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28 employee appreciation ideas that are clever, simple, and meaningful

Recognizing hard, honest work is a responsibility that comes with running your business smoothly. Luckily, acknowledging your team’s efforts doesn’t have to be boring. Employee appreciation ideas vary from free to expensive, and from quick to time-consuming. All of them are worth the effort to show your employees that you respect and value their contributions to your organization.

As you think about what you want to offer your employees as recognition for their efforts, consider the following:

  • Make it meaningful: Whatever you offer doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should mean something to your employees.
  • Make it authentic: A fake smile is easy to spot, so make sure that whatever you say or do is genuine.
  • Make it sincere: From “thank you” to “good job” to “we’ll get ‘em next year,” your staff will want to know that you fully believe your own message.
  • Make it realistic: If there were challenges, say so. If there were big wins, say that too. Craft a message that reflects the reality that your employees deal with.

Whether you’re struggling to come up with clever employee appreciation ideas, need to think out of the box for a virtual team, or just need to work within a budget, here are some different types of employee appreciation gifts that can really demonstrate how grateful you are for everyone’s hard work.

Clever employee appreciation ideas: Gratitude for a job well done

Two employees giving each other a high five.

“It’s the thought that counts” doesn’t always apply to staff appreciation efforts. While employees may appreciate simple gestures of goodwill, a clever appreciation gift can take things up a notch and inject some joy into their work lives.

Here are some clever ways to appreciate your employees that they’ll surely remember.

1. Individual experiences 

If you’re worried about your gift seeming too impersonal, offer your employees a unique gift that suits their individual tastes.

As long as you know about their interests and preferences, you could surprise your employees with a meal from an eatery they love or a couple of rounds at their favorite local brewery.

2. Subscriptions 

If your employees love to dish about their favorite TV shows or the newest snack that they can’t get enough of, a paid subscription is a gift that keeps giving again and again.

Subscriptions to streaming services and snack boxes are widely varied and often fairly inexpensive. Plus, they can make your employees feel repeatedly appreciated.

3. Additional paid time off

It may seem contradictory to reward your hard-working employees with a chance to get away from the office, but everyone could use an extra day off. You could also look into moving to a summer schedule that allows for early release on Fridays during the summer months.

As the business owner, you’ll need to choose the best option for you, your customers, and your revenue, but if you can make it work with your paid time off policy, your employees will truly appreciate the freedom.

4. Gifts to charity 

Many people, your employees included, have a cause that is near and dear to them. Whether it’s rescuing dogs, saving the whales, or finding a cure for cancer, charitable causes are often very personal to those who support them.

Let your employees know that this year, your company will donate a certain amount per employee to the charity of each employee’s choice. You can have them choose from a list of set charities or simply have them write in the charity they pick. This communicates two things to your employees: You care about something beyond your organization, and you care about what they care about.

Make sure you brush up on deducting charitable contributions from your business taxes before going with this idea.

5. Work-life balance benefits

Burnout is a serious detractor from performance and productivity and can be a costly adversary to keeping your business running smoothly. Communicate with your employees to make sure they know you want them to feel rested and fulfilled.

Some employees may benefit from adjusting their schedules to fit their hobbies or responsibilities outside of the office. Listen to and work with those employees to find schedules that work for both of you, whether that’s late arrival for those with children or the occasional three-day weekend for those with out-of-town family. 

6. Continued learning opportunities 

Allowing your employees to grow and develop skills that are important to them will show them your commitment to their education and personal development. These could be courses related directly to work interests that you offer, or courses that help develop personal skills that you pay for.

Either way, your investment in your employees’ continuing education can have direct benefits for your organization as your team grows and develops new and impactful skills.

7. Cash 

Cash bonuses are always well received and tell employees that the company is doing well and is grateful for all they have done to make the organization a success.

While other gifts communicate gratitude as well, cash signifies to employees that you are taking money from the organization to give them a gift. There’s also no question of its value when compared to logo-branded items like coffee mugs or baseball caps.

8. Gift cards 

While some bosses may think this is an impersonal gift, the truth is that a gift card gives the receiver the freedom to buy whatever they want. Aim for gift cards to stores that are easy to find and sell various goods. Local grocery stores are also a great consideration for gift cards.

Even a $50 token is likely more than your employees were expecting and amounts to a pleasant, unexpected reward for a job well done—just make sure it’s not a gift card for your business.

Team appreciation ideas: Recognizing the whole group

Two employees holding a trophy in celebration.

Individual employee appreciation gifts have merit, but adding team appreciation gifts to the mix ignites new opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie-building that a simple office swag bag can’t provide.

Here are a few ideas for appreciating the team as a whole.

