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Employee Recognition

20 Custom Employee Award Ideas To Celebrate Your Workforce

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated October 24, 2023

In a traditional working model, employees exchange hours of labor for a compensation package as a transactional arrangement. While these extrinsic rewards may pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads, modern employees seek more intrinsic reasons to work hard and remain loyal to their employer.

Enter employee awards, which form part of your company's overall recognition program. Workers receive these awards from their employer, who recognizes their hard work, dedication, and results within the workplace. Some awards are repeatable, such as an Employee of the Month or Year award. Others may be a one-time event, based on tenure, or the results of an individual project.

If you plan to implement an employee recognition awards program in your organization, this is the guide for you. We suggest 20 custom employee award ideas and best practices for embedding them within your recognition system.

20 Employee Award Ideas To Celebrate Your Team 

Employee awards should be tailored to fit your organization, goals, and company culture. Here are some ideas of employee awards your team members will want to get their hands on:

1. Employee Of The Month 

Employee of the Month is a classic award recognizing exceptional performance, work ethic, and dedication. This award can boost morale, motivate employees to strive for excellence, and foster healthy competition within the workplace. 

McDonald's details how its business managers select its Employee of the Month recipient based on key behaviors. 

“Employees are chosen based on their ability to demonstrate behaviors that deliver a great experience for our customers and their fellow employees. Valued behaviors include: looking for ways to make the experience special for every McDonald's customer; working with the team to deliver high standards; and having energy and enthusiasm.”

2. Service Awards

Service awards celebrate employees' loyalty and dedication by recognizing milestone anniversaries, such as 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 25 years with the company.

Persuading job-hopping career professionals to commit to the same organization for the long term is no easy feat. That's why service awards are essential to show appreciation for long-term employees and their contributions to the company's success.

A Lifetime Achievement Award is a variation of a service award focused on a combination of length of service and professional excellence. For example, the Food and Drink Federation honored renowned food scientist and lead scientific consultant Roger Angold with a Lifetime Achievement Award to celebrate his 50-year career and expertise in microscopy and spectroscopy techniques.

3. Rookie Of The Year

Starting and succeeding at a new company deserves recognition in the form of a Rookie of the Year award for a great first season on the job.

For example, the purpose of the University Libraries' Rookie of the Year Award is "to recognize and distinguish a new employee who has shown outstanding performance in his/her current position." 

This accolade can also encourage new hires to hit the ground running and make a positive impact in their new roles.

4. Team Player Award

Fostering a positive team spirit and collaborative work environment is important for any successful organization. Recognize individuals who go above and beyond to support fellow team members with a Team Player Award, whose criteria could include:

  • Consistently demonstrating teamwork and collaboration
  • Being willing to help others without hesitation
  • Contributing to the success of the team through their positive attitude and actions.

5. Innovation And Creativity Award

Highlight employees who bring fresh ideas and creativity to your company. For example, you might honor workers who: 

  • Create innovative solutions for customers' common pain points 
  • Implement new approaches to streamline processes and increase efficiency 
  • Think outside the box when tackling challenges

For example, the Prince Edward Island Public Service Commission defines its Employee Innovation Awards Program as "The creation or promotion of a new service, product or variation on current practice that is unique and adds value to the organization's internal and external clients."

Innovation and creativity awards can highlight employees who bring fresh ideas and creativity to your company.

6. Customer Service Excellence

A customer satisfaction award reinforces the importance of providing exceptional customer experiences and inspires others to do the same. Criteria for this award could include:

  • Receiving positive feedback or testimonials from customers
  • Going above and beyond in resolving customer complaints or issues
  • Consistently maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction

The Pride of Jersey Awards includes a Customer Service Employee of the Year category to recognize "a person or company which consistently offers outstanding levels of customer service. The winner could be anything from an outstanding call-center team to an individual working in a large store. It may even be a one-man-band business which goes that extra mile, or an individual in a small store who offers something different and helps bring a community together. This award is for those who go that step further to make sure their customers are happy with the service they receive and want to keep returning."

7. Leadership Award

Leadership awards recognize individuals who demonstrate strong leadership skills and have a positive impact on their team, department, or organization as a whole. For example, The University of Windsor offers an Excellence in Leadership Award with the following essential criteria:

  • Be an excellent role model 
  • Inspire others to work collaboratively and creatively 
  • Demonstrate initiative 
  • Promote a work environment that is respectful, collegial, and supportive 
  • Foster pride in UWindsor

8. Mentorship Award

Mentorship awards celebrate those who set aside time to guide and support their colleagues, helping them to develop skills, overcome challenges, and achieve their professional goals. This award can also encourage more experienced employees to continue sharing their knowledge and expertise with others in the organization.

