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Best Employee Appreciation Ideas and Solutions for Happier Employees

January 12, 2024

In today’s post-pandemic world, one universal truth stands strong: a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

When executed thoughtfully, employee appreciation can transform workplaces into hubs of happiness, motivation, and increased productivity. Research by Deloitte reveals that employee recognition can increase employee engagement, productivity, and performance by 14%.

The most effective employee appreciation programs include policies and practices that ensure rewards and recognition are awarded fairly and consistently. Ideally, the program will also include specific employee appreciation ideas and solutions that support your employee engagement goals, are meaningful to employees, and reinforce your organization’s mission, values, and culture. 

We’ll explore some of the best employee appreciation ideas that today’s top employers are using to recognize employees’ efforts and contributions.

The Importance of Employee Recognition and Appreciation

In an era of historically high employee disengagement, the importance of employee recognition cannot be understated. Employee appreciation is the cornerstone of a thriving workplace culture. It's about valuing the efforts, dedication, and unique contributions of each team member.

A graphic that shows employee engagement trends in the United States between 2018 and 2023. 2018 had 34% engaged employees, 2019 had 35% engaged employees, 2020 had 36% engaged employees, 2021 had 34% engaged employees, 2022 had 32% engaged employees, 2023 had 33% engaged employees.


When employees feel appreciated, their motivation skyrockets, fueling increased productivity and a deeper commitment to their work. Employee recognition and appreciation create a positive feedback loop that fosters a sense of belonging and purpose, resulting in a work environment where individuals feel seen, heard, and respected. Moreover, employee appreciation directly impacts retention rates and morale. In fact, employees who receive frequent recognition are 6x more likely to stay at their company and 82% happier.

Feeling undervalued often leads to disengagement and eventually contributes to higher turnover. Recognizing and appreciating employees not only retains top talent but also attracts new ones. It cultivates a culture where individuals are more likely to go above and beyond, knowing that their efforts won't go unnoticed. Ultimately, a workplace built on appreciation fosters a sense of camaraderie, trust, and satisfaction, creating a solid foundation for sustained success and growth.

Ultimately, a workplace built on appreciation fosters a sense of camaraderie, trust, and satisfaction, creating a solid foundation for sustained success and growth.

Best Employee Appreciation Ideas

Employee appreciation programs are a gateway to cultivating a deeply engaged workforce. While the initial aim may be to generate smiles, the true essence is in fostering a culture of value and recognition. Integrating fun employee appreciation ideas into your rewards program contributes to this goal, albeit with the understanding that what constitutes 'fun' varies from one person to the next.

Personalized rewards stand out for their profound impact—they signify individual recognition, demonstrating that employees are acknowledged as unique contributors. The relevance of a reward directly correlates with its significance to an employee, emphasizing the importance of tailored appreciation gestures. When employees receive personalized recognition, it not only boosts morale but also fortifies their connection to the organization, fostering loyalty and commitment. 

Here are some examples of today’s best employee appreciation ideas:

  • Personalized Thank You Notes: Write (by hand!) individualized notes acknowledging each employee’s specific contributions or achievements.
  • Public Recognition: Highlight employees’ accomplishments in company newsletters, meetings, or on social media.
  • Gift Cards: Provide vouchers for coffee shops, restaurants, or employees’ favorite stores.
  • Extra Paid Time Off: Offer an extra day off work to allow employees to recharge.
  • Employee of the Month: Highlight an outstanding employee each month with recognition and a small monetary reward.
  • Work Anniversary Celebrations: Acknowledge and celebrate the time employees have spent with the company, starting after their first 30 days on the job.
  • Superlative Awards: Channel your high school days and create awards for different categories like "Most Innovative Idea," "Best Team Player," etc. Ideally, employees will vote to determine the recipient of these types of awards.  
  • Team Meal: Organize a team lunch or dinner to celebrate collaborative achievements or milestones such as wrapping up a big project, meeting a production goal, or launching a new product. For maximum impact, treat your team to a restaurant meal during regular work hours, rather than ordering delivery or asking them to use personal time. 
  • Professional Development Opportunities: Offer training courses, seminars, or workshops that align with their career goals. (When this is part of a broader professional development program that includes individualized career pathing, mentorships, and on-the-job learning opportunities, it can also help boost engagement and retention.)
  • Social Activities: Plan a fun day out for your team, like a picnic, escape room challenge, or sports event. No work talk allowed! 
  • Surprise Treats: Organize surprise breakfasts, snacks, or ice cream socials in the office—or have treats delivered to remote employees at home. (Be sure to take allergies and dietary specifications into account!)
  • Handwritten Letters from Leadership: Executive leaders can write personalized letters of appreciation.
  • Personal Development Books: Gift employees books that are related to personal growth or leadership.
  • Peer-to-Peer Recognition Programs: Allow colleagues to nominate and appreciate each other’s efforts.
  • Volunteer or Charity Days: Give employees a paid day off to volunteer for a cause they care about.
  • Family Events: Organize events where employees can bring their families for a day of fun.

In addition to these specific examples, it’s important to consider the structure of your employee appreciation program. While many organizations create schedules of milestones to recognize and lists of achievements to award, some also use a points system for employees.

