Seven Employee Appreciation Ideas You Can Use Starting Today

by Lisa Burke

If you want to improve employee motivation, self-esteem, and retention, consider this

Neuroscientists, kindergarten teachers, and all the world’s religions agree that giving – and receiving – appreciation helps us be better and feel better. In the workplace, appreciation is a relatively inexpensive and self-sustaining performance and positivity boost. This is true across all of the industries Energage has surveyed. And to put this in perspective, we’ve surveyed more than 60,000 organizations over the past 14 years.

Why appreciation is important to your employees … and your culture

A Harvard Business Review study asked executives at a number of different companies: “What is it that would make employees feel connected and engaged in an organization?” Their research revealed that when an employee feels appreciated, competent, and connected, they are better able to innovate, iterate, and curate. In our four-part webinar series, 15 Minutes to Employee Engagement (Even Now), we will explore appreciation, competency, and connection as well as the transition back to work.

Who — and what — you celebrate tells your employees a lot about the kind of culture you have and the kind of culture you want. When frequent and genuine appreciation is modeled every day from the top down, you’ll create a culture that people want to be a part of and contribute to in every way.

Data shows recent appreciation scores have slipped

None of us expected this pandemic, of course. It has forced businesses and organizations of all kinds to think and pivot quickly. It has spurred us to innovate, iterate, and create. And that includes imagining new ways to show appreciation.

While the human need for appreciation hasn’t changed since the start of the pandemic, the survey data we’ve collected shows appreciation scores are slipping. But it’s not too late. Let’s take a closer look at some best practices that will help you to improve appreciation as well as seven employee appreciation ideas you can share with managers and leaders starting today.

These best practices strengthen appreciation, especially now

Showing appreciation is a habit. It’s important to note that not showing appreciation is a habit too. Problem is, there isn’t a test you take that rates whether you’re good or bad at appreciation.

The ability to show true appreciation is a lot like developing a muscle. The more you practice and exercise, the stronger you’ll become. Here are four, simple best practices for your appreciation “workout:”

Be seen. Use your webcam during remote meetings to show you’re present and interested in what’s happening. Lean into the camera and use your tone of voice to let people know you appreciate them.

Be kind. Try to meet people “where they are.” Ask about the human being first before jumping straight into getting them to do the task you want them to do.

Be a leader. Upgrade from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule. In other words, treat people the way they would want to be treated. If you don’t know how someone would like to be appreciated, ask them.

Be positive. Reinforce what people do well. Start from a strength perspective to help amplify what people do best.

Employee appreciation ideas to share with managers and leaders

There are lots of ways to express appreciation, beyond the best practices. You don’t need to practice all of them – because that won’t necessarily make you great at it. Instead, try a few. You may find some ideas aren’t for you. I encourage you to try those at your “water’s edge.” Dip your toes in and see how it works.

  1. Individuals and teams first. Place a heavy focus on individual achievements and people supporting each other. If you’ve had to furlough employees, make sure you stay connected with them as individuals.
  2. Honoring those lost. Appreciate those individuals who’ve passed, as well as employees who may have lost a loved one during the pandemic.
  3. The power of story. Tell success stories you’ve collected throughout your organization. Find people who have been living your company values, especially now. What is it they are doing to survive this pandemic?
  4. Learn for the future. If history is right, a crisis will happen again at some point. Find out what has worked – and what hasn’t worked now so you can learn for the future.  
  5. Create channels for good. Find an outlet – such a Slack channel or other – that makes it easy for employees to express gratitude.
  6. Give money for a purpose. Money isn’t our first recommendation for recognizing others. But giving money for a purpose such as exercise equipment or workspace improvements can work in this environment.
  7. Create a buddy system. Assign “buddies” to check-in with each other – both now and when your staff returns to work. This can be done 1:1, or managers can buddy-up with 4-6 employees outside of their team.

Appreciation pitfalls to watch out for

Not knowing your audience. If someone is going to be embarrassed by getting “called out,” find another way to connect and appreciate them. Consider a handwritten note. The key is to understand that appreciation isn’t “one size fits all.”

Tone and timing. Perhaps you’ve heard, “Gosh, that sounds like too happy of a thing to do in this stressful time.” The truth is, appreciation is more important than ever. Just make sure it’s authentic and consistent.

Culture Fit. Don’t take the cookie-cutter approach. How one company appreciates its employees won’t necessarily work at another. Learn what resonates and is meaningful within your culture.

Manager burnout. As a leader, check-in with managers during 1:1s to make sure they’re not feeling overburdened with the responsibility of appreciating their employees and teams. If so, take on some of that load and share some appreciation yourself.

Appreciation ideas from the 15 Minutes to Employee Engagement webinar audience

Here are some of the employee appreciation ideas shared with us during our recent 15 Minutes to Employee Engagement (Even Now) webinar:

  • Virtual happy hours.
  • Trivia games.
  • Virtual game nights.
  • 15-minute tutorials on any subject – such as cooking, IT shortcuts, etc. — offered by employees across the company. (You can also consider sending $25 gift cards to anyone who hosts a tutorial.)
  • Order pizza to be delivered to employees’ homes one day at lunch.
  • For organizations with frontline workers and volunteers, place “A hero lives here” sign on their lawns.
  • Call furloughed employees once a week to make sure they get the help they need with things such as filing for unemployment and well-being.
  • Send daily notes with the EAP mental health phone numbers.
  • Assemble and send a daily playlist of uplifting music that the entire organization can share.
  • Surprise employees with company swag.
  • Give employees an afternoon off to spend with family or to pursue a hobby.
  • Share handwritten notes of appreciation.
  • Offer to donate to an organization in recognition of the “good an employee did.
  • Have the CEO read a favorite story and record it for the employees to share with their children.


Schedule a free, 30-minute call with our Customer Success Team to learn how you can improve appreciation at your organization.