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18 Creative Ways to Show Employee Appreciation

Updated Jan 11, 2024

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It takes a team to get a business off the ground and keep it running, and business owners with the most talented employees tend to have the most success. But finding and keeping the right talent takes more than good luck. One of the best ways to retain your employees is to show them that they are valued. We asked business leaders for some of the creative ways they show their appreciation and reward their employees.

Ways to make employees feel appreciated

Making your employees feel valued for all they do isn’t difficult, and it can pay off in a big way. These 20 tips offer some creative ideas for showing your gratitude to your team to retain your top performers, boost morale, and improve productivity.

1. Offer raises and bonuses.

graphic of a boss and employee shaking hands with a money symbol above their heads

One of the most direct ways to show your employees you appreciate them is to offer them raises or bonuses for the good work they do. Raises, beyond normal cost of living adjustments, are a highly effective way to retain your best employees and keep them satisfied and productive. Bonuses can also be built into your compensation plan for high-performing employees or teams to incentivize their continued effort and thank them for hitting their targets. 

According to a study conducted by Payscale, the employees that are most satisfied with their employers tend to be those that either receive a raise before they felt the need to ask for one or those who already felt adequately compensated and happy with their salary. Respectively, 65 percent and 72 percent of these employees reported they were satisfied with their employers, compared to just 58 percent of the overall respondents. Only 39 percent and 35 percent of these employees, respectively, planned to look for a new job, compared to 45 percent of the overall respondents. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Adequate compensation and preemptive raises help improve employee satisfaction and retention rates. Pay your employees a competitive salary and don’t be afraid to offer raises to your top performers before they ask for one.

2. Use a corporate gamification system.

Gamification systems enable the allocation of points or tokens for the completion of certain tasks or achievements. Employees can then use these points or tokens to select a range of rewards selected by the employer, from small rewards like Bluetooth speakers to bigger ones like additional paid time off. Employers can get creative with these systems to provide compelling rewards that suit their employees’ preferences.

“Each staff member could claim tasks of their choosing and would receive the point values associated with the tasks upon completion,” said Josh Braaten, CEO and co-founder of Brandata, formerly Brandish Insights. “These points could be redeemed by staff members at a corporate rewards portal for anything ranging from an extra vacation and work-from-home days to company-paid continuing education.”

Gamification systems enable employees to select the most relevant rewards to their interests or needs. Instead of offering employees something they might not appreciate, gamification and rewards gives employers the ability to reward employees for their hard work and dedication while allowing employees the latitude to decide exactly what reward is best for them.

“It’s one thing to appreciate employees in the way that makes sense to you, but the gamification platform we used allowed people to be appreciated in a way that was most meaningful to each individual,” Braaten said.

3. Let employees give and receive ‘props.’

graphic of two colleagues high fiving each other

Appreciation and recognition doesn’t always have to take the form of rewards or compensation increases ― it can also be as simple as giving public praise to team members who are doing a great job. One way to increase the amount of public recognition employees receive is to create a forum for team members and managers to give kudos to one another, such as during a regular meeting. 

“At Badger Maps, we like to show appreciation on a regular basis and recognize employees for their work. The way we do this is that we all set aside some time at the end of the day every Friday to give props at our ‘TGIF meeting,’” said Steven Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps. “Anyone on the team can give ‘props’ to anyone else on the team, which fosters an atmosphere of appreciation, respect and teamwork. It’s a time to recognize coworkers for their accomplishments and contributions that week in front of the group and show them respect for working hard and having done something great.”

4. Feed them.

Everyone loves a good snack or meal, and feeding your employees can be a great way to show your appreciation. Whether it’s keeping the fridge and pantry stocked with snacks or ordering the occasional team lunch to your workplace, treating your employees to some of their favorite eats can go a long way to boosting satisfaction.

“Bring in doughnuts or have a pizza party at lunch on the company dime,” said Tyler Butler, founder and CEO of 11Eleven Consulting. “People … like to be fed. This type of reward will not only bring your office together [and] … strengthen their interpersonal relationships, but it will also give them all the feeling of being appreciated.”

Team lunches can be especially motivating to employees who returned to the workplace after shifting to fully remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. If your team is back in the office a few days a week or full time, consider offering them lunch on the company once per week. This can make returning to the office more enjoyable, even for employees who prefer remote work.

5. Express your gratitude on social media.

Some employees may truly love public recognition, and calling out their accomplishments and contributions on social media can be a great way to do so. If you have employees who appreciate being praised in front of all your followers, consider working these sorts of acknowledgements into your marketing plan.

“We recognize our employees on their birthdays and service anniversaries on our social channels,” said Michelle Cardin, account director at Epsilon. “Each post will include a photo and something that highlights that employee’s contribution to the organization or an interesting fact that their co-workers and others may not know about them.”

Before shouting out your employees on a public platform, though, be sure they’re comfortable with being in the spotlight. Not everyone wants their face on the company’s social media channel, so while it might be an awesome way to recognize some employees, others may prefer to remain behind the scenes. Always know your team members and their preferences first.

