Fun ideas for celebrating Employee Appreciation Day in 2023

Employee Appreciation Day is an official occasion to celebrate employee achievements and show gratitude for the work they do for your company.

This is a moment to break up the daily routine with fancy dress, fun games and kind messages which boost morale and improve team cohesion.

In this article, we provide you with a comprehensive list of Employee Appreciation Day ideas to help you celebrate with your employees in 2023.

When is Employee Appreciation Day this year?

Employee Appreciation Day is celebrated annually on the first Friday of March, which means that this year, it lands on Friday, March 3rd, 2023.

Future EAD dates include…

It might seem extreme to dedicate days of the year to appreciating your employees. After all, isn’t this something that should take place continuously throughout the year?

In an ideal world, yes.

Sadly, though, it’s all too easy to forget about employee appreciation as you get swallowed up by the daily grind.

So, don’t forget to mark these dates in your calendar so that you can start preparing for your next EAD event!

Group activities for Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day is all about having fun and celebrating your employees’ achievements, so make sure to fill your schedule with exciting group activities.

By making time for your employees to bond with each other, employees can build trust, improve communication skills and strengthen workplace relationships.

Organise a company-wide retreat

Company retreats, often referred to as team-building retreats, are the best way to break up the routine and reward employees for their hard work.

These mini holidays away from the office give your team a much-needed change of scene and an opportunity to build stronger connections with their colleagues.

There are countless retreat locations around the world that offer an amazing opportunity to work hard and play hard with your team.

If you’re not sure which destination makes the most sense for your team, try this Location Finder tool.

Have fun with virtual reality

VR is an up-and-coming entertainment innovation that’s wildly entertaining for both players and spectators!

Plus, it’s a super simple event to pull off. 

All you need to do is contact your local VR facilitator who will be responsible for providing and setting up the equipment. You’ll also need a large open space in which to play.

All that’s left for you to do is have fun with your team!

Go to a music concert

Nothing brings people together quite like music.

If you’re looking to show appreciation to your employees, why not book a band to play in the office or pay for your team to go to a live concert?

Not only is this a nice gesture to your team, but it also allows them to bond and build stronger relationships.

Take a hike in nature

Spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to decompress and socialise with your team.

Instead of getting to work on daily tasks, announce to your team that you’ll be starting the day with a group hike nature.

This group activity will break up the day-to-day routine and give your employees a chance to leave the stresses of the office behind them for a moment.

Arrange a video game competition

This is a great all-weather activity that everybody can enjoy.

Simply set up a video game station in your employee breakroom and choose a game around which to base your competition.

Sports or arcade games like FIFA and Tetris work well because the rules are simple and it’s easy to keep score.

Then, create a tournament bracket (you can use a free online generator like this one) and hang it on the wall. Players can reference this to see who their first opponent is.

Consider awarding prizes for third, second and first place!

Watch a movie with your team

A trip to the movies is another great way to celebrate Employee Appreciation Day.

Instead of working through their usual task lists, your employees will spend the morning/afternoon watching their favourite movies.

You could set up a home theatre system in the office or take your team to the cinema for the ultimate experience.

You could even hand out cinema vouchers so your employees can enjoy a trip to the movies with their friends or family.

Play board games together

Playing board games together is a great way to bring employees together.

It gives them a chance to spend time away from their desks while socialising with colleagues they wouldn’t usually cross paths with. 

All you need to do is compile a number of board games and distribute them around the office.

Games that are easy to play and have a short duration are usually the best.

You don’t want the same group huddled in the corner playing Twilight Imperium for eight hours straight.

Enjoy a group picnic in the park

A picnic in the park is a fun, low-cost group activity that your team will love.

During this get-together, your employees will have time to relax, reflect and bond with their peers while enjoying a delicious meal.

Simply choose a setting for your picnic such as the local park, and set about preparing your picnic hampers.

If you’re a virtual company, you can send mini hampers to each of your team members using a service like the one at Little Picnic Company.

Commission a caricature artist

Looking for a unique activity that your employees never saw coming? Reach out to a caricature artist and ask them to draw portraits of your employees.

Not only is this a hilarious group activity, but these artworks also make excellent decorations for your office!

You could even take it a step further and encourage your employees to update their LinkedIn profile pictures with their new portraits.

Head to the bowling alley

If you’re looking to treat your team to a fun day out, you can’t go wrong with this reliable crowd-pleaser.

