4 employee appreciation ideas to surprise and delight your workforce

Put your own personal twist on some of our favorite employee appreciation ideas and activities.

MOO employees celebrating pride and helping themselves to treats

Quick show of hands: When was the last time you had a face-to-face meeting with your entire team? What about a company holiday party or a celebration over a quarterly win?

We figured as much.

Increasingly, remote and hybrid work environments are becoming the norm as more companies embrace once temporary work-from-home policies as a permanent change. While the benefits are clear — boosted morale, minimized overhead expenses, and increased productivity, just to name a few — there are still several challenges leaders will need to address. One of the most pressing? Finding a way to create a company culture and showing your thanks for your employees when you’re no longer interacting in person.

Need some ideas for employee appreciation? Learn how you can stay connected with your team and show your employees appreciation for everything they do even when you’re far farther than a cubicle or hallway away. 

The importance of employee appreciation

After being in a global pandemic for almost two years, frontline and public sector workers such as food service professionals, teachers and health care workers are under more strain than ever. At the same time, organizations in almost every industry are downsizing and restructuring, with fewer resources available to support a burned-out workforce. 

As we approach the end of 2021, only about 30% of workers are still feeling engaged and valued in their current roles, as found in a recent Gallup survey. This lack of morale stems from several different factors, including burnout and the pandemic-related uncertainties still being felt around the world. However, there is one common theme being reported across nearly every role: a lack of recognition.

You know you can’t get the job done without your current team, but do they know you feel that way?

Employee recognition is a way to reward workers and reinforce both your organization’s goals as well as your team culture. An employee recognition program can include just about anything and everything your company does to praise or recognize a colleague’s success and hard work. While these initiatives often come from the top down, they can also be shared on a peer-to-peer level. In fact, if you’ve truly succeeded in fostering a positive team dynamic, peer recognition will come naturally.

Showing your thanks for everything your team does won’t just earn you the title of “Boss of the Year.” Check out just some of the benefits of creating a strong employee appreciation program:

Increase employee retention

We’ve all heard whispers of the “Great Resignation.” More and more often, employees are leaving their current roles and seeking greener pastures. Why? According to one study from Gallup, the leading cause of turnover across the country is an overwhelming lack of appreciation. The majority of American workers surveyed — just over 60% — reported that they didn’t feel appreciated or regularly recognized at work.

Engaged employees are happy employees — and they’re far less likely to leave. The same study found that workers who are happy in their current roles would need to be offered at least a 20% pay increase to even consider a new position. So, as we’re facing a widening skills gap and a tightening labor market, giving your current team an even better reason to stay can help stop the Great Resignation from knocking at your company’s door.

Improve recruitment efforts

As you consider professionals across the country who may be searching for new opportunities, an appreciation program can help you ensure it’s your company they’re searching within.

In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 68% of HR professionals agreed that employee recognition not only has a positive impact on retention, but the majority of hiring experts also reported that such programs can also help with recruitment. 

As you work to attract new talent and bring new members onto your team, demonstrating an appreciation for your current employees can be a great way to show off your company culture.

A boost in morale

A little recognition can go a long way. In the same study from the SHRM, 82% of companies saw employee happiness significantly rise by introducing an appreciation program of their own.

Plus, when employees are satisfied with their organization, it becomes easier for them to stay focused and energized throughout the workday. According to a 2019 study by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, on average, happier employees are about 13% more productive than their dissatisfied peers.

OK — we can all agree saying thanks to your team is not only important, but it can also lead to some pretty powerful benefits as well. With that being said, employee appreciation requires more than just a one-time card during the holidays (although these are a fantastic way to say thanks too). 

Everyone wants to be a part of a company with a culture that continually rewards hard work and makes employees feel valued for their contributions. Year-round employee appreciation initiatives are the key to making that goal become a reality at your workplace.  

So, let’s dig into ideas for employee appreciation and the unique ways you can show your team your thanks without piling on to any existing Zoom exhaustion.

Smiling workers in the office

Ways to show gratitude that work right now

Out-of-office excursions

Looking for “surprise and delight” ideas for your employees? While the pandemic initially made it difficult for teams to celebrate accomplishments together, increasing vaccination rates and dropping instances of COVID-19 offer you and your company some added flexibility. 

We just have one word of caution before you start planning your out-of-office excursion: Try to make it feel like a true reward rather than an extension of the workday. Throwing an event at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday might just lead to employees feeling annoyed or, at worse, even more disengaged. Instead, try to plan your event on a Friday, and if possible, during the workday.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, are you ready to show your thanks? As you think of fun ways to get everyone out of the house or the office and enjoying one another’s company, consider any one of these company-sponsored activities:

Escape rooms

Get your thinking caps on and bring the team to an escape room, a life-size puzzle and mystery game. Not only can this be a fun way to say thanks to your employees, but it can also help them boost their collaboration and communication skills as they work to crack the challenge together. Take advantage of a fun team-building exercise while also creating a unique appreciation program.