An employee recognition points system offers a structured and tangible way to acknowledge and reward exceptional performance within an organization. These types of systems typically allow peers or managers to award points to colleagues for their outstanding contributions, innovative ideas, teamwork, or going above and beyond. Accumulated points can then be redeemed for various rewards, such as gift cards, extra time off, or personalized perks. Not only does this system incentivize continuous excellence, but it also fosters a culture of appreciation and healthy competition, encouraging employees to strive for excellence while reinforcing a sense of value and recognition for their hard work and dedication.

Employee Appreciation Ideas for Large Companies

When it comes to employee appreciation ideas for large companies, many HR teams feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task. Fortunately, there are many ways to recognize employees without costing a fortune or creating enormous loads of administrative work. Leveraging the right technology solutions is just one of the many ways HR teams can help control costs and take advantage of automation that saves time and reduces errors and oversights. 

Implementing technology solutions tailored for large-scale employee appreciation programs can help streamline processes and enhance effectiveness. Robust software and tools designed for recognition and rewards management not only facilitate the tracking of employee achievements and milestones but also provide a centralized platform for nominations, approvals, and distribution of rewards. This technology not only simplifies the administrative burden for HR teams but also supports transparency and fairness in the recognition process across a vast employee base and regardless of work location or schedule.

By harnessing technology, companies can efficiently scale their appreciation efforts, contributing to a culture in which every employee feels acknowledged and valued.

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How To Show Staff Appreciation on a Budget

The concept of employee appreciation can sound expensive—and it certainly can be. But that’s not the only option. There are plenty of inexpensive employee appreciation ideas that carry just as much weight as pricier rewards. In many cases, low-cost or even free employee appreciation ideas can be a way to show employees that you see and hear them, that you recognize them as unique individuals, and that you value their personal lives and commitments as much as their engagement with their work.

Budget-friendly employee appreciation ideas tend to be more personalized, more creative, and more thoughtful than some of the higher priced alternatives, so it might take a little more brainstorming and planning to develop a list of ideas that are a good fit for your organization. But when it comes to stretching your rewards budget and making a big splash with employees, the time spent up front will be well worthwhile.

Some low or no cost ways to show employees your appreciation include:

  • Executive Shadowing: Allow employees to shadow the C-suite leader of their choice for a day
  • Leadership Lunch: Whether one-on-one or in small groups, invite employees to share a (paid, provided) lunch with members of your leadership team. 
  • Additional Paid Time Off: Adding to employees’ PTO balance is a cost-effect but meaningful reward. (Protip: whenever possible, encourage employees to take this additional time off within a preset window of time, and allow them to tack it on to other leave periods like holiday or vacation breaks.)
  • Flex Time/Location: For employees on a hybrid work schedule, having the opportunity to work remotely an extra day one week or to start their work day a little later than usual can be invaluable. Consider offering bonus “flex days” in a way that makes sense for your work schedules.
  • Personal Celebration Days: Give employees a paid day off for their birthday, immediate family members birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special days. (A key best practice is to determine a set number of personal celebration days all employees can use, so everyone is entitled to the perk on an equal basis regardless of their family size or life circumstances.)

These are just a few examples of low-cost or free employee appreciation ideas. Use your creativity, combined with your familiarity with your employees, to create other options that represent your organization’s culture and deliver meaningful rewards to your employees. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to survey employees and ask for their suggestions and requests concerning the types of appreciation they would enjoy the most.

Employee Appreciation Software and Solutions

Getting the maximum return from your employee appreciation program relies heavily on using the right employee recognition software. That is, a solution that offers the features you need most to make employee appreciation a smooth, streamlined process that can easily become part of your organizational culture. The best employee recognition software is easy to use, accessible from all types of mobile devices, and has built-in features to bring your employee appreciation program to life. 

In the past, employee appreciation programs have often translated into immense administrative work for HR teams, many of whom turned to complicated spreadsheets and hours of manual tasks each month to maintain and execute employee rewards and recognition.

Fortunately, modern employee recognition software has revolutionized this landscape by automating and simplifying these processes. These advanced systems alleviate the burden on HR teams by offering features such as automated nomination workflows, customizable reward catalogs, and real-time tracking of employee achievements. By replacing arduous manual tasks with intuitive digital platforms, HR teams can now focus more on strategic initiatives and foster a culture of appreciation within the organization. This shift not only reduces administrative overhead but also ensures that employee appreciation becomes an integrated and sustainable part of the company's ethos.

Streamline Meaningful Employee Recognition with Inspirus Connects

Streamlining employee recognition and building a culture of appreciation is now much easier with employee engagement and rewards solutions like Inspirus Connects

More than just a platform for sharing announcements about employee recognition, Inspirus’ Connects solutions offer over 100 million reward options, including options across merchandise, gift cards, prepaid cards, experiences, tickets and events, charitable donations, and mobile top up. Allowing employees to choose their rewards ensures they will end up with something relevant and valuable to them—much better than another branded coffee mug or baseball cap. 

To learn more about how employee engagement and rewards solutions can benefit your employees and help you build a more positive work culture, reach out and talk with one of Inspirus’ specialists today!

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