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Employee Recognition

10 Employee of the Month Ideas [Plus 5 Common Mistakes]

Amanda Cross
Last Updated November 27, 2023

Finding unique ways to show your team how much you care has become more critical than ever.

In the last few months, we've seen an abundance of open positions, employees moving to different companies, and team members leaving the workforce altogether. Companies are struggling to find great people, but companies can avoid negative work environments by building a culture of recognition.

One way that many companies choose to recognize their staff is through an employee of the month program. These programs can be a great way to start your company's recognition experience if you manage it the right way.

What Is An Employee Of The Month Award?

An employee of the month award is a prize that companies give out to team members who have made a tremendous impact at work.

Companies with these awards typically create a repeatable experience they can use to recognize top performers. When someone is recognized, companies see them as a beacon for what a worker is supposed to be at your organization.

Usually, employers highlight one worker per month. However, depending on the size of your organization, you might decide to select more than one or break it up by department, tenure, or job title.

Employee of the month award

5 Mistakes Companies Make When Awarding An Employee Of The Month

Many companies create employee of the month programs with the best of intentions. Organizations want to find more ways to motivate their team members and boost employee productivity. There may be several issues that company leaders don't consider when awarding this honor. Here are a few mistakes to keep in mind:

1. Giving The Award To The Same Person Or People

You have likely been at an organization where very few workers get recognized. Being left out of the bunch can feel demotivating and lead to burnout. An employee of the month award is a tangible and recognizable form of favoritism if you consistently give the prize to the same people.

So, what can you do if you find that a select group of people rightfully earn the title every month? It's time to get to the bottom of what's holding your other employees back. Why are they not rising to the occasion? Survey and talk with your team.

Do you have demotivated workers because of your business practices or because they have always been that way? Most hires start a working relationship happy and excited for a new challenge. You will likely find that many apathetic behaviors begin with the actions employees witness at work. Luckily, there are ways to turn workplace apathy around with focused action on improving work-life for all of your employees.

2. Only Using Manager Or Executive Level Input To Find Employees To Recognize

Managers and executives lead teams, but they can't be everywhere or see everything. If you only focus on manager or executive level input, you will miss out on all the ways that your workers contribute to your organization.

Instead, your organization could use feedback from peers, direct reports, customers, and managers/executives to craft your employee of the month nominations experience.

  • Use a tool like Nectar to look at what peers and direct reports say about employees.
  • Gather data on customer interactions by sending out surveys to see if customers would recommend your team members.
  • Get data from managers and executives to further cement who you nominate.

Some companies have roles that aren't customer-facing. If so, adjust the weight of customer interactions in your thought process.

Set up criteria for employee award winners

3. Failing To Set Up A Rubric For Who Wins The Award

Employee of the month nominations shouldn't be subjective or a popularity contest, but it often is. When coworkers cannot understand the rules of eligibility for this award, it can be demotivating. What can they do to finally be recognized?

Here are some ideas to help you create a fair employee of the month nominations process:

What are the eligibility criteria?

First, you'll want to think about defining the eligibility criteria. For example, does a potential winner have to work at the organization for a certain length of time? How many times can a person win the award in a year? Are there limits on the type of colleagues who can win (for example, no director-level or higher employees?) Get specific and write this information down.

Who picks the winner?

While you don't want workers to sway judges, your team probably won't have to worry about that. Most workers will not try to win over or persuade the judges once they know them. Letting team members know who is judging them is about building a transparent workplace. Making this information common knowledge also holds judges accountable if it feels like only certain employees get awarded.

What do the judges look at?

Everyone needs to be on the same page for employees to be the best award candidate. How does a winner get picked? Creating a rubric helps your judges spend less time judging and more time picking an award recipient. Letting your team members get a preview of the rubric gives your team peace of mind because they know what to do to win.

How can someone improve their chances?

Lastly, if you have any advice that can help a team member get the award, why not share it? As your program develops, don't be afraid to share some advice with the rest of your employees. For example, you can offer a tip each month in your company's internal newsletter.

4. Using The Same Strategies To Recognize All Of Your Star Employees

Everyone has their love language that changes how they perceive recognition at work. The best organizations understand and appreciate this. You might have a base experience to recognize all award recipients, but don't be afraid to mix things up and add a recognition experience that they can value and understand.

For example, if someone loves acts of service, it's okay to recognize them publicly, but you might also decide to get them an assistant for a week. Mix things up to ensure that this award feels like an award for every recipient.