The great this about bowling alleys is everything is already in place: the entertainment, the catering, the music—it’s all there.

All you need to do is call them up and make a group booking.

Organise a ping-pong tournament

Here is a great way to surprise your employees on Employee Appreciation Day: move the desks to the side and set up a ping-pong table in the office.

This change to the office layout will immediately get your employees excited about what’s about to go down.

Create a tournament bracket just as we recommended for the video game competition and get started!

This is a great way to break up the routine and treat your team to some light entertainment.

Organise a team barbeque

George Foreman eat your heart out! It’s time to get together with your team and enjoy a good old-fashioned BBQ.

Your barbecue can take place on company property like a rooftop terrace (if you’re lucky enough to have one), or you can transport your team to the local park or beach.

During this group cookout, your employees can enjoy spending time with their colleagues while enjoying a well-deserved break from the daily grind.

Record a fun company video

Bring your employees together and uncover the next Steven Spielberg with this creative video project! 

Divide your employees into teams and ask them to create a fun video around a theme such as a “company promo video” or a “company music video”.

They shouldn’t need anything more than their smartphones and a free video editing app to create their masterpieces.

Head to your local comedy club

Laughter is the best medicine, they say. 

So what better way for your employees to unwind than a trip to the local comedy club?

This fun group experience will have your employees feeling relaxed, happy and invigorated. It’s also a great opportunity for your team to bond over a memorable shared experience.

Take photos together

Photographs are a great way to capture the fun memories you made on Employee Appreciation Day.

You could build a DIY photo booth in your office breakroom or venture off-site and hire a professional to take photos of your entire team.

If you’re on a tighter budget, you can follow our guide to taking your own high-quality large group photographs.

Find balance with group meditation

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress levels and recalibrate the mind. When done together, it also makes for an enjoyable group experience.

Make sure to create a relaxing environment by dimming the lights and scattering plenty of beanbags and cushions.

Then, invite a professional to give a workshop or find a free guided meditation online. Apps like Insight Timer have huge libraries of professional-quality guided meditations available for free.

Enjoy a relaxing spa day

Sometimes, your employees just want to unwind and decompress after months of grinding.

A day trip to the spa is a group activity that’s guaranteed to go down well with your team.

While your employees exfoliate themselves and breathe in scented candles, they’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other outside of the day-to-day office setting.

Building relationships outside the office is an integral part of building a stronger team.

Throw an office party

Notorious for their drunken debauchery, office parties are one of the best ways for your employees to let their hair down and celebrate their achievements.

As your employees head out for a night on the town, all you need to do is sit back and watch the antics unfold.

Remember, this is a treat, so make sure to pay for at least a few drinks upfront!

L&D activities for Employee Appreciation Day

Most teams are so busy during the working day that they don’t have any leftover time to learn new things and improve their professional skills.

Employee Appreciation Day is a great opportunity to put time aside for personal and professional development activities.

But remember: Employee Appreciation Day is about celebrating achievements and showing gratitude, so make sure you don’t fill the schedule with only work-related activities.

Give employees time to work on personal projects

The 20%-time policy was a time distribution method popularised by Google that allows employees to spend 20% of their work hours pursuing personal interests.

On employee appreciation day, you could take a similar approach by allowing your employees to engage in activities that interest them for part of the day.

50% of Google products originated from the 20% time, so who knows what ideas you might discover?

Invite a guest speaker to present

A guest speaker is a great way to drive learning and development in your team.

They bring a fresh perspective to your team and provide insights that help to broaden your employees’ understanding of complex topics.

They also introduce the team to new contacts and networking opportunities within their industry. This can be especially valuable for those who are looking to advance their careers or build relationships within their field.

Take over some daily tasks

Employee Appreciation Day is the perfect opportunity to temporarily lighten your employees’ load.

By taking over some of their daily tasks, you demonstrate compassion for your workforce and get the opportunity to experience a day in their lives.

This will strengthen feelings of camaraderie within the team while improving work-life balance, job satisfaction and productivity. 

It also gives employees the chance to catch up on projects they may have fallen behind on.

Swap roles with your employees

Making employees "boss for the day" can be a fun and empowering way to engage and motivate your team.

It gives employees the opportunity to take on new responsibilities, make decisions, and lead the team for a day.

This can be a valuable learning experience for employees and help them to develop leadership skills and confidence.

