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45 Unique Employee Appreciation Ideas Your Staff Will Love

Written by
Andrea Stutesman
Andrea Stutesman

At Bonusly, you’ll never find us without a good staff appreciation idea. After all, recognition-rich cultures have been proven to improve engagement, reduce turnover, and even increase productivity.

To learn more about the importance of employee recognition, download our Guide to Modern Employee Recognition!

We've assembled a list of employee appreciation ideas so you can get started on your own team. And if you have any questions about appreciation, let one of our appreciation experts help you out!

Plus, it's important to keep in mind the four key “languages of appreciation"—we focus on Words of AffirmationActs of ServiceQuality Time, and Gifts. 

Each one of the ideas below👇is marked with the language of appreciation it corresponds to. Ask around, or use a simple survey, for your teams’ language of appreciation, and let’s get started! ✨

1. Food truck lunch

Acts of Service, Quality Time

taco-truck-lunch

Go a step further than ordering lunch! Ordering from a food truck is always a fun experience, and it’s a way to treat employees to food that would be a great change in pace from their standard repertoire of soup and sandwiches.

This is also a great time to take a break and enjoy a picnic lunch together—an excellent team bonding opportunity!

2. Puppy playdate 

Quality Time

When the Humane Society of Boulder Valley visited Bonusly HQ with puppies, it was basically the best day of our lives. 🐶

Having a dog-friendly office has a ton of benefits for humans (although doggos probably love it, as well). A 2017 study showed that employees at dog-friendly offices are less stressed, more collaborative, and more likely to give higher ratings of trustworthiness to their team members.

Of course, it’s not possible for every office to be dog-friendly. A great way to feel those same benefits is by partnering with your local humane society or rescue organization to schedule a puppy pitstop by the office. Aside from playing with adorable dogs, team members get to take a break, spend time together (dogs in the office are also shown to be an excellent ice breaker), and make some great memories.

3. Meaningful gifts 

Gifts

footing-the-bill

Putting together a company-sponsored happy hour is always nice. However, it can be really easy for employees to feel like this is an insincere effort to curb negativity and disengagement in the office.

Need some inspiration? Click here to download our big list of Creative Employee Reward Ideas!

That’s why it’s so important to give employees “voice and choice”—some teams would love a weekly team lunch, while others would prefer other perks, like gas reimbursement or a wellness program. Gather opinions and survey your employees before pulling out the company card!

4. Summer fridays

Acts of Service

When it’s July and beautiful outside, your employees will enjoy the opportunity to enjoy it! From entire Fridays off to just a couple of hours every week, this is a perk that your team members will definitely appreciate.

One reason to offer summer hours is that it gives your employees more time to recover from work-related stress. By leaving work [early] on Friday, employees see that you value their mental health and work/life balance. You'll be able to prevent burnout and boost productivity.
–Sasha Butkovich, Justworks

 

5. Spa-ffice day

Acts of Service

spa-day

Give employees a break from the day by taking some time for tranquility. Offer professional 15-minute neck, hand, or foot massages, or even just let team members zen out with a guided meditation session. Sometimes, a quick reset is all people need to return to work energized. 💪

If you’re hesitant about massages in the workplace, check out what our customer Incorporate Massage has to say about it: What is Office Massage?

6. Reward your early arrivers 

Acts of Service, Gifts

There are always a few early birds in the office. They open the shades, get the coffee pot going, and probably a million other things you wouldn’t notice if you’re prone to sleeping in. Show them that you do see them by heading in early with a breakfast spread and caffeine at the ready.

If you have a few night owls, popping in with dinner wouldn’t hurt, either.

7. Work from elsewhere

Acts of Service

working-on-the-beach

A change in scenery is always nice and could be all someone needs to feel like their preferences are listened to. Whether that’s a work-from-home day a few times a week for your introverted team members, sending your strategists off to a cushy co-working space the week before a big presentation, or giving the green light for a “workcation,” this act of appreciation shows that you care more about them working at their best, instead of just their output.

Need some inspiration for how to implement these policies? Check out the Bonusly Un-Handbook for how we approach taking time off.

8. Secret recognition santa

Words of Affirmation, Gifts

It’s typical that employees receive recognition from their managers, but do they also have opportunities to receive recognition from their peers? By randomizing recognition givers and receivers, you’re giving team members who don’t typically get to recognize each other the chance to do so.

All it takes is sticking everyone’s names in a hat and spending some time together to write nice notes to each other. Even if two employees don’t know each other that well, this exercise can be a nice ice breaker for future collaboration!

