In 2020, leaders are more curious than ever before about how to show employee recognition in new, creative ways.

After all, this year posed all kinds of new challenges, from economic to health and social and everything in between.

And for many of us, the working environment was entirely different.

Those who worked in an office environment for decades may have suddenly found themselves working from their couch for months on end. Like you, your employees have had to adapt this year.

As the year draws to a close (am I the only one ready to welcome a new year?) we finish projects, come together (yet socially distanced) to celebrate the holidays, and get ready for new challenges in 2021.

For leaders, this time of year also provides an amazing opportunity for creating or fostering real engagement and team commitment. And the way to do it is so simple and elegant.

By the way, if your employees are struggling to accept changes at work, read this post.

The importance of employee recognition

Even during a year not fraught with challenges the way 2020 has been, employee recognition is incredibly important.

And year-end is the perfect time to thank your employees. I’m not talking about the Christmas party (it’s likely not happening this year anyway!), the annual performance assessments, or bonuses.

What I am referring to is an honest, genuine thank you.

As a society, we focus on endings and new beginnings at this time of year.

Most organizations will be assessing progress on 2020 goals and starting the next goal-setting cycle for 2021.

In our personal lives, we take stock of the past 12 months, ring in the New Year, and make resolutions.

It’s natural, then, for employees to look for closure on the past year at work.

Year-end can be much more than reflecting on whether team goals were achieved – it can be a time for celebration and a time for honest thank yous for the time and effort given and behaviours demonstrated throughout the year.

This is particularly true if personal or team goals were not met or the company had a difficult year. And for many businesses and teams, no year has been more difficult than this one.

(Here’s how to “goal set” yourself up for a positive year!)

How to thank your employees

The best way to thank an employee is in person. But that’s not always possible right now, so aim for a phone or video call rather than an email or text message.

Discuss specific actions and achievements in a private meeting along with acknowledgment of positive behaviours and resilience shown in challenging times.
Make it personal, genuine, and real. Ensure it is all about the thank-you and don’t talk about anything else.

In addition to this, whether you have a budget or not, there are many creative and fabulous ways you can thank your employees. In return, you’re likely to find your efforts rewarded with increased engagement, employees who feel valued, and improved workplace culture.

Here are ten great ideas to get you started.

Creative methods of employee recognition

  • Share team summaries and thanks on social media. Do it as a group or individually – but be sure to include everyone if you call out individuals.
  • Take your employees out for coffee or lunch – on you – and don’t talk about work.
  • Bring them in a treat for a team meeting that you cooked or baked yourself.
  • Employee Auction: Give employees play money and let them bid on things that you will do for them like do their job for a day, chair a meeting for them, or loan them your parking spot…get creative. Donate an amount equivalent to the play money used to a charity at the end to make this one even better.
  • Give your employees an afternoon off to do holiday shopping or preparation.
  • Jeans or casual day (that is if you’re still working from the office!)
  • Donate your time to a charity as a team
  • Give them time-off coupons: 15 to 20-minute coupons that they can use in the upcoming year
  • Have an off-site day: Have your team meet and work at a coffee shop, library, or other public places that has wifi for a day. Dress casual, hang out with each other and avoid being interrupted by phone calls and drive-by meetings.
  • Daily Wins week: Every day of the week, showcase one of your employees’ achievements. If you have a large team, extend this to the last two to three weeks of the year. You can use a traveling trophy for this one too.

Our thanks to you

In alignment with this blog, ACTivate HR would like to thank you for reading our blogs, sharing and liking them on social media, and partnering with us for your workplace investigation and HR solution needs!

Don’t forget to like us on Linked in and Contact us at for more information on how we can partner in your success!

Did you learn a lot from this post about employee recognition? Here are three more to check out:

Workplace Investigations: Getting Past “I Don’t Know”
Effective Communication Techniques to Bring Your Workplace Harassment Policy to Life
Effectively Investigating Workplace Bullying and Harassment Hazards and Incidents

This post was originally published in 2017. It has been updated in 2020 just for you!