Low Cost Ideas


From 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees © Bob Nelson, Ph.D.


In my doctoral research on why managers use or don’t use recognition with their employees, I found the top variable distinguishing those managers who use recognition was that they had each internalized the importance of the practice and felt it was their responsibility—not Corporate’s or Human Resources’—to create the motivational environment for their people.  They truly believed that recognizing their deserving employees played an integral part in how those workers felt about their jobs. Since our behaviors stem from our beliefs, this belief improved their ability to look for, and act upon, opportunities to recognize others, and to do so on a daily basis.

This finding coincides amazingly well with what my research shows are the most important ways that employees prefer to be recognized when they do good work—that is, simple day-to-day behaviors that any manager can express with their employees, the most important of which is praise. The best praise is done soon, specifically, sincerely, personally, positively, and proactively. In a matter of seconds, a simple praise conveys, “I saw what you did, I appreciate it, here’s why it’s important, and here’s how it makes me feel”—a lot of punch in a small package! 

Four out of the top ten categories of motivators reported by employees in my research are the following:  personal praise, written praise, electronic praise, and public praise.  Now you might say, “Are these really different types of praise?  Doesn’t any type of praise have the same effect?”  This was my initial thought too, but I learned that these types of praise are mutually exclusive, that is, they are distinct from one another.  To praise someone in person means something different to that person than to write him or her a note or praise, and these forms of praise are both different from praising the person in public. To get the maximum impact out of this simple behavior, vary the forms you use, and use them all frequently. 

I have never run into anyone who says “I’ve just had it up to here with you telling me how good I am! Knock it off!!”  The truth is while other forms of recognition may lose their luster or have a diminished impact with repeated use, effective praise never goes out of style…

Research by Dr. Gerald Graham of Wichita State University supports these observations. In multiple studies he found that the type of reward employees most preferred was personalized, instant recognition from their direct supervisors. In fact, in another survey of American workers, 63 percent of the respondents ranked “a pat on the back” as a meaningful incentive. In Graham’s studies, employees perceived that manager-initiated rewards for performance were done least often, and that company-initiated rewards for presence (that is, rewards based simply on being in the organization) occurred most often. Dr. Graham concluded, “It appears that the techniques that have the greatest motivational impact are practiced the least, even though they are easier and less expensive to use.”  Graham’s study determined the Top 5 Motivating Techniques reported by employees to be:

  1. The manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job.
  2. The manager writes personal notes about good performance.
  3. The organization uses performance as the basis for promotion.
  4. The manager publicly recognizes employees for good performance.
  5. The manager holds morale-building meetings to celebrate successes.

Only 42 percent of the respondents believed that their managers typically used the top motivating technique in which a manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job. Less than 25 percent of the respondents felt the other top factors were being typically used. Ideally, you should vary the ways you recognize your staff while still trying to do things on a day-to-day basis. For example, Robin Horder-Koop, manager of programs and services at Amway Corporation, the distributor of house and personal-care products and other goods in Ada, MI, uses these inexpensive ways to recognize the 200 people who work for her on a day-to-day basis:

  • On days when some workloads are light, the department’s employees help out workers in other departments. After accumulating eight hours of such work, employees get a thank-you note from Horder-Koop. Additional time earns a luncheon with company officials in the executive dining room.
  • All workers are recognized on a rotating basis. Each month, photos of different employees are displayed on a bulletin board along with comments from their coworkers about why they are good colleagues.
  • Horder-Koop sends thank-you notes to employees’ homes when they do outstanding work. When someone works a lot of overtime or travels extensively, she sends a note to the family thanking them for their support.
  • At corporate meetings, employees play games such as Win, Lose or Draw and The Price Is Right, using questions about the company’s products. Winners get prizes such as tote bags and T-shirts.

Other inexpensive ideas Horder-Koop uses to recognize employees include giving flowers to employees who are commended in customers’ letters, having supervisors park employees’ cars one day a month and designating days when workers can come in late or wear casual clothes to the office. According to author and management consultant Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “Recognition—saying thank you in public and perhaps giving a tangible gift along with the words—has multiple functions beyond simple human courtesy. To the employee, recognition signifies that someone noticed and someone cares. What is the point of going all out to do something special if no one notices and it does not seem to make a whit of difference? To the rest of the organization, recognition creates role models— heroes—and communicates the standards: These are the kinds of things that constitute great performance around here.” Following are some guidelines Kanter offers for successfully recognizing employees:

Principle 1: Emphasize success rather than failure. You tend to miss the positives if you are busily searching for the negatives.

Principle 2: Deliver recognition and reward in an open and publicized way. If not made public, recognition loses much of its impact and defeats much of the purpose for which it is provided.

Principle 3: Deliver recognition in a personal and honest manner. Avoid providing recognition that is too ‘slick’ or overproduced.

Principle 4: Tailor your recognition and reward to the unique needs of the people involved. Having many recognition and reward options will enable management to acknowledge accomplishment in ways appropriate to the particulars of a given situation, selecting from a larger menu of possibilities.

Principle 5: Timing is crucial. Recognize contribution throughout a project. Reward contribution close to the time an achievement is realized. Time delays weaken the impact of most rewards.

Principle 6: Strive for a clear, unambiguous and well-communicated connection between accomplishments and rewards. Be sure people understand why they receive awards and the criteria used to determine rewards.

Principle 7: Recognize recognition. That is, recognize people who recognize others for doing what is best for the company.

Personal Praise & Recognition

The most important type of recognition is that which occurs on a day-to-day basis—where the rubber meets the road!  In my research with employees, 99.4 percent reported it was somewhat, very or extremely important for them to be recognized by their manager when they do good work, and 73 percent of employees expected recognition to occur either immediately or soon thereafter they did a good job. Of all types of praise, personal praise is considered to be the most important by employees. Employees reported the following items as being very or extremely important to them: “being personally thanked for doing good work” (88 percent); “being given a verbal praising” (86 percent); “being sought out by a manager to be commended” (82 percent); and “praising an employee for good work in front of another person” (61 percent).

The gap between the amount of praise managers think they give their employees and the amount employees report receiving is universally wide.  For example, Bob Levoy, president of Success Dynamics Inc. reports “I’ve asked more than 2,500 doctors to rank on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = never, 5 = always) the following statement: “I let my employees know when they’re doing a good job.”  Their average response is 4.4.  I then ask their staff members to rank the statement “The doctor lets me know when I’m doing a good job,” and their average response is only 1.7.  This difference between what doctors say they give and what employees say they get is often the underlying cause of employee resentment, diminished productivity and turnover.”  This “feedback gap” is present in almost every manager-employee relationship.