Invest in your employees’ growth

There are numerous employee growth strategies that are proven to lead to things like improved performance, increased job satisfaction, improved retention and more.

But Employee Appreciation Day is about rewarding your employees, not putting them through mind-numbing Excel workshops.

So, why not offer employees the opportunity to advance in areas  that interest them? You could pay for them to join that yoga course they’ve been dreaming of or contribute towards a gym subscription.

Showing interest in your employees’ lives outside of the office is a surefire way to strengthen interpersonal bonds.

Gifts, treats and rewards for Employee Appreciation Day

Have you thought about what you can give your employees as a way of saying thank you? In this section, we list various ways you can show gratitude with gifts, treats and rewards.

Give employees half the day off

Giving your employees a half day off can be an excellent way to show appreciation and support their work-life balance.

It’s also an excellent way to thank your employees for a job well done or to acknowledge a special occasion.

Before awarding a half day off on the fly, consider whether the time is right.

If your team is experiencing an exceptionally busy workload during EAD, forcing them to take half the day off might just increase stress when they return to work.

Distribute ice creams throughout the office

Feel like surprising your employees with a tasty treat? Bring in a selection of ice creams to the office! 

This is an especially nice idea during a scorching summer’s day.

When choosing your ice creams, don’t forget to cater to all dietary restrictions. These days you can pick up some delicious vegan ice creams, so nobody should feel left out!

Give employees a longer lunch break

Many employees are forced to cut their lunch breaks short or eat while they work due to high workloads.

If you want to show appreciation to your employees, consider offering them an extended lunch break.

You could even arrange to visit a nearby restaurant with the whole team and enjoy some well-earned team bonding. 

Cater to your team’s sweet tooth

Feel like putting on a spread? Treat your workers to a delicious sugar-bomb buffet. This super simple idea is sure to put a smile on people’s faces.

If you want to encourage employee participation you could ask each employee to bring in their favourite sugary snack. 

Oh, and don’t forget to cater to dietary restrictions.

Buy your employees small gifts

Showing appreciation to your employees needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Small gestures like handing out small gifts can be enough to show your team that you’re grateful for their efforts.

Before you start handing out little trinkets, consider whether it aligns with the values of your company. Distributing plastic throwaway gifts would be frowned upon at an environmental protection agency, for example.

The best way to avoid waste is to liaise with your team and find out what they’re in need of. New stationery items such as staplers and ballpoint pens are good sustainable options.

Alternatively, you could hand out gift cards. These allow your employees to purchase items they really need/want. 

Donate to a charity of choice

How does your company make a positive contribution to the world? That’s one of the big questions job seekers and current employees are asking themselves in the 21st century.

Offering to donate to a charity of your employees’ choice gives employees a sense of pride in their work, leading to increased job satisfaction and improved retention.

Corporate philanthropy also improves your company’s reputation from a customer's perspective. People are more likely to purchase a product from a company that supports good causes compared to those that don’t.

Order pizza to the office

Pizza is the perfect meal to combine with other Employee Appreciation Day activities like watching a movie or enjoying some happy-hour drinks.

Simply create a separate #pizza channel in your Slack workspace and ask your employees to choose the pizza they’d like from the menu.

Wash your employees’ cars

Surprise gestures like washing your team’s cars are great ways to show your appreciation.

You might have the equipment you need to do this yourself, or you can hire a mobile car washing service to come and wash the cars for you.

Award trophies and certificates

Physical items such as trophies and certificates are great ways to acknowledge specific achievements within your team.

On Employee Appreciation Day, organise an award ceremony where you’ll present a unique award to every employee.

You can get employees involved with the decision-making process by asking them to vote for their colleagues.

Buy magazine subscriptions

A magazine subscription is a great way to show thanks to your team. And because new editions are delivered throughout the year, this is the gift that keeps on giving!

Simply ask your employees for their favourite magazine and have them delivered to the office address. Once they’ve finished reading an edition, they could leave it in the employee breakroom for others to enjoy.

Give employees time off to volunteer

Employees want to feel proud of the company they work for. One way to achieve this is by giving them paid time off to support their local community.

This activity can be more valuable than presenting superficial items because it instils a sense of pride. This makes your employees more satisfied at work and more likely to remain at their job.

Ditch the uniforms

If uniforms or formal office wear are de rigour where you work, consider a more laid-back dress code on Employee Appreciation Day.

