Employee recognition

Why it Matters [+30 Ideas to Get Started] (2022)

As a retailer, your employees are your best asset. Losing them can cost you, from the time it takes to fill their role to the costs of recruiting, onboarding, training, and lost productivity.

According to Built In, the average cost to replace an hourly employee is $1,500. The employee turnover rate in the retail industry in the US? Almost 60%, according to the 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

The best thing you can do to retain your employees is to recognize them for their work and how that supports the business as a whole. Enter: employee recognition. In this guide, you’ll learn what makes employee recognition so important and 30 ideas for employee appreciation. 

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is the act of appreciation and acknowledgement for your employees and their contribution to your store’s success.

As an employer, you can implement a range of recurring or ad hoc employee recognition ideas. This way, you recognize and reward your employees’ dedication to your business and customers. When done right, employee recognition can give your employees a sense of belonging. It can energize them, motivate them, and give them a sense of fulfillment.

The best thing about employee recognition is that it’s effective no matter how simple or elaborate you make it.

In his case study on the relationship between employee recognition and employee productivity, entrepreneur Bockarie Sama Banya reviewed existing literature about this topic and wrote:

“No matter how large or small the company is, and likewise, no matter how large or small the token of appreciation is, thanking someone for their patronage or hard work is just as good a catalyst for peak employee productivity or performance at a cheap cost as any other employee motivation programs.”

Why is employee recognition important?

Improves employee retention

Employee retention depends on many things. Employee engagement and motivation are a big part of it. Of course, some employee turnover is inevitable, but your employee recognition efforts can help reduce it to a minimum.

When employees feel recognized at their workplace, they feel proud and fulfilled. They want to do more of what they were rewarded for—and they’re less likely to look for an alternative.

Increases productivity

Feeling appreciated at work leads to doing that work better and more efficiently.

A 2019 study confirmed a significant positive effect of employee rewards and recognition on employee performance.

Employee recognition lets you signal to your employees that the work they’ve done made an impact. For example: the way they talk to repeat customers, their approach to returns, their positive attitude on the shop floor, the great idea they had about organizing the stockroom.

If they’re aware of the positive impact they’ve created, they’ll do more of it.

Builds a strong culture

A company culture includes your store’s attitudes, values, behaviors, and habits. It defines how employees treat customers and each other. Your store already has a culture, even if you haven’t defined it intentionally.

You can build up and strengthen that culture through employee recognition. For example, if you repeatedly reward innovation, kindness, autonomy, and collaboration, you’ll create more of it.

The opposite also stands true. If you let your employees get away with being rude toward a customer or a colleague, that behavior will find its place in your culture. That’s why employee recognition plays such a big role in nurturing the right behaviors and accomplishments.


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Types of employee recognition

  1. Monetary
  2. Non-monetary
  3. Personal
  4. Public

Each of these types of employee recognition can be effective in different situations and circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Monetary

Monetary employee recognition is a financial incentive, like a pay increase or a bonus. Gift cards and vouchers (for shops or restaurants, for example) also belong in this category.

Financial rewards can be as small as a $5 gift card when done on a frequent basis, or larger if you offer them on a monthly or quarterly basis. Smaller, frequent ones can be particularly effective, as you can award them almost instantly after a job well done.

2. Non-monetary

The opposite of financial rewards are acts of acknowledgement and appreciation for the employee that don’t include explicit monetary value.

Some examples include a social media shoutout, a thank you note, additional time off, and surprise treats or days out.

Keep in mind: dozens of studies have shown that money isn’t always the best motivator, and that employees are more engaged at work when intrinsically motivated.

Non-monetary employee recognition can play a key role here.

3. Personal

Personal employee recognition is private. It happens one-on-one, just between the person giving recognition and the employee receiving it. It can be done face-to-face, over email, or on the phone. 

This approach has the benefit of being more personalized, intimate, and confidential. It can help your employee feel seen and heard.

4. Public

Public recognition can happen within a smaller team (for example, your branch) or in front of the whole company (for example, all branches of your store).

Awards, certificates, and any form of public praise demonstrates your commitment to your employees and the company culture. It celebrates individual contributions and encourages peer-to-peer recognition, too.

Building an employee recognition program

  • Create goals and action plans for employee recognition
  • Be specific about each act of recognition
  • Ensure criteria is fair, clear, and consistent
  • Implement peer-to-peer recognition
  • Provide immediate feedback

Building an effective employee recognition program is critical to building a successful retail business. Employee recognition programs can establish a positive culture, increase productivity, and improve employee retention. Let’s look at some of helpful tips for building a powerful employee recognition program.

