You know you have the best team. They’re hard working, smart, reliable, and just fun to be around - right? If you feel that way, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time brain-storming employee appreciation ideas. How can you show your team how grateful you are for them - especially if you’re on a low budget or they are remote?
The job market is increasingly fierce, and people want to feel appreciated (more on that below). Employee appreciation isn’t just a nice gesture, it’s a necessity when it comes to attracting and retaining the absolute best talent. To help, we’ve put together 40 of our favorite employee appreciation ideas. Yes, you'll find a handwritten note and gift cards on the list - but we also pulled some fresh new ideas that we’ve seen work for companies of all sizes. Take a read and then bask in the glow of your employees’ adoration!
Large scale employee appreciation ideas
There are all kinds of employee recognition types. What you’ll choose comes down to several factors like the amount of time and money you have available. All of them are great for boosting employee engagement (and you can learn more about why employee engagement matters here).
These are the ideas that go beyond a simple note or quiet gesture. While those things absolutely have their place in the world of appreciation, these tactics take a bit more time and resources. If you really want to make a cultural splash, look at these ideas first.
1. Encourage continuing education
Tuition assistance has been shown to boost retention, yet it is an employee benefit that’s often overlooked (by leadership and by staff). The ability to continue secondary education or further training can be a game-changer for many people. Do they know it even exists? If you offer this benefit, make sure to promote it and let everyone know. Look at your time-off policy and make sure that employees are actually able to spend time on the schooling they sign up for.
2. Help with commuting
Do you offer any kind of public transportation pass or gas subsidy? As transportation costs continue to climb, it’s a great feeling to know that your boss realizes what it takes to get into the office every day. Look for ways to help with the expenses of commuting or parking and allow people to submit a certain amount for reimbursement each month.
3. Plan a retreat
You might be surprised how much a company off-site or team retreat can help your employees. Who doesn’t love a chance to get out of the office and socialize a bit? Plus, it’s an opportunity for more learning, networking, etc. The key is to build in some fun, not just more work. Take the time to plan cool meals or outings, have a great speaker, choose a venue that people otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. Retreats are a powerful way for employees to bond, which will help with overall productivity, and adding some touches that let everyone know how appreciated they are is icing on the cake. If you’re worried about the logistics of planning such a team or company retreat, consider hiring help. At Surf Office, we plan exciting team building events that consider your unique needs and goals. From the board room to a baseball game, we’ll manage the logistics of a perfect one or multi-day event that will have everyone feeling refreshed and excited.
4. Develop a mentoring program
When done well, mentoring programs are a powerful way for newer employees to learn from more tenured ones and to boost employee morale. However, it can be a rewarding experience for seasoned staff too. It can take a bit of time and effort to build out a formal program and make sure everyone is taking the necessary time, but it’s worth it.
5. Live entertainment
Who wouldn't’ love to take an afternoon off and experience a great band, comedian, or book signing? Most of your employees would also love this but don’t want to take the time off. Bring these experiences into the office by hiring a performer that your staff will be excited about. Tell everyone that work stops at noon that day and there is a special surprise. They will never forget it. For more team celebration ideas, make sure to follow our blog.
6. Spa take over
Have you heard your co-workers talking about how badly they need a massage? You can help them relieve the tension by paying to rent out a spa for the day. Have massage therapists on hand, make sure everyone has time to use the steam room and other facilities, etc. Bonus if you provide some champagne or company swag like branded water bottles. Note: Some people won’t feel comfortable in such an environment with their co-workers. It’s best for smaller teams who know each other really well, and even then you may want to ask around to make sure people would want to do it.
7. Redo your break room
Where do employees tend to congregate in your organization? What does that space look like right now? Can you reimagine it as a place people actually get excited to spend time in? Think about designing your break room with super plush couches, video game consoles, loads of snacks, and free drinks.
8. Exclusive company perks
What else would your employees love that would make their lives easier? When thinking about appreciating your staff, look at them as a whole person - what else would they like? The latest technology like a new MacBook Pro? A gym membership? Daycare on-site? Experiences like trips would also be a great option. Don’t be afraid to ask people directly what perks would be most enticing to them.
9. Personalized workspaces
Feeling comfortable in your space can go a long way toward wanting to be at work. How much do you let employees customize the space they work in? You could give every new hire a budget toward decorating their cubicle or desk and encourage them to pick out things that will inspire them and make them happy throughout the day.
10. Implement a points-based reward system
Adopt a platform where you (or peers) can recognize staff by awarding them points for various things, and then cashing in those points for prizes of their choice. .A good example is Hi5, where people can collect points for a job well done and then cash them in for different items, gift cards, or experiences.
Low-cost employee appreciation ideas
Short on cash but long on gratitude? You don’t need a big budget to show your employees what they mean to you. Try some of these simple and low-cost employee appreciation tactics.