9. Pass the trophy

Words of Affirmation

ur-the-bomb-trophy

Company lore can develop around the most unexpected of things—just ask us why we have a duck decoy in our main conference room! 😝💚

These “trophies”—whether they’re physical objects or the honor of pinning a specific emoji next to your name in Slack—can be used to symbolize certain accomplishments and successes. When someone accomplishes something big, don’t just say “good job!” Instead, a ceremonial passing of the trophy along with a few words of recognition signifies to the entire organization that an employee has done something great.

10. Write a LinkedIn recommendation

Words of Affirmation

pens-for-writing-notes

When my previous manager wrote me a LinkedIn recommendation, I almost cried. It’s personal, meaningful, and an endorsement of someone’s hard work. It’s an underrated gesture that communicates your appreciation of a team member, but also that you care about their future success—even if it’s not at your company. Plus, it's free. 😜

LinkedIn recommendations are the gold star of public recognition because it’s truly public. 🌍

11. Volunteer as a team

Acts of Service, Quality Time

It may be counter-intuitive, but putting your team members to work with a non-profit organization is actually something a lot of people enjoy. Studies show that “70% of working Americans believe “volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours.”

In addition to being an affordable staff appreciation activity, volunteering as a team allows employees to give back to their communities and build purpose—two factors that contribute to employee retention.

12. Shout outs 

Words of Affirmation

End a meeting on a high note by giving shout-outs to your awesome colleagues, or have a public recognition feed that showcases everyone's achievements. 

Employee recognition is so important for employee engagement, and shout outs a great way to make your employees feel appreciated. 

13. Upgrade an office essential

Acts of Service, Gifts

new-espresso-machine

Take a look around: Is there anything causing an inconvenience to your team members? Taking the time to notice someone’s uncomfortable desk chair, outdated software, or preference for an espresso instead of drip coffee goes a long way in making someone feel appreciated, set up for success, and that they, too, are an essential part of the office.

14. Close the office early

Acts of Service

If your team has been working long hours to hit a deadline recently, there’s nothing sweeter than an “Office closes at 2:00 pm today!” email. The surprise of being shooed from the office with enough time in the day for themselves is definitely something they’ll remember.

15. DJ for the day

Acts of Servicestereo

If you have a Sonos (Bonusly customer!), Google Home, or Alexa sound system at your office, it’s easy to hand over the reins to someone who’s been especially killin’ it lately. Make it a game!

This is a fun way to bestow a costless perk and presents some team-bonding opportunities—AKA dance parties. Work appropriate dance moves only, of course. 😉💃🕺

16. Incentivize feedback

Gifts

Does nobody answer your engagement surveys or feedback forms? The sad reality is that your team members have probably faced backlash from being candid at previous companies. Providing feedback can be a scary experience, especially when there’s a power difference in place.

To start building the foundations for a radically candid culture you need to publicly show that feedback is welcome and appreciated. A small way to begin this process is by adding a small incentive, like a $5 gift card, for providing thoughtful feedback or asking relevant questions.

If you’re using Bonusly, setting up a Claimable Award is an easy way to encourage employees to complete those tasks—whether it’s filling out a quarterly engagement survey, submitting a question to be answered at the next all-hands meeting, or even dropping a note in the suggestion box.

17. Celebrate life milestones

Words of Affirmation

medal

Surprise! Your employees have lives outside of the workplace. Applaud their personal accomplishments as a way to communicate that you care about your team as humans, not just as workers.

This is something you can mention at your weekly status meeting—like, Josh is running a marathon this weekend! Sarah got engaged! Marcus just received his French C2 certification! A quick moment to cheer each other on is great for morale and is also an easy ice breaker.

18. “Up-to-you” hours

Acts of Service

Everyone has those projects they’d rather be working on but seems to fall by the wayside in favor of more high-priority projects. Demonstrate your trust for your employees by dedicating some time each week as “up-to-you” hours, where teams can work on whatever they want. Chances are, the projects they’ve been meaning to work on will be a benefit to your company’s bottom line, whether that means streamlining an outdated process or building something totally new. 

19. Celebrate holidays

Acts of Service, Gifts, Words of Affirmation

celebrate-diversity-01

Don’t let fun holidays slip by without a whisper. Breaking up the monotony of the day-to-day can go a long way toward improving morale, and it’s as simple as putting up some decorations and preparing some treats for your team.

This is especially important for holidays that don’t typically warrant a day off—think St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween! These are all super-fun, low-pressure holidays that can turn into a day to look forward to with a little effort and planning. Think outside the box—instead of chocolates and grocery-store cards (although those are awesome too!), consider bringing a griddle into the office to whip up some crêpes to enjoy. 😍

20. Website or newsletter features

Words of Affirmation

Don’t just include the executive team on your company’s website. As often as you can, pick an outstanding employee to highlight on your website or newsletter, and be sure to write a detailed and meaningful blurb on why that employee deserves the featured spot.

