22 Employee Appreciation Ideas to Keep Your Staff Happy

At a time when employees are leaving their jobs at an all-time high, it’s critical to let your staff know how appreciated they are. Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year” (Gallup). As this issue increasingly arises across the workforce, employers are looking for meaningful and authentic ways to reward their workers for their efforts.

Why celebrate employees?

Employers may think that bonuses, promotions, and other workplace perks let staff know that they deserve something in return for the time they put in. But a display of appreciation that is tailored to your employees’ unique talents carries more weight than you realize. With forty percent of employed Americans reporting that being recognized for their hard work would increase their motivation, it’s crucial that you set aside time to celebrate your staff.

In the hustle and bustle of a busy work schedule, it’s all too easy to forget to give kudos to your team. Days, weeks, and even months can pass before administrators and managers stop to tell everyone “thanks for all you do.” Pressing the pause button every once in a while to celebrate your employees guarantees that your employees will see just how valuable they are to the company.

What is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day is a time when you can show your team just how much you value their contributions and accomplishments. 

You may already be showing them on a daily basis that you appreciate their efforts with small gestures. Perhaps small expressions of gratitude are already part of your company culture. However, Employee Appreciation Day is a good time to take it up a notch with a more overt display of recognition or some extra team building! Most importantly, a formal company-wide gesture demonstrates your dedication to establishing a unified strong team.

When is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day falls on the first Friday of every March and the workdays leading up to Employee Appreciation Day are known as Employee Appreciation Week. Though it won’t appear on a calendar of national holidays, this unofficial national holiday is becoming more and more vital to celebrate within your company. 

Bob Nelson, one of the founding board members of Recognition Professionals International, created Employee Appreciation Day. While the date may seem arbitrary, it’s likely that Nelson chose that date based on government statistics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked job turnover since 2014 and its Job Openings & Labor Turnover report routinely shows a slight increase in employee turnover between December and March each year.

Employee departures in December make sense as it is the time of year to wrap things up and forge new beginnings. But why the increased turnover in March? First, due to tax laws, companies wait until March 15 to hand out yearly bonuses. Employees wait for that money before moving on to another position. 

But there is a second, less obvious reason that staff quit in March. As February is the shortest month of the year, deadlines and turnaround demands may leave staff feeling burned out. Thus, the beginning of March is the ideal time to reward your team for their extra efforts. With spring around the corner, March is a wonderful time for the whole team to re-energize and management can reset a positive and encouraging tone for the year ahead.

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How to celebrate employees any day of the year

There are countless ways to celebrate your employees and make them feel special. This article highlights familiar ideas and also shares some that may not have crossed your mind. Before we lay out the list of ideas, here are some pointers:

  • Begin your planning a few weeks in advance. Gifts take time to order and be delivered and group activities may require reservations. 
  • Add the date to your shared work calendars. As a practical matter, this ensures that your team members can save the date in their own schedule. Additionally, announcing a staff appreciation day in advance shows your crew that you are looking forward to honoring their efforts! 
  • Finally, at a time when your office may be operating virtually or in hybrid mode, don’t forget to include your remote workers in the festivities.

With a large chunk of the workforce operating remotely, the number of fun virtual activities has grown in quantity and quality. You can show all your staff, whether they are in the office or not, that you ‘see’ them and recognize the work they do from afar!

Taking time out of the workday to have a virtual group gathering shows you understand that every member of the team counts–be they near or far. It’s been proven that employees who feel that they are part of a team are happier overall and more motivated to conquer challenges.

Something simple, like a virtual pizza party, is a possible activity option. You can also plan something more engaging, like an online game created specifically to entertain a team and forge strong bonds amongst them. 

A virtual gathering with colleagues is not only fun while it is happening, but the effects of an enjoyable team building game are long-reaching! 

Top staff appreciation ideas

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get down to the details of how administrators can show appreciation to staff. There is a myriad of ways to show your gratitude and you may not be sure where to begin. Below we share the top staff appreciation ideas!

1. Give a gift

Gifts are a tried and true way to say thank you for a job well done. Gifts don’t need to be expensive or fanciful, though your selection may depend on the size of your staff and budget. 

For larger groups, practical gifts like travel mugs or tote bags will do the trick. Some other good employee appreciation gifts are curated food baskets, desk plants, attractive desk accessories, the latest tech gadgets, or company branded “swag”.

