Today, most leaders understand that recognizing employees really pays off in terms of engagement, productivity, retention, and creating a place where people generally feel good about going to work. Celebrating Employee Appreciation Day (First Friday in March) is a great place to start, but when leaders make appreciation a habit, they can help build an environment that makes every day feel like a special day. Here are 45 creative, budget-conscious ways to make someone’s day.

  1. Rock Their World
    Say thanks to the rock stars in your office by transforming an ordinary rock into a fun and unique recognition memento, as seen in the image above. Download the PDF.
  2. Double the Recognition
    When you recognize someone, give them two treats and two thank you notes. Ask them to keep one set and use the other to recognize another employee.
  3. Say It with Food
    Decorate a jar of salsa for an employee who is “on fire” with whatever their tasks or goals are. Or give a jar of jelly and a thank you message to someone who always helps out in a “jam.”
  4. Thanks for the Memories
    Celebrate achievements by creating a team scrapbook to keep in a common area. If you’re not crafty, ask employees to pitch in.
  5. Every Day Counts
    Show employees you’re paying attention by recognizing their days of service. So instead of celebrating a five-year milestone, say thanks for 1,825 days of service.
  6. Getting to Know You
    Implement a “Get to Know You” program by spotlighting a different employee each week. Send out a group email, or reserve a space on a bulletin board to post photos of the person and fun facts about them.
  7. Coffee, Anyone?
    Perk up your team in the afternoon with a surprise coffee break! Bring in lattes for everyone, make some cards that say “Thanks a Latte!” (or simply write this on the coffee cups), and deliver your recognition.
  8. From the Team
    Present a personalized coach’s cap, such as one that says “Coach Joe,” to your team’s trainers or mentors to say thank you for their coaching and leadership.
  9. Make Some Noise
    Download an “applause” app on your smartphone, and give deserving employees a spontaneous standing ovation throughout the day. Search “applause” in your app store.
  10. Recognition that Sticks
    Fill a pad of sticky notes with praise and thoughtful comments. Then stick them all over an employee’s work area, a team’s area, or all over the office.
  11. Crack the Code
    Write a brief letter of praise to each employee in code. For example, type the messages using the key to the right of the letter you want. So thank you becomes “yjsml upi.”
  12. Boss for a Day
    Give your employees the power today. Let them decide where to order lunch and let them lead the meetings. You might even switch offices for a fun change of scenery.
  13. Hijack the Intercom
    Throughout the day, use the office intercom to play quick clips of celebratory songs and announce thanks to each employee.
  14. Title Cards
    Give your employees fun new titles for the day, like Queen of Copy, Marketing Maestro, or MC Sales Slayer. Make up fun nametags to help them get in the spirit.
  15. Group Photo Op
    Bring in wigs and silly props and let your team’s personalities shine for a group photo that you’ll post in a common area to commemorate Employee Appreciation Day.
  16. The Appreciation Cart
    Load up a rolling cart with inexpensive toys and goodies (or healthy snacks) and take it to each person in the office. Let them select their own fun trinket or tasty treat.
  17. Recognition from the Top
    Invite the CEO or another high-level leader to visit. Gather up the team and have the visiting leader give them a heartfelt thank you.
  18. Free Time
    Show your employees that you appreciate their creative side by giving them an hour to work on any project they’d like. You might even invite them to share their projects at the end of the day.
  19. Make it Private
    When employees are called into your office, they usually assume something is wrong. Today, call employees into your office individually to thank them for their contributions.
  20. Tiny Trophies
    Hit the dollar store and buy items that represent your employees, such as a stuffed dog for someone who “doggedly pursues a sale” or a whisk for someone who “whips up great results.”

Keeping in mind that one of the keys to effective recognition is frequency, here are some additional ideas for making recognition part of your routine.

