Staff appreciation ideas employees will actually appreciate

Businesses run on people, and people run on appreciation. When workers have what they need to thrive away from work—paid time off, competitive pay, managed workload, etc.—it’s usually enough to keep them working and engaged. Still, it’s nice to feel appreciated. When an employee finishes a tough project or goes beyond the call of duty, smart employers know to reward them with a little something extra.

Let’s talk about employee appreciation ideas and how they can make teams happy.

What’s wrong with a pizza party?

Since the dawn of little league baseball, teams have relied on pizza parties to celebrate and have some light-hearted fun together. Is it because pizza is delicious and irresistible? No (though that’s true).

Pizza parties are celebrations for when good things happen. They don’t work as a palliative for poor management and bad work conditions. Leaders who use pizza parties to patch up working relationships end up with the opposite of what they hope for: instead of trust and goodwill, they engender bad blood and resentment.

Pizza parties should show appreciation. If your employees reach a point where they’re legitimately upset, throwing a pizza party is as tone-deaf as it is ineffective. Use staff appreciation gifts early and often. If there’s going to be a pizza party, make sure it’s for fun and not for emergencies.

HR Memos D

Cash is always king

Let’s get something out of the way: workers want money. They work to get paid. That’s why they do it. Until bottom-line workers are making enough to pick and choose when or where they work, money will always be the best appreciation gift.

Wherever possible, offer cash bonuses. If someone leads their team in sales, give that person a bonus or a cash card. Show appreciation for their hard work, then consider the end-of-quarter pizza party where others can show appreciation too.

There is no substitute for cash. Gift cards, company swag, and recognition plaques pale in comparison to a fatter bank account. It’s a kind of security that nothing else provides.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many options for staff appreciation that work in certain situations, but cash works all the time.

Time for a day off

Next in line is paid time off from work. When people work their butts off to finish a project or handle a difficult situation, they need time for their brains to recuperate. Paid time off isn’t just a nice perk—it’s good business sense when preventing burnout while boosting retention and employee engagement.

There are two ways to give paid time off: one is spontaneously, like letting people end early on Friday without advance notice; and the other is adding time to their PTO budget so they can use it when they want to.

The nice thing about paid time off is it’s always welcome. Most employees would rather be at home doing something else, so there’s never a wrong time to give that to them—just make sure they actually get to go home (happy hours at work aren’t the same as being home).

Establish requirements for what employees need to do if they want an extra day off, then let them reach their goals and enjoy extra time off.

Perfecting the work-life balance

Cash bonuses and paid time off are ideal because they prove that employers care about the well-being of their employees—not just what they do at work. But there are other ways to improve employee morale.

Company-wide perks like gym memberships or effective wellness plans help employees take control of their own lives and feel healthier. Establishing healthy habits like exercise and therapy not only improves one’s ability to work, but also makes time away from work more fulfilling. Rather than going home and getting drunk, they have an outlet to build confidence and feel better.

Creating a comfortable workplace also contributes to a healthy work-life balance, and different employees have different needs. Remote employees, for example, need a home office, so consider providing a stipend for ergonomic furniture and standing desks. People who spend hours on the phone need accommodations for sitting and talking. Find ways to accommodate all your different staff members.

Functional software is also important. Companies that don’t invest in the right program for the job waste their employees’ time and energy, leading to less efficiency and more frustration all around.

Basically, investing in the success of your teams at work contributes to their well-being outside work. Asking for feedback can inform these efforts, so make sure employees know they have open channels to find solutions to their needs.

Building a better workplace

Offices don’t have to be fancy to be comfortable, but there are a few non-negotiables that all need to have. Assuming your office has a functional bathroom and decent desk chairs (if not, stop reading now and fix it), the next thing is to create a space that facilitates the kind of work your teams do.

Common sense and creativity play key roles here. Teams that regularly communicate and work together should be close enough to solve problems quickly. But while some teams benefit from being closer, others don’t. A quiet team of copywriters, for example, shouldn’t be plopped next to a jawing team of sales reps.

There are many seating philosophies out there, some of which are listed below:

  • Open seating. Pods and long desks encourage employees to interact and collaborate more, leading to more idea-sharing and teamwork. Offices with limited real estate or small budgets can benefit from open seating because it maximizes the space available. However, open spaces can be noisy and distracting. They also offer little to no privacy, which can increase stress.

  • Cubicle seating. Because cubicles provide more privacy than open spaces, employees are better equipped to personalize their workspace and focus on individual tasks. However, the isolation of cubicles can hinder communication and collaboration. They also tend to block out natural light.

  • Hot desking. One recently popular seating approach is just letting employees choose where they want to sit, promoting a sense of autonomy and flexibility while (hopefully) using office space and resources efficiently. The only downside is that the lack of a personalized workspace can make it hard to find a workstation, especially during peak business hours.

  • Lounge and informal seating. Some offices don’t have seating charts at all, fostering a casual, relaxed workday that inspires creative thinking and provides a change of scenery from traditional workstations. This may not be ideal for, say, software developers who perform focused, intensive work, but it does make work more comfortable.

  • Functional seating. This is the most conventional seating arrangement—seating charts based on the work employees perform, where the immediate environment supports their tasks. While this can create barriers to interdepartmental communication, functional seating boosts efficiency by giving employees the tools and resources they need for their specific job.

