10 Employee Recognition Ideas for Small Business Leaders

10 Employee Recognition Ideas for Small Business Leaders

Small businesses don’t have an unlimited budget when it comes to employee recognition. However, employee recognition is an integral component of company success. It gives your employees a sense of purpose and pride. You want to highlight your team’s wins without negatively impacting profit.


We’ve talked to 10 small business leaders and compiled a few ways you can give your employees the recognition they deserve without breaking the bank.



Give Kudos

We collect shoutouts every week to give kudos to the team. Anyone can highlight another team member’s success. In our weekly newsletter, we will list out all of the shoutouts so our entire team can see what wins we’ve got in other departments. We’ve seen much higher engagement and overall better communication from everyone since starting this!

Megan Chiamos, Cannabis ERP Software



Remind Them They’re Making a Difference

Budgets are often limited in a small business setting. However, the need to be recognized for employee contribution is magnified in a smaller team. Simply put, employees need to feel like they are making a difference.


At our small business, we have created a bonus structure that rewards our employee’s efforts. For starters, they are paid a competitive base salary. In addition, employees have the opportunity to bonus based on both individual effort and team performance. They are paid a percentage of the profits brought that month.  As the business grows, everyone has more money in their pocket. There is no cap on earning potential. Not only are they paid well, but there is an incentive to grow. As employees take ownership of their responsibilities; they are entrusted to produce and are then recognized with immediate rewards, when doing so. The small business becomes more than just a job, it is part of who they are.

Dr. Levi Nelson DC, Begin Within Family Wellness



Learn Your Employees’ Love Languages

I think it’s always a good idea to ask employees how they like to be recognized. Instead of having a “one size fits all” recognition, find out if they like gifts, outings, public recognition, an appreciation dinner, or whatever. Akin to the “love languages,” learn your team’s recognition language.

Susan Bernstein,



Share an Experience

Every year our team makes a trip from Chicago to Phoenix to attend the Waste Management Open. Getting out of Chicago in February, and enjoying the “greatest show on grass” in the Arizona sunshine is a blast. But more importantly, the trip is a way to say “thank you” through a shared experience. When a team goes through a fun experience together, it is a perfect way to help everyone feel recognized for their contributions.

Michael Bratta, Interim HR



Foster a Culture of Praise

We did this at a past employer by creating little postcard “accolades” that employees could fill out recognizing the efforts of their co-workers. They were dropped in a bin and each month “winners” were pulled. Both the person who wrote the accolade and the recipient received a gift card. All of the cards were passed out. Employees would hang them in their offices or at their desks with pride.

Rebecca Longawa, Halong Esports



Share Peer WOWs

During our weekly all-team meeting, employees have an opportunity to award “Peer WOWs” to each other. It’s a chance for employees to call out when another team member has been especially helpful or gone above and beyond in a project, or for a customer. The WOW recipients get the recognition of the whole company, and they get a $25 gift card to wherever they choose. Each employee can give one Peer WOW per month. We have 20 employees, so this could potentially cost $500 every month if every employee used their Peer WOW. But we’ve found that our team actually awards Peer WOWs sparingly, only for the really exceptional acts — and on average, only about 4 Peer WOWs are handed out each month, which costs $100.

Patrick Sullivan Jr., Jigsaw Health



Practice Public Praise

Public praise is one of the most cost-effective, and just downright effective methods for recognizing employees who go above and beyond. Outside of that, monthly department awards voted on by peers is an excellent way to make sure all voices are heard.

Michael Norris, Youtech



What’s Their “Why”?

The adage goes like this, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The heart of that is this: no matter what you’re trying to transfer to them; it ultimately falls short if they feel it comes from a self-serving place. The first step to recognition is personally listening to people. Have a conversation with them. What’s their “why?” Build from there.

Nick Herrera, Marketing 360



Free Products

That’s an easy one for us…free product! As a phone case and screen protection company, we use our own products within our employee recognition program. If an employee has done a great job, we may gift them one of the favorite phone cases as a small gesture to say “thank you.” Whatever business you are in, think about how you can incorporate your products or services into employee recognition.

Peter Babichenko, Sahara Case



Recognize Frequently, Evenly, and Without Discrimination

Being a first-time CEO has taught me one thing about employee recognition: provide it often in any way possible. As much as I think I’m providing too much positive recognition, I realize that I’m just scratching the surface. Distribute recognition frequently, evenly, and without discrimination. People truly need it to keep persevering.

Brett Farmiloe, Markitors