11 Unbelievably Underrated Employee Appreciation Ideas to Adopt Now
HR Expert (& Huge Geek)
16 Jan 2024
Recognizing and valuing the efforts of a diverse workforce involves going beyond conventional strategies. Cat DiStasio shares 11 alternative employee appreciation ideas here.
Coming up with new ways to show your employees how much you appreciate them is an ongoing challenge for many leaders and managers. Fostering a workplace culture that champions employee appreciation is also a challenge.
Recognizing and valuing the efforts of a diverse workforce involves going beyond conventional strategies. Highly effective employee appreciation requires a deeper understanding of the individual's unique contributions. This may sound like a cumbersome task but fortunately, you don’t have to spend weeks of time – or a small fortune – on many of the most effective and most meaningful signs of gratitude. In fact, in many cases, simple gestures can be the most powerful when they are authentic and personalized.
11 ideas for employee appreciation
Here are 11 ideas for employee appreciation that are often overlooked and undervalued. These ideas transcend the conventional notions of recognition and offer novel but pragmatic ways to honor employees' dedication. Emphasizing authenticity over extravagance, these gestures resonate deeply, leaving an indelible mark on the employee experience.
1. Subscription services or memberships
Gift subscriptions to magazines or services that align with employees’ hobbies or interests outside of work are a great way to show appreciation while simultaneously helping employees feel more seen and heard as unique individuals. You could offer anything from streaming services and book clubs to fitness memberships or specialty boxes (such as for gourmet food, crafts, or self-care products). And most importantly, allows employees to choose which option they would like the most.
2. Personalized thank-you notes
Individual hand-written notes of gratitude might be the simplest and most cost-effective idea on this list, and they could make the biggest impact as well. Taking the time to write thank-you notes that highlight specific contributions, achievements, or qualities of each employee conveys care and attention in a way almost no other strategy can. As an added bonus, this approach works for employees in all positions, in all levels, and regardless of where or when they work. Mailing a hand-written note to an employee is a thoughtful way to show your appreciation.
3. Peer recognition programs
Peer-to-peer recognition is a highly underrated vehicle for employee recognition. In fact, research suggests peer recognition can have a greater impact in some areas than recognition from leaders, particularly around engagement levels, according to Workhuman. Implementing technology that enables peer recognition, and making it a common practice in your organizational culture, can support engagement goals across your company. Create a system where employees can nominate and recognize their colleagues' efforts, fostering a positive team environment.
4. Surprise treats or lunches
Arrange surprise lunches, snacks, or treats to show appreciation for employees’ hard work. This might be more of a common practice in shared offices but it’s applicable for remote teams as well, thanks to the rise of food delivery services and digital gift cards. Consider inviting employees to share a meal together in the same space or dial into a video conference for a no-work-allowed social gathering – or ask employees to block off their lunch break and use that time to disconnect, recharge, and enjoy their free meal.
5. Work anniversary celebrations
It should go without saying that employers should recognize employees on work anniversaries. But it might be time to give that program a little refresh. Is your company only celebrating employees at the five and 10-year marks? If so, you’re operating with an outdated model.
Given the high mobility of employees these days, many organizations are celebrating work anniversaries more frequently, starting with 90-day and six-month milestones, and then annually on the anniversary of an employee’s start date. And forget the plaques, desk clocks, and watches. Opt for other personalized gifts, experiences, or a monetary bonus instead.
6. Team social events
Planning time for team members to interact and build social connections are an effective way to show appreciation while helping create a stronger community. When employees get to know one another more personally (to the extent of each person’s comfort level), you can create an environment more conducive to collaboration and innovation, while also contributing to your organization’s inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety.
Organize events or activities that take place during work hours but are not related to work. If you’re lost for ideas, ask your team for suggestions on what they would enjoy doing together.
7. Personalized avatars or cartoon portraits
Another fun option for employee appreciation is to commission an artist to create personalized avatar or cartoon portraits of each employee based on their interests, hobbies, or personality. This unique gift can be displayed digitally or printed, adding a fun and personalized touch to their workspace. Some employers go so far as to offer employees the option of getting their avatar printed on a t-shirt, tote bag, or other wearable item (at no charge to them, of course).
8. Time capsule or memory box
For an idea that works best on tight-knit teams, consider creating a collaborative time capsule or memory box where employees can contribute items or notes that represent their experiences, achievements, or aspirations within the company. Seal it and plan a (not too distant) future date to open and reminisce together about their collective journey. This can be a fun way to commemorate the end of a big project, new product launch, or other lengthy initiatives.
9. Team retreat
A team retreat blends strategic work with fun social activities, and can be an especially powerful gesture for team members who do not share a work location and may not have met in person. A one or two-day event may be all you need, as long as you balance time spent on work-related efforts with the more fun stuff.
Plan a special outing, retreat, or experience day tailored to the interests of your team – like a fun outdoor adventure (think scavenger hunt), a creative workshop (pottery class, anyone?), a cooking class, or any unique activity that allows employees to bond outside the workplace while feeling appreciated for their hard work.
10. Verbal praise
With or without an audience, telling employees how much you appreciate them continues to be one of the most powerful and effective ways to show gratitude. And this is a daily practice for the best leaders out there. Express your appreciation in clear terms with employees on a one-on-one basis and, if they’re comfortable with it, make a special announcement during a project or team meeting (or on your employee experience platform) so everyone knows how you feel.
For many people, nothing says gratitude like cold, hard cash. Or, you know, a grossed-up direct deposit. Back in the days when everyone worked in the same office, it might have been pretty common for managers to pass out coffee gift cards on the fly, as an on-the-spot thank-you for a job well done. Whether your employees still share office space or your teams are spread across the globe, the same tactic still holds value – and perhaps even more so amid increasing inflation and economic uncertainty.
Consider offering different types of bonuses for different contributions and achievements, ranging from small coffee or grocery gift cards for day-to-day recognition and larger cash bonuses for bigger accomplishments.
Creating a culture of employee appreciation
Fostering a culture of appreciation calls for leaders to recognize the significance of acknowledging their employees' contributions beyond the routine norms. Let the 11 often overlooked and undervalued ideas presented here provide a blueprint for meaningful gestures that transcend the barriers of cost and complexity. From personalized thank-you notes to subscription services aligning with individual interests, each idea encapsulates the essence of authentic appreciation.
It’s essential to recognize that these gestures extend beyond material rewards. They weave a tapestry of connection and camaraderie within teams. The emphasis on social events, retreats, and collaborative initiatives underscores the importance of shared experiences and collective reminiscence.
In today's dynamic work environment, where physical proximity is not always a given, verbal praise and bonuses retain their timeless impact. Expressing gratitude in clear terms and offering financial recognition serve as cornerstones in nurturing a culture of appreciation, regardless of geographic distances.
Ultimately, these ideas aren't merely a checklist but a roadmap for genuine displays of appreciation. They symbolize a commitment to acknowledging the human aspect of the workplace, valuing individuality, and fostering an environment where every contribution, big or small, is cherished and celebrated. As leaders explore these overlooked avenues of appreciation, they pave the way for a workplace culture steeped in gratitude, connection, and mutual respect.