Create goals and action plans for employee recognition

Instead of trying to implement too many things and hoping that one of them sticks, make your employee recognition intentional. Just like you have goals and plans for your store, you need goals and plans for your employee recognition efforts.

Even better: align your employee recognition programs with your company values. In Make Their Day!, a book about employee recognition, author Cindy Ventrice analyzed what works for Pella, a brand known for its window and door products.

One of Pella’s company values is innovation. To encourage innovation, Pella’s VP of engineering asks teams to prepare a presentation with their most innovative idea that quarter. Management rates those ideas and the winning team gets a trophy—a 12-inch version of a Pella window—which they keep for the next quarter, when it all starts again.

Figure out the actions that you know will make your store more productive and efficient.

Be specific about each act of recognition

Adding to the previous point: instead of rewarding someone for being the “employee of the month,” reward them for certain behaviors like great customer service or a creative floor display.

Get specific, accurate, and personal. Otherwise, your employee recognition efforts might be counterproductive if you’re only recognizing general work and ignoring distinct accomplishments.

💡 PRO TIP: To see your store staff’s average order value, units per transaction, total sales, and more, view the Sales by staff at register report in Shopify admin.

Ensure criteria is fair, clear, and consistent

Your employees need to see that everyone has an equal chance of receiving recognition for their efforts, and that you don’t play favorites.

When you recognize one of your employees, make sure it’s easy to see why and that the criteria is clear and easy to understand.

For example, if you start giving employees a free lunch every time they receive a compliment from a customer, they’ll come to expect a free lunch every time this happens. If you stop doing that, the action will become ineffective—and your employees may become bitter.

Implement peer-to-peer recognition

While you would like to think that as a retail manager your word is enough of a reward, the reality is that your employees would also like to be recognized and acknowledged by their peers.

One survey revealed that 82% of employees consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work and that it influences their relationship with peers.

Coworkers are intimately familiar with each other’s day-to-day work, so when they acknowledge each other for their efforts, it can have a meaningful impact.

You can encourage this in many ways, from nominations to public leaderboards. In addition, companies like Achievers and Workhuman offer cloud-based solutions that make this process easy.

Provide immediate feedback

When your employee does something great, don’t wait for the next quarterly or annual review to let them know. Recognize and reward that behavior as soon as possible.

As many as 85% of employees who check in with their manager weekly report higher engagement levels.

Make employee recognition a priority and a habit, rather than an afterthought, so your employees can feel its highest impact possible.

30 employee recognition ideas

These 30 ideas include all types of recognition: monetary, non-monetary, private, and public. Different employees will react differently to each idea.

The best way to know which ideas to try is to learn more about your employees. Make an effort to ask them questions like:

  • How do you like to mark your achievements?
  • How do you prefer to be recognized: privately only, or publicly and privately?
  • Do you like celebrating your birthday?
  • What holidays do you celebrate?
  • What are your favorite activities/food and drinks/ways to relax?

The best employee recognition type is one that your employees find rewarding.

1. Give appreciation cards

These are simply cards you give out every time you want to reward an employee’s behavior. You can give one to three cards each week. The cards can be for a local business, such as a café or a bookstore, for an amount between $2 and $10.

2. Host a lunch drawing

Set up a peer-to-peer recognition program and enter your employee’s name into a jar every time they recognize one of their colleagues. The more times they acknowledge their peers, the higher the chance their name will be chosen. At the end of the week, draw out two names from the jar and send them out to lunch.

3. Show praise on social media

Take to your store’s social media channels and profile an employee who went an extra mile for a customer or contributed to the store’s success with a great idea. Introduce them to your followers and encourage them to come into the store and meet the employee themselves.

Straub Brewery put a spotlight on one of their long-time employees on Twitter:

4. Offer secret surprises

If an employee goes above and beyond the call of duty, surprise them by including a bonus in their paycheck or with a gift card to their favorite lunch spot.

5. Send them a card

Send a handwritten note directly to your employee’s home to show them how much you appreciate their efforts. Make your note timely and specific to your employee’s recent accomplishment and impact.

6. Extend the lunch break

If you see an employee going above and beyond, reward them by doubling the amount of time they can take for their lunch break. If you want to recognize a group, have that lunch catered in.

7. Leave notes of appreciation

Instead of sending a note to their home, you can also leave a handwritten sticky note or a card for your employee in the workplace—on their mug, water bottle, or locker, for example.

