According to recognition expert Dr. Bob Nelson, the most effective employee rewards are also the least expensive. You don't need to send employees on pricey vacations to Hawaii or present elaborate trophies. In the vast majority of cases, a simple and heartfelt verbal or written thank-you will ensure your people feel appreciated. And you can shake things up by handing out inexpensive rewards such as gift cards for, discount restaurant coupons, gas cards or a paid afternoon away from the office.

The trick to giving your people rewards that make a real difference is to personalize them -- this is a case where one size definitely does not fit all. Find out what kinds of rewards are most motivating to your employees, and then tailor your recognition accordingly. In addition, keep the following secrets in mind when you're recognizing and rewarding good work:

1. Be Quick

For recognition to be effective, it needs to be closely linked to the behavior being rewarded. This means rewarding an employee immediately when, for example, she goes above and beyond the call of duty on a customer service initiative. Don't wait a month or two after the fact. By that time, the employee may have already forgotten what it was that she did to earn the recognition.

2. Be Specific

Generalities have no place when you're rewarding your employees. Point out the specific behavior that you are recognizing, and explain to the employee why you appreciate it: "You did a remarkable job pulling together the data for that marketing survey. Because of your excellent work, we were able to deliver our report to a key client ahead of schedule!"

3. Be Personal

Effective management is all about building relationships and trust with your people. It's always best to convey your praise in person and publicly, in front of the employee's peers, whenever possible. If you can't arrange for a personal, face-to-face praising in a timely way, then use the telephone or Skype, or send an email, text message or handwritten note.

4. Be Sincere 

Be sure your thanks are sincere and from your heart. The easiest way to do this is to offer thanks when you really are appreciative. Don't fake it when it comes to recognizing employees. Your people will see right through your lukewarm praise, and they will discount the recognition that you give them.

5. Be Positive

We've all experienced what it feels like to be thanked by a boss for doing something right ... and then immediately cut down a notch for doing something wrong. When you thank someone and then immediately follow it with a "but," everything before the "but" is discounted by the employee and everything after is amplified. Focus on the positives, and save the negative feedback for another occasion.

Recognizing and rewarding employees can be a remarkably powerful part of any manager's toolbox. Take time to do it the right way, and you will be rewarded in kind.