Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated to reflect the realities of 2024.
It’s that time of year again: National Employee Appreciation Day is right around the corner and many people are looking for employee appreciation ideas to celebrate with their team. But employee appreciation is bigger than a single day. Appreciation is a cultural commitment to incorporate into every aspect of your organization. It’s about empowering your leaders to make continuous, meaningful gestures that show employees that they’re seen, valued, and that their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Appreciation impacts employee retention, and perceptions of job security, at work. And while employers may feel like they’re doing enough, the data around employee appreciation—a key reason people stay—tells a different, and worrying, story.
In a recent study, Blueboard partnered with Wakefield Research to get a pulse check on employees’ feelings of appreciation for hard work, and how those feelings impact engagement levels and their sense of job security. The responses revealed that 2 in 3 people—for a total of 67% of survey respondents—say they don’t always feel appreciated for their contributions at work.
And appreciation is an employee engagement indicator: the same survey reveals employees who feel appreciated are four times more likely than those who are not often appreciated to say employees at their company are fully engaged.
While appreciation and employee recognition ideas are priorities for People leaders every year it’s important to remember that overburdened HR teams are already being asked to do more with less—they can’t be solely responsible for these initiatives. Building a culture of appreciation isn’t a one-time or one-team building activity. Because the responsibility for appreciation is shared, and no gesture is too small, it’s something we’ve coined as #EADEveryDay.
Whether you’re coming together as a team, encouraging self-care and work-life balance for your employees, or showing appreciation by giving the gift of experience or a virtual appreciation note, we’ve put together 10 creative staff appreciation ideas to help you appreciate your team, anytime, anyplace.
This list of employee appreciation ideas can serve as a strong foundation to plan employee appreciation activities for the “official” employee appreciation day (the first Friday of March), and throughout the year to power a sustainable culture of appreciation.
Top 10 gift ideas for employee appreciation day.
1. Have your leadership team express their gratitude.
Employee recognition is especially meaningful when it comes from the top. The same Wakefield Research study reveals that employees who feel appreciated in their jobs all the time or often are 7.27 times more likely to feel completely secure in their jobs than those who feel appreciated sometimes or less often.
One great employee appreciation gift is to have your senior leaders personally thank employees for their contributions at the next all-hands staff meeting, or encourage your managers to send an appreciation message or note directly to their team members. People managers can also foster community appreciation during the workday by hosting a team-building virtual or in-person lunch, depending on your current work setup, to bond over and celebrate their shared wins.
And to help workplace leaders do this, we’ve added nine new cards to our Employee Appreciation Hub in honor of National Employee Appreciation Day. Here’s a sneak peek of what these appreciation notes look like—and yep, they’re totally free to personalize and send to as many people as you can appreciate, all year long!
Check ‘em out and send a free appreciation note to a work bestie, supportive manager, a coworker—the sky's the limit. It's always the perfect opportunity to show appreciation and let your teammates know the difference they've made with a personalized message.
2. Sponsor a team “outing” or activity with the element of fun.
Another great Employee Appreciation Day idea is to treat your team to a virtual or in-person activity they will love based on their shared interests and passions. If you have a competitive team, you could host a trivia or board game night. Or, if you have a super collaborative group of employees, have them try their hand at a scavenger hunt, escape room or cooking class.
Regardless of the activity, make sure it’s set up to build meaningful connections across your organization. You can do this by putting people from different departments on the same team or setting up prizes for groups that demonstrate strong collaboration—don’t be afraid to shake it up a bit. Research shows we love to work out complex problems (otherwise known as “deep fun”) that work to “surprise” our brains by introducing some novelty, so encouraging some healthy competition with equal doses of collaboration could be just the thing.
3. Organize a volunteer day.
People-first companies understand that fulfilled employees are more engaged employees—and volunteering is proven to positively impact a person’s mental state and well-being.
One essential way to show employee appreciation is to create an opportunity for your people to donate their time and skills to a cause they care about. In fact, 75% of millennials say it’s important for companies to be philanthropic and support charitable causes.
Explore organizations like VolunteerMatch and Points of Light that provide virtual opportunities to contribute to communities for remote employees. They offer everything from volunteer music lessons to collaboration opportunities for research projects.
4. Cook and get creative together.
In our evolving hybrid work reality, employees are feeling particularly disconnected from their coworkers and managers. The meaningful conversations they used to share over snacks and team lunches at the office? Much harder to come by. This National Employee Appreciation Day, consider making space for conversation and connection with a virtual cooking lesson for your employees. Either hire a pro chef or have one of your team members volunteer to teach their favorite recipe to the rest of the organization.
One way to do this that we’ve tested here at Blueboard is called “Apron Activities”. With this program, employees from different teams get paired up and can volunteer to teach a simple recipe to the rest of the company. People can participate in the cooking or just join in for the camaraderie.
If you're bored with food activities and happy hours, tap into your team’s hobbies, passions, and interests and encourage employees of all levels to host a learning “happy hour.” We’ve had team members host introductions to Dungeons and Dragons and take us through the process of creating a mandala art piece—just to name a few! Sharing our passions and interests is also a great way for Blueboarders to live our company value to “Dance a Little Different.”
Gifting team members an art class is another great way to get creative, try something new, or rediscover a passion. The creative expression of our Blueboard clients never ceases to amaze, like this drawing from a Blueboard experiential reward recipient from GoPro, who says:
“I've taken 4 of the 14 weekly art classes included in my experience reward, and have been loving each 2-hour session learning to refine my art skills. Taught by an engaging instructor with lots of energy and vision and some very talented classmates.”
New data you can use to build a case for employee appreciation.
Your employees can use the extra time to focus on their wellbeing, spend time with loved ones, or get some much-needed time outside away from the “office.”
