The Complete Guide to Employee Appreciation

December 4, 2023
15 mins to read
The Complete Guide to Employee Appreciation

Uncovering employee appreciation. Learn about recognizing your team, explore unique gift ideas, and create a culture of gratitude for your team to thrive in!

As the backbone of any company, employees play a pivotal role in shaping its identity. They play a pivotal role in driving innovation, culture, and revenue, steering companies towards success. However, achieving a thriving workforce isn't always guaranteed, and is often due to employees not feeling recognized and appreciated enough for their work. 

In this guide, we cover all you need to know about employee appreciation.

What is employee appreciation?

Employee appreciation refers to the act of recognizing and expressing gratitude for your employees' valuable efforts and achievements. It involves acknowledging the hard work, dedication, and positive impact that employees make toward the success and well-being of their company.

Employee appreciation can take various forms. It includes verbal recognition, written appreciation, awards, incentives, gifts, and any other gesture that acknowledges the vital role employees play in an organization’s success. 

Recognizing the contributions of your employees has a profound impact on their morale, motivation, and productivity. In 1995, Bob Nelson popularized this concept by establishing a day for managers to prioritize thanking employees and foster stronger workplace relationships. This special occasion as we know it is Employee Appreciation Day.

What is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day is a designated annual occasion, typically observed on the first Friday of March. Employers from around the world and in different industries use this day as an opportunity to honor their employees and give them a big thank-you for their valuable contributions. Organizations that adopt an employee-centric culture will usually go to great lengths, often making significant investments in their celebrations to make it a fun and memorable experience for all. But that’s not an expectation. There are plenty of small gestures and budget-friendly appreciation ideas that work amazingly well.

The significance of this day isn’t just to provide immediate satisfaction to workers. Rather, it’s intended to reignite a sense of purpose within your employees to encourage them to continue giving their best daily. Praising your employees is like giving them a dose of happiness, and as the saying goes ‘happy employees are productive employees’. 

Appreciation vs. Recognition: What are the benefits?

Employee appreciation and employee recognition are two terms that are often used interchangeably, normally for simplicity’s sake. In actuality, their meanings are quite distinct.

Employee appreciation is about ongoing, informal acknowledgment of individual contributions and positive behaviors. It's like a constant high-five for doing a good job. Gestures like a verbal thank-you, a written appreciation card, or a small gift are sincere forms of appreciation that demonstrate gratitude. 

In contrast, employee recognition takes a more structured approach. Employers will typically reward their workers with formal awards, bonuses, or promotions for significant accomplishments. Recognition also tends to be centered around milestones or big occasions, such as exceeding KPIs or having exceptional performance.

There are two commonly used forms of recognition:

  • Top-down recognition: originates from higher levels of management or leadership within an organization.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition: involves colleagues acknowledging and praising each other's successes and contributions.

Both appreciation and recognition are vital for developing a culture of gratitude. This culture can have a positive impact on business success. Acknowledging and rewarding your employee’s work can yield favorable outcomes, including:

  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Increased productivity and performance
  • Enhanced employee engagement
  • Stronger loyalty and retention and reduced turnover rates
  • An overall positive work environment

Your employees are your most valuable asset, so it's important to invest the time, effort, and resources to keep them motivated and invested in the company’s success.

How to choose the perfect employee appreciation gift?

Expressing employee appreciation has no set limitations or rules. However, when choosing the right gift, it's beneficial to consider a few key factors.

1. Understand common languages of appreciation

Recognizing the diverse ways individuals experience and express appreciation is paramount when selecting the perfect appreciation gift. Just as people have different communication styles, they also have distinct preferences for how they like to be recognized. With that said, there are four main languages of appreciation to be aware of:

  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Tangible Gifts

Your employees may respond differently to each form of acknowledgment. Some may cherish heartfelt words or a thoughtful present, while others might value a simple pat on the back. Catering to these different styles means you’ll need to have a general idea of what your employee’s likes and interests are. Then, you can tailor your gift to resonate more deeply with the recipient. For instance, if your employee values quality time, consider organizing a team outing or a lunch where they can feel the warmth of your gratitude in a setting that aligns with their preferred language of appreciation.

