It's not the products, services, and profits that make a company great — it's the people who make them happen. Your employees are the ones who boost your marketing, talk to customers, and balance your books, but they don't always feel appreciated.
I've felt under-appreciated at a job, and it made me feel like there was no point to my hard work. You want your employees feeling empowered, not discouraged.
So, this Employee Appreciation Day (today!), tell your team how great they are. And don't just do it today – show it all year long. To give you some ideas, we've pulled together 10 affordable ways to show employee appreciation, including suggestions for employee thank you gifts.
1. Meet their needs
A $5 Starbucks gift card isn't going to make people feel appreciated. Don't just hand out free lunch. Instead, think holistically about what your people need.
A study by the Harvard Business Review found that the most engaged, loyal, and positive employees felt that their emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual needs were being met at the office.
To meet these needs, ask yourself the following questions, and come up with a list of things you can do to better serve your staff:
What are my employees' goals, not just in the office, but in general? How can I help them reach them?
What are the biggest problems in my employees' lives? How can I help solve them?
How can I make my employees' lives easier?
Are my employees empowered? Do they feel they have responsibility and authority in their roles?
Whether you decide on delegating some more responsibility, chipping in some wellness benefits, or offering flexibility, your employees will be more satisfied with their jobs and less stressed in general. That means a happy team and boosted productivity for you.
2. Say 'thank you'
Often, we're too busy to take a break, turn to the person next to us, and thank them for their hard work. Words go a long way. Whether you show your appreciation face-to-face or write an email or a handwritten card, your employees will be touched that you thought of them.
This one isn't just affordable — it's totally free. That means you can throw around 'thank yous' as liberally as you want.
With the fast pace of today's world, it's easy to forget the value of a few simple words. Just taking a few minutes out of your day to acknowledge employees and their contributions will go a long way in making them feel appreciated.
There are a few other little words that can make a big difference, too. Don't forget about 'please' and other general niceties. There's nothing like barking commands at your team to show your lack of appreciation, so always err on the side of politeness.
3. Encourage group love
As a business owner, you're stretched thinner than thin. If you create a culture of appreciation, the love will spread around. At Grasshopper, we have 'I Caught' cards to encourage employees to appreciate each other. Each month, we read the cards aloud.
Zappos encourages team appreciation by letting team members add $50 to a co-worker's paycheck when they've done something great.
Employee led opportunities for appreciation let you pretty much off the hook. Your people want to feel appreciated by everyone they work with, not just the boss.
You can even tailor these kind of things to your budget. Anything from our basically free 'I Caught' cards to Zappos' $50 bonuses will get people to show each other appreciation.
4. Throw a party or take them to lunch
Everyone loves a party, whether it's at a fancy restaurant, a bowling alley, or in the office kitchen. Give employees a chance to unwind, and remember that genuine expressions of appreciation are more powerful than kegs of beer. Be sure to prepare a toast to share how thankful you are.
Office parties and team lunches are a great way to get to know your employees on a different level and in a different setting. This fosters a different kind of conversation that allows you to connect more.
Appreciation isn't just about what employees give to your company. Leveling with your employees and showing genuine interest in their stories means you can showcase your appreciation of more than just what they do, but who they are.
5. Celebrate milestones
Your employees' lives are full of big moments, both inside and outside of work. Taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate them can go a long way. Some milestones you can celebrate are:
Life accomplishments such as marriage, moves, and children
Work accomplishments, industry awards, graduations/certifications, etc.
At Grasshopper, we have a cake every month to celebrate all of the anniversaries and birthdays that took place during that month.
Celebrating milestones is an easy way to let employees know that you see them as more than faceless output machines. Don't just appreciate their work — appreciate them.
6. Create traditions
Employees who are committed to your company are a huge asset to you. The longer talented employees stick around, the bigger the benefits to you and your business. A fun way to encourage commitment is to create traditions.
Zappos designs different license plates with employees' names on them. Team members get a license plate for every milestone like 1 year with the Zappos team, 5 years, 10 years, etc.
This is a fun example of getting people excited about their commitment to your company. Here are some other cool ideas:
Grasshopper gives our employees beautiful, personalized globes once they've hit 5 years with us.
Circulate a congratulatory card and have every member of the team sign it
Offer an extra day of vacation time for every year of service
$100 voucher to revamp and redesign their desk or office space
7. Host a friendly contest
Contests are a great way to rally employees together to show appreciation and have some fun. At my father's architecture firm, they had a contest to design the company van. The winner had their design permanently stamped on the vehicle.
Other companies hold chili cook-offs, bingo tournaments, and pie-baking contests. As long as there's a great prize, employees are sure to participate in the fun.
8. Offer flexibility
Why make employees stick to a 9-5? Why get angry if they need to jet off to a doctor's appointment in the afternoon?
82% of professionals say they would be more loyal to an employer if they had more flexible options. And, according to a study by FlexJobs, 74% of people want these flexible work options so they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. And being flexible won't cost you. In fact, most companies save money when they're flexible, especially if they allow employees to work from home.
Being flexible is the key to employee happiness and appreciation. If you can relax, employees will feel their 'life needs' are being met. No employee should be stressed or afraid to take time off if they need to go to the doctor.
9. Wow 'em with treats
Cookies, cupcakes, candy, and ice cream – nobody can resist a treat. Keep your office stockpiled with treats and snacks so that employees never go hungry. And consider providing an array of healthy snacks in addition to decadent treats so that employees with dietary restrictions or lifestyles can enjoy this benefit as well. Companies like SnackNation provide options for every snacker, from gluten- and dairy-free treats to vegan, paleo and nut free options.
When I worked in South Korea, our boss got us treats all the time, and it gave us something to bond over when we had a significant language barrier.
10. Give 'em cool swag
Show employees you appreciate them with cool swag. Get t-shirts, stickers, and water bottles with your logo stamped on – think of them as employee thank you gifts.
Here are our favorite swag retailers:
StartupThreads - StartupThreads specializes in cool startup t-shirts, hoodies, and other apparel.
StickerMule - StickerMule is the best place to get custom stickers of all kinds, even bumper stickers.
Ideas for Employee Thank You Gifts
An extra day of paid time-off (PTO)
A surprise bagel breakfast on you
Handwritten thank you note
Upgraded office gear (like an ergonomic chair or convertible standing desk)
Employee of the month program
How to Show Employee Appreciation All Year Long
Employee Appreciation Day comes once a year, but we should thank our employees as often as we can. They're the ones who make our companies great.
Which of these items is your favorite? What will you do to show employees appreciation?