Question: How do you close that gap? Management consultant Marshall Goldsmith offers the following advice: 

“One of the greatest challenges for leaders is letting people know when they’re doing a great job. Seventy percent of the leaders I work with don’t think they are doing as good of a job in providing recognition as they should. One of my clients who was using 360-degree feedback scored a 6 percentile one year in the area of ‘Provides Adequate Positive Recognition.’ One year later, he moved up to a 94 percentile. What he did was a great strategy for leaders everywhere.

“First, he listed the key groups of people that impacted his life:  his friends, family, direct reports, colleagues, and customers. Then he listed the names of each of the people who were in that group. Then twice a week, once on Wednesday and once on Friday, he would look at the list and ask himself, ‘Did anyone on this page do anything I should recognize?’ If they did, he’d send them a little note, an e-mail, or a voicemail, to say ‘thank you.’ He didn’t do anything that took over a couple of minutes. If nobody on the list did something he should recognize, he did nothing. He didn’t want to appear to be false, to be a phony. By following this simple technique, in one year he went from a 6 percentile in giving recognition to a 94 percentile. I have recommended this strategy to many leaders and have never seen it not work. It can help you, too, to do a great job in providing more positive recognition to those that are most important to you in your life.”

It’s the daily interactions that add up to define our relationships at work. It’s the little things that managers do or do not do that can end up making a big difference in how others feel about working with and for you and being a part of the organization.  A systematic focus on the positive that serves as a foundation and buffer to the negative challenges, problems, complaints, stress, etc. when those things occur. Whereas most positive day-to-day interactions are apt to be smaller in focus with little or no cost, with some thought and planning you can be prepared to do more significant things as well.  For example, if someone closes a big sale or finishes a significant project, you can ask your president or CEO to call the person to personally thank him or her.  While you might not be able to do that every day, it’s an out-of-the-ordinary yet simple form of thanks you can call upon for special circumstances. 

Remember: the best personal praise is timely, sincere, and specific.  Create time to connect with each of your employees — even if it’s over coffee or lunch — to see how they are doing and to thank them for all they’ve done.  You could even, on occasion, personally praise each of your employees when your staff gets together for a meeting.  (If you use this tactic, make sure you find something positive to say about everyone present so that no one feels left out.) You can praise employees directly, you can praise them in front of others, or you can praise them when they are not around (a concept sometimes known as “positive gossip”) knowing that this indirect praise will get back to the individual or individuals who are commended.  For some employees, indirect recognition is the most credible because it is done without any expectation in return.  It essentially says: “My boss must have thought what I did was important to have brought it up to the entire management team!”

Try working sincere thanks into your daily activities on an ongoing basis. For example, make it a habit to greet people with 100 percent focus, as if you had all the time in the world for them, even if you only have a few minutes. Give them your undivided attention and if that is not possible, tell them that you are distracted and would like to get back to them when you could better focus on them, their needs, and your conversation. Do you light up a room when you enter it or when you leave it?  When you walk into your office in the morning, think of it as though you are stepping onto a stage. Direct eye contact and a simple smile go a long way to communicate to others that they are important to you. When someone leaves the office at the end of the day, say good-bye and thank them for their effort that day.  When asking employees about great managers they had worked for over their career, I’ve had more than one person tell me how such a manager would thank them for being there every day before they went home.  A simple courtesy, yes, but one that employees noted and valued.  For example, Nikki Burns of Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, OH, says she tries to say “thank you” to every employee as he or she leaves for the day, and has been told by many how much that means to them. Nothing beats simple, day-to-day for building a foundation of trust and goodwill.

A survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found that recognition activities contributed significantly to employees’ job satisfaction. Most respondents said they highly valued day-to-day recognition from their supervisors, peers and team members. Other findings from the survey:

  • 68 percent of the respondents said it was important to believe that their work was appreciated by others.
  • 63 percent agreed that most people would like more recognition for their work.
  • 67 percent agreed that most people need appreciation for their work.

Only 8 percent thought that people should not look for praise for their work efforts.  Nancy Branton, project manager for the survey, says, “Recognition is more important now than in the past. Employees increasingly believe that their job satisfaction depends on acknowledgment of work performance as well as on adequate salary. This is especially true of employees who are highly interested in their work and take satisfaction in their achievements.”

Organizations can greatly influence the use of positive recognition on a daily basis by providing training, tools, activities and programs to foster that behavior, examples of which will be provided throughout this book.  The Tennant Company, a manufacturer in Minneapolis, MN, for example, has a Positive Feedback Committee that each year sponsors a Positive Feedback Day celebration, on which all employees receive “That-A-Way” notepads, pens printed with the phrase “Positive Strokes Only,” balloons and signs. At holiday time, the committee sponsors an open house with cider and cookies and invites employees to drop by at scheduled breaks.  Following are other examples of how managers connect with their employees on a day-to-day basis.

Randy Niendorff of Lucent Technologies/Audya Communications in Denver, CO, stops by employees’ desks “just to see how things are going today.” He reports that it’s a pleasant surprise for employees to see him, even when things are going well, and that they appreciate his accessibility.

When Greg Peel a zone manager for Paychex in Dallas, TX, sees an employee working really hard he calls that person’s mother and thanks her.

Hyler Bracey, president and CEO of the Atlanta Consulting Group places five coins in his pocket each day.  During the day, he’d transfer a coin to his other pocket every time he recognized an employee for good work.  That techniques helped Bracey make praise a habit.

One store manager for Long’s Drugs brings a silver dollar into work on Monday morning and gives it to a supervisor who is asked to praise one of their employees before handing the coin off to another supervisor.  If the coin gets around to all the supervisors in the store by the end of the week, the manager brings in donuts to the supervisor’s meeting at the end of the week.

Top military officers in several branches of the military use coin medallions as personal recognition items and one bank president gold-plates quarters and hands them to deserving employees when their performance warrants special recognition. Other companies have used wooden nickels, regular nickels or even green glass pebbles as symbolic recognition items for work well done.

One task-oriented top manager at Qwest Communications in Denver, CO, reminds himself to recognize others by listing his employees’ names on his “to do” list each week. Then, one-by-one, he crosses each person off the list when he has had a chance to acknowledge that person for some aspect of his performance or behavior, such as reaching a project milestone or delivering exceptional customer service. He says it’s his way to “turn the people aspect of my job into manageable tasks I can focus on each week.”

Baltimore Orioles manager Ray Miller didn’t get much personalized attention from his coaches as a minor league pitcher back in the ’60s and ’70s. “The way I was treated hurt me,” he recalls. Miller learned from experience that paying attention to players is important, whether they are performing well or not. To be sure that he communicates with all players. Miller keeps a “Talk-to List” on a yellow legal pad. “Just talking really matters,” Miller says. “Take Cal Ripken. If he is playing great and for some reason you don’t talk for four or five days, he looks at you and says, ‘What’s wrong?'” Miller has learned an important lesson: Feedback and recognition go a long way.