9. Pampering and wellness gifts 

Many of the ideas on this list involve giving your employees time and space to take a break from work. Instead, bring a wellness or relaxation specialist into the office to help your team recharge.

A masseuse or meditation guide can help the group feel rejuvenated and grateful for your initiative to invest in their health and wellness. 

10. Group trips 

For a unique reward that doubles as a shared memory, offer a fun experience to your office or your team. You could visit an escape room together, rent out a movie theater, or visit a national or state park. You could even book live entertainment to come directly to you.

The options are varied and may change based on what’s seasonally available in your area, but if your employees enjoy spending time together, this appreciation gift is sure to bring smiles to their faces.

11. Everyday rewards

You can also give your employees a chance to show appreciation to their colleagues and redeem rewards throughout the year via mobile apps. 

These reward and recognition programs are an easy way for you and other employees to acknowledge hard work and outstanding effort throughout the year. Some of these employee incentive programs allow users to redeem earned points for merchandise or gift cards, while others provide immediate recognition through thank you notes or social media posts. 

12. Catered meals 

Whether they work in the office or from home, all of your employees are sure to appreciate a free lunch.

Have a catered lunch delivered to the office (with a heads-up, so no one wastes a lunch brought from home) or offer to cover a home-delivered lunch for your remote employees. As a bonus, your catered lunch can show employees your commitment to their well-being if healthy options are available.

13. New break room 

If your employee break room is just a collection of tables and chairs, there might be an opportunity to show more appreciation right under your nose.

Redesigning or revamping your break room shows that you want your employees to know they have spaces to shift gears and recharge on-site. Many large companies have full kitchens, lounges, or even arcades to give their employees a break from stress. If that’s not feasible, a redo with comfortable places to sit and a television can foster community among your employees while showing them you appreciate them.

Virtual employee appreciation ideas: Regard for remote workers

Employee holding up a certificate for her hard work.

Let’s be real: Most of the suggestions on this list would be easy to apply to a remote work environment. Remote workers can receive digital gift cards, have virtual pizza parties, or take a half-day off just as easily. In fact, they can do just about everything besides marking a reserved parking space. But showing appreciation for these team members is a key part of leading and motivating remote employees.

Here are a few additional ideas for appreciating remote employees.

14. Guest speakers

Speakers no longer need to be reserved for retreats or seminars. Instead, invite a virtual speaker to bring a topic of interest to your organization.

Guest speakers bring a fresh perspective and outside knowledge to virtual meetings at a time when many people are accustomed to a camera-off, microphone-off meeting. Plus, getting a speaker to talk about a non-work topic can inspire your team to take up new hobbies and find more meaning in their daily lives.

15. Time for personal projects 

While working remotely, your team is more inherently aware of the day-to-day workings of their home. This may inspire them to complete fun personal projects around their house during their free time.

Give your employees a break and a chance to better themselves with a designated time period for personal projects. Some tech companies have used this in the past to improve employee motivation and drive, reasoning that giving workers time to unplug while doing something that benefits their personal life will translate to increased productivity in the office

16. Video game breaks

If your line of work is particularly stressful, or even if you just want to offer your employees a chance to take a break doing something they enjoy, encourage them to play collaborative games during designated times. 

There are many online, multiplayer games that foster collaboration and communication in addition to being just plain fun.

17. Screen-off meditations

Working virtually often means that work enters the home. This can make it difficult for employees to balance work with relaxation time after work. To help encourage workers to unplug and disconnect, you could host meditation sessions for your employees that allow them to follow along without their cameras and microphones.

Free employee appreciation ideas: Creative ways to show gratitude

An employee holding up a thank you card.

It’s not a bad thing if you need to stick to a tight budget with your employee appreciation gifts. Blowing a huge chunk of cash on an extravagant gift may make an impression on your employees, but so will handing them a pink slip six months later when operations aren’t sustainable.

Here are some appreciation ideas that are totally free.

18. Frequent gratitude

A “thank you” from a boss can have a positive impact on employees’ mindsets. Your team invests lots of time and labor into hitting their goals and driving the organization forward. By voicing your gratitude genuinely, you can show them that you notice and care about their impact on the team.

19. Peer recognition

In addition to downward recognition from a boss, gratitude and recognition from peers can make your employees feel seen and valued by their teammates.

Whether in person, via messaging or email, or in a newsletter, encourage employees to share their appreciation for one another to boost group morale.

20. Summer Fridays

Whether you work in a warm climate or a more seasonal location, your employees will appreciate the chance to get out a few hours early for their summer weekends, business permitting.