For example, the Academy of Management offers a Mentorship Award for individuals who have excelled at mentoring others in meeting their career goals by providing:

  • Intellectual support, such as helping the mentee develop ideas constructively using brainstorming, suggesting alternative opinions, and providing written feedback 
  • Social support, including developing a professional network 
  • Moral support by genuinely caring about the mentee's wellbeing and development

9. Quality Assurance Champion

Celebrate individuals who maintain high-quality standards by recognizing them as Quality Assurance Champions. This award can motivate employees to take pride in their work and strive for excellence by considering aspects such as:

  • Consistently delivering high-quality work
  • Ensuring compliance with industry standards and regulations 
  • Implementing quality control processes to improve overall performance

10. Sales Superstar Award

Awards are a common way to motivate sales professionals, whose work is often easy to measure. A Sales Superstar Award can honor those who consistently exceed their targets and contribute significantly to the company's bottom line. Criteria for this award could include:

  • Meeting or exceeding sales goals over a particular period
  • Bringing in new clients or securing important contracts
  • Showing exceptional customer service skills that lead to increased sales

A Sales Superstar Award can honor those who consistently exceed their targets and contribute significantly to the company's bottom line.

11. Community Involvement Award

Companies that give back to the local community often positively impact their employees, customers, and society as a whole. Recognize individuals who work hard in their efforts to support the community by achieving criteria such as:

  • Volunteering time or resources for community events or initiatives
  • Initiating and organizing fundraising campaigns for charitable causes
  • Making a positive impact on the community through personal or professional actions

For example, Jefferson offers an annual Community Service Award to an "employee who consistently demonstrates an unyielding dedication to community service and to improving the lives of others."

12. Safety Champion

Keeping employees safe is a top priority for any organization, especially in industries with higher incidences of accidents, such as manufacturing, construction, or healthcare. Show appreciation for individuals who prioritize safety by honoring Safety Champions who:

  • Implement safety protocols or procedures that improve overall safety
  • Conduct training or workshops to educate others on workplace safety measures 
  • Demonstrate a proactive approach to identifying and addressing potential hazards

13. Wellness Warrior

Workplace wellness is a top priority for companies who want to keep their employees healthy and balanced. Gallup reports that 44% of workers experienced high stress levels the day before, and those who feel stressed are more likely to experience burnout, take sick days, or leave their jobs.

A Wellness Warrior award can recognize individuals who prioritize wellness for themselves and others by implementing initiatives such as:

  • Organizing mental health workshops, yoga classes, or other wellbeing activities
  • Encouraging and modeling work-life balance strategies 
  • Demonstrating a commitment to employees' physical and mental health through policies or initiatives

14. Growth And Progress Award

Fostering an environment of continuous learning and development is essential for organizational growth. It is also something that 89% of L&D pros agree will support employees by developing skills that prepare them for the future of work.

Celebrate individuals who commit to their own development and encourage others to do the same with a Growth And Progress Award. Criteria for this award could include:

  • Completing training or courses that enhance job performance or skills
  • Taking on new challenges or responsibilities to expand their knowledge and experience 
  • Mentoring or coaching others in their personal or professional development

15. DEIB Hero

Ethnically diverse companies are known to outperform less diverse organizations, but McKinsey confirms that overall progress in increasing representation is slow. That's why it's crucial to highlight the efforts of individuals who go the extra mile to promote diversity, inclusivity, equity, and belonging in the workplace. Design a DEIB Hero award to celebrate those who:

  • Set up employee resource groups to actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, or belonging initiatives 
  • Challenge biases or make strides in creating a more inclusive work environment, for example, by introducing fairer talent acquisition processes 
  • Raise awareness of cultural holidays or celebrations

Design a DEIB Hero award to celebrate those who set up ERGs, challenge internal biases, or raise awareness of cultural holidays/traditions.

16. Sustainability Champion

Sustainability is a growing focus for organizations that understand the importance of corporate social responsibility and reducing their environmental impact. Recognize individuals who lead by example in promoting sustainable practices within your company by: 

  • Implementing environmentally friendly policies or initiatives
  • Educating others on sustainability best practices 
  • Making efforts to reduce carbon footprint or waste production within the workplace

For example, UCL applauds the efforts of its Green Impact teams by giving a "Staff Award for Outstanding Commitment to Sustainability." This year's recipient was Dr Deniz Bakkalci, who has "implemented a mandatory sustainability induction for new staff to raise awareness and ensure that sustainability principles are ingrained in our daily activities."

