Learn why employee appreciation is important and how to make employees feel valued with thirty unique ideas.
Why Is It Important to Make Employees Feel Valued?
- Build loyalty & trust. When an employee feels you are interested in them, it builds loyalty. Don’t underestimate this! Employees who feel loyalty towards you and/or the company are your greatest asset. According to several studies, workplace distrust is growing. Employee appreciation can help shift this trend.
- Create healthy company culture. Gratitude and appreciation build an environment of belonging. That goes a long way in creating a positive company culture, which reduces employee turnover. According to research, employee recognition programs cut down on employee turnover by 31%
- Boost mental health. According to the World Health Organization, Making employees feel valued and appreciated can significantly cut down workplace stress.
- Increase productivity. Employees who feel valued give you even more in return. Lack of appreciation harms morale and lowers productivity. According to Gallup, disengaged workers cost the US economy $300 billion per year.
30 Ways to Appreciate Employees
If you think cupcakes and company picnics are enough on their own for employee appreciation, think again!
Ok, but don’t stop bringing in the cupcakes. Everyone loves those.
Instead, develop a mindset of appreciation. Employees respond to gratitude when it is genuine and specific. Gifts and events should be an overflow of how you truly feel about your team.
We have thirty ideas to value each person for who they are authentically. Pick and choose the ones that make sense for you as a team, and remember, employee appreciation isn’t just one day on the calendar. It’s an ongoing part of good leadership.
#1 No-emails, no-meetings workday
Set aside a day in advance where everyone can focus on projects or tasks piling up without the hassle of interruptions. To prepare and get everyone on board, send an e-mail that no e-mails (we know… the irony) will be sent on that day, cutting down on e-mail build-up.
Make sure you have no meetings scheduled and ask everyone to focus on their tasks – no interrupting other coworkers with questions.
Every introvert will secretly love you forever.
Pro Tip: Need help writing that perfect email? We’ve got you covered. 18 Professional Email Tips to Craft Your Next Email (With Templates!)
#2 Organize meal support during tough times; they could use extra support.
When someone is undergoing hardship, the last thing they need to deal with is cooking meals.
Organize meal support using Mealtrain, My Lifeline, Take Them a Meal, Care Calendar, etc. Some websites include options like donations, food gift cards, and meeting needs beyond meals.
Find out what they can, and want to eat so they don’t end up with 15 cheesy casseroles, especially if they are on a gluten and dairy-free diet.
- If you know in advance, plan. It’s much easier to communicate with your coworker before they need to take time off.
- Find out if anyone else is already organizing meal support for them, as churches, temples, or clubs may organize meal support. If that’s the case, join with what they already organized.
#3 Go on a team retreat
This is especially important for virtual teams that often struggle with feeling connected and part of the bigger picture. When planning a team retreat, determine what you hope to accomplish, and then plan around this goal.
Unique team retreat ideas:
- Volunteer Retreat – Grow as a team by contributing to the needs of others. Volunteer at a local nursing home, Boys & Girls Club, homeless shelter, needle pick up, etc.
- Earth Day Retreat – Work with the local community to pick up litter and tend to a community garden.
- Lake Retreat – For a fun and relaxing retreat, get out to nature. Many retreat centers have zipline, horseback riding, and other activities to make your retreat easier to coordinate.
- Cooking Retreat – Attend a cooking workshop and divide everyone into teams. At the end of the workshop, vote on the best food awarding the winning team a prize.
- Amazing Race Retreat – Send teams into the city on an elaborate scavenger hunt. Make the destination a surprise event, like tickets to a sporting event, comedy show, or dinner at a local restaurant.
Tips for a virtual retreat: If you have to hold a virtual team retreat, make sure it doesn’t become a painful webinar. Keep your goal of making the team feel appreciated and inspired front and center. Include team-building activities and put together a team retreat box that includes fun activities, snacks, and even merch.
#4 Deliver lunch or baked goods to their home
Perfect for a remote team, delivering food is an excellent way to thank you. If you order food, don’t forget to find out about food restrictions such as gluten-free, vegan, kosher, halal, etc. There’s nothing more discouraging than being delivered food you can’t eat.
Pro Tip: If you have a big team or there are a lot of dietary restrictions, send everyone a DoorDash gift card, Venmo, or even Paypal so they can pick what they’d like to order.
#5 Ask to follow up questions
Show you care by remembering past conversations about kids, pets, and their latest obsession. Get specific and follow up on the information you learned in your last conversation with them. Were they just learning a new instrument? Starting a new school? Just bought a new orchid but are you worried it won’t live?
Ask questions that show you were listening.
Bonus Points to Make Them Feel Valued:
- Offer to let them go early when you find out their kids have an event or performance.
- Ask your plant-loving employee to help you pick out the most suitable plants for the office.