Consider letting your employees have a little extra time off in the summer by giving a half-day every Friday in July and August. Though the extra time off may end up boosting productivity anyway, you can also offset some of the time by having employees work 30 minutes to an hour longer during the other days of the week.

21. Client perks 

Do you have a client who provides a product or service that your employees love? Consider working out a deal with your client to provide a discount code, monthly stipend, or similar perk to your team. Your client may jump at the opportunity to garner new business, and your employees will appreciate the effort to win them something beneficial. 

22. Assigned parking spaces 

Oftentimes, assigned parking spaces are reserved for senior employees or executives as a position-based perk. If your parking lot allows for it, consider giving assigned parking spaces to other employees as an act of appreciation.

No one enjoys searching for a parking spot, much less early in the morning after commuting to work. With a bigger parking lot, you may need to purchase paint or signage to signify individual reserved spaces, but the small cost can translate to big wins with your team as they enjoy their new perk. 

23. Mentor programs

Do you have senior employees who are willing to share their know-how? Younger employees can benefit from the guidance of someone with more experience in their role or in the company.

It may not seem like an obvious appreciation gift, but a mentor program directly impacts the culture of your organization and encourages employees to continue growing within their roles. 

Holiday appreciation gifts for employees: End-of-year thanks ideas

An employee holding a gift.

The end of the year is a busy time for most people, while also being a somewhat stressful time for many at work. A celebratory act or gift can go a long way toward showing your employees you truly appreciate their time and contributions to your business.

Here are three additional ways to make sure that employee recognition makes your business’s year-end checklist. Note that it’s totally fine to use any of the other ideas on this list as an end-of-year gift as well.

24. Perishable food items

We’re not necessarily talking about giant tins of flavored popcorn. Instead, consider giving your employees a nice box of fresh pears or a voucher for a free turkey or ham from the local grocer.

If you opt for this gift, consider if any of your employees have dietary restrictions or allergies. Giving a gift certificate for a ham is a great gift, but not to a vegetarian. Make sure you have alternative options for them.

25. Extended holiday time

Most everyone appreciates a little extra time off around the end of the year. You could investigate the feasibility of shutting your offices down between Christmas and New Year’s while still paying your employees for their time as a show of thanks for their hard work throughout the year.

26. Puppy visits in the office

The end of the year is a notoriously difficult and stressful time for many employees. In addition to wrapping up a work year, many employees are probably managing gifting budgets and packed calendars trying to visit their friends and family.

To offset this stress, set up a day for a local shelter or service organization to bring puppies into the office. Dogs help lower stress. Of course, this can be done at other times of the year, too. Just make sure there are no severe allergies among your staff before moving forward with this idea.

Special occasion employee gift ideas: Birthdays and life milestones

An employee holding a gift next to a check mark.

Sharing our joy with others brings greater meaning to celebrations that we might not traditionally share with the office. Everyone has a birthday and a work anniversary, and most people have other significant milestones that deserve a little extra attention.

Here are three ideas for recognizing and appreciating employee milestones and birthdays.

27. Milestone and anniversary shout-outs 

Shine a little light on employees hitting a noteworthy work milestone, such as an anniversary or promotion. Additionally, spread cause for celebration when your employees are celebrating something personal, if they feel comfortable with it: Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and more are on the table.

A milestone shout-out may seem minor, but celebrating these events with colleagues can encourage camaraderie, team building, and appreciation for the organization as a whole. 

28. Achievement recognition

Does your company have an email newsletter, newsfeed, or all-hands meeting? Use the opportunity to spotlight individual achievements, whether that’s an employee who met their quota or a team that successfully tested and launched a new product.

Not all employees expect to be rewarded for these victories, but by showing your appreciation for big and little wins, you remain committed to your team’s growth, development, and happiness. 

29. Sabbaticals for work milestones

Do you have employees who’ve worked with you for five years or more? Consider offering them a token of appreciation via an extended vacation. Sabbaticals based on tenure are a great way for employees to unplug, recharge, and renew appreciation for the job and company.

The time for this sabbatical should be significant enough to distinguish it from an ordinary break (like when the office is closed for any observed holidays). Try three to four weeks if you can afford to pay out PTO for tenured employees that long.

Recognition for hard work brings value to your whole organization

Your employee appreciation gifts should fit with your company’s culture. You want your employees to know that their hard work is appreciated and recognized, but also acknowledge your organization’s mission statement and business goals, even if you just started your business.

For the most part, employees want to be appreciated. Stop for a moment and consider what message your gift of appreciation is sending to the team.

Is it truly a gift that says “job well done” or just a token given to avoid looking like a Scrooge? Genuine gratitude is perhaps the most important gift you can bestow upon your employees. No matter your budget, make sure it’s a gift that counts.

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