5. Focusing Solely On This Award As Your Employee Recognition

Let's face it. This award can be demotivating for many of your team members throughout the year. Focusing exclusively on an employee of the month program puts your company at a disadvantage because this system can only award up to 12 employees per year. The best recognition is timely, frequent, and meaningful. Use this as a tool, but implement strategies to help build a culture of recognition at your organization.

For example, you can utilize a tool like Nectar to recognize colleagues consistently and timely. Nectar enables everyone in the company to take part in employee recognition. As a leader, you get access to helpful analytics to ensure that your people receive the recognition they deserve. As a team member, you can spend your monthly points recognizing the team members who have impacted that day, week, or month. Then, as your people get enough points, they can redeem them for prizes they enjoy.

Using a peer recognition platform is often a better use of company culture spending than an employee of the month program.

What Are The Benefits Of Creating An Staff Member Of The Month Program?

While peer recognition is typically an excellent strategy for building an authentic culture of recognition, there are some benefits to creating a monthly award system. Here are a few to think about:

This Award Is Typically Familiar To Employees And Their Future Job Prospects

Peer recognition is often disjointed for many organizations (until tools like Nectar helped centralize this feedback.) Monthly awards are widely used for companies across the globe. As much as companies hate to think about it, workers eventually leave. When talking to new employers about what you've accomplished, it's often easier to point to larger recognition like Employee Of The Month awards.

Employee Of The Month Programs Are Typically Easy To Administer For Busy Leaders

Most programs can still be run on pencil and paper. Getting started with this type of recognition can be an easy first step into improving your employee appreciation experience. If you keep the process streamlined and straightforward, you can typically take a few hours a month out of your schedule to run this awards program.

Awards Can Create Healthy Competition For Employees

When a staff member understands what it takes to win your organization's awards, these events can create healthy competition for your employees.

As we've shared, companies often make the mistake of creating a popularity contest and keeping the rubric a secret. Companies that are transparent with their workers can see huge benefits. Transparency isn't just about salaries. You need to create transparency in every aspect of your company culture. 

Nominations Alone Can Improve Workplace Performance

Some companies share compelling nominations with the employees who were nominated. While it can be disheartening to be constantly nominated while never winning, it can also have a massive impact on recognition. Hearing what your colleagues and managers say about your success can be heartwarming.

If you haven't been sharing these powerful nominations, now is the time to start doing that.

ideas to recognize employee of the month

10 Employee Of The Month Ideas Your Team Can Use Today

We understand that creating a culture of recognition takes time. If you want to start by offering a monthly recognition experience, here are some employee of the month ideas that will make your team's experience special.

1. Create A Traveling Award

One easy recognition idea is a traveling award. Traveling awards are fun because they help employee of the month winners bond. You can even have a passing of the torch ceremony for last month's winner to give the award to the new winner. Think about the Stanley Cup and how cool it is for the latest team to get their hands on the award that has circulated for decades.

  • Trophy: Get a nice trophy designed and pass it out to the winner for safekeeping each month.
  • Plaque: Get a traveling plaque with nameplates and add the winner's name to the award every month. 
  • Scrapbook: Create a scrapbook where each employee of the month winner can add a page of advice or letter and a picture. As employees win, you'll have a piece of company history that lives on past an employee's tenure at your organization.

2. Deliver A Custom Video Or Book For Each Winner

Who doesn't love something that they can cherish long after they've won an award? You can use a service like Cameo to get a custom video from a celebrity, or you can create one on your own with a tool like Tribute. Whichever route you choose to celebrate your people, make it count. At the end of the video, each winner should understand the value they bring to your organization. So don't be shy about creating a video that matters.

Create a personalized book for the winner if you want another way to show how much they mean to your organization. You can use online services like Shutterfly and Mixbook to craft a beautiful book for your employees. Work with colleagues to share the best pictures, fun letters, and words of wisdom for each employee of the month.

Record video of employee of the month

3. Schedule A Career Development Talk Based On Award Results

Award recipients are great candidates for career development and taking on more prominent roles at your organization. Embrace this by having company managers schedule a talk with everyone who wins your employee recognition award.

Most workers aren't getting enough career development talks. While one-on-ones can be a great place to talk about what's next, these weekly chats often focus on putting out fires and what's happening at the moment. Use your career development talk as an opportunity to zoom out so you can see where these star employees see themselves in a few years. How can you and your organization help them achieve their personal career goals?

