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Employee Recognition Toolkit

​The purpose of this toolkit is to help department HR offices, managers and supervisors find information about employee recognition tools and resources. This toolkit is regularly updated with new resources.  If your department would like to share a resource, please make submissions to Employee Recognition Resources. This is not an exclusive list. CalHR encourages each department to explore additional resources related to employee recognition.

California’s Public Service Recognition Week celebrates the work of its public servants and is held annually.  For more information, please visit the Public Service Recognition Week webpage.


​Recognition Programs

Employee recognition programs reward employees for a variety of reasons; from performing their daily jobs well to going above and beyond the call of duty.  Below is information about the authorized statewide Merit Award Program as well as examples of programs developed by departments.  Obtain the necessary approval within your department before conducting formal recognition activities.

Statewide Authorized Programs 

Merit Award Program

The Merit Award Program (MAP) was established by the California Legislature in 1950 as an incentive award system to recognize employee's contributions to state government and its operations.  This recognition awards program is authorized for all state departments and each department has a Merit Award Administrator.

Employee Suggestion Program

A formal system for rewarding employees who submit ideas that reduce or eliminate state expenditures or improve the safety or operation of state government.

Superior/Sustained Accomplishment Nomination

These awards are for a performance resulting in exceptional contribution to state government and are excellent tools for recognizing deserving individuals and teams.  Many state agencies hold an annual awards ceremony to acknowledge their outstanding employees and increase employee morale.

Special Act/Special Service Nomination (Medal of Valor) 

The Governor's State Employee Medal of Valor is the highest honor California bestows upon its employees.  In a public ceremony the Governor awards gold or silver medals to state employees who risked their lives to save others or state property.

25-Year Service and Retirement Awards 

This program was established by the Legislature to recognize state employees who have completed 25 years or more of state service.  There are two types of awards - the Service Award and the Retirement Award.  The Service Award recognizes employees who have completed 25-years of state service. The Retirement Award recognizes retiring employees who have completed 25-years or more of state service.

Department Programs

The following are examples of employee recognition activities from department programs which can range from simple reoccurring appreciation activities to complex nominations and award ceremonies.

Anniversary Certificates

Presentation of a certificate to employees for milestone anniversaries (e.g. five, ten, fifteen years of department or state service).

Appreciation Breakfast

An annual breakfast hosted by the management team to show appreciation to staff for their contributions to the department.

Director’s Annual Recognition Program

During an annual nomination period, managers and supervisors may nominate eligible employees for achievements in the prior fiscal year.  Eligible employees may be nominated for one or more categories. The Director presides over a ceremony to acknowledge all award recipients.  Several award categories recognize employees and teams of the department for superior performance in:

    • Performance Excellence

    • Leadership

    • Innovation

    • Organizational Enhancement

    • Customer Service

    • Superior Accomplishment

    • Partnership

This award recognizes excellence in leadership among managers or supervisors.  Nominations are submitted to the executive office by staff.

Holiday Open House

Cookies and hors d'oeuvres hosted by the management team to show appreciation to staff for their contributions to the department.

Monthly Kudos Award Program

Kudos are submitted to the employee’s manager or supervisor by peers or customers. On a monthly basis Kudos Awards are presented to employees during an informal unit meeting and then displayed in a common area. Recipients receive the Kudos Award after one month of display.

Service Excellence Awards

Nominations are submitted by peers, managers, supervisors or customers.  Nominations may be made if an employee goes above and beyond their normal duties, demonstrates and practices innovation and process improvement, or provides excellent customer service.  The division the nominated employees works under reviews the nominations and make recommendations to the Executive Office.  Executives make the final decision.  

​Department Handbooks

The following are examples of department handbooks used to administer recognition programs.

California Department of Public Health (CDPH)

CDPH Recognition Program(s) Handbook (PDF) | CDPH Recognition Program(s) Handbook - Text Only (RTF)

​Other Recognition Ideas

Recognition can be simple and delivered daily.

Greet employees

Once a year senior management welcomes all employees at the workplace entrances with notes of appreciation that also promote the organization's mission and values.

Star Award

Staff may informally recognize one another by posting Star Award certificates outside of one another’s workspaces. The Star Award certificate includes the employee's name and the reason why they received the award.

Thank you

A verbal thank you.

A written thank you in the form of an email, note or card.


Supervisor makes their way around the work area and expresses appreciation to the employees for their work.



Books and Articles

Books and articles on employee recognition may be available through the CA State Library.  

Department Contacts

The following departments are willing to share information about their internal employee recognition programs.  If your department would like to list a contact and share information about your department's employee recognition programs please contact Employee Recognition Resources.


California State Teachers’ Retirement System

Sean Carrington |

Manager, Employee Engagement

Department of Motor Vehicles

Sara Sepulveda |

Manager, Employee & Administrative Services

Franchise Tax Board

Paul Ogden |

Director, Business and Human Resources Bureau​​​

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