6. Delegate a team award.

graphic of a businesswoman holding a trophy

Having an internal team award can be a fun way for team members to recognize one another on a regular basis. Whether weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, team members can vote for the recipient of the reward ― you can even order a bit of customized hardware for the winner to display proudly.

In some cases, team awards may come with a monetary bonus or other type of reward, such as the “Cash Me At My Best” program run at a previous company where Sarah Taylor, director of talent and culture at Maxwell Locke & Ritter, worked.

“With the goal of pushing recognition down from higher-ranking staff members … Cash Me At My Best spotlights team members who go above and beyond during the busy season,” Taylor said. “Employees being recognized receive an email with a description of why they are being recognized as well as a ‘WEC Cash’ deposit, which can be redeemed for a gift card at any point during the busy season. These ‘deposits’ are then shared at the firm’s weekly staff meeting to make the recognition public and promote positive team morale throughout the duration of the busy season.”

7. Offer fitness opportunities.

It can be challenging to balance the demands of work and life with a consistent fitness regimen. For many employees, going to the gym falls by the wayside because the commute, work, and errands all take priority. Workplaces can offer an on-site fitness facility and gym breaks during the work day to give employees who want a workout the opportunity to easily do so. 

“Since our on-site fitness center opened in January of 2018, many team members made major strides in living healthier,” said Jason Trice, co-president and CEO of Jasco. “One team member lost over 140 pounds in less than a year, allowing him to buy new clothes at regular department stores. He serves as an inspiration to many other team members attempting to improve their health and wellness.”

8. Give employees extra time off.

Employees need time off to relax and, hopefully, you already offer a generous paid time off (PTO) policy. But even if you offer employees a lot of PTO, a little extra time to themselves can serve as a powerful incentive. After all, who doesn’t love a bit more rest throughout the year?

“I think the most valuable way to recognize an employee today is through time off ― that is, time off, time to do something else besides work,” said Mark Valenti, president and CEO of The Sextant Group. “It could be family, a hobby, a charity or a short vacation. I don’t think it needs to be routine or regular and has the most value when it’s unexpected.”

9. Welcome their feedback.

graphic of a person pressing a smiling emoji on a tablet

Simply listening to employees can make them feel appreciated, especially if you’re willing to take action when they offer their constructive feedback. When employees can offer input that meaningfully changes the work environment for the better, they’re more likely to feel appreciated and respected. Consider conducting employee surveys periodically to gather this feedback, and then seriously consider acting on some of the responses you receive.

“We distribute a quarterly pulse survey [that] allows them to give us [anonymous] feedback about the company at a macro level. We ask a set of 15 questions around teamwork, leadership, career growth, etc. each quarter to measure movement on any dimension,” said Mai Ton, chief people officer at Ethic. “Then we give them three open text boxes to answer the questions: What are we doing well? What do we need to improve? What else is on your mind? We get our results each month with an average participation rate of about 75 percent and have more than 225 lines of data from the responses to those three open-ended questions. This allows all employees to feel heard and want to contribute to making our company win.”

10. Host events for the entire company.

Hosting fun events like company parties or team outings can be a great way to show appreciation while also building relationships among team members. Research shows that people who are friends with their coworkers are happier at work and more likely to collaborate in productive ways. Company events can be fertile ground for forging those relationships.

“Company events are usually quite popular when we do team-building activities. All employees want to feel part of the team and believe strongly in the company,” said Patric Palm, CEO of Favro. “If we can create a positive, fun and flexible workplace, most employees appreciate the independence of knowing they are trusted to get the work done and feel part of a team.”

11. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and milestones.

Reward your employees for their dedication and loyalty to your organization by recognizing their accomplishments and special days. Make a company-wide announcement for each employee’s work anniversary, thanking them for their continued efforts to your organization. If you have an in-office team, decorate the employee’s desk with a few of their favorite things to remind them you care.

If your employees don’t mind having a moment of recognition in the office, consider celebrating their birthdays, work anniversaries and other milestones. Take some time out of the work day for the team to sing “Happy Birthday” and have some cake. If you want to double down on the celebration, consider offering the person celebrating their birthday or anniversary a perk, like a floating holiday.

12. Arrange a wellness day.

graphic of people in workout attire doing stretches

In recent years, work-life balance has become an important topic. The recognition that occupational burnout can severely impact an employee’s mental health and productivity has given rise to the acknowledgment that mental/emotional health in the workplace and rest outside of it are critical. Arranging wellness days can show that your company appreciates these challenges your employees face and wants to help them feel their very best.

Employee wellness is a hot topic right now, and a great way to address this and employee recognition at the same time is to bring self-care activities to the office,” said Sophia Lee, a writer for Culture Amp. “You can organize on-site massages, mindfulness sessions or fitness classes for the team.”

TipTip

Employee health and wellness programs can have big benefits for companies too, including increased productivity, better retention and lower healthcare costs. Consider implementing a program for your employees and educating them on how to take advantage of the wellness benefits your company offers.