  1. To Do: Recognize
    Put “Say thank you” at the top of every to-do list. Don’t start another task until you’ve recognized someone.
  2. Pocket Recognition
    Every morning, put a stack of thank you cards, low-cost gift cards, or other items in your pockets. Make sure to give out every one before you leave for the day.
  3. Meeting Notes
    Make a habit of beginning or ending every staff meeting by mentioning your team’s specific accomplishments. Be sure to praise employees for their individual contributions.
  4. Thank You Call
    If you don’t always have time to write personal thank you notes, leave appreciative voicemails on your employees’ desk phones. This is easy to do daily, even during your commute.
  5. Don’t Do it Alone
    Recognition is a big job. Recruit other employees to help reinforce recognition as being an important part of your culture.
  6. Make a Public Statement
    Recognize employees in front of their peers. This makes the recognition more meaningful and reinforces desired behaviors to the rest of the team.
  7. Spread the Thanks Around
    Hide thank you notes around the office and break room. Put cards behind the coffee maker, wedged in the filing cabinet, or stuck to the doorknob.
  8. Hero for Your Heroes
    Recognize your heroes with a surprise lunch. Try bringing in a few large “hero” sandwiches with all the fixings.
  9. One Million Thanks
    Write your team a check for “One Million Thanks.” Enlarge a check on a copier machine, or order one online.
  10. Getting to Know You
    Get to know a new hire or an employee with whom you don’t normally interact. Information you learn, such as favorite food or color, could be useful in future recognition efforts.
  11. Welcome New Employees
    Create a “Welcome” flyer for new employees to let them know you are excited to have them on board. Get other employees to sign it.
  12. Celebrate One-Month Anniversary
    Studies show the first 30 days on the job make the biggest impression. Write thank you notes to employees on their one-month anniversary.
  13. Five-Minute Rule to Recognition
    Employee recognition has more impact when it’s timely, so follow the five-minute rule: When you hear or see a positive comment about an employee, recognize that person in five minutes or less.
  14. Make it Social
    Use your company’s Facebook page to recognize team accomplishments. It’s a great way to show off your team to prospective clients and recruits.
  1. Cool Under Pressure
    Every workplace has challenging situations. Reward employees who keep their cool and composure with Popsicles®, ice cream, or a cold beverage.
  2. For the Love of Pets
    Employees love showing off their pets. Have them bring in a photo of a current or past pet. Post the photos in the team area, and see who can guess which pet belongs to which employee.
  3. Wisdom Wall
    Create a “Wisdom Wall” filled with quotes from your employees. It will show your team that you respect them and serve as inspiration for peers. Update the wall regularly.
  4. Dollar Store Recognition
    Go to a dollar store and pick out a variety of low-cost gifts to use for on-the-spot recognition. Try to connect the item to an act. For example, a mini-flashlight for someone whose positive attitude shines in dark situations.
  5. Positive Name Posters
    Create a poster for each employee with a positive attribute for each letter in his or her name. For example: Pam = Patient, Attentive, and Multi-tasker.
  6. Applaud Personal Achievements
    Did an employee run a marathon, donate blood, volunteer at an animal shelter, or buy a new house? Acknowledge personal achievements during meetings or in writing.
  7. The Thought that Counts
    It’s often the thought that counts in recognition. If an employee likes rock climbing, give them a book on rock climbing with an inscription of your thanks. Or if someone is a movie buff, give a movie theater gift card.
  8. Write Home
    Write a letter to employees’ spouses or partners. Thank him or her for their support, and let them know how much you admire and appreciate their partner’s service.
  9. Just Say Thanks
    Call an employee to your office to say thank you. They will be especially pleased to receive your honest gratitude for a job well done.
  10. Go Exploring (for Lunch)
    Celebrate diversity by taking your team “around the world” with monthly luncheons or potlucks. Have a different international theme each month. Try serving pasta for Italy, tacos for Mexico, croissants with ham and cheese for France, etc. Print and post national flags in the break room.
  11. Create a Team Roster
    Create custom baseball cards for your employees. Include a photo and statistic (e.g., Worked 12 months without being absent).

With employee recognition, a little creativity goes a really long way. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Looking for more insight on employee engagement? RSW can help.