For smaller teams, choose personalized gifts that speak to the unique work traits of the recipient. Reward someone by showing that you have noticed their special skill. For example, if someone is an especially good number cruncher, get them a mug or plaque with a humorous quote like, “Ooh…This calls for a spreadsheet!”

Finally, you can’t go wrong when you let your employees choose their own gift by handing out gift cards to nearby shops or online stores!

2. Have fun together out of the office

Fun time together out of the office shows that you recognize your staff’s hard work and that they deserve a day of play! Creating long-lasting memories enhances team bonds which boost morale. The choices are endless. Some classics are:

Activities

In-person activities could include playing an escape room together, visiting an amusement park, hearing live music, or seeing a movie. Fun virtual team building activities like virtual escape rooms or mystery games are easy to play. Any of the many options will let your employees know that you love to see smiles on their faces! If you’re interested in a team building event, check out our activities page!

Annual retreats 

Focus on laughing more and talking about work less. Structured retreats feature activities that build trust among team members. Games let employees loosen up and get a little silly. Evenings around an open campfire can lead to teams learning about each other’s personal goals and dreams.

Field trips

If a retreat is too much to organize, spend a day out of the office together. Head out of the city and take a hike. An afternoon at a beach or on the water lets your employees kick back and relax. Take a food tour in your city or even go to the zoo!

Scavenger hunts

Employees working in teams set off to follow clues that lead to a prize. Fun times are built into this activity, whether they complete the scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunts are especially well-suited to virtual outings. Museum Scavenger Hunts are popular and easy to play.

Group cooking classes

Combining the appreciation that free food shows together with the chance to learn something new is a unique way to say thank you to your team. Virtual group cooking classes allow people to share both food and  memories, even while apart. 

 

3. Say thanks with food and drink!

Don’t underestimate how much a free meal at the office says “Thanks for your great work!” Many workers buy lunch every day and the costs add up over time. 

Bringing food in is a great way to show your appreciation. Consider cuisine besides pizza or bagels and cream cheese. Panini, pasta, and overloaded deli sandwiches show the extra effort you’ve put into planning the occasion. Be sure to order food that meets any dietary restrictions. Gluten-free and vegan employees will feel especially noticed. 

Make the company meal festive! Decorate the office with balloons, streamers, and banners with team appreciation quotes like “A truly amazing team is hard to find!” or “Your hard work continues to inspire me.”

Company happy hours are another popular way to show your appreciation at the end of every week. According to Inc., happy hours are one of the most successful means of praising employees. Companies like Evernote and The Muse are elevating happy hours to new heights with craft beer, artisanal liquor, and even charcuterie plates!

Virtual companies need not miss out on the fun. There are an array of virtual happy hours that your team can enjoy together over Zoom. Choose a group course that supplies employees with all the ingredients in advance.

4. Incentives

Giving a one-time gift like those above is a great way to say “thank you for a job well done” and encourage employees to maintain a high level of work. But incentives are a form of appreciation with effects that have more staying power. 

Familiar and popular incentives are monetary in nature: bonus pay, raises, and profit-sharing to name just a few. But incentives come in many shapes and sizes. Offering forward-looking incentives to your employees shows that you value not just their past accomplishments but their future potential. 

Offering free tuition or paid training courses will prevent your employees from growing stagnant. They will appreciate the opportunity to develop new skills which they can then put into action in the workplace. 

Another way to show that you recognize the unique talents of your employees is to send them to relevant conferences or trade shows. This is a powerful way to let an employee know that you trust in their abilities and are proud to let them represent the company.

5. Recognize milestones

Honoring employees when they reach important professional milestones does more than show that person how much they are appreciated. It also sends a message to the entire team that their commitment and loyalty will be rewarded.

Celebrating work anniversaries is a sure-fire way of saying “Thanks for being here and we want you to stick around!” Whether it be a one-month anniversary or a ten-year anniversary, these kinds of celebrations create a culture of appreciation and recognition. 

Promotion parties allow employees to shine in front of their peers. Retirement celebrations praise an employee’s contributions over the years. Publicly acknowledging an employee’s past service lets your team know that longevity within the company is highly valued.

Don’t rule out personal milestones, like birthdays, wedding announcements, and baby showers. Acknowledging an employee as more than just a worker but as an individual with a life beyond the office can be a deeply touching form of appreciation.

6. Foster networking and connections

Showing employees that you believe in their potential is a powerful form of recognition. Connecting employees with peers at all levels within your company and beyond demonstrates your faith in their talent.