Plus, for teams who aren’t ready to meet in person or are located across the country, virtual rooms exist too. This is a great virtual employee appreciation idea.

Competitive challenges

A bit of healthy competition never hurts anyone. In fact, done right, it can actually increase employee motivation, improve productivity and boost performance!

Create mini challenges for each individual, team or department in your office. Rather than directly competing against one another, use historic benchmarks like past years’ sales and performance records to set an objective. For those who reach their personal or team-wide goal, offer an off-premises meal, tickets to a show or another reward to show your appreciation for all of their hard work.

Scavenger hunt

If you have the time, try organizing a scavenger hunt or a similarly fun challenge that utilizes both in-person and online components. Whether this is a quarterly or yearly event, it can help bring your team together as they try to find the answers to each clue. Plus, letting your employees blow off some steam together is another creative employee appreciation idea to boost morale. Definitely and “surprise and delight” idea for your employees (and you).

Other ideas for low-contact events

Not sure an indoor get-together is the right call? There are still plenty of options for getting your team members together and showing your appreciation for all of their work.

When weather allows, events that are masked, outdoors and socially distanced can also be a fun way to break up the monotony of constant remote work without asking who isn’t comfortable to attend an indoor get-together. Get together for a team meeting in a park, or other public space, and shell out for some catered food or a meal from food trucks. This can be done at a milestone, something at the end of the quarter or as a reward if you and your team hit a big goal. 

The good news is that physically getting together isn’t the only way to show your appreciation for your team. If you’re not going to the office or attending in-person meetings and events, there are still a ton of employee appreciation ideas to say thank you to your remote workers.

For example, if you have a weekly email thread or newsletter that goes out to the entire team, end it with a shoutout section that highlights any major wins or individual employee contributions from the past few days. Plus, for teams who are located in different locations, this can be a more doable option than trying to get everyone together when there are geographic constraints. 

Public employee appreciation and recognition ideas

Being known as a go-getter in the virtual office is one thing, but how would you feel if the same could be said in and around your very own community? Give your employees something to really brag about to their family and non-work friends with a Poster, roadside billboard or even a social media post highlighting all of their hard work and accomplishments. You can either call out a single employee or put up a picture of the entire team, especially if they’ve just hit the finish line when it comes to a major milestone or long-term goal.

Not only does showing your appreciation have serious benefits inside of your organization, but public employee recognition is also a useful PR opportunity for your organization to leverage. This is especially true if your business works with local customers on a regular basis. Increasingly, consumers are placing a higher value on brands that have a strong company culture and treat their employees right. 

At the end of the day, people love supporting “the good guys”— and that definitely includes businesses that care about their team members. By advertising the efforts of an outstanding employee, you’ll simultaneously be able to promote your company. Talk about a win-win situation!

As you start planning your public shout out, be sure your poster or billboard is bright, attention-grabbing and adheres to the principles of effective graphic design. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Limit your typefaces: Try to stick with no more than one or two fonts per printout. Too much variety can quickly lead to an overwhelming or cluttered look. 
  • Keep it simple: In the world of graphic design, less is often more. Keeping things on the minimalistic side will not only result in a better looking final product, but it can also help you streamline your design process.
  • Crisp imagery: Whether it’s a copy of your company’s logo or an image of the employee or department you’re shouting out, be sure to use high-definition imagery whenever available. Larger print outs leave nothing to hide, and low-def photos can result in a blurry or distorted image on your final product.

Additionally, keep all of the messaging and visuals you deploy in line with your in-house style guide. If you don’t have one, model your design off your most recent promotional assets. Using these themes consistently will make for an aesthetically pleasing printout, and can also help to bolster a stronger sense of company culture across your team.

Just one word of caution: Before you go ahead with printing your shoutout, be sure to check in with the individual employee to ensure they’re comfortable with the idea. While many team members will be on board with the public kudos, some may prefer to only have their first name visible or even just appreciate private praise. Moving forward without their permission could lead to more harm than good.

Feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of creating your own poster or billboard? You can download one of our templates or talk to an in-house MOO designer about bringing your ideas to life. 

