26 Employee Appreciation Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank

As any successful business owner will tell you, employees are the lifeblood of a company.

When they’re disgruntled or apathetic, they clog the arteries of your operations. But keep your employees happy and engaged, and they’ll help your business flow smoothly. The good news: The heart of employee appreciation is easy and inexpensive to roll out, yet impacts revenue, retention, and absenteeism in droves.

Ready for it? It’s simple appreciation.

Engaged, appreciated employees bring productivity to day-to-day operations and are more likely to stay with you longer and show up with their mind ready to work. Yet most office environments inspire more apathy than engagement. A high-stress environment, lack of regular feedback, and generally feeling purposeless can lead to employee burnout. Most engagement programs miss the mark because they aren’t targeting the things employees care most about.

In this case, recognition for their hard work.

So, to help you get the ball rolling as you reimagine your employee engagement strategy, we’ve put together a list of 26 employee apprecition programs that you can put in place for almost no cost (or if you’re ready, see how Kazoo can help you have best-in-class staff appreciation every day.)


Staff Appreciation Ideas

Here are 26 staff appreciation and employee recognition ideas that you can roll out with very little cost.

1. Time to Brag. Arrange for a team to show their work to upper management (or even the whole company!) Employees feel more engaged when they feel that their ideas and efforts are having an impact.

2. Employees’ Choice. Let your employees create their own awards program and vote on the winners. Create a “hardest working” award. Or best mentor. Just keep it from being a popularity contest –write out and publicly explain exactly what a certain employee did to get the award.

3. Use a Staff Appreciation Program.
Like a frequent flier program, Staff Appreciation Programs can award points for teamwork, showing company values, or any other behavior that you think is important. Employees can turn in points for experiences, time off (like leaving a half hour early one day) or even a small gift care. Putting that kind of program in place can energize your whole office.

4. Let Your Employees Pay It Forward. Sometimes employees get more out of giving budget-conscious appreciation than out of getting it. Direct some of your staff appreciation budget to small peer-to-peer recognition awards to get the most bang for your buck.

5. Surprise Appreciation Celebrations. With something as simple as a batch of chocolate chip cookies, spontaneous Nerf gun battle, or some great music blasting through the office, the employees you recognize will jump for joy (at least internally!) that their work was noticed and appreciated.

6. Reward the Whole Team. Studies show that rewarding an entire team builds everyone’s performance. So even if you have a top performer, make sure your staff appreciation is tied to the team’s goals.

7. Make it About More Than Work. Publicly acknowledge employees’ personal accomplishments. Did Cara’s organic garden get a bumper year? Did Emily have a personal best in the half-marathon? Or did Tim win a dance contest? Even if it’s just pointing them out in a staff meeting, your employees will appreciate your recognition of their personal accomplishments.

8. Gossip Can be Good. We don’t want employees dishing dirt on each other – but encourage positive gossip. If you catch a positive remark about a coworker, tell them as soon as possible. It can be a text or email if it isn’t live. And make it public — copying their manager or teammates gives the comment much more impact.

9. Spread the Success. Ask successful teams and employees to be “office consultants” – sharing their skills and knowledge with others.

10. Publish the Praise. Think about putting an employee highlights column on your company intranet or employee newsletter. Ask employees to submit examples for their peers.

11. Choose Your Own Assignment. If you can allow employees to choose their work, they will be more engaged and dedicated. (Everyone loves to have choices, right?)

12. Thank You Calls. Ask supervisors to bring employees into their office for a thank you. Most employees hear from their supervisors when something’s wrong. So, they will be especially pleased to receive honest, positive feedback.

13. Suggestion Box on Steroids. That good old’ suggestion box? It’s a great start – but you can take it further with company-wide surveys. Employees want to have impact. So, show them that their opinions and ideas are taken seriously – and you’ll see a boost in engagement.

14. Invest in Employees’ Professional Development. Even if you can’t pay for classes – you can still support your employees’ professional development. Free online courses, mentorship from executives, and giving them the chance to lead an office initiative all encourage their growth. Your employees will appreciate your interest and guidance.

15. Celebration Calendar. Posted on the wall or sent out online, it pays to mark important dates. Celebrate employees’ birthdays and employment anniversaries.

16. Make Lunch Count. Give employees an extra-long lunch break on occasion. Or other time off to manage their personal lives.

17. Show Your Employees They Matter. Take time to get to know all the employees in your organization. Listen actively and carefully to their thoughts. Use their first name. Even non-verbal recognition– like an honest smile or a handshake – can show employees they matter.

18. Build Connections Between Staff and Upper Management.
With or without day-to-day interaction, employees like to feel that they know upper management. Think about using a new employee lunch with the CEO to build connections across your organization’s hierarchy.

19. Recognize Long Hours. Think about sending a note to your employees’ home addresses to show them that you understand how much home-time the employee sacrificed to complete a critical project.

20. Meeting Madness. Even though we all spend a lot of time in meetings – make it a little more fun. Ask an employee to join a “special meeting” outside their group.

21. Use Thoughtful Praise. For employee recognition – the thought often counts more than the money. If an employee loves hiking, for example, maybe you’ll write your thanks on a guide to local trails. Or you can Photoshop a million-dollar bill with the employee’s face on it, as a way of saying, “Thanks a Million.”

22. Put Yourself Out There. While it may be easy to hand off recognition of birthdays or workplace anniversaries to an assistant, generic recognition can fall flat. Even if you automate and standardize employee recognition of key events, make sure that recognition has a personal touch.

23. Let Your Employees Take the Lead. When you’re planning on retreats, meetings, and other “fun” time, get your employees’ ideas. Including employees in planning company events can feel like a reward in and of itself (plus – they’ll look forward more to the next one!) It doesn’t have to be complex. You can go the full yard by collecting feedback from every employee, or just ask a dedicated employee to volunteer to help plan an event.

24. Make It Formal: Write a Letter. Here’s a simple, free, influential method for recognizing your employees: personal letters. Write a letter explaining in detail why a particular employee deserves praise. Deliver a copy to the employee and their manager(s). Place a copy of the letter in the employee’s file.

25. Don’t Just Recognize the Exception.
Often, employees get recognized for that one time they go above and beyond. But what about the employees who consistently do their job well? Encourage consistency by recognizing employees for the day-to-day challenge of doing their job well—after all, it’s not easy to find good employees. See our managers’ guide to giving effective feedback for tips.

And a bonus: #26. The Bulletin Board. Employees may want to connect outside work, too. They should have a place to recruit for their ultimate Frisbee team, advertise their dog sitting service, or let people know they have a room for rent. Setting up a place for them to connect outside work shows that you care about more than just their on-the-job selves.

Meaningful appreciation doesn’t have to be expensive. Using these tips (or check out our resources page for more!) you can make staff appreciation a regular part of your workday.

And if you like these staff appreciation ideas – you can download them as a PDF.