Free Employee Recognition Ideas

Before I talk about free employee recognition ideas, first let’s talk about one fundamental recognition guideline:

In order to properly manage the performance of your direct reports, your recognition must always be based on the performance of your employees – and since performance is the sum of results plus behavior, your recognition must be based on both criteria:

  • It must be based according to how much your employee contributed to the bottom line – results.
  • And also, it must be based according to how much your employee’s behaviors are aligned with your organization’s values.

    Note: To read more about performance management, take a look at my definition of performance management page.

    When the recognition of your direct reports is based on performance – on both criteria – you accomplish three things:

  • You motivate your employees to continue reaching goals – results.
  • You encourage your employees to embody the right behaviors – right behaviors are those behaviors that are aligned with your organization’s values.
  • You use “recognition” as a high-profile vehicle of promoting your organization’s strategy (goals) and values – which in turn are aligned with your company’s mission and vision.

    In other words, all employees must be eligible for the recognition; but no one is recognized unless the eligible employee delivers the expected results AND embodies the behavioral values of the organization.

    Whatever type of recognition you choose to give, just make sure it is aligned with your organization’s mission, values, vision, and strategy.

    If your company has a consistent process for determining rewards and recognition for employees (if it doesn’t, build one), it’ll be much easier for you to know whether the recognition you intend to deliver is aligned with it or not.

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    Free Employee Recognition Ideas

    First of all, congratulations for thinking about recognizing your employees!

    Honest employee recognition is one of the most powerful ways to motivate your workforce.

    There are virtually thousands of free employee recognition ideas. Here we give you The Idea with the most impact that you can use on a daily basis.

    Positive Feedback:

    Think about the last time your boss walked up to you, and with full sincerity, s/he congratulated you for doing such a wonderful job – s/he was so genuine, that even today you can clearly feel the honesty and excitement in his/her words of praise.

    How did that make you feel?

    I have asked this very same question to hundreds of managers, and invariably all of them always gave the same answer: That experience made them feel great!

    Genuine positive feedback is one of the best ways to recognize a human being – especially a direct report.

    Unfortunately, positive feedback is one of the most underused and misused recognition mechanisms.

    However, when properly done, it is one of the most powerful recognition methods there are – not only in the workplace arena, but also in just about any setting where living beings are involved.

    There are free employee recognition ideas by the thousands, but few are as effective as genuine positive feedback.

    In order to properly deliver it, all you need to do is to follow six guidelines:

  • 1) FREQUENT: Give it in at least 4:1 ratio (where 4 represents the number of times you provide Positive Feedback, and 1 represents the number of times you provide Constructive Feedback), so your ratio may be 5:1, or 6:1, etc., but never less (i.e., 3:1)
  • 2) IMMEDIATE: Provide it within the first 24 hours
  • 3) SPECIFIC: Focus on behavior – be facts based (erase the word “Attitude” from your vocabulary)
  • 4) SINCERE: Sincerity is related to what you say and how you say it
  • 5) PERSONAL: Express how you feel, be yourself
  • 6) UNIQUE: Don’t mix Positive Feedback with Constructive Feedback (and never give negative feedback)


  • If any of these six guidelines is missing in the Positive Feedback you provide to each one of your employees, your recognition efforts will stop there – they will be perceived as recognition, but they won’t be able to increase desired behavior – you must follow all six guidelines if you want to truly recognize and motivate your people to increase desired behavior.
  • If you make the mistake of providing mechanical positive feedback, routine recognition (as in “I must give this positive feedback so I will just do it and get it over with”), and/or dishonest appreciation, your feedback will backfire, you will be perceived as dishonest, your employees won’t feel truly recognized, and you will de-motivate them instead.
  • To learn more about feedback and how to use it as a management tool, take a look at our how to give negative feedback page.

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    You can adapt as many free employee recognition ideas to these six guidelines as your imagination allows you – just make sure you follow them to a T.

    To keep on learning about the skills you need to lead the performance of your entire organization, go back to the previous page, or click here and continue reading in a sequential order.

    To learn more about the skills you need to manage the performance of your direct reports, go to my Management Skills page.

    If you would like your organization to put into practice free employee recognition ideas using some of the principles I talked about on this page through my speaking or consulting services, please click on this link.

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