Store managers at the St. Ann branch of Famous-Barr department stores, based in St. Louis, MO, go to each employee at the end of the day to see what went well for them that day, rather than wait for a weekly or monthly report. Those positive items are worked into the next morning’s store rally. “It’s been a very effective way to reinforce good news on a timely basis and charge employees up to do their best every single day,” says Dan Eppler, merchandise sales manager for the company.

The Houston Business Journal encourages managers to recognize all employees for deserving efforts. At the end of each day, managers ask themselves: “Did I offer recognition to someone today?” If not, they take a few minutes to do so.

Joe DeLuce, Director of Recreation for Champaign Park District in Champaign, IL, says it’s important to bring up the topic of praise with your staff:  “In our department staff meetings we recently asked everyone to say when they last thanked someone. Every one of the thirty people in the room talked about how they had thanked one of their staff or someone else in our department that day or within the last week. One staff member talked about one of her staff members going above and beyond and since that staff person was in the room, it became very emotional.  We talked about how important it is to thank people for doing outstanding work and that we want to be a department that appreciates others.”

Robert Maurer in his book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life, describes working with a reluctant manager, Michael, to get him to start using praise with his employees:

“I asked him to imagine giving a person from his department a specific, detailed compliment in an enthusiastic tone of voice, as if there were no problems at all with this person’s work.  He was to imagine how he would stand in front of the person, how it would feel to approach the person with a relaxed, open posture, how his voice would sound, and what any ambient sounds or smells might be.

“I wanted Michael to start with compliments for a couple of reasons.  Like most people, Michael found it easier to give compliments than criticism.  But I also knew that a likely result of letting trouble in his department percolate for too long was that Michael would see his employees as nothing but a collection of problems.  And from another perspective, psychological research clearly shows that people who feel underappreciated tend to resent criticism and ignore the advice they’re given.  By practicing giving compliments, Michael was not only learning to feel comfortable doing something that felt unnatural to him.  He was also developing a skill that would increase the satisfaction and productivity of his employees.

The small, active steps that mental rehearsal enabled him to take, taught Michael a new set of skills.  It also gave him a taste for the ease and the rewards of applying them.  At the end of three months, Michael found himself stopping in the hallways to give fifteen or twenty seconds of immediate feedback to deserving employees.

According to Phoebe Farrow Port, vice president of Estee Lauder, founder Leonard Lauder spent a limited amount of time with executives on store visits, preferring to meet with floor people. Says Phoebe, “One day, I saw him reach across a counter and say, ‘Sorry to interrupt. My name is Leonard Lauder. I hear you are one of the beauty advisors. Thank you for everything you are doing for Estee Lauder.’” As they walked away on one such occasion, Port said, “Mr. Lauder, you’re so good at this.” He said. “I put myself on a quota of three thank you’s a day years ago. I suggest you do the same.” Says Phebe, “Everywhere the man goes, he writes a personal note to whomever he meets.”

Written Praise & Recognition

Written praise, considered by employees the next most valued type of praise, comes in several varieties.  Here is how employees ranked different forms in terms of their importance to them:  “letters of praise are placed in the employee’s personnel file” (72 percent); “being given a written praise” (61 percent); “being given a written note of thanks” (59 percent); and “being given a thank you card” (48 percent).  A survey by Professional Secretaries International revealed that as many as 30 percent of professional secretaries would prefer a simple letter of appreciation from their managers—and that a bouquet or a lunch was unnecessary. But only 7 percent of respondents reported having ever received such a letter. In another study, positive written communication was found to be very important in motivating employees; however, this technique was used by only 24 percent of managers.

Writing notes to employees who have performed well at the end of the day is an effective recognition strategy, claims Steve Wittert, president of Paragon Steakhouse Restaurants based in San Diego.  Wittert finds that his days are so busy that he seldom can take time out to recognize his staff.  Instead, he keeps a stack of note cards on this desk, and when the pace slows at the end of the day, he takes a few minutes to jot personal notes to the individuals who made a difference that day. In past years, I’ve taken time to write an individual letter to each of my employees, specifically listing highlights of their performance I was proud of over the past year.  This takes less time than you might think and the impact on the employees is more significant than you might imagine! 

Joe Floren of Tektronix, Inc., a manufacturer of oscilloscopes and other electronic instruments located in Beaverton, OR, likes to tell the story of the You Done Good Award. A former communications manager, Floren recalls having coffee a number of years ago with his boss, a vice president. The boss said he’d been mulling over a problem stemming from the company’s rapid growth. He thought the company was getting so big that it needed a formal recognition program. He had read some personnel handbooks on the subject and began telling Floren about several variations on the gold watch traditionally given for time served. The boss’s proposition sounded ludicrous to Floren. The boss challenged Floren to come up with something better. Floren suggested drawing up a notecard called the You Done Good Award and letting any employee send it to any other employee. To Floren’s surprise, the vice president agreed. Floren had some note cards printed and started distributing them. They caught on, and the informal awards have become part of life in the company. “Even though people say nice things to you,” Floren says, “it means something more when people take the time to write their name on a piece of paper and say it. Employees usually post them next to their desks.”

Janis Allen, a performance management consultant, tells the story of a group of officers she was training in the Department of the Army. One person in particular, a colonel, showed great resistance to the use of any reinforcers. A week or so after the seminar, the colonel’s manager— a general—wanted to praise him for his handling of an important presentation. The general found a piece of yellow construction paper, folded it in half and wrote “Bravo” on the front. Then he wrote his reinforcing remarks inside. The colonel was called in, praised and handed the card. “He took it and read it,” Allen says. “He didn’t even look up when he finished. He just stood up abruptly without even making eye contact, turned and walked out of the office.” The general thought, “Wow, I’ve done something wrong now.” He thought maybe he had offended the colonel. When the general went to check on the colonel, he found that he had stopped at every office on the way out and was showing off the “Bravo” card. He was smiling and everybody was congratulating him. The colonel subsequently printed his own recognition cards with “Wonderful” on the front. They became his signature reinforcers.

At Sea World in San Diego, CA, team leaders give “spotlight cards” to employees when they see them  doing something well. They write down what they saw and what they liked about it, get at least two other leaders or supervisors to sign the card, and then present it to the employee. A copy is also posted on the employee bulletin board.

Kelly McNamara at Raytheon Aircraft Company wanted to cut down on all the red tape before an employee could be rewarded. So she and her team brought back an award used many years ago by Beechcraft, a company that Raytheon acquired in the early 1980s, which could be given to anyone by anyone in the company with no approval required.  Employee-to-employee thank you notes feature the “Beechcraft Busy Bee” cartoon.