Offering free food and drinks is a nice perk that doesn’t go unnoticed. While not technically free, all it will cost you are a few trips to a store like Costco. Stock up on individually wrapped things like granola bars and cookies, and let employees help themselves.
12. Coffee bar
This is another idea that will require an initial investment and some maintenance, but is generally very low-cost. Invest in a high-quality coffee machine and maybe even an espresso maker. Make sure to have good quality creamer, tea bags, and other accouterments available.
13. Food truck Tuesday
What do most people in your office do for lunch? Do you have space to bring in a few food trucks? Employees will love adding this bit of fun to their day, and it’s always nice to mix it up. You can cover the cost of lunches (or even subsidize part of them) and employees will be thrilled.
14. Parking spaces
No one likes battling for parking spots. Something that gives real day-to-day benefits is a better parking arrangement. If an employee has done something that really deserves attention, why not give them the best parking spot in the lot? It will make their lives just a bit easier each day.
15. Celebrate “Employee Appreciation Day”
Show your staff that you really do appreciate them by treating this day as special and not just another date on the calendar. You can go as big as you want with this day, but it can be as small as organizing a BBQ where the bosses cook. Host a happy hour at 3 pm with your CEO as bartender. Have everyone who manages people give out hand-written cards to their team. Put together an ice cream sundae bar in the break room. If you have a low budget, get creative about the many things you can do. The options are really endless, but the point is to treat the day as though you’re actually excited - and your team will be too.
16. Just say thank you
This sounds a bit cliché, but you’d be surprised how many managers simply don’t do this. You should always say thank you when someone goes above and beyond. However, do you say thank you for a person’s regular work? True, they are already getting paid for it, but knowing you think they did a good job is really valuable to most people. Take the time to simply acknowledge work that is done well.
17. Peer to peer recognition
It’s a great feeling when someone outside of your boss recognizes the hard work you did. Create a system where people can highlight the success of their colleagues. This could be simple with a bulletin board in a common space, where people can pin notes about a great coworker. Or, you could have a reward ceremony at the end of the year where people nominate and vote for one of their peers. The main point is that it doesn’t come from someone’s boss, it comes from their coworkers noticing their great work.
18. Recognize people publicly
Saying “Great job” goes further when it’s in front of others. If you think someone on your team went above and beyond, it’s a great idea to tell them so. It’s an even better idea to mention it in your next department or all-company meeting. Doing so will be a big boost to them, and costs nothing to you.
19. A day off
Keep things simple with this one. Who wouldn’t love a day off? Though there might be an opportunity cost associated, generally you should be able to grant people a day off with very little cost to the company. An entire day off can mean a whole world of possibilities to your staff. You’re giving them a day to catch up on TV, go rock climbing, or visit family. This one is sure to be a favorite!
20. Celebrate Employee of the Month
This one doesn’t require anything but a bit of extra time. Make monthly recognition program a regular part of your culture and award an Employee of the Month twelve times per year. Put a plague on the wall and change out the name each month, or offer other perks like a prime parking spot. Include the individual in your newsletter and don’t be afraid to highlight them on your website!
21. Lunch with the CEO
Depending on the size of your company, the workers may not get a ton of face time with higher-ups. Is the CEO basically a celebrity? If so, employees will be delighted to have lunch, golf, or grab a drink with them. It doesn't have to be a CEO - it can be anyone in the company that they’d like to get to know better.
22. Celebrate work anniversaries
If you’re able to manage a spreadsheet and calendar, then you’re able to get reminders about the anniversaries of your staff. Make sure to recognize these important days and make the individual feel special. You can simply leave a note on their desk, or send an office-wide email. Or, you can give them a gift card or even a thoughtfully curated gift such as a box of specialty foods from the city your office is in. Like most anniversaries in life, the important thing is that you remembered.
23. Hand-written thank you note
Go beyond the hand-written note and take some time to write an old-fashioned letter. Don’t simply say “Thanks for all you do”, but list specific things that they did well or ways that the employee went above and beyond.
Virtual employee appreciation ideas
If you read the ideas so far and said to yourself “Well, that sounds great if your team is right there with you - but what if you have a remote team or one that’s spread out?” then you need to keep reading. In this section we are going to cover ideas to reward employees who aren’t physically with you.
24. Company swag
Make sure every employee has a care package with some basics: a branded water bottle, a notepad for their desk, a nice headphones case. Choose items that people will be happy to use daily and that contribute to their quality of life. Having these items makes people feel like they’re part of a team, no matter how far apart they are.
25. Online classes
Virtual classes can be a fun appreciation gift and also a nice bonding activity. For example, get the team together for a virtual yoga class or an online craft-cocktail-making tutorial. Bonus points if you can pick activities that show you have employee wellness in mind.
