Employee Appreciation Ideas: Seven Insights from Top Workplaces

by Bob Helbig

Employee appreciation ideas that really matter 

Employee appreciation matters. Employees thrive on it and it motivates them too. We know this because workers across the country consistently tell us so. Over the past 12 years, we’ve surveyed more than 17 million employees, and time and time again, appreciation ranked among the most important factors in any organization. In fact, it consistently ranks second in importance to employees, behind only whether they feel their organization is heading in the right direction.

So, what exactly does appreciation mean — and what does it look like at work? We spoke with several Top Workplaces that earned high scores from employees for showing appreciation. Here are seven employee appreciation ideas we heard:

1. Employee appreciation starts at the top

Leaders need to know how important each employee is to carrying out the mission of the organization. Top leaders set the tone — they determine whether organizational values are sincere and unwavering. And they need to make showing appreciation a priority and then demonstrate it.

“We have a ‘Gratitude Tree,’ and at our Thanksgiving luncheon, we ask our newest leaders to read every gratitude leaf. It’s a meaningful opportunity to share how much we mean to each other and it reminds us how fortunate we are to work in a culture that encourages us to value each other.”  Michael Goodman, HR Manager, American Integrity

2. Be consistent

Consistently giving praise is hard but necessary. An occasional “thank you” is easy, but a systematic process of recognizing good work is necessary, and it takes some work. Don’t assume employee appreciation will happen on its own. Find your unsung heroes and recognize them. Communication and action are key.

“Given the nature of how people communicate, it takes more effort to find a way to spread good news than bad news,” said Jeffrey Roth, human resources director for the law firm Steinger, Iscoe & Greene. “Bad news does not need a formal channel of communication to spread,” Roth said. “It moves quickly on its own. On the other hand, good news usually stays close to the area it was born. Knowing that, we make all employees aware of good things that happen in both a business sense and a personal sense.”

3. Little things make a big difference

Organizations often invest a lot of money and effort on big events, but the little things go a long way, too. Send birthday cards. Buy people lunch. Hand out gift cards. Deliver ice cream.

“Every month, the Employee Appreciation Committee comes around and might drop off a little treat for each member of our staff,“ says Kelly Gould, vice president of marketing and development at Fellowship Community. “They may receive something as simple as a muffin, but it’s a constant reminder that we appreciate our employees and their dedication to going the extra mile for our residents.”

4. Get personal

Organizations thrive when they understand people’s lives extend beyond the walls of the workplace and take time to show they care. This is another way to show employee appreciation. Employers also benefit when they get involved in charities that are close to the hearts of their workers.

5.Invest in the body and the mind

Employees appreciate when companies care for them. Wellness programs, onsite exercise facilities, fitness classes, nutritional resources, and food are common ways companies show appreciation. Not sure what works best? Establish a small wellness committee to brainstorm and execute new ideas.

Bankers Healthcare Group President Bob Castro says he wants his employees to come to work “knowing that they are each a valued member of the team and that the company truly does care for their well-being.” Employees also appreciate training opportunities and continuing education for the same reasons – investing in the whole person.

6. Customer feedback can fuel appreciation

Too often, we think of customer feedback as a way to assess systems and processes. But it’s a great way to catch people doing great things, too. An organization’s leaders can show appreciation when they see how great employee performance ties to core values or fundamentals. “This gives us an opportunity to praise employees day to day,” said John Greer, director of Gold Coast Schools.

7. Money doesn’t hurt

This is tricky because the Energage Survey consistently shows money is not a leading motivator for employee satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to employee appreciation, especially in a sales environment.

Many companies award bonuses based on reaching certain milestones. For instance, when Granite Telecommunications hit the $1.15 billion mark in revenue, all employees received a bonus reward check of $1,150. “I’m delighted to recognize their achievements as we continue to grow together,” said Rob Hale, CEO.

Organizations that show employee appreciation stand out

“Employee appreciation goes beyond an award or a bonus check,” said Castro. “It’s giving employees a sense of purpose at work.” At the end of the day, appreciation comes in many forms, and organizations shouldn’t expect perks or bonuses alone to convey the meaning. When it comes to appreciation, companies that say it — and show it — stand out.