In Atlanta, GA, Wellstar Health System created a simple peer-to-peer leadership recognition program called “The Seven Attributes of Stars.” According to Wellstar, these attributes are: communicating, global thinking, people developing, lifelong learning, innovating, goal-achieving, and service-leading. Managers are given printed notepads and asked to check off the attributes that are embodied by fellow leaders, and to describe why they should be recognized for them. Any leader who is recognized for five or more attributes is publicly acknowledged at the next quarterly leadership meeting and gets to select a book from among five choices.


When it comes to recognizing employees, most companies have trouble holding their managers accountable.  After all, how can you make someone be nice to their employees?  Plus, if you do force them to do something they don’t want to do, won’t they resent it and undermine your effort, anyway? They didn’t think so at Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo, MI, currently ranked as one of the Best Places to Work in America by Fortune magazine.  As an organization, six to seven years ago they decided to stop focusing on the small number of people who do not conform to their expectations and to start focusing, recognizing and rewarding the 95 percent who were working hard and doing good work.  It took some four years to ingrain this philosophy, explains Susan Ulshafer, senior vice president of human resources and organizational development, and Marilyn Potgieser, director of human resources, but a systematic focus on their recognition practices have clearly made them an employer of choice.

For example, they asked all managers to write twelve thank you notes a quarter to employees.  Initially, some managers rolled their eyes at this, but they told those managers if workforce excellence was part of their strategic plan (which it is), this activity needed to be a performance objective and accountability for all their leaders.  The leaders thus are asked to make copies of the notes they write to their employees to provide to their own managers as proof they are doing the behavior.  Human resources does random “spot checks” of managers, asking to see copies of their thank you notes, and if a manager didn’t have them, he or she would be asked to schedule a “little talk” with the senior leader of their group. 

They’ve never had to schedule a second talk with any manager, because managers got the message the organization was serious about this activity. Better yet, managers who started using the notes quickly found they got rewarded by their employees for the notes they did!  (This coincides with my own research that has found the top reinforcer for managers who use recognition comes from their own employees.)  Now new leaders to the organization are oriented and trained about the practice and expectation from the start of their job. The thank you note program has since expanded so that managers now send notes to employee’s families and even children (sometimes with coupons for ice cream for them to take their parents out!) and employees are increasingly writing more thank you notes to their peers.  As a result of all this focus (and related activities) their turnover has drastically dropped and they now have a waiting list for employees who would like to work at their hospital.  In addition they have become a “best practice” in several national data bases for nurse retention as well as being named on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America and Working Mothers Best Employer list. It just goes to show that a simple activity such as written recognition can be taken seriously and those who do so are apt to get the best results!  Following are other real-life examples of effective written recognition.


Markeeta Graban, associate director of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Health System, reports: “It’s really true that anything can be a significant form of recognition. Over three years ago I drew a star on a piece of scrap paper, colored it, and gave it to someone for helping me out that day. They in turn gave it to someone else. It took on special significance with each use. Now we have it on a magnetic backing and pass it on to someone who has helped or is having a rough day. People love it!”

“We try to emphasize peer-to-peer recognition on our Organizational Development Team,” reports Debbie Liles, supervisor of OD at EMC Mortgage Corporation.  One of the ways they do that is by using a form called the Appreciation/Recognition Form. Teammates complete the form when they observe a teammate exhibiting the behavior(s) EMC Mortgage values.  These are deposited in a beautifully decorated box throughout the month.  At every monthly team meeting all the certificates deposited in the box for the month are read out loud during the ”recognition” portion of their agenda. The certificate recipients then get to pick out their favorite candy bar or healthy snack from the reward grab bag.

CalPERS, the California Personnel Retirement System, based in Sacramento, CA, uses “Steady as a Rock” note cards shaped in an image of a rock to recognize behind-the-scenes daily performance by coworkers who can also receive a mounted rock as a pass-around award.

The New England Aquarium allows employees to recognize coworkers with a “thank-you cod” (a card shaped like a cod fish)—a play on the New England accent. “Half of the card goes to the employee and the other half into a quarterly lottery for gift certificates for paid time off, the company store, and local restaurants,” reports Linda Hower, learning technologist for Gilbane University in Providence, RI.

Ginny Heard, supervisor of member correspondence at AARP in Lakewood, CA, has a very simple yet effective recognition technique she developed when previously employed with Airborne Express.  She cut an apple shape out of construction paper, wrote inside the apple: “Look for Teachable Moments,” and used the note as an icebreaker for discussing a learning point or lesson in an employee’s job.  The award became popular in the organization and many other managers followed her lead.  Everyone liked receiving the apples as well and the notes became collectables.

“A more informal way that we recognize/appreciate team members at EMC Mortgage Corporation in Irving, TX is through ‘Notes to My Terrific Teammate,’” reports Debbie Liles. The idea behind the notes on colored paper posted on teammates’ walls, is to write the teammates’ notes of thanks for things they’ve done, but to do it when they are not around, so they are pleasantly surprised by the latest “fan mail.”  When the sheets are filled up, more sheets are passed out.

If one of Marty Stowe’s employees at the New England Regional Office for Paychex in Boston, MA, is working extremely hard Stowe writes a hand-written note to tell his or her spouse. If this employee really outdoes himself, Stowe will give them (wife & husband) a gift certificate for dinner for two.

In Dodgeville, WI, Lands’ End employee Becky Frederick tells how CEO Mike Smith personally reviews all of his mail. If he finds a letter from a customer who mentions an employee by name, he jots a simple note to the employee and forwards a copy of the letter to the person. Employees love these personal kudos from the CEO and will post them in their work cubicles.

Jimmy Collins, president of Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain, writes personal notes of thanks on P&L sheets returned to owner-operators.

Doubt that little acts of recognition mean a lot? In her book What I Saw at the Revolution, former President Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan, writes about a personal note she received from the President. She had been writing for him for four months, and had not yet met him, when one day the President wrote “Very Good” on one of her speech drafts. First she stared at it. Then she took a pair of scissors and cut it off and taped it to her blouse, like a second-grader with a star. All day people noticed it and looked at her and she beamed back at them.

Joan Padgett of the learning resources center of Veterans’ Medical Center in Dayton, OH, reports, “I recently decided to take the time to give a welcome card to a new employee and wrote a personal note, saying: ‘At the end of some days you’ll feel elated; after some you’ll feel completely drained; but may you always leave your office knowing you contributed to our organization.’ The employee was thrilled and said she would keep the card always. Her emotional response convinced me of the value of giving cards to thank, congratulate, welcome, and celebrate employees.”