One important note: : Make sure to remind folks of out-of-office best practices for this surprise day off so people actually take it and enjoy it to the fullest extent, work distraction-free. Encourage teams to set an out-of-office message and sign out of Slack or Teams chat to truly leverage the value of the time off. And make sure your leadership team and managers model work-life boundaries and do the same.
Remember, managers and workplace leaders have more of an impact on employee wellbeing than you might think. In a study of 3,400 people by the Workforce Institute on the role managers play on supporting mental health in and outside of work, 69% of respondents say managers have the same influence as their spouses.
6. Treat your employees to a meal.
Sometimes after a long day of work, planning and cooking an entire meal can feel overwhelming. Take this to-do item off their your employees’ list for a night with the gift of budget to use toward food delivery (or a meal out).
Creating opportunities for your people to spend quality time with loved ones is a great way to not only show that you appreciate their time and energy, but also acknowledge the importance and fullness of their life outside of work. Make sure the amount is enough to cover the cost for their partner, kids, or a friend, so they can dine together and soak up some much-needed quality time.
7. Bring self-care to the home office.
Getting mail at home can be a delightful experience when we’re otherwise bombarded with digital communication. For important milestones and holidays (like National Employee Appreciation Day), consider sending your team a care package that contains small gifts to share—maybe a fun board game, a hot chocolate or tea kit, or a pair of warm socks to encourage them to have a relaxing night in. A rotating watch party where participants co-create a running list of movies or shows is another, more collaborative way to connect while still emphasizing a low-key activity.
If you’re tight on budget, talk to your employees to see who has secret wellness talents. Maybe someone has a great homemade face mask recipe to share, can guide a meditation session, or offer light yoga instruction they might be willing to share with the office in lieu of a full care package. Plus, an informal knowledge exchange is a great way to get to know people’s interests and hobbies outside of work, which supports the cultivation of a vital sense of belonging for employees.
8.Offer a mentorship program to guide new hires and support existing employees.
Over time, our definitions of personal and professional success may shift along with our career goals—and that’s more than ok. Providing opportunities for professional development through mentoring and training is an ideal way to show staff appreciation, particularly for younger generations in the workforce. Look at ways to support their continued growth with upskilling courses, an L&D stipend, or setting up an in-house mentorship program that pairs employees with more senior workers.
Another option is to set up peer-to-peer buddies that you introduce to new employees when onboarding. The first few months of a new job are exciting but can also be overwhelming. In addition to providing crucial support and positivity in an employee’s early days in their role, learning from peers with longer tenure at your company gives newer employees a window into what they can expect—including what their professional development channels and opportunities are.
9. Create a company-wide recognition program where people can nominate each other for rewards.
Remember, showing appreciation is a team sport. Opening up a nomination-based way for all employees from executives to managers and individual contributors to share how and why their teammates deserve recognition ensures more employee engagement because everyone can participate. And, depending on the structure and criteria, these programs can celebrate your company’s values, too.
In a real-world example, MANSCAPED, a global men’s health and grooming brand, created a recognition program after asking employees what they would like to see in terms of appreciation in their workplace. Because uniting hybrid remote employees was a priority, they opted to design the program under the umbrella of company core values as a perfect way to get the whole company involved and rally around the same goals.
Now, their leadership and employees are celebrated based on a nomination process they run through their HRIS. Winners are announced in a dedicated, Grammy-style awards ceremony, and employees are given a paid day off to choose and enjoy an experience as a reward.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Having dedicated employee recognition programs that consistently appreciate people result in workplaces that are rated higher in overall employee experience and as great places to work.
10. Employee appreciation gifts that wow: personalized Blueboard experiences.
Want to step it up for Employee Appreciation Day? We’re here to help. Consider giving your employees a personalized gift experience. Experiential gifts like the ones we curate at Blueboard are proven to have more positive impact on employee experience than any other gift or reward. It’s a way to show you appreciate their time, energy, and commitment at work—and that you see them as human beings with passions and purpose outside of work.
“Blueboard has helped us shape how we say thank you to people. Before, we were not having consistent conversations about showing appreciation. Developing our recognition program with Blueboard built a company culture of ‘thank you’ here.” - Alexander McKneely, Associate Experience and HR Communications, Avesis
Hear directly from a staff member recipient of a Blueboard reward in the video testimonial below: “It’s nice to have your company recognize when you go above and beyond at work."
Celebrating top talent with experiences is a better, more memorable way to appreciate them. With Blueboard, employees choose the experience that’s most meaningful to them—whether that’s taking in-home sommelier lessons, learning to kitesurf, or chasing the Northern Lights—which we then bring to life with our dedicated Concierge service.
Check out our favorite “love letters” from employees who’ve had an amazing time #blueboarding.
Go ahead, make someone’s National Employee Appreciation Day (and year) even better.
While everyone has a different language of appreciation (or, way they prefer to be recognized), we hope this list inspires staff member appreciation ideas that will appeal to those varying interests.
National Employee Appreciation Day is the perfect time to celebrate the change-makers, envelope-pushers, innovators, and true partners-in-crime who keep us sane and thriving during these trying times. At the very least, take advantage of our free employee appreciation note sender and let your peers know how much they've impacted you.
Choose your favorite card design, drop in a personal note, and send it off into appreciation cyberspace. We encourage you to share the love all week and will continue to offer the appreciation message builder for those “just because” moments all year long.
Remember: employee appreciation is a core part of your organization’s cultural fabric—bigger than a single day. If you’d like to learn more about how Blueboard can help power your efforts, no matter what time of year, schedule some time with our team today.
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Blueboard is the first enterprise rewards and recognition platform powered by hand-curated experiences. From helping people connect with family and friends, to escaping the everyday, Blueboard employee rewards are the best way to inspire and care for your top people.
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