2401 - Employee Recognition Policy


Employee Recognition

Audience List

  • Chief Deputy Directors
  • Department Directors
  • Employee Relations Officers
  • Merit Award Administrators
  • Personnel Officers


This policy provides information about employee recognition via the Merit Award Program and Employee Engagement Program.


The purpose of this toolkit is to provide department HR offices, managers, and supervisors with information about employee recognition tools and resources. This toolkit is regularly updated with new resources.


In August 2015, as part of the state’s Civil Service Improvement initiative, the Government Operations Agency (GovOps) and the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) conducted a statewide survey to measure employee engagement. Employees were asked to rank 10 statements from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Employees most agreed with the statement “I believe my work makes a difference in the lives of Californians.”

CalHR has put together several employee recognition resources and ideas and created a toolkit on our website to help develop or reinforce your employee recognition efforts.


Successful recognition programs begin with executive support and are championed by management at all levels of the organization. Many departments host an annual awards ceremony and present plaques or certificates to exceptional employees. Awardees can also be recognized through internal memorandums, department publications, and other forms of outreach. Many departments proudly highlight awardees with framed photographs prominently displayed. This serves as a visual reminder that exceptional efforts are valued and is just one-way departments can formally recognize employees. Many departments also utilize other informal methods of recognition to show their appreciation of staff such as thank you notes, staff meeting recognition opportunities, and more. Additionally, some departments may have specific requirements per employee memorandums of understanding.

Merit Award Program & Employee Engagement Program

The Merit Award Program was established by the California Legislature in 1950 as an incentive award system to recognize employee contributions to state government. The program is authorized for all state departments in which each department provides funding and has a Merit Award Administrator who is responsible for program activities. The Merit Award Program is comprised of the following four awards: Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor Award, Superior Accomplishment and Sustained Superior Accomplishment Awards, 25-Year Service and 25-Year Retirement Awards, and the Robert L. Negri Human Resources Achievement Award. The CalHR, Benefits Division retains overall administrative responsibility for the State’s Merit Award Program and serves as a liaison in providing information or instruction to individual State departments.

CalHR established the Employee Engagement Program in 2023 to enhance employee engagement by empowering state employees through workplace activities and recognition initiatives. The Employee Engagement Program consists of the Employee Suggestion Program, Public Service Recognition Week, HR Credentialing Program, Californians Serving California Campaign, and Benefits Campaign. The CalHR, Benefits Division retains overall administrative responsibility for the State’s Employee Engagement Program and serves as liaison in providing information or instruction to individual State departments.

Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor Special Act/Special Service Awards Program (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.

Superior Accomplishment and Sustained Superior Accomplishment Awards

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.

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 employees who have completed 25-years or more of state service upon retirement.

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.

Department Programs Examples

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
  • Innovation
  • Organizational Enhancement
  • Customer Service
  • Superior Accomplishment
  • Partnership
  • Leadership
  • This award recognizes excellence in leadership among managers or supervisors.  Nominations are submitted to the executive office by staff.

Holiday Open House

Cookies and appetizers 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 makes recommendations to the Executive Office.  Executives make the final decision.

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.

Additional Recognition Ideas

Supervisors make their way around the work area and expresses appreciation to the employees for their work.

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 the Statewide Merit Award Administrator listed below.

California State Teachers’ Retirement System

Franchise Tax Board
FTBEmployeeRecognitionAwardProgram - Dept@ftb.ca.gov




  • PML 2016-013: PML 2016-013 - 4/28/2016 - Employee Recognition

Web Pages

Authorized By

Benefits Division
Benefits Division Inquiries, Benefits Division

Contact Person

Merit Award Program and Employee Engagement Program
Phone: 916-273-8068
Email: StatewideEngagement@calhr.ca.gov

Superseded Policies

Not Applicable.


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Table of Contents

1000 - Equal Employment Opportunity

1100 - Selection

1200 - Appointments

1300 - Exempt Employees

1400 - Benefits and Insurance

1500 - Work Schedules

1600 - Third Party Pre-Tax Parking

1700 - Compensation

1800 - Savings Plus

1900 - Bona Fide Associations

2000 - Collective Bargaining

2100 - Leave

2200 - Travel/Relocation

2300 - State Owned Housing

2400 - Employee Recognition

2600 - Layoffs

2700 - Retirement

2800 - Training

2900 - Workforce Planning

3000 - Examination and Hiring

3100 - Drug-Free Workplace

3200 - Medical Screening

3300 - Apprenticeships

3400 - Temporary Assignment

3500 - Classification Plan