- When their children are doing fundraisers, they offer to buy some of the cookies, candy, etc.
- Offer your connections. Do you know an administrator at the new school that you could introduce them to and help ease their mind about their child’s transition? Do you know a local musician who loves to mentor younger musicians? Things about who you know and offer those connections to your employees.
Talking about something that isn’t work-related shows you value them for more than what they accomplish at their desk.
#6 Send a hand-written thank-you note or birthday card
Show your appreciation with the gift of time and attention by writing a note.
Think back to the last hand-written note or card you received. Seeing an envelope in the mail that isn’t a bill does something to brighten anyone’s day. You know that person thought about you and cared enough to send you good old-fashioned snail mail. Don’t just sign it with your name. Jot a quick sentence or two expressing your gratitude.
Make it specific, and be genuine.
Sample Notes of Appreciation:
- You set the standard in our work with your incredible work ethic and how you treat others. I’m proud to have you on my team.
- You always pay attention to the details, and I know I can count on you. Thank you!
- From the beginning, I’ve seen leadership qualities in you, and I’m excited about what the future holds in store for you.
- Thank you for your dedication and hard work. I hope you have a great weekend.
- Enjoy your vacation! You’ve worked hard, and you deserve this time off.
- You play a vital role in our team. Thank you for taking the initiative in the X project. You constantly exceed our expectations.
- You did an excellent job with X. We are proud of you and your accomplishments.
#7 Thank them publicly
During group meetings or casual conversations, thank your team as a group. Everyone is working together to get the job done; to acknowledge that with positive feedback boosts morale and shows you appreciate their hard work.
If you single out individuals to thank publicly, avoid picking a favorite teammate that you always thank. Make sure to call out different people and acknowledge the great job they are doing.
Action Step: During your next team meeting, plan out your 2-minute thankful speech to show appreciation. You can also strike up a nice conversation starter beforehand to loosen the tension first.
#8 Thank them privately
Not everyone is comfortable with public praise compliments of any kind might make some people anxious.
Pay attention to how people respond to praise; if you notice an employee has difficulty taking a compliment, thank them privately. Point out something specific you’ve caught them doing, and say how much you appreciate them. They may still struggle with how to respond to the praise, but receiving your thanks in private will feel safer.
While you’re at it, ask them how they like to be praised or thanked. If private affirmation makes them uncomfortable, too, there are other ways to show your gratitude. Let them tell you what that could look like.
#9 Extra vacation days
Being gifted an extra vacation day (or week) is like receiving a gift of pure sunshine.
Is being generous with time off a well-placed investment in your employees? According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), a well-planned vacation lowers stress, increases energy, and improves employee outlook upon returning to work. So yes, you can effectively show your appreciation in this way, with a good ROI.
Pro Tip: Avoid pop-up vacation days. It may sound fun, but pop-up vacation days don’t consider partners who also work, the need for childcare, pet care, and other factors. According to this research by HBR, unplanned vacation time can do more harm than good. You may be causing frustration to employees with what you think is a gift of appreciation.
#10 Discounted massage or fitness opportunities
Thank employees for making it easier for them to take care of their physical health. This could be:
- An add-on to health insurance
- On-site chiropractic services
- On-site gym room
- Gym membership
- Monthly reimbursement for wellness services
- Monthly food box subscription for healthy food
Pro Tip: If ongoing care isn’t in the budget, skip your next ice cream social and pizza party so you can arrange for a chiropractor or massage therapist to come into the office.
#11 Gift a professional people skills class
Paying for an employee’s professional development shows you are committed and invested in their success. People skills training will benefit the whole team. We recommend our science-based interpersonal communication training.
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
#12 Facilitate peer-to-peer appreciation
While employee appreciation is critical, so is developing a culture of appreciation with peer recognition. Provide opportunities for coworkers to appreciate each other in meetings. Each meeting, have one person share something recent they enjoyed from a co-worker.
You can also set up an appreciation box for the team to put anonymous notes of appreciation for anyone in the office. Read these notes of gratitude at team meetings.
Pro Tip: Have you received cheerful customer or client feedback? Don’t keep that feedback to yourself. Share it in meetings or via e-mail.
#13 Help with a difficult project
Another act of service is offering help with a difficult or big project. Instead of saying, “Do you need help with this project?” try saying, “This has been a difficult project, and I’d love to help. I can pick up X task unless there is another moving piece you’d rather I help with?”
This makes it clear you want to help, but you’re also not trying to take over the project.
Ways to Help With a Project:
- Extend the deadline.
- Offer specific help.
- Delegate specific tasks to another coworker based on availability and skills.
- Delegate admin tasks to the project manager or other available coworkers.
- Bring in coffee or tea as encouragement.
- Break the project down into smaller pieces.
- Improve project planning.