One highly effective program that your company should seriously consider is mentoring. Mentoring programs are so well-regarded that 70% of Fortune 500 companies have one. Both mentors and mentees develop new skills, become more vested in work, and form strong bonds with co-workers. Use Employee Appreciation Day as a time to announce the start of your mentorship program!

Also encourage employees to network with each other via Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other networking channels. Creating a space for employees to collaborate, ask questions, and share information is a way of saying that you believe that every one of them has something worthwhile to offer the team.

Lastly, let your employees know they are valued by bringing them to customer events and client meetings. Employees will appreciate being “shown off” to others!

Other ways to show employees your appreciation and gratitude

Here are other options for ways to continue showing appreciation to team members.

7. Simply say “Thank You” by sending an employee appreciation card

Opt for a nice presentation like a store-bought card and not just a Post-it sticker or note on company letterhead. Write something like, “Thank you for going above and beyond” or “It’s hard to imagine our team without you. Thank you!”

8. Take the thank you card concept to the next level by writing an employee recognition letter

Such a letter affords the opportunity to acknowledge the traits you value in your employee. Showing that you appreciate a worker’s specific qualities also adds authenticity to your gratitude. Some examples of positive qualities you could highlight are a team member’s initiative, positive attitude, willingness to learn, and problem-solving abilities.

9. Recognize successes with individual or team shoutouts

Public announcements or congratulatory company-wide emails are effective ways to demonstrate your appreciation. If you need help finding the right words, here is a list of 60 Heartfelt Employee Appreciation Quotes to Say “Thank You”.

10. A message of appreciation from higher up has an enormous impact on employees

Hearing positive feedback from a CEO goes a long way with workers. Gallup reports that 28 percent of employees state that the most memorable form of recognition came from a senior executive.

11. Let employees pursue their professional interests by giving them the bandwidth to work on a pet project

By doing so, you let your employees know that you have faith in their capabilities. When one of these projects leads to a significant innovation to the company’s objectives, it’s a win-win!

12. Announce employee accomplishments on social media

Post a photo on your company’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook highlighting that employee’s contributions. It’s a great way to let your clients know that you believe in your team members! Endorsements on Linkedin let an employee’s friends and colleagues know how much you value them.

13. Put out a suggestion box

Showing your employees that you want to hear from them about ways to improve the work environment and company culture lets them know that their voice counts.

14. Offer flexible scheduling

During the pandemic, employees working from home may have found that they produce their best work outside the 9 to 5 office norm. Consider allowing for late mornings or early departures.

15. Institute Summer Hours or Summer Fridays

Some businesses tend to be quieter on Fridays in the summer months. Take advantage of this slowdown to let your employees head out for the weekend early. Helping your employees avoid Friday traffic in the summer is a guaranteed way to show you value their time!

16. Contribute to your employees’ commute

Providing your workers with rail or bus passes or giving Uber/Lyft credits is a nice way to say thank you with pre-tax dollars.

17. Upgrade travel for your team members on the road

Providing business class seats instead of economy tells your employees that you want them to be comfortable on their journey to further company goals.

18. Have a “no questions asked” day off

This time off is different from sick leave, vacation days, and personal days. Those days are company benefits that employees have come to expect as part of an employment package. An extra day off with no explanation needed shows that you respect that your employee has a life outside of work.

19. Upgrade your breakroom

Nothing says thank you more than a fancy one-cup coffee maker or upscale espresso machine. Fresh fruit and juice in the refrigerator let your staff know you want them to be healthy and enjoy the snacks at the office!

20. Add nice touches to the restroom

Providing free toiletries like mini-disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste kits or fragrant hand lotions is a simple gesture that employees do actually notice!

21. Encourage peer-to-peer appreciation

Recognition doesn’t have to be top-down. Hearing positive feedback from one’s colleagues creates an environment where gratitude flows freely. This leads to employees feeling happier and more satisfied in the workplace. A simple way to start the process is to create an “appreciation board” where employees can leave notes with words of appreciation for each other!

22. Adhere to the same rules your employees do

When management fails to abide by its own company manual or even office work ethics, it sends a message of disrespect to your employees. When you live by the same rules as them, you let them know that you recognize their contributions as members of a team.

Conclusion

Make it a habit of showing your appreciation not just on Employee Appreciation Day but every day by saying “Good Morning!” and “Good night”. Let your employees know that you “see” them at the start and the end of every workday. 

Showing your employees just how much you appreciate them being part of the company is easy to do and the rewards are plentiful. A team that feels valued will want to give you the very best they have to offer. A company culture of productivity and happiness is sure to follow.