Angela Gann at Kaiser Permanente sends personal notes to anyone she interviews for a job, but saves a really special greeting for the new hire, decorating the person’s work station on the first morning with glitter stars or banners.

According to the department of Organization, Development and Training at Busch Gardens-Tampa, the company gives a Pat on the Back Award to employees who do an outstanding job, and sends a notice of the award to the employee’s file.

The San Francisco Business Times had paper tablets printed with different headlines, such as “Saved the Day,” “Bit the Bullet,” and “Went Above and Beyond.” Each employee was given some of the tablets to use whenever a fellow employee helped or did an exceptional job. Soon everyone had lots of the notes, and people were feeling more appreciated.

John Plunkett, director of employment and training for Cobb Electric Membership Corporation in Marietta, GA, says, “People love to collect others’ business cards. Simply carry a supply of your cards with you and as you ‘catch people doing something right,’ immediately write ‘Thanks,’ ‘Good job,’ ‘Keep it up’ and what they specifically did in two to three words. Put the person’s name on the card and sign it.”

“An engineer on my staff spent an extended amount of time on the road doing environmental evaluations of companies,” reports Michael L. Horvath, director of environmental projects for FirstEnergy Corporation, headquartered in Akron, OH:  “I sent a letter to his three school-age children explaining why their dad was gone so much lately and that he was doing special ‘secret agent’ work that was very important for our company.  His wife called the next day to say how excited their kids were that dad was a ‘secret agent!’”

The “Reward of Excellence” program at Herbalife, the health and nutrition company based in Los Angeles, CA, uses two-part cards, called “WOW” cards, to recognize employees. Employees fill them out to praise coworkers for service, teamwork, etc. One part goes to the honoree, and the other part goes into a recognition box, whose contents are reviewed each month by a six-member recognition committee. The committee selects the best “WOW!” card employee, and posts the card on the “WOW!” bulletin board. The winner then gets points toward merchandise purchases, as well as raffle tickets for a cruise drawing, which is held at the end of every six months. All honorees are also automatically entered into the company’s “All Star” program for additional recognition and visibility.

To make the program as successful as possible, Herbalife started with a three-month trial period, during which they collected feedback and suggestions. For example, when they discovered that employees didn’t like paying for the freight and handling for the merchandise they had selected, they built those amounts into the awards and slightly increased the number of points required. Besides increasing recognition, other benefits emerged as well. Ana Franklin, senior manager of the Order Support Department, identified three: 1) The program helped employees to set more specific goals and provided systematic tracking of results; 2) it costs less money than previous programs, yet has a longer term impact, replacing what had previously been a “hit-and-miss” approach (such as occasional distribution of gas cards and gift certificates); and 3) employees can now include their families in selecting merchandise, which is an added motivational incentive.

Jeffrey S. Wells, senior vice president of human resources for Circuit City Stores, Inc., based in Richmond, VA, has his administrative assistant place note cards on his desk each month for employees who have anniversaries with the company for Jeff to write them a personal note.  He says it’s a time commitment, but well worth it and he enjoys keeping in touch with his employees in this small way.

Don Eggleston, director of organizational development at SSM Healthcare in St. Louis, MO, says, “I mark my calendar and then send cards or flowers to employees on the anniversary of important events in their lives. For example, I’ve sent cards on the anniversary of a parent’s death or for a child’s graduation or birthday. These are subtle ways of letting employees know I’m interested without prying into their lives. After all, we’re working with human beings, and we can all be more effective and sensitive if we understand one another better.” 


Electronic Praise & Recognition

Electronic praise is similar to written praise, but it is transmitted more readily and often with less effort than written praise. Praising via email, voicemail, cell phone, pager, fax, or other forms of technology is increasingly important to today’s employees who are spending more and more time on “electronic leashes,” interfacing more with their computer and less with their boss or coworkers. Today’s office technology can make us more efficient at work, it also tends to have an alienating affect on employees in their jobs, creating more distance in work relationships and more stress as employees are increasingly expected to be “available” 24/7.  In addition, the workplace itself is being redefined to include alternative work arrangements such as telecommuting, flexible working hours and job sharing. In fact, a new report by the Department of Labor, Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century, found that roughly one in 10 workers fits into an alternative work arrangement, with nearly 80 percent of employers offering some form of nontraditional staffing arrangements, including some 60 percent that now allow telecommuting. 

While telecommuting and virtual offices are becoming more prevalent, there are still a number of obstacles that threaten their success.  Downsides of the virtual office include:

  • People lose social interaction with managers and coworkers.
  • People find it easy to overwork and with it feel undervalued.
  • Work and personal lives overlap and can create psychological issues.
  • The ability to participate and contribute to a work team is more difficult.
  • The company culture and sense of bonding around common values of purpose can slowly erode.

Other trends in the use of office technology are also emerging:  A recent study by Pitney Bowes on messaging tools and practices reveals that U.S. workers are now receiving over 200 messages per day — more than ever before.  Of the estimated 20 billion e-mail messages that are sent daily, an estimated 40 percent are unsolicited spam.  What’s the impact of this constant bombardment of messages and increased use of office technology?  What can be done to minimize the problems of increased technology use? And how can managers best recognize employee performance when an employee may not even have physical contact with his or her manager for weeks or months at a time? A lot, I believe. 

Managers must take a proactive role in fostering a sense of teamwork by establishing regular, mutually agreed-upon communication times. Telephone calls, e-mail messages, teleconferences, videoconferences and chat areas can all be conducted at an agreed-upon time or message boards can be used to have ongoing communication about progress on critical aspects of the team’s work. Communicating in these ways gives virtual employees the opportunity to exchange ideas with team members, talk about the problems they may be having, discuss ways to improve, evaluate the team’s progress, share ideas, get feedback, brainstorm new ideas, discuss strategies, and acknowledge successes when they occur.  For these reasons it is increasingly important to use technology in positive ways to reinforce good work and encourage the human spirit.  Employees increasingly perceive electronic praise as important and a critical motivator in their jobs.  For example, in research I’ve conducted, over 70 percent of employees indicate that having a positive email forwarded to them is very or extremely important to them, followed by “being copied on positive email messages” (65 percent); “being given a praising via email” (43 percent); and “being given a praising on voice mail” (26 percent).