This will help your employees to shift into a more relaxed state of mind, allowing them to better enjoy the day’s activities.

Casual clothing also allows employees to get to know each other's personalities and preferences outside of the office.

How to show gratitude on Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day isn’t only about handing out gifts and playing games. It’s also an opportunity for you to verbalise your appreciation of your employees.

In the following chapter, we share ideas for publicly expressing gratitude to your team.

Leave “thank you” notes around the office

Leaving “thank you” notes for your employees is a really simple way to show appreciation for hard work and put smiles on your employees’ faces.

You can leave small post-it notes on your employees’ desks or—if your team works remotely—send a quick message in Slack telling them how grateful you are.

Appreciate your employees on social media

A public social media post is a nice way to announce employee achievements and show appreciation.

By turning this into a weekly initiative, you remind yourself to show appreciation to your employees on a recurring basis.

Putting appreciation posts online also demonstrates to your customers that you have compassion for your staff, thus boosting your reputation in the eyes of the public.

Invest in an employee recognition platform

Employee recognition platforms such as Bonusly make it easy to show appreciation to employees and deliver rewards.

These platforms also allow the entire workforce to get involved in showing appreciation, instead of leaving it solely in the hands of management.

This helps you to create a culture of recognition that permeates your entire organisation.

Recognise employees on your website

Most companies already have a “meet the team” section on their website, but have you thought about adding a section to your website that celebrates your team’s achievements?

You can use this section to highlight employees who have gone the extra mile at work or who have recently achieved something outside of work.

Celebrate personal milestones

Recognising work-related achievements is one thing, but have you thought about celebrating employee milestones outside of the office?

Occasions such as wedding engagements, birthdays, and pregnancies are great opportunities to spread the love and acknowledge your employees’ accomplishments in their private lives.

This shows that you’re not only interested in professional goals, but that you also take an interest in their personal lives. 

Set up a dedicated Slack channel

Fostering a culture of appreciation can be as simple as creating a dedicated #appreciation Slack channel in your workspace.

This gives your team a space to give kudos to each other for the little things like hosting meetings, offering advice, helping with software, etc.

Mention standout employees in the company newsletter

Internal newsletters are a great place to recognise employee contributions and celebrate them publicly.

You can create a small case study around the person you want to acknowledge and use their story to encourage similar actions in the future. 

Write a heartfelt “send-to-all” email

This is an easy way to put a smile on your team’s face from the moment they open their inbox.

Simply write a heartfelt email explaining how much you appreciate everybody’s efforts and the difference their contributions are making to the success of the company.

Consider sharing some behind-the-scenes data to demonstrate the effect their work is making.

Record a “thank you” video

Looking to step up your “thank you” game? Consider recording a personal “thank you” message for your employees.

This approach requires a little more effort than the standard “send to all” email, and your employees are going to appreciate that.

Make a phone call

A phone call is one of the most personal ways to thank your employees.

It’s more time-consuming than a group email, but your employees will understand this and appreciate the extra effort.

Employee Appreciation Day FAQs

Got some questions about Employee Appreciation day? 

In this section, we answer the most common queries such as “What is Employee Appreciation Day?” and “How did it start?”

What is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day (EAD) is an HR initiative that reminds managers and business owners to recognise their hard-working staff and show gratitude.

EAD typically consists of activities such as team-bonding games and reward ceremonies, but can also include ideas such as half-days off, team lunches and non-uniform days.

The concept was devised in 1995 by Dr Bob Nelson, a global expert on employee engagement and job satisfaction, to celebrate the release of his book 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees.

Since then, the EAD initiative has become popular with managers and business owners all over the world as a way of recognising employee contributions.

What are the benefits of Employee Appreciation Day?

The importance of employee appreciation is irrefutable.

It lays the foundation for healthy interpersonal relationships in the workplace which are essential for a satisfactory employment experience.

In an article published in Mckinsey in 2022, researchers Allas & Schaninger found that “Relationships with management are the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction.”

By celebrating Employee Appreciation Day, you can unlock numerous benefits such as:

These benefits demonstrate the importance of employee recognition. Without it, teams can encounter challenges such as a lack of motivation. This leads to higher recruitment costs, reduced efficiency and more.

That’s why acknowledging your employees and showing them gratitude is vital for the long-term viability of your company.

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