2. Be aware of cultural sensitivities or personal restrictions

Another important consideration is to understand the individual or cultural boundaries of your employees. Despite the positive intentions you may have in building an inclusive culture, what might be deemed acceptable in one context could be misconstrued in another. For instance, some employees may have specific dietary restrictions that should be respected. 

Before making a decision, take the time to understand the individual considerations and sensitivities of your team members. Figure out what they enjoy by asking them in a survey or during a conversation. This ensures that your gesture of appreciation is universally well-received. demonstrating a genuine understanding of each employee's unique needs.

3. Know that consistency is key

Consistency is the cornerstone of an effective employee appreciation strategy. When choosing gifts, think beyond isolated occasions and focus on creating a sustainable culture of appreciation. While the nature of gifts may vary based on accomplishments or milestones, consistent gratitude helps ensure that every team member feels equally and continuously valued. 

Whether it's monthly shout-outs, quarterly awards, or an annual recognition ceremony, the key is to establish a rhythm that becomes ingrained in your workplace culture. A sustained culture of appreciation not only uplifts morale but also nurtures a sense of loyalty and dedication among your esteemed employees.

Unique employee appreciation gift ideas to uplift and motivate your workforce

One of the best ways to express gratitude at work is through employee appreciation gifts. There are several categories that most gifts fall under, each providing a distinct utility for employees:

  • Personalized gifts
  • Wellness gifts
  • Professional development gifts and benefits
  • Gadgets
  • Team building experiences
  • Virtual gifts
  • Gift cards

These thoughtful tokens are powerful ways to reward hard work, celebrate wins, and boost staff morale. Listed below are some unique employee appreciation gift ideas to help you boost morale and productivity. 

1. Create a customized nameplate

Upgrade your employees’ desks with a sleek, customized nameplate. This elegant and personal touch not only brings a professional flair to their workspace but also fosters a sense of ownership over their stations. Transforming their desks in this way isn’t just for the aesthetics; it makes your employees feel like they are an integral and valued part of the entire office experience. 

2. Personalize a bobblehead

These quirky replicas can be a great gift to add some laughter and personality to the office environment. Employees are likely to keep these items on their desks or in their workspaces, serving as a constant, lighthearted reminder of the appreciation expressed by the company. They showcase creativity and a willingness to go beyond conventional gifts, which can make employees feel genuinely valued. It’s also a great way to leave a positive and lasting impression on the office environment they work in.

3. Organize an online masterclass subscription

Empower your team members to explore new horizons with a Masterclass subscription. This is a great gift for employees who show ambition in their work. Whether it be to hone a specific skill set, like graphic design or negotiation, or to simply acquire new knowledge, this gift will be well-appreciated by the curious learners in your team. It shows that you value their personal and professional growth beyond the confines of their role. 

If you wish to enrich your employee’s learning experience, feel free to add other online platforms. Some great mentions include SkillShare, Udemy, and Mindvalley.

4. Arrange coffee or tea assortments

We all have a morning or productivity beverage of choice. For the coffee or tea enthusiasts on your team, a short-term subscription to a curation service can bring a great load of joy to their workdays. You can picture their excitement of receiving and opening a thoughtfully chosen assortment. It’s a great way to say "Your hard work is valued, and you deserve a delightful break."

5. Fill up the office’s snack inventory

If there’s one perk that employees enjoy having on a daily basis, it’s access to office snacks. Filling up the office’s snack inventory is a great way to collectively treat staff members and show that you value their comfort at work. During a busy work day, these treats can provide a quick energy boost to relieve stress, elevate morale, and keep productivity going.

6. Write a LinkedIn Recommendation

Many employees value actions that support their professional development and advancement. Writing a LinkedIn recommendation is a great way to show appreciation and invest in their future. Try to dive into specifics, describing the level of influence they've had in their role.  Contributions to collaborative projects, top-notch performance, and business results should not go unnoticed. Your employees will appreciate the words of support valuing and acknowledging their contributions. 

