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15 Creative Employee Appreciation Day Ideas

January 30, 2024

Employees Racing in Office Chairs at Work

Even though national Employee Appreciation Day comes every year, figuring out creative and fun ways to celebrate can still be a head-scratcher. You want your employees to feel uniquely appreciated and broadly celebrated, all while staying under budget - it's no easy feat.

That's why we've come up with a list of 15 Employee Appreciation Day ideas to help you celebrate this year (and for years to come).


When is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day always falls on the first Friday in March. That means this year, Employee Appreciation Day falls on Friday, March 1st.

While the holiday itself is only one day, some companies choose to celebrate all week or even all month. Depending on your company culture, you'll be able to determine what's the right amount of celebration for your team - just be sure you don't let the occasion pass you by without acknowledgment.


Why is Employee Appreciation Important?

While Employee Appreciation Day was first established in the mid-1990s, the concept of employee recognition and appreciation has been around much longer. Both, however, have gained significant traction within the past 10 years or so. From milestone and service awards to social recognition platforms, today, there's an employee recognition program for every need.

This boost in employee appreciation is likely due to the surge in research linking effective employee recognition with increased employee engagement, decreased turnover, and improved morale.

In fact, that's not all appreciation can do. Here are some key reasons why acknowledging and appreciating employees is significant:

Morale Boost:

Recognizing and appreciating employees for their hard work and contributions can significantly boost morale. When employees feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and satisfied in their roles.

Increased Productivity:

Employees who feel appreciated are generally more productive. Recognizing and celebrating their efforts can create a positive work atmosphere, fostering a sense of pride and accomplishment that translates into increased productivity.

So much so, 63% of employees who feel recognized are unlikely to look for a new job.

Retention and Loyalty:

Employee Appreciation Day can help improve employee retention. When employees feel valued, they are more likely to stay with the organization and build a sense of loyalty.

In fact, companies with effective recognition programs have 31% lower voluntary turnover. This is crucial for reducing turnover and retaining top talent.

Enhanced Team Building:

Recognizing the efforts of individuals and teams fosters a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. It encourages collaboration and a positive team spirit, which can contribute to a more cohesive and effective work environment.

So much so, 85% of HR professionals say employee recognition programs positively affect organizational culture.


Improved Mental Well-being:

Acknowledging and appreciating employees can positively impact their mental well-being. Feeling recognized and valued contributes to a positive work-life balance, reducing stress and enhancing overall mental health.


Positive Company Culture:

Regularly expressing appreciation contributes to the development of a positive company culture. When appreciation is embedded in the organization's values, it sets the tone for a workplace where people feel supported and encouraged.


Motivation for Continued Excellence:

Recognition and appreciation serve as a motivation for employees to continue delivering high-quality work. When employees see that their efforts are acknowledged and rewarded, they’re nearly 3 times more likely to be highly engaged.


Enhanced Communication:

Employee Appreciation Day provides an opportunity for open communication between management and staff. It allows leaders to express gratitude, share company goals, and demonstrate a commitment to their team's success.


Attracting Top Talent:

A workplace known for its positive culture and appreciation of employees is more likely to attract top talent. Prospective employees often consider company culture and employee satisfaction when choosing where to work.


Overall Organizational Success:

A workforce that feels appreciated and motivated is likely to contribute to the overall success of the organization. Employee satisfaction and engagement are linked to increased productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

In summary, Employee Appreciation Day is important because it can boost employee morale, productivity, retention, and overall organizational success.

It helps create a workplace culture where employees feel valued and motivated to contribute their best efforts.

So while your leadership team may feel that Employee Appreciation Day isn't a particularly important day to acknowledge, the research suggests otherwise.

In fact, celebrating Employee Appreciation Day is just the tip of the recognition iceberg. So, if you don't have an employee recognition strategy in place, it may be time to start.


Employee Appreciation Day Origin

The idea for Employee Appreciation Day was pioneered by Dr. Bob Nelson, a motivational speaker, and Dr. Cynthia Caldwell, a founding member of Recognition Professionals International. Dr. Nelson is best known for his work on employee engagement and motivation, including the book "1001 Ways to Reward Employees," where he emphasized the importance of appreciation efforts and for companies to recognize employees for their hard work.

