Tools For Motivating Employees. The Power of Handwritten Notes and Cards.

employee recognition header

Summary: This post contains not only an article about the engagement value of handwritten notes in employee recognition, but also a video interview with Chester Elton, author of “The Carrot Principle,” expanding on the subject.  In addition, there are links to sources of message samples and there are two pdf sets of printable note templates you can use to make your own clip-on notes or sticky notes.

Time after time, research shows employees value recognition above money.

There is only so much reward value to money.  Sure, people want to be fairly compensated.  But they’d rather have less money and an appreciative boss.

In fact, many people take jobs or stay with jobs with companies that don’t pay as well as the average, if the bosses and co-workers are friendly, caring, understanding and appreciative.

There are two kinds of employees you need to recognize.

As you might expect, people want recognition for various levels of above-average work — from “this is a particularly good job” through “this is outstanding” to “Wow! I think you just saved the company!”  You can easily see and desire to reward particularly good performance.

But there are plenty of good, steady workers who deliver the work you hired them for.  Their work is consistent and reliable.  It is of the good quality you expect of workers at their levels. It is the work that you need to make the organization operate smoothly.  And they show up on time, work the full day and do what is expected of them.

Usually, you can’t think of any one action or project that is deserving of particular praise.  They don’t do anything especially outstanding.  It’s just that having employees like these is outstanding in and of itself.

Those employees want and deserve recognition as much as the so-called “star performers.”  They are “stars” in their own way.

You need both types of performers.  The first type help your business grow.  The second type make it run.  In fact, most of your best employees have both types of characteristics — they are steady and reliable, yet they also are able to go above and beyond.

So, how do you recognize both kinds of good employee performance and productivity.  And how do you do it so that it is genuine and reflects the value of the performance?

A great way is to send handwritten notes.  Notes that  tell the employee specifically what contribution he or she made.

Most verbal praise lasts as long as the paper it’s not printed on.  Not to mention that few people know how to express themselves fully but succinctly when they are face to face.

A handwritten note may be the highest form of personal recognition.  It implies that you took the time to think about the employee and write it yourself.  You didn’t have your secretary or assistant type and email a standard “good work” message.  It is an original, one-off, completely individual acknowledgement.

Because it is unique to that employee, the employee usually keeps it.  Values it.  Because the employee feels valued.  Noticed.  Appreciated.

You can’t buy the goodwill that comes with that kind of feeling.  It feeds the employee’s self-esteem.  Money and gifts can’t do that.  Personal attention can.

It doesn’t take a long letter.  Something the size of a sticky note can work very well for the more frequent and casual messages.  Sticky notes actually are perfect for sending a quick “thank you” or “good job” right on the documents or objects that you are praising.  Or, if you primarily exchange documents by email, you can print out a document you want to comment on and stick a note to it.  It’s easy to do this so you can do it fairly frequently.

For both kinds of performance I mentioned earlier, you can merely write a few words that say specifically what you appreciated about the employee’s work and sign it.  As a base for your handwritten note, you can use pre-printed note paper, cards and sticky notes that call special attention to your message. (People love them.)

You can also download sample messages to help you compose your own.  Just be sure to point out something in particular about the work of the employee you’re writing to.  Keep in mind that it is a personal message.

Here are some sites where you can copy or download sample messages.

  1. (this site also has printed note paper and cards you can use to write your message on.)

In addition, I’ve made some sticky note style print-ables you can use to write your notes on.  You can download them here:  It is a tw0-page pdf.  You can use one set of four notes for praising special achievements and the other for messages that recognize the value of continuous, everyday good work.


In this video, Chester Elton, author of The Carrot Principle talks about the power of specific recognition and the handwritten note