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7 Tips To Reward & Recognize Outstanding Performance Without Breaking The Bank

Published: 2021-10-28 Author: Lisa Horn

If you’ve been following the business press, you’ve undoubtedly seen headlines about the Great Resignation. And if you’re an employer, you may be experiencing it: Americans have been quitting their jobs in droves. In fact, this BLS data indicates 20+ million Americans waved goodbye to their jobs in May through September 2021. 

Why are so many people saying “take this job and shove it?” There’s quite a bit of speculation on the reasons behind the mass exodus, from taking advantage of government benefits to angling for higher wages to reevaluation of work and life priorities post-COVID. 

Additionally, employee happiness with their work is a factor, no matter the economic climate. When employees don’t feel appreciated, their satisfaction drops. Unsatisfied employees aren’t as engaged, and unengaged employees can easily sever ties and never look back. 

A number of factors go into employee satisfaction—working conditions, compensation and relationships with coworkers, to name a few. Recognition and appreciation (or the lack thereof) also play key roles, so it’s surprising that these simple gestures often go overlooked. 

When creating an employee recognition program, the most important aspect is making the recipient feel valued and appreciated—and it doesn’t take a lot of money to accomplish this. Rather, it takes being thoughtful and sincere. 

Cash and gift cards, while easy to give, don’t make great employee recognition gifts because they are most often used to pay bills and/or buy living essentials that are quickly forgotten. 

Moreover, cash gifts can actually have a NEGATIVE impact on long-term employee engagement. In this study by Disco, results show employees may feel a short-term boost of appreciation levels in the first 90 day after receiving a cash award, but recipients ultimately burn out on cash as a motivator. 

“Additionally, cash had negative impacts on an employee’s willingness to work harder on critical projects over the weekend and a -11.26% impact on employees' willingness to recommend their company to friends and family members as a positive place to work,” the study finds. 

So if cash is off the table for creating a meaningful recognition program, what’s the alternative?

Building A Smart Employee Recognition Strategy

A better strategy is to create recognition programs based upon thoughtfully selected branded merchandise—with your logo tastefully imprinted, engraved or embroidered on the product—to create company pride and support the company brand. 

When building your next employee recognition program, implement these tips to make it a success:

1. Know Your Audience

Regardless of the kind of recognition program you want to build, the first step is to always understand your audience. By being audience-centric, you can choose merch that recipients will like, find useful and appreciate.

2. Create Tiers

Recognition can and should come at all company levels—from executives, immediate supervisors and peer-to-peer. Having a tiered program allows you to better meet various recognition needs and involve a larger number of employees.

3. Incorporate Multiple Ways To Recognize

While it’s great to host an annual awards ceremony to recognize employment milestones and outstanding accomplishments for the year, creating a culture of recognition goes beyond a once-a-year event. Look for ways to incorporate recognition throughout the year. Some ideas:

  • National Employee Appreciation Day is the first Friday in March.
  • Administrative Professionals Week is the last full week in April, with the Wednesday of the week being designated as Administrative Professionals Day.
  • Customer Service Appreciation week is the first full week of October.
  • Employee birthdays happen all year long, so celebrate individually or at a monthly event depending on the size of your organization.
  • Monthly or quarterly staff meetings are also perfect opportunities to recognize outstanding performance during those timeframes.

4. Be Personal

Make gifts personal, not generic. Even if you’re giving the same gift company-wide, find a way to make the presentation and/or message personal to the recipient. Customize gifts with the recipient’s name or include a hand-written note. Take this card the Unsplash team sent Jannis Lucas, for example. She appreciated the sentiment so much that she framed it! 

5. Think About Demographics

Age and gender matter, so select items that are appropriate for the intended recipients. If you’re giving corporate apparel, for example, a unisex shirt won’t be as well received by women as garments that are specifically tailored for ladies. Additionally, the style of garment a 20-something would wear is often different than a garment worn by a 50-something.

6. Understand Company Roles

Think about the role the recipient plays at the company. If the person works in an inside support role and regularly brings lunch to the office, a high-end lunch tote could be considered. Conversely, the lunch tote would have much less meaning to an outside sales rep who regularly dines in a restaurant while entertaining clients over a meal.

7. Use Packaging

Proper packaging shows extra effort was taken to make the item feel like a gift and not just something that was taken out of a box and distributed while wrapped in a cellophane bag. Additionally, packaging can instantly add value and make a budget-friendly gift seem much more expensive. How much impact can packaging really have? Just think of the famous box from Tiffany & Co. 

This beautiful shade of blue is No. 1837 on the Pantone Matching System chart. And since 1998, the color is trademarked and not commercially available. According to this Adweek article, “The packaging on which the color appears is also trademarked, as is the white satin ribbon tied around said packaging. In all, it is very possibly the most recognizable and most desired retail container in history.” While it’s unlikely that anyone can match the prestige of Tiffany’s packaging, you can take the lessons from this example and create your own brand of packaging that builds excitement with your audience because they know there’s something truly special inside.

Creating A Culture Of Recognition

However you decide to honor and recognize employee contributions, it doesn’t have to be elaborate—or expensive. Sincerely saying thank you goes a long way to boosting employee morale. 

Whether you want to build an extensive recognition program or have a modest budget, our concierge service can hand-select products that are perfectly tailored to your needs. 

Contact us at or book an appointment at for a quick 10-minute chat, 20-minute new product call or 30-minute brainstorming session to get started today.