21. Team retreatcampfire

Quality Time

Give your team a break from the office and send them out on a fun retreat. Depending on your budget, this can mean a good team-bonding hike or a multi-day adventure. Take the time to talk about your team’s big-picture goals, address issues, and plan for the future.

22. Donate to employees’ causes

Gifts

If your employee is particularly passionate about a cause, it can be extremely meaningful to donate to a charity in their name. If they’re actively fundraising, that’s an even better opportunity to throw your support behind them.

Bonusly’s platform makes it easy for employees to donate to causes they care about. Click here to learn more.

23. Random acts of fun

Quality Time, Acts of ServicechampagneDon’t underestimate the value of having fun in the workplace. If the entire office is excited about the new summer blockbuster, why not take a field trip at the end of the day to the nearest movie theater? This is team building at its best—when it’s organic and meaningful to the individuals in those teams.

Can you think of other ideas your team would enjoy? Even small, spontaneous activities like a mid-day stretch break or sundae-building session can boost morale and wake everyone up during a sleepy afternoon.

24. VIP parking spot

Acts of Service

Pretty self-explanatory. Make an employee feel like a rockstar for a week by letting them park in the best spot. While a small privilege, it’s a huge convenience. Sometimes, even the little things can feel like big luxuries.

25. Special treats

Giftspie-and-coffee-1

Desserts—cupcakes, donuts, candy—are a common token of appreciation, but take it a step further by keeping track of your employees’ special favorites. Why bring in cupcakes when a team member prefers donuts? Instead of a box of chocolates, how about a bag of sour gummies?

When you’re getting to know new employees during the onboarding process, slip in some questions about their favorite sweets, and you’ll have insider knowledge on how to delight them all year long.

26. Write a haiku

Words of Affirmation

They’re short and simple

Kindness from a coworker

Works well with humor

27. Share swag

Gifts

Sweet swag never goes unnoticed. When you gift the right swag, you're encouraging pride in your team and overall good vibes. Extra points for sustainable and seasonal swag!

28. Celebrate birthdays

Gifts

party-hat-2

This might be a silly question—but does your company celebrate birthdays? You don’t have to get the party planning committee involved every time there’s a birthday, but you can make your employees feel extra appreciated by going beyond the typical card or email. Have a special treat mailed to their house or allow them to take an extra day off during their birthday month. Consider creating a calendar of employee birthdays so no special day goes unnoticed. 

P.S. Did you know that Bonusly’s employee recognition platform can automate birthday gifts and also allow all employees to wish their fellow peers a happy birthday?

29. Celebrate work anniversaries

Gifts

It may be no surprise that, according to Gallup, millennials are job-hopping more than any other generation. That makes employee loyalty something to be celebrated. Depending on the number of years of service, you could award employees with anything from a restaurant gift card to plane tickets on company miles to a destination they choose.

Learn more about how Bonusly can automate work anniversary gifts!

30. Lunch with a person of your choice

Quality Time

tea-time-cupcakes

In our ever-increasing remote and hybrid work environments, it can be a challenge to connect with colleagues and other company leaders. Reimburse your employee and anyone else that they choose in the company (a fellow team member, manager, or even the CEO) for a virtual or in-person lunch date. (Or coffee and a cupcake—why not?!) 

31. Set aside time in a 1:1

Words of Affirmation

At Bonusly, we believe that employee appreciation should occur frequently. There’s no better way to show your consistent, specific appreciation than building in dedicated time for it in your team’s one on one meetings. 

32. Professional development

Acts of Service

It can be a real treat for your employees to gain a new skill or learn something new. Provide your employees with a budget specifically for professional development opportunities like conferences or classes.

33. Dedicated recognition software

Words of Affirmation, Gifts

bonuslylogoWe can’t leave out our forte! A true recognition program makes it easy to build appreciation right into your company culture and existing processes. Our top-rated employee recognition platform makes staff appreciation second-nature not only from supervisors to their direct reports but between peers as well. Our program improves job satisfaction, retention, and productivity at every level. It also increases visibility into all of the wonderful things your employees do company-wide every day!

To learn more, visit Bonusly

34. Gamify your work

Gifts

Does your organization have a big initiative coming up? Are your teams struggling to hit their quarterly KPIs? A bit of healthy competition could do the trick. Create a game where teams score points for hitting deadlines or inching closer to their goals. The winning team gets a reward as a token of appreciation for their hard work.

35. Extra time off

Acts of Service

Burnout has been a hot topic and common challenge over the past couple of years. Your employees are sure to feel valued and appreciated if they are given an extra day off every now and then.