Here’s some additional advice that can help keep the human element at work even as we make a greater use of technology: 

  1. Get to know people before you communicate electronically.  All rapport comes from shared experiences. Trust and respect are difficult to establish through the exclusive use of electronic exchanges alone.  Since an estimated 90 percent of all communication occurs at the non-verbal level, what you don’t see in your interactions might hurt your relationships.
  2. Be aware of technology’s limitations when you communicate.  Don’t have electronic communication replace a personal meeting just for the efficiency of it.  Think of when it works well to use voice mail or email, for example, and when a personal meeting would be better.  Avoid the use of electronic communication for dealing with sensitive or complex issues, which also would be better dealt with in face-to-face interaction.
  3. Use electronic communication to enhance relationships. I know one manager that makes a point of using his cell phone to leave “thank you” voicemails for others as he commutes home each evening, reflecting on the day’s events.  He keeps his messages 100 percent positive and avoids rolling them over into work problems or additional assignments.  I know another manager who copies his manager on all complimentary emails he sends to any of his employees.  When it comes time for performance reviews and salary actions, his manager always agrees with his recommendations because he’s been kept in the loop the entire year.
  4. Use technology to expand your scope of recognition.  In discussions and decision making, technology can help you include others who might have been cumbersome to incorporate in the past.  For example, Home Depot has weekly satellite feeds to every store that they call “Breakfast with Bernie and Arthur,” their chairman and CEO.  It’s a chance for everyone to hear at the same time what’s new and how things are going.  A.G. Edwards, the financial services company, has a weekly audio conference that includes every employee online at once.  I know of another company that audiotapes a monthly message to employees, to which they can listen at their convenience in their car.  Web chats, message boards, dedicated phone lines for employee access to top management are other possibilities companies are using today to help employees be more connected and play an integral role in their organizations.
  5. Use the power of technology to amplify good news.  Find ways to pass on positive information to your staff when it occurs, for example, by forwarding good news to your staff and publicly thanking others via email.  At Hughes Network Systems in San Diego, CA, for example, they use an “Applause” electronic pop-up bulletin board on their Intranet system in which any employee can post public thanks and recognition to any other employee.  Employees get to see the latest thanks being given in the organization each time they log onto their computers.  In these days of relentless pressure and change in most organizations, hearing what’s going well becomes a salve to relieve our stress and frustrations.  Use technology to highlight any good news as it occurs and don’t forget the use of email and voicemail to leave a positive word of thanks – without rolling into another work assignment or project.

Since there tends to be a fine line of difference between stress and excitement in most jobs today, a positive use of technology can go a long way toward creating more positive working relationships and a more human and supportive work environment.  Following are some other examples of how companies are harnessing the power of technology in a positive way.

Chris Higgins, senior vice president of project planning at Bank of America’s Services Division in Virginia, says, “It is so important to give everyone credit. I always try to find out who is going above and beyond the call of duty. My team is usually spread out over the country, so I wander over the telephone wires or pop in unexpectedly on conference calls. I go out of my way to thank people for their work. It is not a huge effort; it mainly takes discipline, but has tremendous payoff.”

Barbara Green, office manager for Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLP in Canton, OH reports:  “We sent an e-mail to our entire staff asking everyone to applaud the great efforts of our office services department at 4 p.m. at their desks. Members of that department work throughout the building and are rarely in one place at the same time, so this was a terrific way for each staff member to receive the benefit of the praising at exactly the same time and in the same way.”

At Business First in Louisville, KY, the advertising department sends a broadcast voice mail daily with a motivational message, a joke, success story, or whatever helps the team get excited about their work day.

Edward Nickel, regional training and development manager for Nordstrom, Inc. in Oak Brook, IL, reports that some Nordstrom stores recognize employees before the stores open by sharing great letters they have received from customers about their exemplary service over the store intercom system. Letters are then posted on an employee bulletin board for all to read. Each store manager has his or her own routine, but there is never a dearth of material to read, and hearing the examples motivates other employees to do similar things.

Fargo Electronics, based in Eden Prairie, MN, uses an electronic newsletter to keep in touch with employees daily. Information about sales and production figures, customer feedback, and profit-sharing updates with employees are shared daily.   At the end of each workday, department heads send information into the company’s email system.

At a division of General Mills in Plymouth, MN, photos of top achievers are posted on their website as “champions,” according to retail coupon activity manager Carl Bisson. 

At Metro Honda in Montclair, CA, the name of the Employee of the Month is posted on the electronic billboard over the dealership. Similarly, the City of Philadelphia used an electronic message board that runs around all four sides of a downtown skyscraper to honor the head of the local school system: “Philadelphia congrats Dr. Constance Clayton on 10 years.”


Public Praise & Recognition 

In my research, public praise ranked as one of the top recognition preferences by today’s employees.  This included the following items being ranked as either very or extremely important to them: “customer letters are publicly shared or posted”(62 percent), “employee is praised in a department/company meeting” (54 percent), “employee is recognized at a company awards ceremony” (46 percent), and “employee is acknowledged in the company newsletter (39 percent). This supports other research that indicates 76 percent of American workers rank recognition at a company meeting as a meaningful incentive. Most employees perceive the use of public recognition as highly desirable. Performance management consultant Janis Allen notes, “Surprisingly, many people say they wish their organizations would give fewer tangibles and use more social reinforcers. Most people are hungry for somebody to simply look them in the eye and say, ‘I like the way you do that.'” And it’s easy to leverage positive feedback when you hear it by passing it on to others, Allen observes. “When someone says something good about another person and I tell that person about it,” Allen says, “she seems to get more reinforcement value from it than if she had received the compliment firsthand.”

There is almost an endless variety of ways to acknowledge employees publicly.  Sharing good news such as positive letters from customers at the beginning of a staff meeting or posting them on a “Good News Bulletin Board” along with other positive information from members of the department can be effective.  For example, at Childress Buick-Kia, Phoenix, AZ, the focus of their monthly meetings has shifted to sharing goals and results, and to publicly recognizing employees who have been nominated by customers or other employees for good service.  You could even bring in key customers into your organization as some companies do to acknowledge deserving employees and send an important message to everybody in the organization about the importance of serving the customer. 

Dr. Jo-Anne Pitera, director of corporate education and training for Florida Power and Light in North Palm Beach, suggests putting a flip chart by the elevator door where people can list thank-you’s and successes for all to see. Pitera also recommends soliciting and announcing nominations for recognition awards for outstanding efforts at department meetings, perhaps in conjunction with a drawing for gifts or money. You can create a “wall of fame” to show appreciation for top achievers as they do at the headquarters of KFC, the fried chicken franchise. 

You can take time at the beginning of department or company-wide meetings to recognize employees like they do at Honeywell Inc.’s industrial fibers plant in Moncure, SC, where employees exchange public praising as part of morning plant-wide meetings.  Or you can use the end of the meeting for employee recognition. Norman Groh, a customer service manager of Xerox Corporation in Irving, TX, ends his management staff meetings on a high note by asking that all managers share one thing they have done to thank their employees since they last met. Besides generating a surge of energy and an exchange of practical ideas, he also captures those thanks and places them in the employee newsletter for broader visibility.