8. Organize a team outing

Treat your employees to a few hours of quality time outside of work. Alcohol-based activities can exclude some employees, so find something that works for everyone. Bowling, escape rooms, and board games are good examples of activities you can plan.

9. Host team nominations

The alternative version of the lunch drawing idea is to set up weekly or monthly nominations. Your employees can vote for a team member who did a particularly great job and brainstorm a small prize to award them.

10. Share customer feedback with all employees

When an employee receives praise from a customer, share it with everyone in the company. You can do so on a board in the break room or through an internal company-wide email.

💡 PRO TIP: To see how much a customer has spent with you when shopping both at your store and online, select their customer profile in Shopify POS.

11. Make a habit of giving positive feedback

When an employee does something well, compliment them for it right away. Handling a long queue of customers, diffusing a situation with a frustrated customer, upselling a customer to a higher-value product—use these as a cue to say “You did that really well!” to your employee.

12. Offer an early finish

Give your employee a chance to end their shift earlier and enjoy more free time that day—and get paid for the full shift, of course.

13. Offer a late start

Let your employee come in for their shift later and enjoy a longer morning or early afternoon.

14. Give surprise time off

Gift your employee an extra day off on top of their current paid time off. Of course, plan your staff schedule around that, but make it easy for the employee to pick a date for their extra day off.

15. Showcase achievements

When an employee creates an excellent result, put it front and center at your store or break room. This can include positive press coverage, a record sales day, a certificate, or an award.

16. Recognize their birthday

For employees who have shown they love celebrating their birthday, organize a cake, a card everyone signs, or a gift from the whole team.

17. Recognize their work anniversary

Reward employees who have been with you for a year or longer—remembering the date and thanking them for their patronage to your company can go a long way. If your budget allows it, pay them a bonus or increase their salary on their work anniversary.

18. Donate to a cause of their choice

Ask your employee about a cause they believe in and pledge a donation in their name. It’s a great way to support employees’ core values.

19. Personalize a gift

Give your employee a gift that’s closely tied to their hobbies or interests. For example, you can gift a set of spices to a cooking fan or specialty coffee beans to a coffee lover.

20. Highlight accomplishments every week

Have an internal newsletter you send regularly with key updates about your store? Use it to shine a light on employees who did great work. Every time you send it is a new chance to reflect on and recognize your employee’s hard work (and show them that good work is recognized!).

21. Bring in regular treats

Look for something your employees enjoy and bring it into the store regularly. Sweet treats, pizza, healthy snacks … whatever your team enjoys, delight them with it consistently (even once or twice per month is a great frequency).

22. Offer wellness opportunities

Make it easy for employees to put their health and well-being first. Offer employees options like mindfulness workshops, gym classes, or on-site massages.

23. Create a value-based award

If your company has strong values, like innovation or sustainability, select and acknowledge an employee every month that has done important work to contribute to that value.

24. Invest in their professional development

Reward an employee for great work by rewarding them credit toward a course or workshop they want to take, either online or in-person.

25. Improve your store’s break room

Make a point of improving your break room. This can include comfortable chairs or bean bags, a quality microwave, colorful wall art, or books. Ask your employees what they’d love to have in the break room and make it a regular effort.

26. Close your store for a day

If you can, choose a day to completely close down your store. This can be a day to have fun with your employees in a non-work environment, or just a regular day off. Make sure you communicate this date to your customer in advance.

Take this example from City Base Cinemas Cincinnati, who closed down their cinemas for the day to give employees time to rest:

27. Host a lunch

Get your employees—and their partners, if you wish—together for company lunch. Choose between a picnic/barbecue version or a restaurant lunch.

28. Give an experiential gift

Instead of a physical token of appreciation, give an employee something they can experience, like tickets to a concert, a sports game, an adventure park, or something else you know they’d enjoy.

29. Add all employees to your website

Featuring your employees on your About Us page doesn’t have to be limited to tech companies and agencies. Showcase their names, faces, and personalities so your customers can connect with the people serving them in the store.

30. Give random surprises

Organize a treat for your employees and don’t announce it until it arrives. It can be anything from flowers with a meaningful note in the break room to ordering their favorite lunch that gets delivered to the store.

Build your own employee recognition program

One thing’s for sure: employee happiness, motivation, and retention don’t happen by accident.

Use this list as a starting point for recognizing and rewarding your employees for an excellent job they do. Start with a few that match your budget and capacity and build up from there. Don’t hesitate to ask your employees for feedback—it will help you make your efforts even more meaningful.

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