17. Cost-Savings Genius

41.5% of small businesses have experienced inflationary pressures as the cost of supplies rockets. Companies concerned about balancing these increasing costs with pricing products and services to retain customers, must look for ways to save money. That's where the Cost-Savings Genius award comes in to acknowledge individuals who find creative solutions to reduce costs by:

  • Improving processes or workflows that lead to cost savings
  • Sourcing cheaper alternatives for supplies or materials without compromising quality
  • Identifying areas of wastage and providing solutions to minimize it

18. Digital Transformation Pioneer

According to Gartner, digital capabilities and information technology are the top areas that CEOs intend to invest in each year. As the world becomes increasingly digital, it's important to recognize employees who take the lead in driving innovation and embracing technology. Consider awarding individuals with the Digital Transformation Pioneer award for contributions such as:

  • Successfully implementing new technologies or software that improve efficiency or productivity
  • Identifying areas where technology can streamline processes and introducing solutions 
  • Encouraging and training others on digital tools and workflows to improve overall workforce skills

19. Best Cross-Functional Collaboration

40% of employees don't feel supported by peers working in other departments. But collaborating across teams and functions is crucial for breaking down organizational silos and achieving shared goals. Highlight individuals who excel at this type of cross-functional collaboration by considering their achievements, such as:

  • Leading or participating in successful cross-functional projects
  • Building strong relationships and communication channels with colleagues from other departments 
  • Identifying opportunities to work together and finding solutions that benefit multiple teams

20. Customer Retention Hero

Holding onto your loyal customers matters. SurveySparrow says that the top five companies across many industries have an impressive average customer retention rate of 94%. However, convincing fickle consumers to stick around can be a challenge, especially if your competitors entice them with new customer offers.

A Customer Retention Hero award honors those employees who go above and beyond to keep customers coming back by:

  • Implementing retention strategies or programs that increase customer loyalty
  • Developing processes or initiatives that solve customer pain points and improve overall satisfaction.
  • Strengthening relationships with existing customers and identifying opportunities for upselling or cross-selling

A Customer Retention Hero award honors those employees who go above and beyond to keep customers coming back.

21. Core Value Advocate

Company core values are an essential building block of culture. Gallup has done a lot of research on culture and core values. The most shocking statistics? "Just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work, and only 27% strongly agree that they “believe in” these values."

Companies should emphasize core values more by awarding employees who exemplify them. Your core value advocate award could be a fantastic way to recognize employees who demonstrate each value and those who display them all. For example, if your organization's values were integrity, innovation, and accountability, you could have a winner for each value as well as an overall winner.

If you use employee recognition software like Nectar, you can quickly look at analytics to see which employees top the leaderboard for each value to select an award winner.

What Are The Benefits Of Giving Employee Awards? 

Employee awards are the type of initiative that can easily fall into a nice-to-have category instead of a must-have. But here’s why we recommend you prioritize them:

Improving Employee Motivation 

Leaders must work hard to appreciate their employees' contributions to the business and retain their loyalty. Symbolic awards are one way to do so—research reveals that they increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and employee retention rates.

Aligning Recognition With Company Values 

An employee award is a shining example of what your business stands for and what you expect your workers to achieve. By aligning your employee awards with company values, such as a commitment to sustainability or innovation, you reinforce these ideals and motivate others to follow suit. The result? Your employees will understand how their work contributes to the overall goals and vision of the company.


Boosting Your Employer Brand 

68% of millennials, 54% of Generation X, and 48% of Boomers hop on social media to get a flavor of an employer brand during their job search. If they see that you regularly applaud your employees' hard work, it signals you're an employer who values their contribution and rewards them accordingly. This positive employer branding can attract top talent to your organization and improve retention rates.

How you present your employer brand is becoming more important. Awards and showing that your value your team can make an impact on your branding.

7 Best Practices For Incorporating Awards Into Your Recognition Practices  

Follow these best practices to ensure employee awards coexist harmoniously with the rest of the initiatives in your recognition program. 

1. Avoid Substituting Recognition For Awards 

Employee awards are not a substitute for a comprehensive recognition program. Yes, they can be an exciting way to celebrate your team. But for your awards to be meaningful, they must be paired with frequent peer-to-peer recognition, where it's commonplace for colleagues to praise and acknowledge each others' accomplishments.

So, how does this all come together? Think of awards as the icing on the cake and your regular praise and recognition initiatives as the foundational sponge layers beneath.

2. Make Recognition Frequent 

Awards are periodic ways to celebrate employee accomplishments. Some may be annual, quarterly, or monthly; others will only be used when there's a relevant opportunity to honor an employee's contributions.

And that's the way it should be. Like birthdays or holiday celebrations, employee awards would undoubtedly lose their magic if we give them out daily. Instead, we save them.

However, research shows that employee recognition should be delivered as frequently as possible if you want to fuel a high-performance culture. Gallup data reveals that employees are almost 4x more likely to be engaged than other employees when they agree they received meaningful feedback in the past week. So make sure you deliver plenty of praise between your employee awards.

