The Slice

21 Tips to Show Your Appreciation to Your Employees

February 4, 2022

Far too many companies wait until some annual "employee appreciation day" to show appreciation to their staff. The truth is, minor acts of appreciation should be a constant thing, something your managers, staff, directors, and everyone else show to one another on a regular basis. Only by fostering that atmosphere of mutual appreciation can you truly create a positive workplace.

Studies have shown that one of the top factors in employment is appreciation.

  • Employees who don't feel appreciated begin to scrutinize other aspects of their position.
  • Employees who don't feel appreciated feel burnout more heavily.
  • Employees who don't feel appreciated lose morale and productivity.

Far too many companies wait until some annual "employee appreciation day" to show appreciation to their staff. The truth is, minor acts of appreciation should be a constant thing, something your managers, staff, directors, and everyone else show to one another on a regular basis. Only by fostering that atmosphere of mutual appreciation can you truly create a positive workplace.

So, how can you do it? How can you actually show appreciation? After all, there's a risk involved. If your appreciation is too trite and banal, your employees might view it with suspicion. Too many companies use minor tokens of appreciation as a way to try to fight turnover or systemic problems that they very much do not outweigh. 

Just think of all the nurses who have put their lives at risk for two straight years during this pandemic getting "gift bags" with $5 worth of candy and a printed note; do you really think that will do anything other than draw into stark contrast how little they're appreciated?

Thus, before you begin, you need to address systemic problems. Remember that your tokens of appreciation need to fight the stress your employees face every day; if the scope of the problem is far outside the scope of the solution, it will have the opposite effect.

Once the worst systemic problems are solved, then you can come back and check out our list of ways to show appreciation in a tangible way. Now, let's get to that list.

General Tips

First up, let's talk about a few general tips for building an appreciative workplace. 

Make a consistent plan.

Acknowledgments and appreciation are best done when planned ahead and as part of a culture of appreciation. Don't make something like a birthday celebration a spur of the moment token, because those whose birthdays have been passed over might feel worse for it, for example. 

Build employee appreciation channels.

You need two things for this. First is a culture of showing appreciation. Encourage your employees to show appreciation for one another, for their reports and their superiors, whenever it's warranted. Build these positive feedback loops into your business processes. The second is a channel to do it. Maybe you encourage it over the inter-office Slack or Teams chats. Maybe you have a bulletin board or an internal BBS. Maybe you provide cards to each employee to hand out as they see fit. Whatever the case, don't leave the burden on a personal, direct conversation; allow for other channels.

Ask employees what they would like.

This one is for the broad-strokes shows of appreciation. Ask your staff what shows of gratitude they would most like to see. Different workforces have different ideas, and by asking, you make sure you're on the same page as your staff.

Don't restrict appreciation to individuals.

Some individuals might not stand out and might feel like they're falling behind their peers if they don't. Instead of focusing all of your appreciation on individuals and individual accomplishments, make sure to recognize whole teams and departments as well. This way, everyone gets their due.

Identify personal tokens of appreciation.

Get to know your staff and what their interests are. Then, when it comes time to appreciate them for something they've done, provide them with something personalized. We're not talking about a cake decorated with their name here; we're talking about getting customized gift cards to relevant stores for a hobby or something to fulfill their desires. One person might want a model train, another might want a football jersey, and another might want fabric supplies; giving them what rewards them the most shows you're paying attention.

Make sure to keep everything flexible.

No matter what methods of appreciation you decide to go with, try to make sure everything is flexible. Different employees have different needs and wants, and we're not just talking about people who prefer pepperoni versus those who like Canadian bacon. 

For example, giving an employee a day off can be great for some employees, but others might find it just stacks up more work they can't get done on time, so it's just stressful to take it. Or, giving additional "family leave" does less to benefit those who don't have families. The goal is not to give every employee the same tokens of appreciation; it's to give everyone appreciation that makes them feel appreciated. Equal treatment can easily feel unequal depending on different personal situations.

Avoid tokens of appreciation that shouldn't be optional.

For example, think about office technology. Giving an employee a second monitor isn't necessarily a token of appreciation when it helps them do their job; it's something that should be expected of the company to provide. The same goes for things that might sound good on paper (like a new laptop dock to replace an aging and failing device) that really should be a default part of your employee support.

Specific Acknowledgements

This second section is full of the specific actions you can take to show appreciation to your employees, rather than ways to build the framework to allow for it in the first place.

Celebrate birthdays.

Birthdays are a commonality we all have and can all get behind celebrating. Acknowledge birthdays and celebrate them with your employees, but don't make them an obligation. Ask the employee if they want a celebration, and offer different ranges of options to avoid making the introverts the center of attention. As an added bonus, you can make it more meaningful by giving the employee a flex day off and letting them pick catering for a day.