How employees are seated can impact company culture, both for good and for bad. The right arrangements can make work enjoyable and productive, but be mindful and observant. Some people like to talk a lot, and if they’re stationed on a major walkway, they could end up distracting others as well as themselves.

The perfect break room

Workplaces need break rooms. There needs to be a designated place for everyone to focus on something other than work for a minute, whether that means making a cup of coffee, taking five for a snack, or just chatting with coworkers about nothing.

Some break rooms are cold and sterile while others repel employees because they’re disgusting. Some have nothing but a fridge and chairs while others are stocked with snacks and espresso machines. Seriously, entire industries are devoted to break room management, but you can find a balance that works on any budget.

The must-haves for every break room are:

  • Filtered water.

  • Good coffee offerings so that fresh coffee is always on hand, whether it’s a Keurig, Nespresso, or pour-over setup.

  • Healthy snacks that aren’t over-processed, like nuts, dried fruit, and popcorn.

Some companies go the vending machine route, but this seems like a bad idea given that vending companies are more likely to stock what sells rather than sell what’s best for your employees. In any case, having something quick to snack on is important. Eight hours is a long time to go without a pick-me-up.

Using company swag effectively

Two things can be true at once: branded gear is fun to collect, and no one needs another branded coffee mug. Just because it’s exciting to see branding on a t-shirt or water bottle doesn’t mean it’s a great gift idea for employees.

Staff appreciation is the art of showing people that they truly matter to your company. In a world where careers and resumes span more and more employers, branded gifts—wearable reminders of who they work for—can drown out that message.

This isn’t bad news though! Swag is still fun.

A great time to offer company swag is during a raffle, a work anniversary, or during onboarding—times when people don’t expect much but wouldn’t mind a little dopamine boost. After all, everybody loves free stuff. If you have outdated inventory or feel like being generous, sending employees home with something new (and useful) is an easy way to boost morale for the day.

Also, this isn’t a winter holiday. You don’t have to guess what employees want. Just ask which pieces of swag they like and send those. Any costs incurred by custom orders will be infinitely better spent than on something that goes straight into the trash.

So to recap, swag is great as long as employees can choose what they want, and as long as it’s not a milestone gift or taking the place of a raise.

Employee recognition programs

If you’ve read ‘til now wondering if I had forgotten recognition programs, fear not. Money doesn’t keep employees from leaving a company or suffering burnout—appreciation does.

Most companies understand this, whether or not they put it into practice. Giving reliable performers something as simple as a sincere thank you pays huge dividends in promoting a better employee experience.

If you haven’t already, start an employee recognition program now. Employee of the month is the most common way to recognize employees, but each department can celebrate in their own individual ways. Some companies hold employee appreciation days, bringing in food trucks to serve treats in the parking lot.

Shout-outs on social media can also contribute to team member well-being and employee retention. It’s also okay to bring in the occasional box of donuts.

Showing appreciation for your whole team doesn’t have to be a costly undertaking, but it does need constant effort. Seems fair, doesn’t it? Employees spend two-thirds of their waking hours working on someone else’s project—appreciation beyond pay is a reasonable expectation.

Celebrating for the heck of It

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate a special day—work anniversaries, new employees, birthdays, etc. If there’s a calendar notification, it’s worth making an effort.

A simple Slack message can help someone feel special, especially if lots of people comment on it. Work environments where people look after and celebrate each other can be awesome places to spend your days, and those attitudes are contagious!

The more employees see the whole team jumping in to make someone feel appreciated, the easier it is to keep that train going.

Some teams keep a little drawer of party favors to decorate desks without buying all kinds of stuff. A community wish list can also be helpful. Each employee writes down what they would want for a gift, and when the right time comes around, there’s no guesswork about what to get.

However you choose to do it, find reasons to celebrate.

Peer recognition programs

Some companies leave staff recognition to other team members. Peer recognition, as it’s called, helps motivate and engage employees while fostering camaraderie and teamwork.

Everyone likes to feel accepted and appreciated. Peer recognition taps into that desire by encouraging colleagues to take notice of an employee’s efforts to go the extra mile and then applaud their impact. The result is a culture of respect, gratitude, and equity.

Apps are available to help companies facilitate peer recognition, such as:

  • Bonusly. A recognition platform where team members give each other micro-bonuses to redeem for rewards. Along with helping colleagues recognize and appreciate each other, Bonusly offers analytics and reporting tools to measure the impact of peer recognition.

  • Kudos. Also promotes peer appreciation and recognition through a user-friendly interface. Kudos also helps organizations monitor and enhance employee initiatives.

  • TinyPulse. Offers surveys and public recognition options to help employees celebrate each other and guide company recognition programs.

Formal recognition programs help teams show appreciation, lead by example, and set the tone for a workplace culture of gratitude. All of this leads to higher morale, better teamwork, and overall job satisfaction.

Don’t forget the basics

This blog offers many options for staff appreciation, but competitive pay and good work conditions still rank at the top of the list. Without that, your efforts fall on deaf ears. Recognizing employees should be a bonus to what they’re already getting, not a supplement.

When in doubt, let employees make the decisions. They often know what’s best for both themselves and each other. And as always, have fun with it!