36. Make appreciation visible

Words of Affirmation

talking-to-presenter

A quote by Albert Schweitzer says, “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.” We would argue that the same goes for appreciation. When the gratitude you share for a particular staff member is displayed for all to see, it will be noticed by others thereby multiplying the appreciation! Create a new channel in Google Chat or Slack that is dedicated to displaying specific recognition for your staff. If your team goes to the office often, you can even create a physical appreciation board where employees write down appreciation for one another. 

Bonusly makes your appreciation visible company-wide! Learn more

37. Meal reimbursement

Gifts

Meals are an inevitable and unavoidable expense. They also take valuable time to make every single day. Show appreciation for your team by reducing some of that burden. Consider reimbursing a few meals for your employees. You can decide to do this weekly, monthly, or make it a one-time surprise. This can be especially helpful around big holidays when other expenses stack up quickly.

38. Engaging speaker

Quality Time

It can be difficult to break from the everyday routine—especially for remote workers. Change things up by getting a speaker or facilitator to lead a virtual discussion on an interesting topic that may or may not be work-related. Bonus points for surveying your team to see what topics they would be most interested in!

39. Virtual events

Quality Time

The possibilities for virtual events are endless. Some ideas to get you started include virtual trivia, a murder mystery party, games, a painting class, cooking, Pictionary, a virtual scavenger hunt, and yoga. A couple that Bonusly has hosted and our teams have loved include Hispanic Heritage Month trivia and a hot sauce-making class!

40. Wellness stipend

Acts of Service, Gifts

wellness

The importance of wellness can never be overstated. Show your employees that you care about their health and well-being by reimbursing them for a dollar amount toward anything that is wellness-related.

41. Top chef competition

Quality Time

If you’re looking for a fun way to build camaraderie with your team while showing your appreciation at the same time, you can’t go wrong with a top chef competition—especially for the foodies you work with! Split your group into teams, provide the same 3-5 ingredients to each team, give them a bit of time to strategize, then set a timer for an hour so they can create their culinary masterpieces! Make sure you plan for any food allergies or sensitivities your contestants might have and find a few impartial judges to determine the winner.

42. "Just because" surprise

Acts of Service, Gifts

It was the height of the pandemic and, after a long week of virtual meetings, the Zoom fatigue on my team was almost palpable. On Friday that week, the HR director at my company had a mandatory four-hour virtual team building event planned at the end of the day. Everyone signed in and tried their best to muster a few ounces of team spirit. When an executive began to read the agenda, eyes already began to glaze over. He said, “Alright everyone, we’ll start by turning our computers off and signing off for the rest of the day. And go ahead and buy yourself lunch on your company card. Have a great weekend!”    

This was really a “just because” gift from leaders to show their appreciation for our team. Instead of gifting a few hours, you could also gift your employees with new company swag, or anything else from our list to surprise your team… “just because.”

43. Treat-yo-self day

Acts of Service, Gifts

Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle do it best when they dedicate an entire day (October 13th to be exact) to, you guessed it: treat themselves. Show your employees your appreciation by providing them with a small budget that they can spend on whatever they want.

44. Personalized gift

Gifts

exciting-gift-01An extra thoughtful staff appreciation idea is to gift something with your employee’s name printed or engraved on it—a mug, a watch, a nice company-branded sweater or jacket. Your staff will appreciate your considerate gift!

45. Welcome new employees

Gifts, Words of Affirmation

Today’s job market is unbelievably competitive. With so many other opportunities available, it’s important to show gratitude for your newly hired employees and make them feel welcomed right away. An idea to start (and something we do at Bonusly) is to send a welcome kit in the mail with branded company gear, stickers, a notebook, and a handwritten welcome note. It will make a great impression and your new employees will feel like they are part of the team from the start!

The takeaway

The similarity between all of these ideas is that it takes carefully takes preferences into consideration. If someone perceives appreciation through Words of Affirmation, giving them a new mug just isn’t going to cut it.

So take your time. Be thoughtful. Ask for opinions, because showing meaningful appreciation can only improve your company’s success and overall performance. For a turnkey solution, we invite you to take a tour or request a demo of Bonusly, our recognition and rewards program

Need more ideas on how to improve employee engagement? Check out our big list of creative reward ideas, or download this guide:

Download The Guide to Modern Employee Recognition

What’s your language of appreciation? Tell us how to best appreciate you! 👇💚

Originally published on October 20, 2021 → Last updated October 29, 2021

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Andrea Stutesman

Andrea is on the marketing team at Bonusly, and cares deeply about fostering positive team cultures. When she's not writing, you'll find her paddle boarding, hiking, or reading a good book.

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