In 1995, Dr. Bob Nelson and his publishing company, Workman Publishing, created the first official Employee Appreciation Day, which took place on March 3 of that year. The purpose of the day was to encourage employers to express gratitude to their employees and recognize their efforts in contributing to the success of the organization.

The concept quickly gained traction, and over the years, Employee Appreciation Day has become widely recognized and celebrated by companies and organizations across various industries. While the specific activities and methods of appreciation may vary, the underlying theme remains consistent: taking the time to acknowledge and thank employees for their dedication and hard work.


Employee Appreciation Day Ideas

Brainstorming Employee Appreciation Day ideas is a great way to begin laying the foundation for a thriving and successful workplace culture. Here are 15 creative employee appreciation ideas that you can implement all year long.


1. Reward with experiences

If you’re looking for a reward that’s unique, memorable, and thoughtful you can’t go wrong with providing an exceptional experience.

This might be something for the whole team — like renting out a movie theater, reserving an escape room, or learning to cook from an accomplished chef — or for individual employees, like paying for a day trip to a spa or a meal at their favorite restaurant.

2. Pamper your employees

Employee Appreciation Day is your chance to let your team indulge and take a break from their hard work. Hire a manicurist, massage therapist, or chiropractor to come to the office.

Or, for a less hand-on approach, consider hiring a coffee or smoothie company for the day. Let your employees order up specialty drinks they don't normally get access to.

Include remote workers by hosting a virtual coffee mixer, complete with a bagel or muffin delivery.

These employee appreciation ideas emphasize your organization’s commitment to employee wellness and help everyone feel relaxed and rejuvenated.


3. Donate to your employees’ favorite charities

Giving to the charities your employees support shows that you care about what they care about. celebrate employee appreciation day by donating to organizations in employees’ names or provide employees with a set amount to donate per month, per quarter, or per year.

Matching donations is another possibility. And if you’ve implemented an employee recognition solution with points-based rewards, you can let them donate reward points to charities of their choice.


4. Give out fun awards

Remember superlatives at the end of a school year? Everyone anxiously awaited that day. And while we may not be kids anymore, there's still excitement to be had around fun awards.

Get creative and make up some awards people will truly treasure, like recognition master, exceptional listener, and coaching champion.

You can also focus on employees who have best demonstrated your core values, made your workplace more inclusive, or acted as a true team player. Awards are specific and tangible, making employees feel uniquely recognized.


RELATED: 15 Original Employee Award Ideas That Show You Care


5. Treat your team’s taste buds

Who doesn’t love a free lunch? Food is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make your employees feel appreciated. Consider catering a meal, surprising your team with a box of tasty snacks — even if they work from home — or taking folks out for coffee.

You can also encourage wellness at the same time by providing delicious healthy treats or taking an outing to a restaurant that provides healthy options. Bonus points if you can walk to the restaurant as a group and chat along the way!


6. Enjoy activities in-office or remotely

Employees want to spend time having fun with their teammates. Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day by hosting a pizza party in the break room or common area with an array of board games. You could also set up a photo booth, company-wide jeopardy game, or talent contest.

And if your workforce is primarily made up of remote employees, set up an afternoon of virtual games and fun. Send each person a pre-delivered gift package complete with a DoorDash gift card so they can treat themselves to lunch or dinner while you play.


7. Let employees pursue their passions

Work shouldn’t consume your employees’ lives - a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Employees should have the time and space to pursue their passions and interests outside of the workplace.

To help support this, another Employee Appreciation Day idea is to hobby swap - meaning allowing each team member to share a passion with the group. Consider rotating between team members on a weekly or biweekly basis.

The best Employee Appreciation Days mark the start of something bigger and longer-lasting. Besides giving employees a break from work, hobbies can inspire innovative ideas and teach employees new skills that help your organization in the long run.