#14 Ask for their help
On the other hand, asking for their help demonstrates you respect and value their opinion and expertise.
According to the Franklin Effect, asking for help causes others to view you more favorably. As the story goes, Ben Franklin asked to borrow a book from a rival legislator and then returned the book with a thank you note. His need, and his gratitude, secured him the friendship of a man who had never spoken to him before.
As a leader, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you’re secure enough to draw on the gifts and abilities of other people, you may see previous hostilities or ambivalence falling away.
#15 Onboarding lunches
You’ve just hired a new person, and the awkward struggle ensues. Where do they fit in the team? Do their coworkers like them? How do you make them feel welcomed to the team?
According to research by the Brandon Hall Group, “Organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.”.
Start their employment with an onboarding lunch so that they can meet the team.
And please, don’t let the new-hire flounder on their own during this lunch. Plan questions and guide the conversation to facilitate building rapport from day one.
Want to know how to onboard like a pro? Read the guide on onboarding: How to Welcome a New Employee to The Team (The Awesome Way)
#16 Bring in the puppies
Did you know an organization offers puppy therapy in the workplace?
Yep. Puppy therapy.
Paws in Work comes to the workplace with a litter of heart-melting cuteness, giving your coworkers a clean boost to their mental health. There are also organizations like Healing Companions that will bring in a therapy dog. The impact of animals on emotional wellness has been gaining recognition, so explore your options to see what would work best for your team.
This idea is also perfect if you’ve experienced a loss as a team.
#17 Bring back coffee or other local treats from your trip
On your next vacation, keep an eye out for locally roasted coffee (or some other local item that you can share); grab a couple of bags to bring back to the office break room.
When you get back to the office, say thank you to your team, “I appreciate that I can go on vacation and not worry about the work I’m leaving behind! Thank you for picking up extra tasks while I was away. I found this local treat. I wanted to share it with you; I think you’ll enjoy it!”
You can find great local gifts even if your vacation isn’t to an exotic place! Fun items to look for while on vacation can include:
- Local jams
- Salt Water Taffy
If your team is remote, send them a $5 Venmo while you’re at the airport with a quick note, “Thanks for all your work! Don’t forget to take a break – enjoy some coffee or tea on me.”
#18 Decorate their cubicle
Surprise your teammate with a decorated cubicle. Think balloons, streamers, or a banner, and pick a theme that personalizes the decorations. Do they love Llamas? Retro cars? Dad jokes? Pick decorations that lean into what they love.
Pro Tip: Leave a new desk plant or desk toys by their keyboard and a card signed by the team.
#19 Bring in healthy but yummy treats
Many people eat healthier and dread the endless supply of sugary pastries available at work. Show your appreciation by providing yummy treats that everyone can eat.
Instead of limiting yourself to vegetable platters, think bigger!
- Hummus and gluten-free crackers
- Bell peppers and guacamole
- Rice cakes and avocado
- Veggie chips
- Energy balls
- Chocolate covered nuts
- Fresh fruit
- Granola bars or other gluten-free bars
If you want to bring in something special, opt for a charcuterie board or find a local bakery that offers gluten-free or vegan. Often gluten-free and vegan bakeries will also limit sugar in their baking. This makes it more suitable for other health concerns like diabetes or heart conditions.
Pro Tip: Ask your coworkers what they like and can eat. People with dietary restrictions love when people make an effort to include them and are more than happy to answer your questions. Searching for halal, kosher, vegan, etc., is overwhelming. Ask your teammates, and it will show you value them and don’t want them excluded when others are feasting.
#20 Give them a high five
It may not be your style, but a high five is powerful. Mel Robbins, a high-profile motivational speaker, has developed the simple but groundbreaking High Five Method.
If giving yourself a high five is so powerful, just think about what it can do in your workplace. We recommend you give yourself a high five every morning (you deserve appreciation, too!) and give your team members high fives.
Start a new morning ritual where you high-five everyone on the way to your office or high-five your employees at the end of meetings.
Disclaimer: If you’re not a touchy-feely high-five person, don’t try to act like one. Toxic positivity and fakeness can be spotted a mile away. Instead, opt for a casual fist-bump or friendly wave.
#21 Recognize their work anniversary
While the 5, 10, 15 year anniversaries are naturally milestones to celebrate, don’t let the yearly anniversary go unnoticed. Employees start thinking about new jobs around their work anniversaries, and they’ll likely be asking themselves whether the company values them. This is a necessary time to remind them how much you appreciate them, drawing attention to their accomplishments and what they’ve contributed in the last year.
Pro Tip: Mark your employees’ special days on your calendar. Post a word of appreciation on LinkedIn, calling attention to what your team member brings to the team. Even better, leave a recommendation on their LinkedIn profile.