26. Social media shout outs
Many (not all, but many) people like getting a bit of extra attention. Put them in the spotlight by sharing their accomplishments on social media. Post their headshot and tag them so that their network can see the great work they’ve done.
27. Thank you emails
Here we go again with the “just say thank you” ideas, but truly, it can be this simple. If you have a remote staff member that you really appreciate, why not take a few moments and send them a message expressing why?
28. Virtual team activities
If your entire remote team has been working hard lately, let them know you want them to let their hair down and enjoy a few moments with their colleagues. Plan an online happy hour or virtual team building event, and use virtual icebreakers so that everyone can get to know each other better. Having a laugh together is good for any team.
29. Face time with you
Who wouldn’t want to hear that their input is so valuable that you are going to fly them in? If you have a co-worker who has been working on an intensive project, make sure to include them in the in-person elements. Bring them in for big meetings, or invite them to a large event that they helped to plan. They’ll value the one:one time with you and other company leaders.
30. Gift box delivery
There are a lot of companies out there who can put together personalized gift boxes for you. Put a smile on your employee’s face by choosing (or curating) a gift box that has their interests in mind. There is something for everyone from the budding gardener to the coffee connoisseur. Have it delivered right to them for a genuine surprise “thank you” moment.
31. Subscription gifts
If one gift box delivery just isn’t enough, why not sign the employee up for a quarterly or monthly delivery? Subscription boxes have become more popular than ever, with the most popular options being Birchbox, Book of the Month, IPSY, BarkBox, and FabFitFun. Carefully consider the person’s personality and interests and then research what they would like.
32. Home office additions
Most remote employees will be especially grateful for something that improves their work set up. An ergonomic office chair, a wireless mouse, or pretty stationary will all be welcomed. Even a plant could make a nice addition to someone’s day!
33. Music or tech platform gift cards
Many remote workers listen to music throughout the day. Even if they don’t, they probably tend to order things on Amazon or like to play video games. If you’re looking for a quick and simple gift, send them some gift cards to use on music or other technology. You can order and send them electronically to make things even easier.
34. “No meeting” days
Is this really a reward? Well, for many people who feel overwhelmed, it is. Following a big project or large initiative, let employees know that you’re calling a few “no meeting” days to clear everyone’s schedule. They are guaranteed to appreciate the extra time and flexibility.
Keep it simple: Quick and easy employee appreciation
Finally, let’s get back to basics. If you’re short on time or inspiration, try these simple tactics for showing employees how much you appreciate them. No explanations necessary!
- Bring in lunch for everyone
- Treat everyone to donuts or bagels in your next meeting
- Broad gift cards like Visa, Amazon, or Target - everyone can use these.
- Host a fun holiday party where everyone can enjoy themselves! Check out other office party ideas too.
- Holiday gifts - they can be as small as an annual Christmas tree ornament and bring a lot of joy.
- Just ask! What else would your employees like to see? You can make them feel appreciated and valued simply by asking what they’d like as a reward in the future. Gather their ideas and implement the best ones. That gesture alone is more than many workplaces do and will go a long way in making employees want to stick around!
Some reminders: Does employee appreciation really matter?
Employee appreciation matters in today’s workforce like it never has before. With more millennials and younger generations entering the workforce, the priorities of the average team have shifted. These folks are looking for flexibility, being appreciated, and the ability to work with organizations whose values align with theirs. It’s not just about the money - although, who doesn’t like more money?
Work is a huge component of most people’s lives, and they want to feel happy and positive while there. The truth is most people are not afraid of hard work - but they want to be rewarded for it. They want to know they are valued and appreciated - an integral part of the team. To show you how important employee appreciation is, here are a few statistics from recent research:
- Employee appreciation is the most important factor in the workplace for 37% of employees.
- Despite that fact, 65% of employees haven’t received any form of recognition for good work in the last year.
- More than 91% of HR professionals believe that recognition and reward make employees more loyal to their employer.
- A staff member who has been recognized is 63% more likely to stay at his or her current job for the next 6 months.
- Business productivity increases by 31% when employees are happy - and recognized employees tend to be happier.
Honestly, we could go on and on about the importance of employee appreciation. There is an entire industry dedicated to it, there are countless books and research on the topic, there is even a special day for it (which you can read about in our article on Employee Appreciation Day). You get the point. And that point is, employee appreciation is a crucial part of today’s working world, and one you need to pay attention to.
Company culture and appreciation have never been more important. Make sure you’re at the front of this phenomenon and don’t get left behind, by thinking proactively about ways to bring your team together and make them feel valued. Be sure to follow Surf Office’s blog for other tips and trends to follow in order to build a happy and productive workplace.