3. Choose Public Or Private Recognition  

When we think of employee awards, we often associate them with a public ceremony or announcement highlighting an individual's work to a collective audience. This may include recognition that is:

  • Team Facing: Employee awards are presented in front of an employee’s team or department. 
  • Company Facing: Employees are celebrated by your organization's entire workforce.  
  • Public Facing: Employees are named and celebrated on social media, billboards, or workplace plaques, for customers and the public to see. 

While public recognition in any of these forms may sound like the most motivating and respectful way to honor your employees, it won't always have the results you're hoping for. Your employees are sentient beings and will experience recognition and awards differently depending on their personalities.

With this in mind, celebrate team members in a way they're comfortable with, ensuring it aligns with their preferences. The point of recognition is to make your employees feel valued, not uncomfortable or anxious. Some appropriate employee celebration ideas include: 

  • Delivering A Custom Video Or Book to the award winner: Use services like Tribute or Shutterfly to create yours. 
  • Host A Celebration Lunch: This also acts as a treat for the entire team, with the award winner being the focus. 
  • Extra PTO: Provide a few days of additional paid time off and be flexible about when they can use it. 
  • Give A One-Off Bonus: Monetary rewards are always a popular accompaniment to your employee award, whether it's a $100 gift voucher or a four-figure addition to their paycheck.

4. Rotate Award Winners   

An employee awards program will quickly run out of steam if the same people win every month. The last thing you want is for your initiative to feel like a popularity contest, alienating those who haven't yet received this form of recognition.

Ensure inclusion by rotating winners and categories each cycle or year, and open up nominations to employees. You can also have multiple award winners per category if their achievements align with the criteria. This way, you're ensuring you recognize everyone who deserves to be celebrated.

Are the same people being awarded consistently? It's easy for employees to become jaded if they feel they don't have a chance at being rewarded.

5. Ensure The Reward Is Worth It 

A gift, certificate, or monetary reward usually accompanies employee awards. Make sure the prize is valuable enough to make your employees feel appreciated. Ideally, your employees who haven't yet received the award should be motivated to win it. This will only happen if the reward is enticing.

As an example of a prize that may not hit the mark, a global fast food company’s “Employee of the Month” award box included:

  • A certificate the employer had forgotten to fill in 
  • A fidget  popper toy 
  • A branded water bottle
  • A gift voucher 
  • A keyring 
  • A name badge add-on
  • A phone accessory 

When the award winner Ross Barrett posted his award box opening on TikTok, he attracted 7.2 million views within a week, with plenty of negative comments about the low value he received for working hard in a customer-facing role for a month. 

Nectar Tip: The best way to reward employees appropriately is to provide award options, as we do with Nectar’s Rewards solution, so your hard workers can choose a meaningful prize. Nectar offers Amazon products, gift cards, charity donations, company swag, and custom rewards.

6. Incorporate Peer Feedback Into Your Awards Decisions 

Peers should be an essential part of your employee award program. Why? Your team members are in the trenches working directly with each other—they know exactly what's going on in your business—sometimes, more than people in leadership roles. Colleagues know when someone's quiet, consistent contributions are slipping under the radar but are achieving phenomenal results for the team. 

Recognize this by incorporating peer feedback into your decision-making process by asking team members to make award nominations. 

Peer feedback creates a sense of camaraderie and community within your team, giving everyone a say in recognizing their colleagues' achievements. Plus, it can shed light on accomplishments that leaders may not know or have overlooked.

7. Set Up An Eligibility Rubric 

Clear eligibility criteria for receiving a nomination or winning an employee award ensures transparency and eliminates the potential for favoritism or bias. Consider creating a rubric that outlines specific metrics, such as: 

  • Performance goals met
  • Customer satisfaction ratings achieved
  • Leadership skills demonstrated

By doing so, employees understand how to maximize their chances of winning an award and can track their progress accordingly. A standardized rubric also makes decision-making easier for leaders and ensures they evaluate all employees fairly and objectively. 

Nectar Tip: Establish your eligibility criteria early on and communicate them clearly to your team.

Build Custom Employee Awards With Nectar  

Employee awards are integral to any recognition program, and it's easy to customize them in Nectar. To design custom awards within your Nectar admin dashboard:

  • Create a name for your award, attach an image, and add your preferred award amount in terms of Nectar points. 
  • Attach a message of praise and recognition to thank your employee for their dedication. 
  • Determine who can give this type of award, for example, an admin or manager.
  • Decide how regularly they can award it, for example, monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Once the award is set up, your team will ensure that these awards are given out to the deserving team members.

With Nectar, you can also automate service and birthday awards by integrating with your company's HRIS platform or bulk uploading your team's information. This ensures that employees get the love they deserve on special occasions.

Employee awards align perfectly with Nectar's Recognition and Rewards tools, creating a thriving recognition culture that motivates and retains your valuable team members. Book a demo today to learn more.

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