May 30, 2024


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6 Employee Appreciation Ideas to Build a Happy Workforce

smiling young woman standing behind the counter in a cafe

Image source: Getty Images

You — and your business — depend on your employees. Build a work culture that will keep them engaged, enthusiastic, and employed with these helpful tips.

Everyone wants a happy workplace, but this is not merely a warm-and-fuzzy sentiment. Employee engagement and retention are serious business.

As the boss, you’re likely in the worst possible position to know how your employees feel about their jobs and the workplace. Those who seem most enthusiastic might be looking for the nearest exit, while those chronic complainers might be thrilled with their jobs but just have a rough-around-the-edges personality. Chances are very few feel comfortable being completely honest with you.

That’s why an employee satisfaction survey is such a great start to your engagement efforts. It will help you find out where things stand so you can craft a plan to get where you want to be.

The results of your survey will become an important component of the people analytics you use to move forward. Even if you manage a small team, your instincts and gut feelings will only get you so far. Use the best data you can get to fuel your HR decisions.

Once you have a better handle on who your employees are and how they feel about their work, you’ll get more mileage out of these engagement ideas.

1. Employee recognition

Did you hear about the proofreader who died at his desk and wasn’t discovered for five days? It was an apocryphal tale that made the watercooler rounds when I worked in publishing. Sadly, it resonated with every employee.

Recognition typically takes the form of special gifts or notice on work anniversaries, landing a big project, or hitting a tight deadline. The classic example of a service award is the 20th-anniversary gold watch. Gold watches are less common these days, but long-term employees are still a gold standard worth pursuing.

It’s essential that employees know that their work is important. Taking time to mark an anniversary with a staff lunch or personalized token is a great way to acknowledge years of service.

The best employee recognition ideas, though, should start with the basics — recognition. As your business grows, try to stay familiar with your staff. Business guru Tom Peters advises his clients to exercise their MBWAs — Manage By Walking Around. The more time you spend with your employees, the more understood they will feel — and the better you’ll know your business.

2. Employee appreciation

If that dazzling new hire makes substantial contributions to your business right out of the gate, don’t make her wait five years to hear about it. Anytime a team member goes above and beyond is a reason to celebrate. Here are some staff appreciation ideas that might work for you:

  • Cash: Perhaps a bit gauche and unimaginative, but everyone has bills to pay. Offer a bonus for the employee with the best cost-saving idea, or give a percentage to a salesperson who lands a marquee client. It’s not an expense; it’s an investment.
  • Team reward: Depending upon the accomplishment (and your budget), this might be a catered lunch, a tropical vacation, or two-ply tissue in the office loo. Letting one employee earn a reward for their entire team can build a sense of esprit de corps and boost morale. Make sure to single out your top performer as you make the award, though, so teammates know whom to thank.
  • PTO: An extra vacation day is sure to please, but you can modify this idea. First dibs on vacation day selection could be a prime reward, or simply offering a get-out-of-shift free card an employee can use on Black Friday, their birthday, or Superbowl Sunday might do the trick.
  • Office perks: For onsite employees, there are always some premium perks on the table. Keys to the executive washroom? Corner office? Personalized parking space? These are the classics, but you can be creative. Maybe your superstar would like a place to store a bicycle or some noise-canceling headphones to silence the neighboring cubicle. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have an inkling, but there’s no harm in asking coworkers for ideas.
  • Tchotchkes: The go-to employee appreciation gifts, such as personalized pens, t-shirts, and mugs, are popular for a reason. People like them, and they’re very affordable. Put some thought into those knickknacks and try to find rewards that resonate with your staff or your business.

3. Staff party

Parties? Aren’t they so 1999? Not necessarily. The office Christmas party, featuring an abundance of alcohol and occasional photocopier abuse, is fortunately passé. But people still like to have fun together, and you, master of employee engagement that you are, can make that happen. Here are some excuses to throw an office party:

  • Retirement: No one should vacate their desk for the last time without a bit of fanfare. Saying a fond farewell to long-term workers sends an important message of appreciation to them, and it’s a meaningful signal to those with shorter tenure that your business is a career, not just a paycheck.
  • Onboarding: Stacks of resumes, rounds of interviews, piles of paperwork — that new hire deserves some congratulations (and so do you!). Bring the coffee and bagels and introduce the new kid to their closest teammates in an informal way.
  • Holidays: Of course, the big ones are already on your calendar. But does your bakery go all out for Pi Day (March 14)? Is your comic book shop its most festive on Star Wars Day (May the 4th [be with you])? Do you let your full-stack developers eat lunch alone on Linus Torvalds’ birthday (Dec. 28)?
  • Birthdays: As your business grows, you might lose track of those special days, but your HR software can remind you. Even if it’s just a card or a cupcake, let your employees know you’re glad they’re here.
  • End of quarantine? Don’t let even negative major events dampen your team spirit. Celebrate any silver linings you can find.

4. Team recognition

Friendly competition can spark a productivity boost. Offer competing teams incentives for achieving small weekly or monthly goals.

You can tie these contests to hard business goals, such as sales volume or production targets. But you can reward other valuable behavior, too. Which department is best at backing up its computers? Who is always the first to compliment another employee’s ideas or efforts? Which team gets the most positive customer responses?

Zoho People badges to jumpstart teammate appreciation.

Zoho People HR software offers badges and fun employee appreciation ideas for your team. Image source: Author

If you have a wellness program, invite your teams to compete on those targets, too. Maybe an interdepartmental step challenge will boost participation. And see what options your HR software offers. Zoho People, for example, shines with inspiration for ways to show your employees that extra acknowledgment.

5. Milestone award

Perhaps the single biggest factor in employee satisfaction and retention rate is career development. If your star paralegal just got accepted into law school, you should be the first to offer congratulations. He or she just might be your new staff attorney in three years. If one of your architects is working toward LEED certification on their own time, acknowledge that extra effort and the value it brings to your firm.

In-house promotions deserve more than a handshake and a pay bump. Be sure to get the whole staff to publicly congratulate an employee who climbs another rung on the ladder.

Professional milestones, and even personal accomplishments, are important in the lives of your employees — and they should be important to you, too.

6. Employee of the month

Everyone likes to be good at their job. Having an employee of the month recognizes those who are hitting it out of the park while holding up an example for the rookies.

Be loud and proud about your most successful employees and share specifics about what behavior earned them the title. You might offer a rotating award — a flashy trophy for the office or a bespoke avatar for the corporate Slack channel — as an acknowledgment. A tangible gift, such as a gift card, can add some practical value to the accolades.

Appreciate your employees like a boss

Take the time to learn more about your employees and craft a workplace they love. You’ll see results on the bottom line, and you’ll find that you, too, can’t wait to get to work.