Skip to main content
Manager thanking her employee for his hard work

5 Ways to Recognize employees, and it doesn’t cost a cent!

Shot of a positive businesswoman shaking hands with a male staff member

The year is wrapping up and you’re looking for a way to Recognize employees for their efforts and accomplishments all year long.

Problem is – your budget’s been cut and there’s a moratorium on spending.

Well here are 5 quick, easy ways to Say THANK YOU, that don’t cost a thing, well – maybe one thing…

  1. Say ‘Thank You’ – no really, just say it.  “Nancy, thank you so much for all of your effort and contribution all year long, I really appreciate it”.  That’s it? Yep! That’s it.  
    1. If you’re meeting them in person, look them in the eye, smile, and once you say thank you, be quiet – let it land.  If you can’t say it in person, pick up the phone, the person will hear the sincere tone and inflection in your voice.
  2. Provide a piece of positive feedback.  What’s one thing you really appreciate about them, you’re grateful for, or glad that they do? Now give them that feedback in person.  Remember, the most powerful positive feedback includes:
    1. a headline:you are our customer service rock star’.
    2. be specific ‘you always follow up with the customer afterwards, if it’s not right you fix it, and you get stellar commendations’.
    3. the benefit ‘The customers you serve just keep coming back’.  Click here for more tips on how to give positive feedback in this cheeky article titled ‘3 Reasons why you should stop giving positive feedback’.
  3. Tell a flattering Story about them.  Maybe it’s a time when they stayed late to serve a customer, did something for a team mate, or a small thing that they do consistently that really serves the team. Tell that story. Do it in a team meeting, over lunch, or in front of someone they would be proud to have hear it.   Don’t worry about embarrassing them if they’re shy – as long as the story is complimentary – it’s worth the risk.  See Kouzes and Posner’s book Encouraging the Heart for more ideas.
  4. Go talk to them.  Stop by their desk and ask ‘how are you doing? Then stay there and listen. Listen like you don’t have anywhere to go – don’t look at your watch, don’t look at your i-phone, just listen. Double click on something they say that sounds important to them ‘your daughters coming home from school for the holiday?  You must be so excited…’.  If they ask ‘how about you?’ go ahead and answer, it’s not an interview – it’s a conversation – just make sure it’s more about them. Oh, and don’t ask for anything.  Can’t see them in person? Pick up the phone.
  5. Write a personal note, personal card, or even an email.  Got no money at all? Not even for a card? That’s ok.  Take time to write a personal note on a piece of paper or a post-it note, who cares?  It’s the thought that counts.  If you do have some money, pick up a card and write a personal note in it.  Want to really amp it up?  Include something from points 1, 2, or 3 above!
    1. Don’t have time to send a card to a virtual employee because you left it too late?  I can relate! Send a thoughtful email then, or an e-card.  Here is a link to one free site – there are many.
    2. Text is a last resort – it’s just too temporary. But, it is ‘better than nothing’, which is probably what the employee will say to a colleague after you’ve sent it complete with emoticon.

Here are a couple of final thoughts.  Sometimes leaders are hesitant to recognize one employee – because they’re afraid that other employees will feel left out or wonder ‘what about me’?  Don’t let this stop you.  If you’re recognizing people often, you will get around to everyone at some point.

Got more than one employee? Most of us do. Mix it up.  Pick a different method for each employee if you want.  In fact, cater your feedback to what is most motivating for each employee!  What? Treat everyone different?  Yes! Based on their interviews with over 850,000 employees Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton – authors of ‘What Motivates Me’ and the ‘Carrot Principle’, found that the most motivating recognition is when it feels tailored to each employee.  If you’ve read ‘First Break All the Rules’ by Marcus Buckingham, then you know that one of the ‘rules’ that best leaders in the world ‘break’ – is treating everyone the same.

When I said ‘5 ways that won’t cost a thing’ I added, ‘well, maybe one thing?’  Well the one thing is thought.  Though each one of the tips above can be ‘delivered’ in seconds, to maximize the impact of your ‘thank you’, you need to be thoughtful.  You don’t have to be creative, poetic, artistic, or even grammatically correct.  You do have to be sincere and that takes thought. So here’s a quick tip on that;

  • See tip # 2 – What is one thing you like about them, appreciate, admire, or are grateful for?  It doesn’t have to be ‘the’ thing, just one thing.

A final note.  Thank you to you.  I really admire you for being interested in an article like this and taking the time to read it. If this article caught your eye – you do appreciate your employees.  You are grateful for their contributions, you do care.  Now go let them know.

For more tips, ideas, or if you want to talk over a challenging situation, please write me at or call 604 324-5900.

By the way, we’re running the award winning ‘What Motivates Me’ seminar this January together with our popular ‘Coaching for Engagement’.  If you want to take your employee engagement, leadership, or both to the next level, head over to for more ideas or give us a call.




  • So good. I like how these are all simple, easy and no-cost solutions. Notice how long a thank you or recognition card stays on the desk of your employee – those small gestures are always valued.

    • Thanks Hugh! You’re right too – I’ve seen people with a ‘post-it note’ thank you stuck on their computer for months.
      thanks Hugh

  • Thank you Matt, always great articles and topics! I love that one thing called THOUGHT! Great reminder to all managers!
    All the best,
    PS I’m keeping my ‘thank you’ sticky note since 1995 🙂

    • Hi Jovica! thanks for the compliments and really glad you’re getting value out of them.
      Do you really have a sticky note from 1995? Who’s it from?

  • Of course I do! It was while I was employed with SASK Gaming Corporation-Casino Regina. One of my key mentors,from Holland Casinos International (consultants to SGC ’95-’00) , Peter Kolen (god rest his soul) who left me a sticky thank you note on my desk for accomplishing a project(business proposal) 1 week prior to EB deadline :). He wrote: “Hey Jovica, whether it is slot monthly report, or this business proposal, I have nothing ever to concern myself about when I have someone like you on my team. Thanks man,
    PS I still have a couple of ‘thank you’ letters from there and another two from BCLC

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

How to Motivate Employees in 10 Minutes or Less

Get your free eBook when you subscribe to my newsletter.