Getting Started with Staff Recognition

101 ways to reward your employees

By Joe DeLuce, CPRP

101 Ways to Reward Your Employees

Per the title of this article, here are a 101 more ways to reward your staff:

- say thanks
- written notes
- smile
- praise staff at meetings
- involve staff
- listen
- promote staff
- latitude to do job
- public praise
- job swapping
- evaluate agency
- open door
- use staff ideas
- give credit
- inform staff
- say Hi!
- conduct rounds
- evaluate staff
- set own goals
- acting supervisor
- budget supplements
- ask for advice
- job title change
- training retreats
- regular meetings
- highlight in brochure
- highlight in paper
- temp parking space
- staff of the month
- staff award program
- years of service award
- kudos kard program
- staff volunteer award
- 110% award
- employee idea award
- spirit of Fred award
- top banana award
- customer care award
- misc. contests
- free passes
- day off
- staff outings
- casual dress day
- exercise time
- free classes
- family pool pass
- road rally for staff
- book or magazine
- CD or tape
- answer telephone
- special coupon
- better office
- service pins

- award named for staff
- hall of fame photos
- e-mail a thanks
- staff thank other staff
- post-its all over office
- homemade cookies
- cook breakfast
- party at your house
- contests at meetings
- staff host a meeting
- staff committees
- community meetings
- discounts for staff
- birthday cards
- goodie bag
- make a sticker
- gold stars
- casino party
- pay for education
- 5-year $500 bonus
- staff events
- pay staff more money
- ask for input
- staff newsletter
- attend conferences
- staff jackets
- gift certificates
- cross pen
- lunch with the boss
- movie at lunch
- ugly tie contest
- note on business card
- paper-clip jewelry
- soft drink
- flexible work hours
- wow cards for staff
- monthly potlucks
- make a card
- staff in training video
- free massage
- candy bar
- hot-air balloon ride
- rent a car
- cookout
- rent a billboard
- facility plaque
- letter of recognition
- tickets to events

When I started my career as a parks and recreation professional, I was lucky enough to read the book The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. This simple book really made sense and helped me form my philosophy on managing staff. The keys to the One Minute Manager were very simple:

  • Set goals and objectives with your staff, so everyone knows what is expected.
  • Catch people doing something right and tell them about it as soon as possible.
  • If they do something wrong, coach them in the right way of doing it.

If everyone followed these simple rules, just think how much happier and successful staff would be at work and at home. Over the years, I have worked hard at recognizing and rewarding my staff and have tried to create a management style that included this simple but effective method of letting people know what is expected of them and letting them know when they do something right.

A few years ago, I attended a session on rewarding and recognizing employees by Bob Nelson, who once worked with Ken Blanchard. Bob was promoting his new book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, which really helped me create some new ideas on rewarding staff and doing it very inexpensively.

Who would ever think that giving an employee a handwritten note with a gold sticker on it would mean so much to an employee. I often see the handwritten notes with gold stars on the walls in staff members' offices. It really makes me feel good that they appreciate the notes and are proud enough of them to put them on their walls.

Rewarding and recognizing employees can be that simple and inexpensive. In most cases, the simpler the better. Some of the more effective ways to reward your employees is to say thanks for a great job, give your employees a birthday card, and keep them posted on changes or new information that affects them. One of the most effective and least expensive methods is listening to your employees.

Inexpensive Ways to Reward Employees

Say Thanks
Handwritten note
Name a program after your employees
Promote from within
Praise staff at a public meeting
Make work fun
Create staff-training programs
Provide free use of your facilities for staff
Bring in food to your employees
Catch people doing something right and tell them about it

How can you get started in recognizing and rewarding your employees? The first step in recognizing employees is to get out of the office and see what is going on. It is very difficult to reward people for doing a good job if you are always sitting behind your desk.

When you catch someone doing something right, let him or her know about it sooner than later. Walk up and tell them in person right there and then, but you need to be really specific on what they did right. Never use the word "but" when telling someone they are doing an outstanding job. It does not sound positive when you say to the employee, "You did a great job planning the special event, but you could have done it differently."

If you are really good at writing notes, focus on writing notes to your staff or if you are really good at recognizing employees before a meeting, do it. The key is to do what you do best and just remember to do it.

Since every employee is different, you will need to work with your employees to find out what motivates them. One of the best methods in finding what motivates them is to simply ask them. Let them tell you how they are best motivated and even ask them to create a new employee recognition program on their own.

Many of you may be public employees and are wondering how you can reward staff with tax dollars? This is when you need to focus on what you can do and not what you can't do. Anyone can write a note or walk up to an employee and tell them they are doing a good job.

It does take practice, and you are not going to do it perfect at first, but the more you recognize staff, the better you will become at making your employees feel appreciated.

Especially in the parks and recreation field, we need to make work fun and interesting for our employees; if not, it will show when our customers come to us for fun.

If you are still wondering what else you can do to recognize and reward your employees, here are a few more ideas to implement:

  • Breakfast Meetings: Change up your meetings by having a meeting at local restaurant and buying breakfast for your staff. It is a welcome change from meeting in the same office all the time.
  • 110% Awards: At our monthly staff meeting, we present certificates to employees for going above and beyond the call of duty to make our park district better.
  • Turf Rodeo: This is a great activity for the recreation staff to put on for the operation staff. We set up an all-day activity for the maintenance workers that includes education sessions in the morning and a lunch provided by the vendors who displayed their equipment. In the afternoon, we set up some activities for the staff. The events included a pick-stick competition, obstacle course on a riding mower, crack an egg with a backhoe, and a tug of war competition.

Joseph DeLuce is currently the director of recreation for the Champaign Park District in Illinois. Many of the ideas for this article come from Bob Nelson's book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and from the author's own personal experience of recognizing park and recreation employees for the past 22 years. Joseph can be reached at

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