#22 Make eye contact and smile
You’ve met those people who make you feel small simply because they never look at you.
They might look through you.
But never at you.
Eye contact not only communicates confidence. It denotes interest and can be used to capture attention or motivate others. Instead of making employees feel invisible, make them feel valued by making eye contact and smiling. The goal is to make sure they feel seen by nonverbally communicating warmth.
Disclaimer: Not everyone appreciates eye contact. Culture, personality, age, and background can all impact how people feel about eye contact. Make sure to tailor eye contact to each employee to avoid nonverbal miscommunication.
#23 Don’t expect responses to after-hours e-mails
After-hours e-mails and phone calls are a red flag for a toxic workplace. Show your employees you value them by not making excessive demands. Instead, help them develop a better work-life balance.
If you need to send an e-mail after hours, preface it by saying you don’t expect a reply until the following day. Restrict phone calls to only within office hours.
If you’re an international company, the lines become even more blurred. Let employees know you do not expect them to answer outside of their regular office hours, even though communication may come in at all hours.
If your team works remotely and has a flexible schedule, find out what hours they are available to be reached and be respectful.
#24 Give them an extra 10-minute break
If you’ve noticed an employee always giving it their all, tell them to take an extra break. They’ll probably be hesitant but offer to answer the phone for them. Assure them taking time to stretch, breathe, and reset will be time well spent.
Answering the phone for them or finishing up the last details on their project changes this gesture into an act of service – making it even more meaningful.
- Set up a mini basketball hoop or board games in the office area to encourage play.
- Don’t forget your introverts! If you have a game space, create a quiet zone where introverts can go to decompress.
#25 Be (more) available
The number one way to value your team is to be available.
Leaders who follow through demonstrate respect for their team, and this respect directly impacts employee morale.
According to research by Gallup, engaged employees feel engaged because their manager is available for communication. You may be available, but are you open and approachable? Consistent communication with an employee isn’t enough. They need to know they are safe and supported when talking to you.
- Respond to calls or messages within 24 hours.
- Have daily communication with your workers (it doesn’t have to be long!).
- Combine face time, phone calls, and other digital communication to stay connected.
#26 Create a Comment Box
When employees come to you with concerns or simply talk to you, listen! It feels terrible talking to someone who isn’t listening.
Don’t do that to your employees.
Along with listening, follow up by addressing concerns and working to make changes in your company.
An easy way to do this is to set up a suggestion box and let everyone know that you welcome their feedback. If needed, staff can make suggestions anonymously.
You can also make space to share ideas and concerns by ending meetings with, “Does anyone have a concern or a question they’d like to share?” If workers don’t feel comfortable sharing concerns publicly, explore any concerns during annual reviews.
#27 Give them a raise/promotion when the time comes
It’s time for the annual review; you’ve put together their professional development plan, but what about a raise? When employees are contributing at high levels and consistently doing the work, it’s time for a raise. Many employers wait for the worker to bring up the topic (only 30% of workers report getting a raise without asking). Why not reward an excellent worker by giving appropriate compensation before they ask?
Factors for giving a raise:
- Length of time at the company
- Loyalty and quality of work
- Cost of living
- Acquiring new skills
- Their work directly increased revenue
Don’t have the budget for a pay raise? Consider providing a bonus or alternative compensation.
#28 Improve the work environment
What is the quality of air? Are there plants? Does the whole office need a paint job? Could you get the carpets cleaned? Even if you don’t make significant changes, you can brighten the work environment by adding plants, cleaning the fridge, adding a reading nook, or even a game table.
- According to the University of Exeter, plants at work can increase productivity by 15%.
- The USDA has found that plants lower air temperature and help to maintain indoor humidity.
- A study in Norway found that plants cut down on 12 common ailments such as headaches, sore throats, and coughs.
- Plants cut down on mold.
Remember, going to work shouldn’t feel like entering prison. Ask your coworkers what they’d like to see changed in the work environment and start making simple changes.
#29 Communicate the impact of their work
You’re all at the office for a reason, but it’s easy to lose sight, especially for workers who don’t have access to data that tracks the impact of the work. Share with workers precisely what their work means and how it is impacting the company or even society at large. Feeling a sense of purpose increases job satisfaction.
Pro Tip: Set a monthly vision-setting meeting to go over the company’s vision and assess if the work and goals align with them.
#30 When in Doubt, Ask!
These ideas can get you started, but remember, each employee is unique. Personality and background impact how each person feels appreciated.
Few bosses ever ask, but It’s as simple as, “What makes you feel appreciated?”.
Find out what your employees care about and what makes them feel valued, then take it there.
A great place to start is finding out the appreciation language of your workers. The MBA Inventory can show you exactly how each of your employees feels appreciated.
Looking for more? Here are 43 employee appreciation ideas by industry.