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25 Staff Appreciation Ideas that Won't Break the Bank

Updated: May 7, 2018

Employees are the heart of any business. Disgruntled or apathetic employees can suck the energy out of the sales transaction they perform. On the other hand, engaged employees pass on their enthusiasm to customers. In fact, customers are more likely to become engaged if they are served by passionate employees. In other words, Engaged Employees are a boost to any business’ bottom line. Yet most office environments inspire apathy, not excitement. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to boost employee engagement. Affordable staff appreciation activities can boost engagement.

Employees who feel they have a positive personal relationship with their supervisors are more likely to be engaged, and staff appreciation get-togethers provide opportunities for employees to connect with their peers and their supervisors. The following 25 staff appreciation and employee recognition ideas can be executed with very little cost.

With so many ways to frugally recognize employees, there’s no reason for any employee to feel invisible or under-appreciated. As an executive, you can foster a supportive, productive workplace environment by honestly and enthusiastically recognizing your employees whenever possible.

1. Arrange for a team to show the fruits of their labor to upper management. Employees feel more engaged when they feel that their ideas and efforts are recognized as important and helpful.

2. Ask peers to nominate and vote for employees of the month. Team members will appreciate the recognition that they often notice and appreciate the day-to-day actions of their peers. If you do award Employee of the Month awards, be specific: write out and publicly explain exactly why a certain employee was selected.

3. Start a staff appreciation program. Like a rewards program for supermarkets, Staff Appreciation Programs can award points for punctuality, and any traits you would like to encourage. Points may be redeemed for small prizes, or certain privileges, like leaving a half hour early one day. The institution of a such a program can energize your employees.

4. Plan a surprise achievement celebration for an employee or a team of employees. Even if you just put on some music and provide for ice cream sundaes, the employees you recognize will be delighted that their work was noticed and appreciated.

5. Pass on the praise. If you hear a positive remark about a person, repeat it to that person as soon as possible—perhaps via email. Copying managers and supervisors on such comments is an especially powerful way to help employees feel appreciated.

6. Publish a “kudos” column in your employee newsletter. Ask employees to submit kudos for their peers.

7. Call an employee to your office to thank them. Since most employees assume that something is wrong when they are called to a supervisor’s office, they will be especially pleased to receive your honest gratitude for a job well done.

8. Set up a suggestion program. This can be as simple as setting up a suggestions box or as thorough as completing company-wide questionnaires. Employees who feel that their opinions and ideas are taken seriously are more likely to be engaged.

9. Express interest in your employees’ professional development. Even if your firm cannot fund the employees’ professional development at this time, your employees will appreciate your interest and guidance on achieving their dreams.

10. Post and follow a large Celebration Calendar in your office. Celebrate employees’ birthdays and employment anniversaries.

11. Hone your communication skills. Refer to employees by their first name. Listen actively and carefully to their thoughts. Even non-verbal communication can provide encouragement and recognition; when was the last time that an honest smile or strong handshake brightened your day?

12. Establish relationships between staff and upper management. Employees like to feel that they know upper management, even if they don’t work with them on a daily basis. Perhaps you’ll encourage interaction across your organization’s hierarchy by sending new employees out to lunch on their first day with your president. As a manager, take time to get to know your employees.

13. Ask staff members to nominate and vote on employee awards. In addition to awards for Top Manager, Rookie, and Most Valuable Employee, consider offering a “Behind the Scenes” award for humble employees who perform well, even if they’re not in the limelight. Your employees will likely have even more creative ideas for awards.

14. Send thank you notes to employees who work long hours. This method may be even more effective if you send thank you notes to employees’ home addresses. This acknowledges that you understand how much home-time the employee sacrificed to complete that complicated project.

15. Allow employees to select their next assignments. If you can allow employees to choose their work, they will be more engaged and dedicated. (Everyone loves to have choices, right?)

16. Designate successful teams and employees as office consultants.

17. Include an employee in a “special meeting” they wouldn’t otherwise attend.

18. Recognize your employees’ personal accomplishments. Did Joanne just finish running a marathon? Or has Jose donated gallons of blood to the Red Cross? They will appreciate your recognition of their personal accomplishments, even if all you do is acknowledge them at the beginning of your next staff meeting.

19. Give employees an extra long lunch break on occasion.

20. Get creative in your praise. Although you pay your employees, it’s often the thought that counts in employee recognition. If you know an employee is into rock climbing, for instance, you could give them a book on this topic with an inscription of your thanks. Or perhaps you’ll Photoshop a million-dollar bill with the employee’s face on it, as a way of saying, “Thanks a Million.”

21. Make it personal. It can be tempting to have your HR department handle such events as workplace anniversaries, but without manager involvement, such recognition can come off as cold lip service. You can certainly automate and standardize employee recognition like this, but be sure that managers personally deliver recognition gifts.

22. Ask for employees’ ideas on retreats, meetings, and other “fun time.” Why should the administrative assistant get to decide where your next company outing will be? You can include employees in planning company events by collecting feedback from every employee, or asking a certain dedicated employee to volunteer to help plan an event.

23. Make it formal: write a letter. Here’s a simple, free, influential method for recognizing your employees: personal letters. Write a letter explaining in detail why a certain employee deserves praise. Deliver a copy to the employee and their manager(s). Place a copy of the letter in the employee’s file.

24. Establish a Rock Solid Award to recognize employees who consistently do their job well. Too often, employees are only recognized for one instance of going above and beyond company expectations. And yet many employees work very hard to accomplish the regular duties of their job. Encourage consistency by recognizing employees for doing their job well - after all, it’s not easy to find good employees.

25. Support employees by providing space for their fliers. If you highlight and support employees’ personal endeavors in this way, they will know that you care about their personal well-being.


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