It is a common misconception in business that the only thing employees respond to are incentive programs in which there is an award or reward with some sort of cash value attached. You may be surprised to learn, however, that employees often value recognition over other incentivized programs.

The booming success of social media, where individuals can brag at will about themselves and their accomplishments should provide a key insight into the real values the majority of human beings hold. We crave recognition.

As a result, companies that institute some sort of performance recognition program within their company will most likely see a striking increase in performance overall. The best part about performance recognition programs is that they don't require companies to come up with large sums of money to provide incentivized rewards. Sometimes all people want is a public pat on the back or a moment of praise or recognition.

Here are 5 ideas for how to recognize employee achievement:

1. Give awards

Many companies already have holiday Christmas parties or other company-wide celebrations throughout the year. This year, instead of just having a "party," have an awards banquet instead, where you recognize employee contributions and give awards. They don't have to be trophies or statues, since it's not really the award that means the most anyway, but the recognition that is important.

2. Ask your employees what they would like to be recognized for

Too many times, Executives assume they know what their employees want, when they really don't. Sometimes, employees want to be recognized for things that it would never occur to a boss or executive to recognize them for. That's why it's very important to actually include your employees in this process and get feedback from them as to what they would like to see happen or be recognized for.

3. Make recognition a regular occurrence

While yearly banquets are great, you can also make it a point to recognize smaller achievements on a regular basis. Set aside a few moments in each staff meeting to recognize the daily and weekly exemplary work of your employees. It just might be that as you start to publicly recognize good work among your employees, you might find them starting to offer more of it.

4. Take a few moments to immediately recognize "milestone" achievements

Paper certificates are a hugely inexpensive way to recognize your employees, so use them liberally – but not so liberally they lose all value and meaning. Be sure and recognize employees when they meet or exceed sales or team goals, land clients or have big wins. Perhaps even more importantly, be sure and recognize support staff when the senior staff has big wins, because senior staff is only as good as the employees that support them.

5. Never underestimate the value of a $5 gift card

While paper certificates are an inexpensive way to recognize employee achievement, $5 – or other small denomination – gift cards are also an excellent way to give a small but meaningful bonus. Be sure, however, that they are gift cards that can actually be used to purchase something at that denomination. Starbucks gift cards, gas cards or cards for a local grocery store are great, but a $5 gift card for a store that doesn't even offer anything for less than $50 is not so great.

Whatever you do and however you do it, just remember that people love to be recognized for what they do. A little ongoing recognition for everyone may ultimately have far more value than a big bonus or huge vacation for a few of your best employees.

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