26 Employee Appreciation Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

As any good CEO will tell you, employees are the bloodline 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 a simple appreciation.

Engaged and appreciated employees bring productivity to day-to-day operations and are more likely to stay with you longer and show up with their minds ready to work. Yet, most office environments inspire more apathy than engagement. A stressful environment, lack of regular feedback, and feeling purposeless can lead to employee burnout. Most engagement programs miss the mark because they aren’t targeting the things employees care about the most. 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 appreciation ideas that you can use for almost no cost.

26 Employee Appreciation Ideas

  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 the best mentor. Just keep it from being a popularity contest — write out and publicly explain what a particular employee did to get the prize.

  3. Use an Employee Appreciation Program

    Like a frequent flier program, Employee Appreciation Programs can award points for teamwork, showing company values, or any other behavior you think is important. Employees can turn in points for experiences, time-off, or even small gift cards. Putting that kind of program in place can energize your whole office.

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  4. Let Your Employees Pay It Forward

    Sometimes employees get more out of giving budget-conscious appreciation than out of getting it. Use some of your employee appreciation budget for 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 employee appreciation tie to the team’s goals.

  7. Make it About More Than Work

    Publicly acknowledge employees’ 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 accomplishments.

  8. Gossip Can Be Good

    We don’t want employees dishing the 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 — CC’ing their manager or teammates in the email 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, and try to highlight company values in the recognition, too.

  11. Choose Your 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 ol’ suggestion box? It’s a great start — but you can take it further with company-wide surveys. Employees want to have an impact. So, show them that you take their ideas and suggestions 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 programs, and giving them the chance to lead an office initiative all encourage their growth. Your employees will appreciate your investment and will likely stick around for more growth opportunities.

  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. Actively listen to their thoughts and take every idea seriously. Use their first name. Even non-verbal recognition — like a genuine smile or a handshake — can give employees crucial visibility in the company.

  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 by asking an employee to join a meeting outside their group. Make sure the meeting is designed to shake up their daily routine and adds value to their precious time.

  21. Use Thoughtful Praise

    For employee recognition — it really is the thought that counts. Put effort into your recognition by personalizing it to the employee. For example, if an employee loves hiking, your thank you note can include a guide on 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 significant 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 complicated. You can go the mile by collecting feedback from every employee or 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), too. There’s great power in handwritten notes.

  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 employees like this anywhere.

  26. And a Bonus Idea: 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 resource library for more!), you can make employee appreciation a regular part of your workday.

Ready to start your reward program?

Kazoo is the all-in-one Employee Experience Platform that allows businesses to build cultures with recognition, feedback, and performance in mind. Our social recognition program allows your managers and employees to give each other public appreciation to increase visibility in the company and boost engagement. To learn more, book a personalized demo today.

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