Institute an acknowledgment trophy.

Purchase or create a trophy that suits your workplace, whether it's a real trophy, a repurposed sports trophy, or something welded together out of local scrap metal. Dedicate the trophy to being an acknowledgment of appreciation for something an employee has done. The trick is, no employee can hold onto it for more than a few days or a week at a time before they must pass it on to someone else for their own accomplishments.

Make liberal use of thank you notes.

Thank you notes are a great way to distribute a casual acknowledgment of appreciation to your staff when they do a good job. Take the time to personalize them, preferably by typing up something new each time, because a template just doesn't have the same power. You can hand-deliver them, leave them on a desk, or even email them; the choice is yours.

Treat your employees.

Who doesn't love having office pizza for lunch, catering from a local restaurant, or just a box of doughnuts making the rounds? Giving everyone a treat can be a great idea. Don't forget your remote teams, too; a remote pizza party is just a few clicks away. Don't forget to ask your employees what they want, though; don't try to force pizza on your vegan workers!

Give everyone a gift card or stipend for upgrades.

Think about your workplace. What could you use to upgrade it? Maybe you could use a new chair or a desk that has more space. Maybe you could use a pomodoro timer or a new pen holder. Maybe you could use a monitor riser or a personalized mouse pad. Everyone has their own setup and their own list of nice-to-have upgrades that they don't want to press the button to buy. So, give everyone a budget to spend on their own upgrades, whether it's for their office desk or their work from home setup.

Offer time for leisure in the workplace.

For example, set up a half-day of work and spend the other half setting up your teams with a virtual escape room challenge. Let your employees decompress and do something that flexes different mental muscles. It helps shake people out of their ruts, think outside the box, and promote a closer team experience.

Highlight star employees on company media.

Many top-tier companies have started highlighting key, influential, or high-performing employees on the company's social media pages. Not only is this a very public recognition of their performance, but it can even help those employees out down the road.

Offer personalized training and professional development.

Nothing is worse for employee morale than employees feeling like they're stuck in a dead-end job. Even if you don't have room to promote them, you can invest in training to help them build their skills. It's important, though, to make this self-driven. Allow the employee to pick what they want to pursue, rather than pushing something on them, which just makes it feel like more work.

Build a ticket system.

Think back years ago to the heyday of the humble arcade. Games across the board rewarded points in the form of tickets, which could then be redeemed at a prize counter for any of dozens of different rewards, ranging from tiny erasers to cutting-edge technology. You can do the same thing, stocking the "prize counter" with gift cards, branded swag, vacation days, and other valuable rewards for your employees to cash out. Then, add tickets to every show of appreciation you offer.

Premium parking.

If you're working in the office, you can pick a spot or two near the front entrance as special parking spaces, usable only by the employees of the month. It's not a huge benefit, but it's something, and it can showcase a bit of appreciation in a way that helps your employees live just that tiny bit more comfortably. Just don't do something dumb like repurpose handicapped spaces for the recognition space.

Encourage personal projects.

Everyone has their own interests and may have projects they want to do on their own time. However, the demands of work and home life make it harder to find the time to make progress. So instead, offer an hour or two every few days or weekly to let your employees pursue their passion projects "on the clock." 

Set up in-office entertainment.

We've all read about the tech startups with the pool tables and the arcades, and the built-in movie theaters. These can be great perks to allow employees to access, with one major caveat: they need to be able to access them. Setting up a room where an exhausted employee can take a nap sounds good on paper, but if you're forcing them to work 90 hours a week to get their task list done, it comes off as more of a threat. "You live here now" isn't the kind of message you want to send.

Recognize personal achievements.

Your employees have lives outside of the workplace. Keep up with those lives, and when they achieve something noteworthy, recognize it amongst your staff. Maybe your fitness-focused employee successfully completed their first marathon or set a new personal record deadlift weight. Maybe an employee has finished a college program in culinary arts or has learned a new skill. 

Before you do this, though, make sure the employee is okay with having their accomplishment shared. Some would prefer to keep certain interests to themselves, or at the very least not be the center of attention.

Bring in external entertainment.

Companies can hire entertainers and set up shows to help stressed employees take an hour to think about other things. Bring in a local comedian, hire a band, schedule a call with a famous actor; there are any number of ways you can bring in entertainment for your staff without breaking the bank.

Employee appreciation is critical for boosting retention, reducing dissatisfaction, increasing morale, and fostering productivity. It's also crucial for building a team that works well together. By building a culture of recognition, implementing appreciation gestures, and ensuring that all of your employees' basic needs are met, you set yourself up as an excellent place to build a career.

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