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The modern workplace has experienced more dramatic shifts in the first half of 2020 than ever before in history, and the changing landscape starts with business closures due to COVID-19. 

As of May 2020, more than 100,000 U.S. small businesses have permanently closed their doors, according to The Washington Post. The number of job losses is also staggering. USA Today reports more than 20 million jobs have been lost since mid-March. 

The pandemic has ravaged workplaces across the world, with almost half (40 percent) of employers shutting down certain parts of their businesses and 83 percent adjusting their business practices, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

While millions of Americans have filed for unemployment, professionals who still have their jobs are reportedly more stressed than ever. A record-high 25 percent of American workers believe they will be laid off in the next year, according to an April 2020 Gallup poll. 

SHRM found that more than 40 percent of employees feel drained, exhausted or burned out from work, with younger employees more likely to feel the pressure. More than half (51 percent) of Gen Z say they are experiencing burnout compared with 24 percent of Baby Boomers.     

As the pandemic strains companies across all industries, it’s critical for businesses to support their workers in profound, thoughtful and memorable ways. Companies need a healthy and engaged workforce as they learn how to navigate the new normal. To succeed, organizations must go beyond creating safe spaces and take time to acknowledge and appreciate the employees who keep business moving forward. 

To boost morale and show appreciation to employees, financially strapped HR departments can skip figuring out how to fund monetary rewards. Instead, they can look to promotional products for cost-effective, creative, thoughtful and memorable ways to connect with their workers.  

When employees are recognized and celebrated for their hard work, they are more likely to feel motivated and committed to their employer’s mission. In fact, nearly three-quarters of employed Americans (69 percent) say they would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often, according to a survey by OGO. On the flip side, workers who are not regularly commended for their contributions are less likely to go above and beyond for their employers. 

Even in the best of times, people want to feel appreciated and valued. In a COVID-19 era, when many employees make herculean efforts every day in their jobs, companies can effectively and sincerely acknowledge their contributions by selecting the right promotional products. 

Read on to learn more about the employee recognition market and how human resources departments can use promotional items to recognize, reward and rally around their team members.


The human resources industry in 2020, measured by revenue, is estimated at $59.8 billion according to IBISWorld, and the rate of growth is expected to increase marginally by 0.4 percent this year.

However, today’s HR managers are facing a vastly different workplace than in past years, from recruiting and hiring to overseeing daily activities. To make it safer for employees to return to their offices, factories and stores, HR departments have taken the lead to deploy all kinds of measures, including virus-screening questionnaires and social-distancing wristbands that vibrate if workers get too close to each other. According to Human Resource Executive, the top safety strategies companies are currently using as employees return to their workplaces include deep cleaning (90 percent), mandatory mask use (88 percent) and restricting meeting size (81 percent). 

HR managers are also being called on to help employees cope with the current reality. According to a study from Marsh & McLennan Companies, nine out of 10 employees are concerned about COVID-19, and more than half (54 percent) are worried about coronavirus exposure at their workplace, according to a national poll from Eagle Hill Consulting.   

In these anxious times, promotional products distributors can develop campaigns to address employees’ biggest concerns. Talk to your clients about social-distancing and hand-washing promotions in the workplace. Promotional gifts that are useful at work—think touch-free door openers and hand sanitizer—can help workers feel safer. For employees working remotely, consider promotional items to brighten their day, such as food gifts and desktop accessories.   

Now is also an ideal time to reward employees’ diligent work. In addition to managing the stress of a worldwide pandemic, the downsizing that’s taken place at many businesses means they probably have many new and additional responsibilities on their plate, too. Some may have had to adjust to working remotely or managing a remote team for the first time. Others may be struggling to find clients, learning to sell through online meetings or trying to get the same amount of work done with fewer people on their team. 

Managers can use promotional products to show team members they are aware of their contributions and appreciate their work. From online celebrations to promotional gifts delivered to doorsteps or desktops, organizations can explore many ways to help employees feel special and valued. 


Why Employee Recognition Matters 

  • Incentives, such as promotional products, improve performance by an average of 22 percent.
  • Team incentives boost performance as much as 44 percent.
  • When businesses use incentives to promote smarter thinking, performance improves 26 percent
  • Sales increase 26 percent when recognition programs use merchandise over cash.
  • The longer the recognition program, the better. Programs that run a year or longer increase performance by 44 percent

Source: Incentive Federation

Reasons Employees Want To Be Celebrated

  • Success: 40%
  • Knowledge or expertise: 24%
  • Effort: 20%
  • Living core values: 16%

Source: Deloitte

Recognizing Remote Workers
Talk to your clients about ways to engage their remote workers. Employees who work from home are more likely to become disengaged and resign compared to their in-office counterparts. According to the Global Work Connectivity Study, only five percent of remote workers say they always or very often see themselves working at their company for their entire careers compared to 28 percent who never work remote.

