave some employees feeling worse than if there was not any recognition at all. So make sure your programs are realistic for your time and your budget.

Recognizing top performers not only rewards them, it encourages the same behavior in others. Recognize the actions you want to see duplicated.

Recognition Worthy Events


  • Teamwork
  • Top performers
  • Business Wins
  • Customer satisfaction or retention
  • Actions and behaviors that embody the organization’s core values.
  • Innovation
  • Project completion


  • Work Anniversaries- pick significant years like 1, 3, 5, 10 and so on.
  • Retirements
  • Employee birthdays
  • Family births
  • Family deaths
  • Holidays

Employee Recognition Ideas

Free Employee Recognition Ideas

Team Meetings: Allow 5 minutes for each team meeting or every other team meeting to recognize employees for their hard work. Managers can recognize their employees and even allow time for employees to recognize each other.

*Take note of who is recognized at each meeting and review periodically to make sure you are spreading the love around.

Tip: Recognize in Context to the Overall Mission: recognition is most effective when it’s given in the context of a larger goal or business-results-focused activity. Random affirmations are much less meaningful than those tied to a business goal. If your goal is to drive growth, an employee who lands a big contract by putting in an extra effort and following company processes needs to know you noticed.

Written Praise: You can do this with an email or an old-fashioned handwritten note. When you recognize an employee this way be sure to give them specifics on their accomplishments just as you would at a team event.

Tip: If you are a business owner or a manager make a goal to send out a thank you note to a team member once a week, or a month, depending on the size of your team.

Hold your managers accountable. Have them report on who they recognize on their teams, and coach them if they if they don’t understand the value.

Cards for Special Occasions: For special occasions such as an employee’s birthday, or family member birth or death you don’t have to grab your wallet to make them feel appreciated. Get a card and collect signatures from other team members.

Cheap Employee Appreciation Ideas

Prize Tokens: When you see someone doing something nice for someone else or go the extra mile for a customer recognize them and give them a performance token. After they collect two or three tokens let them pick out a “prize” such as a gift card or something for their office.

On the Spot: Create an office symbol to use at meetings. “Coffee’s for closers” coffee mug or the “hit it out of the park” baseball bat. Come up with something that is unique to your team.

At ERG, we have a Buzz Lightyear to symbolize when someone goes “to infinity and beyond” for the team. Give it to a team member when you see them doing something recognition-worthy. You can also do this at your meeting. Let the employee keep it on display in their office for a week or two and then give it to someone else.

Keep $5, $10 or $20 gift cards to Starbucks, Target or Amazon on-hand for recognizing actions in real time.

Organize a Company Lunch: Make sure you take the time to recognize and say a few words about the employee. This is a good way to recognize retirees along with a gift that can be presented to the retiree.

Not-So-Cheap Appreciation Ideas

Because work anniversaries are less frequent and are at the heart of recognizing employee loyalty, these should be a bit more thought out and splurge-worthy.

Vacation Bonus: This is obviously one of the more expensive ways to thank employees for their service to pick a year that is truly a milestone such as 5 or 10. Allot a certain amount to go towards a vacation. At ERG, we pay $10,000 towards a vacation anywhere in the world at your five year anniversary.

Present Catalogue: Companies like Terry Berry provide the catalog and ordering service for your service awards. You set price level for each anniversary and the employee will pick what they want from the catalog.

Personalized Gifts: Set monetary limits for each anniversary, or choose specific items for each anniversary. Companies like Things Remembered will engrave the employee’s name, the company name, and the occasion.

Tracking Your Employee Recognition Program

Regardless of what you choose to recognize, make sure you are consistent and you have the appropriate resources to track the program. This can range from a simple excel spreadsheet, all the way to software designed for tracking employee information.

A Few Keys to Tracking the Program

Make sure more than one person has access to the information. This is where Excel lets you down. It does not track real-time edits (if you add a new hire, but don’t save the latest version on the share drive, no one else has it).

There is another great free tool for this: Trello. If you have not used Trello before, this is a project management tool that has a free version that is perfect for managing processes like a recognition program. You can set reminders, tag people, access via mobile, and more.

Some human resources software has features built in for employee recognition software. Our online HR platform has birthday and anniversary reminders along with an announcement feature for you to share information with the entire team. Combine this with the ongoing employee engagement surveys and you have a full arsenal of tools to engage your team.

Your employees are your most important asset, make sure you treat them as such!

A well-executed employee recognition program is one tool in your arsenal when trying to create an awesome place to work.