4. Host A Monthly Celebration Lunch

Host a celebration lunch if you want to celebrate your award recipient while giving the entire team something. A great cadence would be monthly so you can focus on one winner. If that's not in the cards financially, you can also do this quarterly or yearly and lump celebrations together.

During your celebratory lunch, open up the floor for employees to share their personal stories about how the winners have impacted their careers.

When hosting a celebratory lunch, be careful to keep employee personalities top of mind. Some of your employees won't enjoy public recognition as much as others. Ensure that each employee you honor in this way is okay with this.

5. Offer Extra PTO For Award Winners

Unless your company has unlimited PTO, vacation days can often restrict your workers. Many companies offer a maximum of 1-2 weeks of paid leave, especially in the United States. You should strive to provide extra ways to acquire PTO at work, and winning employee of the month can be one way to do that.

Workers who win this award have given so much to your organization. They work hard every day, and they deserve a break. Try giving out an extra few days worth of PTO to people who win the award. Make it easy to redeem the time. Instead of saying "use it in the next month or lose it," let people redeem it up to a year after their win. Taking time off isn't always convenient or easy for employees, so it's best to let them decide when to use it.

6. Give Out A One-Time Bonus

Next, you could also offer award recipients a one-time bonus. Money is an essential resource for many people. Your colleagues could probably use some extra money to pay for expenses, treat themselves to dinner with family, or build a savings fund.

While giving out a bonus isn't always the most fun way to celebrate a team member, it is the most practical. Even a $100 bonus can make a significant difference, especially if any of your employees make at or just above minimum wage.

As your company's median wage increases, one-time bonuses will likely have less impact. However, it's important to note how your team is currently compensated if you utilize one-time bonuses for award winners.

7. Pay For An Experience

If your employees are in a better place financially, you might consider paying for an experience.

One of the generations that value experiences most are millennials. According to a study conducted by Eventbrite, "When deciding how to spend their money, 3 out of 4 Millennials would rather buy an experience than something desirable."

You can use this affinity to your advantage by offering an experience to award recipients. Here are a couple of options to help you create an experience for your team members:

  • Dinner and a movie date night
  • Hotel stay
  • Concert tickets
  • Shopping spree
  • Great seats at a local sports event
  • Indoor skydiving
Custom experience reward

8. Create Unique Company Swag For The Staff Member Of The Month

The virtual employee of the month idea you can utilize is creating unique company swag for staff members.

Company swag helps your team members feel like they are part of the family, and everyone loves getting something unique and awesome.

Maybe your staff members are known for wearing specific colors or wearing quirky socks. You can use a site like Bonfire to create and purchase swag in bulk or one-off. Whether you want to offer this item to everyone or just the winner is up to you.

 Are you struggling with the types of company swag to customize? Here's a list of meaningful company swag ideas.

9. Highlight Employees On Your Website And Social Media Platforms

Some of your employees will enjoy having something they screenshot or a link to share with family members. The best way to do that is by highlighting all award winners on your company's public platforms. Work with your organization's marketing and employer branding teams to highlight the work your team does every day.

Where do you post these highlights? Here are a couple of helpful ideas:

  • Interview and post about the winner on the company blog.
  • Share a picture and snippet about the award recipient on social media.
  • Feature the staff member in the company and customer-facing newsletter.

10. Host A Team Building Event That The Award Winner Chooses

The last idea you can use to support your team while celebrating your award winner is a fun team-building event. You can pick a few options and let the winner choose or leave it up to them with a budget in mind. You can also allow the entire company or just the winner's department to participate in the team-building event.

Here are a few team building events that you can suggest:

  • Paint and sip night
  • Book club
  • Trivia and board game night
  • Vision board creation
  • Escape room

Team building can be as expensive as you need it to be. There are many free team-building activities, while some may require a larger budget. You have to consider how much is reasonable to spend to celebrate your best people as a company.

Conclusion: Creating An Culture Of Recognition With Employee Of The Month Awards

Today we went through a lengthy discussion on employee of the month programs, mistakes companies make, benefits of these awards, and some ideas to make your award special. Hopefully, this article will guide you as you create a program that empowers and strengthens your workforce. Creating a culture of recognition doesn't happen overnight. By implementing a program like this, you take a small step to improve work-life for all of your current and future hires.


Actionable workplace tips & insights for fellow people lovers

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