Sources: Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse

Room For Improvement
Most employees (82 percent) say they don't fear their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. According to a survey, workers reported an average of 50 days since they last felt recognized. Don't let hard work go unnoticed. Talk to your clients about how they can use promotional items to celebrate their team's winsbig and small.

Source: OGO

How Do Companies Celebrate Their Workers?

  • The average organization uses eight recognition programs. Some are length of service (72 percent), exceptional performance (62 percent), customer service (34 percent), productivity (27 percent) and quality (27 percent).
  • The most common forms of employee recognition are gift cards (62 percent) followed by clocks and watches (49 percent).
  • Nearly one in five organizations (18 percent) give employee-of-the-month awards.

Sources: Maritz and World at Work 

Just Say Thanks
All most employees need is a simple "thank you." According to Deloitte, 85 percent of professionals appreciate when someone notices their work. When it comes to say thanks, 37 percent of professionals say they want to be recognized by leaders above their direct supervisors, while 32 percent prefer recognition from their bosses.


When employees put in long hours, organizations can say thanks by treating them to Belgian-chocolate brownies. Every brownie in the Thank You Sprite box is individually wrapped for freshness and safety.

Fairytale Brownies  /  PPAI 317978, S4  / www.fairytalepromos.com


The Unsung Hero Award allows businesses to celebrate employees who always deliver more than expected. Each award is presented on an ebony plaque with a full-color metal plate. Choose from six stock designs or opt for a custom hero figure. 

RecognitionWorx, Inc.  /  PPAI 239699, S4  /  www.recognitionworx.com


To celebrate praise-worthy achievements, look to these colorful felt pennants. Printed in full color and designed with a sewn-on felt strip, these American-made pennants make a fun addition to any employee recognition campaign. 

Pepco Promotional  /  PPAI 112684, S6  /  www.pepcopromotional.com


Nurture workers at home or in the office with the Seed Sensations Grow Guy, which comes pre-loaded with seeds. It’s an ideal way to cultivate care while keeping a company’s name front and center.   

Jornik Manufacturing Corp.  /  PPAI 111065, S6  /  www.jornik.com


Featuring an on-trend marble finish, the stainless-steel marbled peristyle bottle makes a stylish and functional welcome-back gift when employees return to the workplace. This vacuum-insulated bottle is designed with a screw-top cap. 

Crown/IMAGEN Brands  /  PPAI 113430, S10  /  www.crownprod.com


In a COVID-19 age, the no-contact keychain is a useful way to welcome employees back to the office. Made from brass, this multi-purpose tool allows users to safely open doors and press elevator buttons. 

Leed’s  /  PPAI 112361, S13  /  www.leedsworld.com


A watch is a timeless way to commemorate employee milestones and achievements. The Maverick features a black or brown leather strap, and a black, white or champagne dial color. Add an engraving or imprint for a personal touch.  

SELCO  /  PPAI 113845, S6  /  shop.selcotime.com


Sing your employees’ praises with the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ BluetoothSpeaker. This wireless speaker goes anywhere and delivers immersive sound for up to 16 hours before needing a recharge. 

Incentive Concepts  /  PPAI 212912, S10  /  www.incentiveconcepts.com


Businesses can send a message of support and solidarity to remote workers with huggable plush toys. Add a custom t-shirt or face mask or design a custom plush creation.  

Soft Stuff Creations, Inc.  /  PPAI 413041, S2  /  www.softstuffpromo.com


Social-distancing guidelines make it tough to give a hug right now. However, organizations can still send some love to their employees with custom plush toys. According to Sharon Griffith, vice president of sales and marketing for Soft Stuff Creations in Surrey, British Columbia, these toys spark fun in many ways. “Plush toys are a great way to welcome employees back to work, or if still working at home, a great way to stay in front of them,” she says. “Everyone loves a plushie.”

For inspiration on how plush toys can keep a brand top of mind, look to Hootsuite. The social media platform showcases a plush version of the Hootsuite Owl, Owly, having fun all over the world on Instagram. 

Griffith says her company also sparks engagement with its own plush mascots, Roofus and Roofina. “My Facebook followers get quite upset if I travel somewhere and don’t post pictures of Roofus,” she says. “He is quite well-traveled.”

Plush toys open the door to many creative ideas. Employees can post photos of their plushie during the workday or when he relaxes. Employers can send a plush toy to celebrate a team member’s above-and-beyond work. Griffith also suggests using different plushies or outfitting them in different color t-shirts to designate various teams and launching a contest to name them. 

No matter how brands use them, plush toys create company pride and bring a smile at a time when it’s needed the most.  


Audrey Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-area based writer and former associate editor of PPB.