IRL employee engagement gift ideas

With so much of today’s work experience happening solely in the confines of a computer screen, it can be hard for employees to feel truly connected to their company — and each other. One way to fight the malaise is with personalized gifts. Some options for gift giving include:

Birthday baskets

There’s hardly a better time to express gratitude for your employees’ hard work than on their birthdays. Branded company swag not only makes for a nice gift, but it can similarly help to bolster a sense of community at your workplace. Plus, for employees who would rather not make a fuss around their birthday, a small gesture can go a big way.

Whether you include a handwritten card or their favorite sweet, personalizing the basket can make the gift that much more meaningful. If you’re able to, try sending out an email to their team for notes that include kind words or fond memories. 

If your employees aren’t coming into the office, sending a birthday basket to their home as a small token of appreciation is a great way to still celebrate with them even when you’re apart.

Company backpack

One of the strangest consequences of the pandemic? Many new remote employees have never had the opportunity to go into their respective offices. As more teams begin to experiment with hybrid environments and come to the office for major events and meetups, these employees might find themselves without a way to easily transport their laptop, lunch or any other items they need for the week. 

Giving a gift to new employees is an easy way to help them feel like they’re a part of the team. Plus, your current team members will also definitely appreciate the gesture if you include them on the gift-giving list. 

Hardcover Notebook

A premium Hardcover Notebook is sure to earn a permanent place on your employee’s desk. Additionally, as they use it on a daily basis to keep track of notes and any important work-related updates, they’ll be reminded of how much you appreciate them.

If you’re looking to go above and beyond in your morale-boosting efforts, try making the notebook the centerpiece of your employee appreciation gifts.

You can include additional items like gift cards, tasty snacks and candy bars (if anyone on your team has mentioned a favorite, now’s the time to show you were listening). Or, feel free to keep it simple. Whatever you do, just be sure to include a personalized Thank You Card with each employee gift that lets the recipient know what their work means to you. Although sending out generic gift baskets is still a kind gesture, the message may fall a little flat without that extra “something” that an individualized note can bring.

Colorful cloth cover notebooks

Employee recognition calls with the team

If the sound of your work calendar reminders causes you to cringe a little, we get it. For many, web chats and video calls became the only way to maintain day-to-day operations with their team. Two years into working remotely, much — if not all — of the novelty of virtual meetings has worn off. However, that doesn’t mean recognition calls still can’t be a fun way to praise your employees for their hard work. You just have to get a little creative.

Try experimenting with some different employee appreciation ideas to bring the fun back to video chatting. Here are some virtual employee appreciation ideas:

Happy hours

Hosting a happy hour at the end of the workweek can give your team the opportunity to chat without the stress of your daily responsibilities or imminent deadlines weighing down the conversion. Plus, this gives you the perfect opportunity to shout out your hardest-working employees while everyone is gathered together virtually. 

If the budget allows, you can even send your team members DIY cocktail and mocktail ingredients so that you can all “share” a toast together in honor of your colleagues’ well-earned achievements.

Trivia nights

If your team is bored of virtual happy hours or you find that the conversation lulls soon after you all log on, try centering your call around a task or challenge such as a trivia night to give the call a little more direction. Whether it’s about sports, pop culture or even company history, this can give your team something to talk about all week long.

Sending the winner a small token as a reward or even a gift card for lunch can be a great way to remind your employees that you always appreciate what they do.

Get-to-know-you activities

Can you name something that’s easily overlooked in a remote environment? The answer: the importance of employees having the opportunity for small talk. Whether it was around the water cooler, waiting for a meeting or in passing on the way to the office kitchen, those brief conversations laid the foundation for a positive team dynamic and healthy workplace culture. For new employees who joined after your team transitioned to a remote environment, it can feel awkward to suddenly be thrusted into a new team.

Schedule weekly or biweekly team-wide calls for departments to get to know one another a little better. You can use icebreaker questions and games, or even just have everyone share a fun fact or update. During these conversations, take advantage of everyone being together and shout out your employees for their accomplishments.

At this point in the pandemic, it may feel like video chatting is played out. The good news is there are plenty of employee appreciation ideas to bring some fun back into the workday.

Get your team energized to see each other — even if it’s through a screen — and show them how much their hard work matters. Use any of these call ideas as an opportunity for a staff member spotlight to highlight those who have gone above and beyond, or give employees a chance to go around and recognize the efforts of their peers.

Bringing the team together and saying thanks

Even a small gesture can go a long way toward boosting the employee experience. Make sure your employees’ hard work gets the attention it deserves by putting your own personal twist on some of our best employee appreciation ideas and activities.

Positive company culture doesn’t happen by accident. Thinking of an original employee appreciation idea to reward hard work and boost employee morale is harder than it looks, especially when you already have so much on your plate. Print goods like Greeting Cards, Thank You Cards and Notebooks can help lighten the load.

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