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4 Meaningful Ways to Recognize Exceptional Employees

David Farschon | Dec 17, 2016 350 views 3 Comments

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During this holiday season, many managers are grappling with annual performance reviews, year-end bonuses, and planning for 2017. It may surprise some that money isn’t the most effective recognition of a job well done. According to a global survey of more than 1,000 executives, non-financial incentives can be a more effective motivator than financial incentives.

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The impact of financial incentives is often short-lived. The reason being employees typically use cash bonuses to pay down debt or purchase everyday items that lack emotional value.

While year-end is a common time to dole out performance-based cash bonuses, this practice tends not to recognize the value of employee contributions in a timely manner. Thoughtful customer experience (CX) Leaders have found ways to consistently recognize employees throughout the year for a job well done. Here are 4 ways to recognize exceptional employees that have a greater impact and longer-lasting effect on employee engagement.

1. Celebrating Successes with Personalized Notes Of Thanks From Company Leaders

An effective leader understands the importance of showing appreciation and its importance in creating a work environment where employees feel valued. While publicly recognizing an employee’s contributions in front of their peers is one effective way of recognizing exceptional employees, CX leaders have found that a personalized, sincere note of thanks can also have a positive impact.

As discussed in our recent article, How CX Leaders Motivate and Reward Employee Excellence , one Fortune 100 company uses voice of the customer (VoC) feedback noting outstanding employee performance. After reviewing the customer’s feedback, managers can create recognition letters that include the customer’s comments, along with a sincere thank you endorsed by a VP.



Typically, there are 10 to 15 commendation letters each month—out of hundreds of thousands of interactions. They are highly coveted by employees, since they come from senior leadership and highlight uncommonly great feedback from customers.

2. Encouraging Employee Interests With Small, Tangible Gifts

Small, tangible gifts can serve as an ongoing reminder of the employer’s appreciation of the employee’s effort. These gifts are most meaningful when they tie into the employee’s personal interests or passions.

Effective managers take the time to get to know their employees personally—and use this insight to match the gift to the interests of the recipient. For example, managers should consider getting an electronic fitness tracker for the fitness fanatic or the latest tech gadget for the technophile. Movie buffs might enjoy tickets to a swanky theater that serves drinks and sushi, while a foodie would value a gift certificate to a chic new restaurant. Such personalized gifts show employees genuine appreciation.

3. Building Interpersonal Relationships Through New Experiences

Recognizing the accomplishments of teams can sometimes be difficult due to the diverse interests of different team members. For many companies, the team lunch has become the de facto method of celebrating a team’s success.

However, CX leaders think outside the box and look for innovative ways to recognize teams that collectively demonstrate excellence. At eTouchPoint, managers have treated teams to an afternoon at the ballpark and a visit to an escape / puzzle room. These outings are ways to thank the team with the added benefit of team building and deepening the interpersonal relationships among coworkers.

4. Creating Lasting Memories with Paid Vacations

One of the most impactful gifts a company can bestow on its most valuable employees is a paid vacation for the employee and their family or friends. This type of gift demonstrates the value of the employee to those that care about them most and enables them to create lasting memories with their loved ones.

Depending on budget, these gifts can range from passes to a local theme park to an all-expense paid trip to a tropical destination. One illustration of the impact created by these kinds of gifts is that my in-laws still talk about the trip to Hawaii that my father-in-law’s company gave them over 20 years ago. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them and they are grateful for the lasting memories they have as a family from this trip. From an employee engagement perspective, my father-in-law was deeply committed to the company until the day he retired.

Finding Innovative Ways to Reward Exceptional Employees

CX Leaders realize the importance of finding innovative ways to recognize their exceptional employees that are personal, thoughtful, and memorable. While some may argue that bonus checks and gift cards are tried-and-true methods for employee recognition, few would suggest that these demonstrate a personalized knowledge of your employees. Additionally, these are hardly memorable when used to pay bills or everyday expenses.

I challenge you to deepen employee engagement in 2017 by finding new and thoughtful ways to recognize your employees. Happy Holidays!

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3 Responses to 4 Meaningful Ways to Recognize Exceptional Employees

  1. Bill Fotsch December 18, 2016 at 3:52 am (12 comments) #

    Did we miss promote them, and pay them more, commensurate with their expanded responsibilities???

  2. David Farschon December 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm (1 comment) #

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. The aim of this piece was to help leaders look for specific alternatives to recognize top performers beyond traditional, year-end bonuses.

    Promotions with commensurate salary increases are always good choices, whenever possible. In our experience, having many reward strategies available is the best way to motivate employees at every phase of their career.

  3. Andrew Rudin December 21, 2016 at 11:11 am (177 comments) #

    Hi David: I have no doubt that some employees would welcome these tokens of appreciation, and their families might similarly view them in a positive way. The difficulty is in determining what constitutes an exceptional effort. Many employees provide high value in the everyday, routine performance of their jobs. With the possible exception of a company-paid vacation to an exotic resort, it shouldn’t be a stretch to offer these tokens to any employee who might create a valuable result and receive a customer accolade.

    All of your recommendations are sensible. But it’s important to understand what’s exceptional in the context of the performer’s job requirements. If the employee’s performance was truly exceptional, and if it’s appropriate to offer a recognition in the first place, the recognition must be exceptional, too. Otherwise, there’s a high probability that management’s gesture will be perceived as patronizing or trivial, and backfire.

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