Allowing employees to acknowledge one another at group meetings can also be very effective.  Petro Canada, a large energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, hosts “bragging sessions” to allow employees to share progress they were making against goals with upper management.  The meetings had a fun and celebratory feel and generated high energy to continue efforts.

Many companies have a year-end awards banquet, which of course provides lots of opportunities to spotlight individuals and groups.  Bring such ceremonies alive with stories about people’s successes and the obstacles they had to overcome to achieve their goals.  Tag onto any holiday celebrations you have planned some extra time to thank your staff for their dedication and performance.  Look to the future as well, and share the signs you may have of good things to come for the group and the company.

Most organizations also use company newsletters to recognize employees for a wide range of performance, to name top performers, to thank project teams or even to share information about employee interests and hobbies.  Following are other examples of public praise and recognition.

A division of Hewlett Packard in San Diego, CA, held a day of appreciation for an exceptional employee, computer scientist Jennifer Wallick. Fellow employees reserved 10-minute time slots to visit her, present her with a flower, and thanked her for something she had done for them in their working relationship. She was praised every 15 minutes throughout the day.

When he worked as a manager for the City of San Diego Housing Commission, Peter Economy shares how at the end of a weeklong management-training workshop, all participants would write down one positive thing on an index card for every other person in the training session, an activity they called a “strength barrage.”  Each individual would then receive their index cards and read what everyone else had to say about them.

Connie Maxwell of West Des Moines Community Schools says: “I post notes from other departments that have something positive to say about any of us; this way, people who work with me are more inclined to write one to someone else, so there’s a mutual sharing of thanks. It’s become a point of pride to have a note that one wrote posted.”

When she worked for Time Warner in Milwaukee, Noelle Sment used an effective stress strategy.  They created a “Bad Day Board” that listed everyone’s names with a magnet that could be moved to indicate who was under a lot of stress, experiencing personal problems, struggling with difficult customers, etc. Initially meant to serve as a warning system for others, the group soon started cheering up anyone who was having a “bad day,” and having a lot of fun in the process!

Xerox Corporation, headquartered in Stamford, CT, gives Bellringer Awards: When an employee is recognized, a bell is rung in the corridor. Pacific Gas & Electric rings a ship’s bell every time someone has a noteworthy achievement. The special markets department at Workman Publishing in New York City uses a cheap party noisemaker when any member wants to share good news with the group about a success. Everyone within earshot comes running.

Chris Brown, director of child life and education at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says they use stickers to recognize not only children, but staff members as well for jobs well done.

Chris Giangrasso, director of management and organizational development for Philadelphia’s ARAMARK Corporation, which provides food and leisure services and textile rentals, suggests organizing a day of appreciation for a worthy person. ARAMARK schedules a day in honor of the person (for example, Bob Jones Day), and the company sends a notice to all employees announcing the date and the reason for the honor. The honoree enjoys all sorts of frills, such as computer banners and a free lunch.

Sam Colin, founder of Colin Service Systems janitorial services in White Plains, NY, used to go around handing out Life Savers candy to employees. That early tradition has developed into a lasting philosophy of recognition that today includes such awards as Most Helpful Employee and Nicest Employee. Coworkers vote for employees and executives make the presentations.

Chris Ortiz, in systems and applications at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, offers, “After reading 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, I created an award for all my team members who helped me. I call it my Thanks a Million award. It contains a thank-you note taped to ten $100 Grand candy bars. Recipients break them up and pass them on to others who have helped them.”

The president of a teacher’s union in Vancouver, Canada, explains that when he worked in the construction industry, what started as a joke became a coveted honor each workday. One morning, a foreman placed a yellow rubber ducky on the desk of the person who had done a great job the previous day. The tradition continued and soon everyone looked forward to seeing who would receive the day’s honor.

A government contractor based in Pensacola, FL, tells us, “I’m the maintenance manager supervising sixty-four jet mechanics for a company that contracts out to the U.S. Navy’s flight school. These rough-and-tough men love it when I tape a pinwheel or a balloon to a place they’re working on, signifying that the jet engine has passed every test with flying colors.”

At San Francisco-based Jossey-Bass Inc., a division of publisher John Wiley & Sons, all employees have nameplates from their first day on the job. They are made with an etching machine and slipped into a slot on the employee’s door or desk. This not only makes newcomers feel welcome, but also helps their colleagues to remember their names.

Whenever possible, allow employees to connect their names with their work. Home Depot posts workers’ names on signs, such as “This aisle maintained by Jerry Olson.”

At a Bloomington, IN, hospital cafeteria, sandwiches are named in honor of the “employees of the month” and those who have received the most commendations from patients. Items stay on the menu for six months.

Wells Fargo Bank has developed some unusual no-cost rewards, such as renaming an item in the cafeteria after a deserving employee or presenting a bag of fertilizer, supplied by the keepers of the Wells Fargo stagecoach horses themselves.

All employees at Apple Computer in Cupertino, CA, who worked on the first Macintosh computer had their signatures placed on the inside of the product. Employees at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company of Findlay, Ohio, are allowed to stamp their names on the inside of the tires they produce so they can be recognized for their contributions.

When Southwest Airlines had the best on-time performance and baggage-handling, and the fewest complaints for the number of customers carried for the fifth year in a row, the company dedicated an airplane to all of its 25,000 employees at that time and place the names of all the employees on the outside of the overhead bins. 

Federal Express in Memphis used to inscribe the name of an employee’s child in large letters on the nose of each new airplane it purchased. The company held a lottery to select the name and flew the child’s family to the manufacturing plant for the christening.

Ford Motor Company, AT&T and Meridian Health in New Jersey each use their employees in commercials.



In the Electro-Optics Division of Honeywell Inc., in Minneapolis, MN, financial difficulties were causing a serious dip in morale that was leading to additional problems. The company needed to turn the situation around, but had to do so on a very low budget, given the state of the division. Seeking a creative solution, managers developed a recognition program titled Great Performers. “The division was looking for top performance from its employees,” says Deborah van Rooyen, program director, “and that got me thinking that top performance comes from top performers, and that got me thinking about top performers everyone is familiar with.” Van Rooyen spent a month in the local library researching the lives of great performers in politics, education, social work, business, science and the arts. All the people she studied had one characteristic in common: They succeeded by overcoming obstacles.

