E. Recognition and Reward Programs


At UC Berkeley, we recognize that the collective efforts of all staff members contribute to the overall mission of the University and that we should encourage opportunities for those efforts to be acknowledged. In order to attract and retain the best employees, we must aim to create an environment where employees feel appreciated for their contributions.

Well-thought-out recognition/reward (non-cash) programs can be either peer- or management-driven, or both, and can help motivate employees to continually improve; to be innovative and manage resources creatively; to set high standards and goals; and to work together in teams. Recognition is a great esteem builder and can help create workplace loyalty and build a sense of community. It helps employees see what their co-workers are doing, and why.

The Berkeley Campus has a campus-sponsored Staff service award program.

Recognition Can Be Simple

One of the most effective ways to express appreciation is often one of the most overlooked: saying thank you. Even if most of the duties one performs are a normal part of the job, hearing thank you in a spontaneous and timely way can mean a lot to anyone. It should be done often and can be done privately or publicly in front of co-workers. Mention the task, project, or behavior you want to recognize and be sincere.

Some departments have a yearly picnic, luncheon, or other event to show appreciation to staff for their efforts.

Factors to Consider in the Establishment of a Program

Before you establish a program to tangibly reward staff on an informal, ongoing basis, consider these issues:

  1. Determine why you want to establish a recognition program. You may want to reward some (or all) of the following: 
    • Time, work, or money-saving ideas
    • Ongoing or one-time customer compliments for service/satisfaction
    • Solution to a difficult problem
    • Outstanding one-time achievements
    • Outstanding attendance (particularly where public hours are important)
    • General ongoing contributions that you'd just like to acknowledge
    • Improvement of any kind in an employee's efforts 

  2. If you don't know about employee attitudes about such a program, find out. Would it be positively received? Will you need to overcome cynicism toward or mistrust of such a program? You might want to conduct a short written survey of your employees and ensure that they can submit it anonymously, and/or you may want to invite feedback from volunteers in a focus group. One of the attitudes you may uncover is a pervasive belief that only "the usual" employees will receive any sort of recognition. It's a good idea when you are looking at a recognition program to look at why there may be such a perception. Are those who are recognized frequently truly high performers, or are they perhaps the ones who always seem to receive the "high profile" assignments – and can those types of assignments be given to others in the unit? A sample list of questions for such a survey is included at the end of this document.
  3. You may want to get employees involved in the program by forming a volunteer workgroup with the specific charge of program development and implementation.
  4. Determine how often awards could be given and who would decide to whom awards would go. (For example, "peer-to-peer" recognition could be done at any time and frequently; perpetual awards could be passed around once per quarter or every six months; thank you notes could be given whenever they seem appropriate.)
  5. Determine who could give or nominate someone for an award, i.e., peers, staff to supervisors, supervisors, or managers only. Your survey could include a question of how employees might think the program would work most effectively.
  6. Determine whether the awards would/could be private, public, or a combination and how frequently they could be given. 
  7. Make sure you can make it part of your workplace culture and inject some fun into the process.
  8. Determine what type of awards to give. University Business and Financial Bulletin G-41 specifically defines the types of tangible items that are allowable as rewards, sets limits on cost and frequency. ("Employee recognition awards are meant to be occasional and therefore must be presented to an employee on an infrequent basis . . . provided within an established recognition program and based on objective criteria"). G-41 can be found on the University website.
  9. Once you've started a recognition/awards program, you'll want to plan on keeping it going, or at least determine whether it is being well received and should continue.
  10. After you have had a program going for a while, you may want to measure its effectiveness. This can be done through discussions with managers and staff at various levels, and perhaps through another survey.
  11. Here are some examples of gifts that could be awarded, which would fit within the confines of G-41: 
    • Books
    • Flowers
    • Gift Certificates not exchangeable for cash
    • Tickets to events
    • Gift certificates for dinner
    • Lunches
    • Massages, facials (gift certificates)
    • CDs
    • Gift certificates from various catalogs
    • Funny t-shirts
    • Parking passes (May not exceed $175/monthly value per IRS rules)
    • Transit passes (May not exceed $100/monthly value per IRS rules)
    • (Custom) Plaque or coffee mug (Good Job; Thanks, etc.) 
    • Humorous items; or balloons, pencils, coffee mugs (You're Great; Good Job, etc.)
    • Pizza for the office
  12. Some campus departments already have established various awards programs; a few are listed below. You may wish to contact the Management Services Officer (MSO) or Department Personnel Manager (DPM) for more information. We have not listed names here, to avoid obsolescence.
    • Economics: Annual staff luncheon honoring department staff and "Employee of the Year" who receives a $50 gift certificate.
    • English: Three receptions/year for faculty & staff; luncheons off-campus for staff as a group and individually. 
    • Residential and Student Services Programs: Employee recognition and reward programs both per unit and department-wide.
    • Molecular and Cell Biology Staff Recognition Awards.
    • Physical Plant – Campus Services.
    • International House: "Employee Recognition Award Program."
    • Central Human Resources: "Golden Bear Award" peer awards.

  13. Here are web addresses for some other Universities that have programs:


Other ideas and perspectives on rewarding employees are given in the publications listed below.

  • 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, Nelson, 1994.
  • How to Recognize and Reward Employees, Deeprose, 1994.
  • Staff Appreciation Events, Stanford University, 1998.
  • Recognition and Rewards Project Team Report, MIT, 1998.
  • Commercial publications showing ideas for ordering various gifts, certificates, cards, etc.

Sample Attitude Survey

(Introductory Statement -- make specific to department)
Before we implement a recognition and rewards program in this department, we'd like to get an idea of what kind of program our employees would like to see and how it could be positively implemented. This survey is intended to be anonymous, but you may add your name to the bottom of the questionnaire. Please return your completed questionnaire to ________________ by _________. 

  1. Do you receive positive feedback from your supervisor on a regular basis? Does your supervisor thank you for the work you do?
    ______Mostly yes _____No, or rarely
  2. Have you ever wanted to be able to recognize good work done by co-workers?
    ______Frequently _____Seldom
  3. Would you prefer to receive recognition initiated by supervisors and managers or by your peers? Or both? (Check all that apply.)
    ______ Managers _____Supervisors _____Peers 

    Keeping in mind that this program is intended to involve "non-cash" tangible rewards that are limited by University and IRS regulations (Business & Financial Bulletin G-41), please respond to the following:
  4. What kind of "rewards" would you like to see given?
    ______ Mugs, other items with a special department or University logo
    ______ Flowers
    ______ Certificate of appreciation
    ______ Catalog gift certificates
    ______ T-shirts 
    ______ CDs
    ______ Parking pass
    ______ Transit pass
    ______ Dinner gift certificate
    ______ Tickets to events
    ______ Other: list suggestions below
  5. How could we be sure such a program would work effectively and positively?
  6. What drawbacks do you see to such a program?
  7. Would you be willing to participate in a workgroup to implement a program?