7. Flexible "Me-Time" Off

If you’re an advocate for flexible working, consider introducing a "Me-Time" off policy. This would allow employees to take designated hours or days for personal pursuits, such as hobbies and relaxing activities. Your employees will appreciate having some time to recharge and focus on themselves. The next day they come into the office,  they'll have new motivation and energy levels to excel in their work.

8. Hand them a gift card

Gift cards make for great surprises. They’re a thoughtful way of rewarding hard work and saying ‘thank you’. If you don’t already know your employee’s favorite stores or websites, asking them to pick would be a safe choice. After all, you want them to use the gift card towards something they’ll enjoy. Whether it's trying a new restaurant, watching a movie, or enjoying free coffee from their local coffee shop, associating appreciation with a pleasurable experience can create positive memories. 

Guusto is a company that specializes in gift cards and reward sharing. As an employee recognition platform, they offer access to over 60,000 merchant options. Whether your team operates in a traditional office or remote setting, Guusto's extensive variety makes it easy to tailor rewards to the preferences and interests of your employees.

9. Organize a special experience

When it’s time to celebrate a big win, treat your employees to a special experience they won’t forget. Some great ideas can include:

  • A wine-tasting experience to delight their taste buds
  • Tickets to an entertainment event, such as a sports game, concert, or comedy show
  • A painting workshop to encourage artistic expression

These activities foster enduring memories that are cherished for a long time. It’s a great way to recognize success individually and as a team.

10. Contribute to their wellness

Sometimes, the best gift for your employees is to give them peace of mind. A relaxing spa or yoga session can be a great way to promote the physical and mental wellness of your employees. Or maybe they’d prefer an in-person or virtual fitness class. With either activity, your employees have a chance to refocus their mindset and refresh their energy levels to bring their best selves to work.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative, then a wellness package of essential oils or self-care items is a great option. It promotes mindfulness and reminds your employees that their well-being is a priority.

11. Demonstrate appreciation virtually

Remote work can be stressful, and sometimes rewarding your employees with a break is all they need. Bring your team together for some virtual team-building activities, this time not for something work-related. Online trivia sessions or virtual escape rooms can be fun games to play with your team. Or host a virtual happy hour to allow colleagues to unwind and bond over casual conversations. The goal is to foster camaraderie between dispersed team members so that they feel united and connected in their remote bubble. 

Check out 8 Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas To Engage Your Remote Team for some additional inspiration.

Employee appreciation messages and quotes to say thank you

Verbal appreciation is another great way to demonstrate gratitude towards your employees. They’re a simple yet effective way to say ‘thank you’ for the hard work and effort employees contribute. Use this collection of inspiring and motivational employee appreciation quotes to brighten your team's workday:

  1. We’re thrilled to have you with us! Here’s to a promising future together.
  2. Your consistency in exceeding expectations is a beacon of excellence for the entire team. Keep shining!
  3. The precision and dedication you bring to work inspires us all. Thank you for setting such a high standard.
  4. Your dedication to high-quality results is nothing short of remarkable. Your work speaks volumes!
  5. Precision, dedication, and remarkable skills – you embody the qualities that make our team exceptional. Well done!
  6. Your enthusiasm makes everyone’s day better. Thanks for infusing energy and positivity into the workplace, it seriously uplifts the team.
  7. Every day you bring your A-game, and it makes a significant difference. Your passion for your work is truly inspiring.
  8. Thanks for meeting those deadlines so efficiently. I commend you for that!
  9. I'm impressed by how smoothly the project wrapped up. Kudos on a job well done!
  10. Your outstanding contribution to the project didn't go unnoticed. Thank you for going above and beyond – it truly made a difference.
  11. Great teams are built on the foundation of great individuals. We’re lucky to have professionals like you on the team.
  12. Congrats on hitting those targets. I’m happy that your dedication paid off!
  13. Your teamwork has been a game-changer for us. Thanks for always being there to support your colleagues—it's what makes our team strong and united!
  14. Thanks for your support over the last couple of days. We made things happen because of you!
  15. Your leadership this quarter has been instrumental and inspirational. Thank you for being a guiding force for us all!

