Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Meaningful Recognition Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

A woman holding up a credit card in a store.

​Despite how challenging 2020 has been for workers, salary forecasts show that given the uncertain economic outlook, most employers aren't budgeting for large end-of-year raises or bonuses.

"Work is busier than ever," said Danielle B. Moser, executive consultant, global career management at ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions in Asheville, N.C. Many people are working from home alongside their spouses while also helping their children with online school. Employees need to feel a sense of belonging and that their hard work is being noticed, she said.

"There are many other ways than money to keep employees happy and engaged," said Alexis Daur, global head of human resources at ISS, a financial services firm in Manhattan. Here are four nonmonetary ways managers can show employees their appreciation.

Offer a Heartfelt, Personalized Thank You

Don't underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note, particularly if it comes from the CEO.
"Employees love to know that the people at the top of the organization appreciate what they do," said Danna Hewick, SHRM-SCP, vice president of human resources for USSI Inc., a Bethesda, Md.-based cleaning and janitorial services company. Receiving a handwritten note from the CEO indicates that either the CEO noticed something the employee did, or the manager made of point of telling the CEO about it, she said.

However, it's essential that the note is personalized, not a form letter, and that it mentions specifics about the employee and his or her success, said Lisa Chui, director of human resources at Cheetah Technologies Inc., which supplies food to mom-and-pop restaurants in San Francisco.

If the CEO isn't available to write a note, managers can say thank you by sending their own handwritten notes, sending e-cards or phoning the employee to congratulate them on a job well done. "It's a nice surprise for the employee to open their e-mail and not have another task but instead a thank you," Daur said.

Companies might consider a more public thank you at a virtual all-staff meeting, or a post on the company's LinkedIn page. However, before recognizing an employee publicly, make sure he or she is comfortable being acknowledged in that way, said Kathie Patterson, chief human resources officer at Ally Financial Inc. in Detroit. This year, Ally is identifying "Muck Boot Heroes"—team members who quickly identified crises and found ways to ensure the best outcome during the pandemic. These employees are featured on the company's internal website in short videos that highlight their efforts and contributions, Patterson said. Ally may also work with an artist to create superhero comics of these employees.

Give PTO with Explicit Permission to Use it

Although many employees have put off using their paid time off (PTO) this year, managers might consider working with the HR department to give employees additional time off, or allowing employees to roll over unused vacation time into the new year, said Natalie Stute, chief human resources officer at Gainwell Technologies LLC in Washington, D.C. Companies that are concerned about having to pay out unused vacation time if someone leaves the company can remedy that by adding a new rule to their employee handbook that states, "Due to a global pandemic, we are allowing each employee an additional 40 hours of leave. However, if an employee leaves the company in 2021, those additional hours will not be part of their vacation payout," said Rachel Alansky, founder of Seamless HR Solutions in Arlington, Va.

Extra PTO is only meaningful if managers give their employees permission to take time off. Free up time for employees to take a break, Stute said. Once an employee decides to take a few days off, Alansky recommends telling them, "Please turn off your computer. We will let the staff know you will be out."

Small Gifts that Won't Break the Bank

Departments often have small budgets for holiday parties or team-building outings. Since that money is unlikely to be used this year on any in-person gathering, perhaps managers can use those funds to buy a small gift for their employees. Daur said one manager at ISS bought a group meditation app and gave licenses to each team member, acknowledging that life has been stressful and perhaps the app would be helpful. Another low-cost idea is sending employees an e-gift card for DoorDash or Uber Eats, Hewick said.

Show Employees They Matter

More important than gifts, parties or an all-staff shout-out is letting the employees know their manager cares about them. "It's important, as we go back into the [workplace], to really listen to them," Hewick said. Some employees might not be comfortable coming back to work. Some might need to arrange their schedule around children who are doing online learning at home. "Working with employees on their schedule and needs is a huge way to show appreciation," Hewick said. "People like money, but you do more to show employees you appreciate them if you're consistent on a day-to-day basis, rather than providing a one-time thing."

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. 


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.