13. Provide gift cards.

Gift cards can be a motivator for employees to hit their targets. Unlike some other ways of recognizing employees, gift cards allow them to choose what they’ll do with the funds ― especially if you choose a bank gift card that effectively doubles as cash.

“Cash incentives might come with their fair share of difficulties, from clauses in employment contracts to complications with the taxman,” said Jason Harney, an author at Workstars. “But it’s pretty easy and relatively cheap to give out store gift cards as a way to show recognition for your employees’ hard work. Gift cards let employees choose the reward they’ll like the most, too.”

14. Offer training opportunities.

Many employees are looking for a company they can grow with, so offering skills training and career development opportunities can be powerful motivators. Consider extending big opportunities beyond your typical career development program to top-performing employees, availing them to networking and learning opportunities. They’ll also represent your brand at these types of events, allowing you to get your best and brightest employees in front of others.

“Give your employees the opportunity to further their education on the company’s dime,” said Natalie Wickham, vice president of marketing at Quantum Workplace. “Send them to a conference, enroll them in an online course, offer tuition reimbursement or give them an opportunity to cross-train with other co-workers to develop new skills.”

15. Create an employee recognition program.

Establish an employee recognition program to formally recognize each staff member throughout the year. You can also have each team create its own program for recognizing its peers on a day-to-day basis. You can have team members provide verbal recognition or take it a step further by giving rewards and incentives to the team members who stand out the most. Consult your employees to determine what type of staff recognition program would be most desirable to them.

16. Host happy hour events.

graphic of colleagues socializing and drinking beer together

Who doesn’t love free food and drinks? One great way to show employees that you appreciate them ― and promote team building ― is to host happy hour events. For example, you could take your team out to a fun restaurant or bar or host a “Beer Day,” where you stock your office with drinks and encourage employees to relax and mingle at the end of the day. Be sure to include non-alcoholic options to ensure everyone feels comfortable attending.

17. Sponsor volunteer opportunities.

Giving back to the community is not only the right thing to do; it also makes people feel good. Show you care about your community by sponsoring volunteer opportunities and charitable events. For example, you could sponsor an event in which your entire team volunteers together. You could also give your employees a day off to attend a charitable event that is important to them or offer to donate to a charitable organization on your employees’ behalf.

Keep in mind that employees will appreciate this type of reward more if the money or aid is going to a cause they are passionate about. Be sure to include your employees in the decisions of how you will give back.

18.  Plan an annual retreat.

If you have the means to do so, plan an annual retreat for your company. Ask employees where they would like to go or what kinds of activities they would like to take part in during the retreat. If the retreat is a success, consider making it an annual event for everybody to look forward to each year. While company-related events are expected at these retreats, be sure to include a lot of time off for your employees to simply relax and hang out with one another too. Consider making some of the company events optional so employees can choose the ones they enjoy the most.

The importance of employee appreciation

Showing employees that they’re appreciated can go a long way to improving your workplace and business. Here are some of the benefits of thanking your employees and showing your gratitude for the work they do:

  • It builds trust: If workers can’t trust you, your business will not operate smoothly. Employees want to feel like their bosses see them as human beings and have their best interests in mind. 
  • It boosts productivity: If workers feel that you care, you will see it in how hard they work. Appreciated employees feel invested in the success of a company and will make a more calculated effort.
  • It decreases turnover: Hiring and onboarding a new employee is time-consuming and costly. Because recognizing employees can improve morale, you might be able to reduce your employee turnover rate by showing employees they are appreciated. [See how HR software can help you manage employee incentives and benefits.]
  • It improves brand reputation: In today’s age of online reviews and social media, you can be sure that if you treat your employees poorly, people will find out. You don’t want to be known as an organization to avoid. Plus, consumers like to support businesses that treat their staff well, and quality candidates are likely to apply to work for those companies.

Showing appreciation is key to a happy workplace

graphic of colleagues standing in a line with their arms around each other

Some of the ways of showing appreciation listed above may seem small, while others offer much-needed benefits to employees’ lives. Taken together, these ways of showing gratitude can help boost morale and retention rates, ultimately saving companies money by combatting frequent employee turnover and by enhancing their abilities to recruit and retain top talent. When your employees are happy, everything else follows, so be sure to regularly show appreciation to the team members who put the work in to make your company successful every day.

Tejas Vemparala and Skye Schooley also contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Bennett Conlin
Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
Bennett Conlin's passion for business and entrepreneurship is evident everywhere, from his bachelor's degree in business administration and management from James Madison University to his work with small business development centers to the founding of his own small multimedia company. Conlin has provided consultative services for small businesses looking for social media and website assistance, studied the cybersecurity landscape and expertly guided entrepreneurs toward the wide range of products and services needed for everyday operations. In recent years, Conlin has focused on the intersection of business, finance and sports with insights on the casino industry and coverage of sports betting news and legislation.
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