For more employee appreciation quotes, check out this blog: 49 Appreciation Quotes For Your Employees To Demonstrate Gratitude

Tips to effectively recognize and appreciate your employees

Implement a recognition program 

Establishing a formal recognition program is a strategic approach to acknowledging and appreciating your employee’s efforts. To develop an effective recognition program, it’s important to follow some best practices to ensure you make the most out of it. These include:

Setting clear criteria and expectations.

Defining the criteria for recognition ensures that employees understand the specific behaviors or achievements that merit acknowledgment. When you tie recognition to favorable actions, employees become more likely to repeat those same actions. 

Aligning recognition with organizational values and goals.

As employees significantly influence culture and success, reinforcing behaviors that contribute to your organization's purpose can enhance workplace engagement.

Making recognition fun, accessible, and frequent.

The best way to streamline recognition is to utilize an employee recognition platform. Bonusly, 15Five, or Kudos are great tools to streamline and automate your recognition process. You’ll be able to give instant recognition, track engagement insights, and pick from a variety of rewards to maximize employee performance.

Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.

This is an important step in building a culture of appreciation. Making it easy for colleagues to commend and praise each other is an important part of a collaborative atmosphere. Recognition platforms like the ones mentioned above facilitate this, allowing recognition to be passed from anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Celebrate the wins, whether big or small

As a manager, think of how you’d like to be appreciated as an employee. Say you’ve just completed a challenging project, hit your sales targets, or reached a personal work goal. You’d probably appreciate a simple ‘great job’ or ‘keep up the good work’. The same goes for your employees. Every accomplishment, whether big or small, contributes in some way to the success of the team. It’s important to recognize these contributions to encourage and motivate your employees to strive for excellence in their work.

Focus on inclusivity

When you express appreciation, an important thing to keep in mind is the equal recognition and treatment of all team members. In the modern workplace, it is common for coworkers to have varying levels of experience and skill proficiency. Recognizing this, the key is to ensure that all employees feel equally treated and without showing signs of favoritism. For work anniversaries for example, whether it’s one year or five years, make sure there is a balance in the way you celebrate and honor their achievements.  

Foster a culture of continuous appreciation

To actively foster a culture of continuous appreciation, you need to make gratitude and recognition a part of daily interactions. Leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture of an organization. When managers, supervisors, and other leaders demonstrate and model appreciation, it sets the tone for the entire workplace. This can be through publicly recognizing achievements in team meetings, expressing gratitude in communications, and incorporating practices or policies that facilitate collective appreciation. It’s a good idea to invest in training or workshops to equip leaders with the necessary knowledge and skills to express appreciation the right way. 

Like communication, the key is to have open channels for expressing appreciation. This can include dedicated communication channels, suggestion boxes, or accessible platforms where employees can openly appreciate their peers. By providing outlets for expressing gratitude, you encourage a free-flowing culture of appreciation that goes beyond hierarchical boundaries.

Monitor and track feedback

For long-term success, building a habit of regular monitoring and tracking feedback is how you’ll know if your recognition efforts are working as intended. You can use surveys or feedback sessions to understand what types of recognition are most meaningful to your employees. This helps refine your recognition strategies and involves employees in the process, making their opinions heard and respected. They’re also well-invested in the long-term success of the organization, so don’t be afraid to ask for input on how recognition can be improved and adapted to better suit their preferences.

The bottom line

Employee appreciation shouldn't feel like a daunting task. What matters most to your employees is that they receive appreciation with genuine authenticity and intent. They also value acknowledgment that ties into their professional development, so when picking an appreciation method, keep consistency and diversity of expression top-of-mind. By increasing appreciation and recognition in the workplace, you also increase the chance of employees feeling motivated, engaged, and respected in their roles. With a culture like this, you’ll be on your way to achieving stronger business results and success that’s sustainable long term.

Ziyad Bakkali
Ziyad Bakkali

Ziyad is a Marketing and Content Intern at Litespace. With a background in leveraging digital growth strategies for client success and a passion for digital marketing trends, he is eager to contribute his expertise to support Litespace’s marketing efforts and help the brand thrive in the HRTech space.

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