Van Rooyen’s idea was to put together a program in which these people’s well-known accomplishments would be celebrated alongside those of division employees. In theory, the possibility of being named a Great Performer would inspire employees to put forth their best effort. “Turnaround begins with small accomplishments,” van Rooyen says, “so we wanted to convey the idea that every job is important. For example, we wanted to encourage secretaries to type a letter only once, and to encourage employees in the shipping department to be careful enough that nothing would get broken, and so forth.” Management accepted the idea, and van Rooyen worked with the division’s staff to finalize the list of forty celebrity Great Performers, being careful to include men, women, minorities, teams and historical figures.

A teaser campaign then followed featuring the celebrity Great Performers with memorable quotes. Employees were invited to nominate Great Performers, and were asked to explain the reasons for their nomination. A committee of volunteers reviewed the nominees. All were given pins in the shape of the letter G (for great) and the committee selected five employees they thought best exemplified the spirit of the program. The winning employees were interviewed, and stories were created to use on posters that looked just like the ones featuring the celebrities. Each included the employee’s photo, a quote and copy describing the employee’s achievements and contributions. “The posters were a visible way to help boost self-esteem,” says Chuck Madaglia, division public relations manager. “The idea was to catch employees doing something right and get them feeling good about themselves.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive. The Great Performers became corporate celebrities overnight, and everyone wanted to be one. Many more individuals had the chance: Five new employees were selected each month during the year the program was in place. Morale improved dramatically, and the ongoing program encouraged employees to make changes in work habits, make successful proposal bids, begin recycling scrap and improve quality control. Within six months, the division was in the black, thanks in part to the success of the program.


Bob Gaundi, human resources manager of Mental Health Systems in San Diego, CA, says: “Certainly recognition from supervisors is important, but praise from fellow employees is of the highest order, so we allow employees to recognize coworkers through a monthly newsletter. We ask employees to write a short statement about laudable efforts they witness from fellow employees. All of the examples are published in a special section of our monthly newsletter. Employees always turn to this section first!”

At Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, CT, the company newsletter overflows with news of accomplishments, customer comments and employee contests, such as the offer of a $5 reward to the first employee who deciphered the meaning of a performance chart that measured some aspect of the store’s operation.  

Jackson, MI, Chick-fil-A marketing coordinator Tara Hayes produces a newsletter highlighting individual accomplishments both at work and in the community. She also includes feature stories on deserving teams.

At Label House Group Limited, a medium-size brand identity and packaging solution company located in Trinidad and Tobago, one of the most frequent ways of recognizing employees is through the company’s internal newsletter, under the heading “Caught You Doing Something Right,” according to Shelly-Ann Jaggarnath, human resources officer for the company.  On a quarterly basis, employees caught exhibiting the desired behaviors and attitudes or going beyond the normal call of duty are profiled in the newsletter as a means of recognizing their efforts.  They are also given small tokens of recognition such as cooler bags as a reward for their efforts.

H.J. Heinz, based in Pittsburgh, routinely shares information about employees at all levels of the organization in its internal publications and annual reports, including personal details about their lives, their off-the-job pursuits, and even their poetry.  At Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings, a carpet manufacturer in Dalton, GA, the company recognizes and lists the achievements of employees’ children in its newsletter.

Publix Super Markets, based in Lakeland, FL, publishes a biweekly bulletin that lists the births, deaths, marriages and serious illnesses of employees and their families. For more than twenty years, the president sent personalized cards to the families of everyone listed in the bulletin.

Chuck King of the East Longview and Longview Mall Chick-fil-A’s in Longview, TX, highlights employee success in the local newspaper and offers Chick-fil-A sandwiches to all students with perfect school attendance.

At Claire’s in Woodale, IL, district managers reward a manager by working his or her store on a Saturday. The regional managers also have a traveling trophy cup, which they fill with goodies (and items related to the award) as it is passed from one district manager to another.

At Kragen Auto Parts, based in Phoenix, AZ, the president and other top executives served dinner to all store managers at their annual meeting as a thanks for a job well done.

A former manager at University Associates, now based in Tucson, AZ, often spontaneously took over phone duties for the busy receptionist. It served the triple purpose of staying in touch with life on the front lines, hearing customer concerns first-hand, and rewarding the receptionist with some time off and the recognition that her superior cared what her job entailed.

When Norwest Banks (now a part of Wells Fargo) hosted a sales and service conference in Orlando, Florida, all the executives lined up on the sidewalk and applauded employees as they disembarked from the buses and entered the resort. “It really made everyone feel very special,” reported Victoria Gomez, a bank vice president from Columbia, Maryland.

Managers sponsored a car wash for employees at Parrot Creek Child and Family Services in Marylhurst, OR. Says Kelley Gutman, who suggested the idea, “Employees sat in the shade and drank iced tea while the managers washed their cars. It’s a small thing, but employees seemed to feel appreciated and everyone had a great time!”

RHC (The Resident Home), a non-profit agency that supports individuals with developmental disabilities in Cincinnati, OH, sets up a quarterly car wash for their 200 employees (and the general public) on a Friday when they are getting their paychecks. “We feel that this is a great motivating tool to show our staff employees that the administrative team will take three hours of their day to serve them like the employees serve others,” Says Larry Mullins, human resources director. “we also feel this is a great way to show the general public around us that we are a great organization to work for and it gives us time to discuss with them what we are about – important aspects for a non-profit agency that depends on financial and volunteer support from the local community.  Twice a year they host a massage day in which they bring in a massage therapist and allow any employee to sign up for a 15 minute massage.

On snowy days, Rich Willis and his supervisors of the Paychex Cherry Hill, NJ office go out and start the cars and clean off the windows of all 75 to 100 employees.

Kathleen Capristo, chief motivational strategist at Awards.com in Lyndhurst, NJ, reports, “One really cold winter day last year, when wet snow was freezing on the streets, we hired local high school students to scrape the ice off the windshields of the employees’ cars, and then handed each employee a bottle of Heet as they left for the day. Everyone felt special, and that we were looking out for them.”

One recent January, the snow was really coming down at Valassis’ corporate headquarters in Livonia, MI, with heavy accumulation predicted.  CEO Al Schultz wanted to thank employees who made the long trek into the office and were hard at work despite the inclement weather outside, so he ordered pizza and soft drinks for everyone at all three Michigan locations for lunch that day and joined employees in the auditorium at corporate headquarters for an impromptu lunch while the snow fell outside.

In Dresden, Ontario, where winter weather can be harsh, manager Craig Bullen of TD Canada Trust decided to thank his employees in a weather wise way. A winter storm was in effect, and as the cold day progressed and the snow accumulated, Craig sent out an urgent note to all of his employees that read: “To celebrate our year-to-date branch results, I’ve placed a little treat in each of your vehicles to help keep your path clear and safe. The three items are:

  1. A jug of washer fluid to keep your vision clear
  2. A snowbrush to help you stay on the journey ahead
  3. A lock de-icer to provide a warm comfortable experience.”