8. Start a Thank-You Note campaign

Consider starting a campaign (maybe in the weeks leading up to Employee Appreciation Day) where employees are encouraged to write a thank you note to a colleague. Provide note cards, pens, and envelopes to make getting started a bit easier.

You could also have a drop box where people can deposit their written notes, and then have HR or a wellness coordinator distribute them on Employee Appreciation Day.

It may seem counterintuitive to have employees write notes to each other for Employee Appreciation Day, but the truth is peer-to-peer recognition can sometimes be the most impactful.

This isn't to say leaders should opt out, however. Encourage the whole company to get involved so everyone feels appreciated.


9. Start a recognition program

There’s no better day to announce a recognition program than Employee Appreciation Day. Fully comprehensive rewards and recognition software reminds people to recognize their peers frequently and genuinely.

Your platform’s user interface should be straightforward and integrate with other software your employees already use. In addition, employees should be able to recognize each other anywhere, anytime. A mobile-friendly platform is crucial for companies whose teams are on the ground.

And don’t forget about milestone and service awards. Many businesses opt for a points-based recognition program to give employees the flexibility to choose their own rewards, reducing administrative overhead and creating a personalized recognition experience.

10. Provide time for meditation and mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness are the keys to employee wellness. Paychex discovered that stressed employees found mindfulness to be an essential strategy in overcoming their wellness challenges. Mindfulness can help employees problem solve, absorb new information, adapt to changes, and increase their empathy for others.

One Employee Appreciation Day idea would be to set up a mindfulness training session. Then, start setting aside time during the workday for meditation. This is a great way to introduce a key wellness practice while celebrating Employee Appreciation Day.


RELATED: Creating a Culture of Well-being: The Key to Organizational Wellness


11. Support continuous learning

Continuous learning is crucial to developing an agile, high-performing workforce. But continuous learning doesn't just benefit your employees. Pew research found that 63% of people who quit their jobs in 2022 did so due to a lack of career advancement opportunities.

If your employees don’t have access to training or professional development opportunities, it may be difficult for them to continue to feel engaged in their work.

For Employee Appreciation Day, offer paid continuous learning courses related to work or personal interests. Then, consider recognizing the employees who take advantage of these classes to reinforce the behavior.


12. Offer extra PTO (and encourage using it!)

It may sound like an obvious win for employees, but PTO can be a tricky perk to navigate. In fact, research from Deloitte found that despite evidence that time off can help workers avoid burnout and perform at their highest levels, most workers have not been taking enough time off.

If this sounds like your company, consider taking a deeper look at your PTO policy. Do you offer enough for employees to feel like they can take a vacation? Do your employees feel too overwhelmed to take time off? Do people in power take time off? You may find your company culture doesn't line up with your values.


13. Give out extra points

If your company already has a recognition platform, why not give your employees a points boost? This could mean distributing an extra 50 or 100 points to each employee. Or you could consider adjusting your point conversion ratio for the day. This would allow employees to essentially shop your redemption platform "on sale."

This is a surefire way to generate some excitement among the staff as people begin redeeming items they've been saving up for.


14. Happy Hour

A classic crowd-pleaser is happy hour. If your team is in the office, happy hour could be hosted at a local bar or restaurant, or it could come to your office. This could include catering, games, raffles - you name it! Just be sure to offer non-alcoholic beverage options so anyone who doesn't drink can still feel included.

Also, consider making happy hour a bit earlier in the day so employees don't have to cut into their free time to participate. After work happy hours could mean having to pay for extra childcare or skipping out on hobbies for some employees.


15. Scavenger hunt

Set up a virtual, in-person, or hybrid scavenger hunt. Give out a prompt to of certain items to find. Then have them either retrieve the item in person or submit a photo. But get creative! Items could be literal or figurative, easy to find or challenging, found in the office/at home or around town.

Whichever you choose, it'll be sure to get some laughs as people run around in search of items.


Next Steps

Whether you've built employee appreciation into your company’s bigger values or you're looking for ideas for Employee Appreciation Day for the first time, you’re sure to see the benefits. And if you’d like to learn more about social recognition platforms, contact us today to learn more.

Terryberry's Be Recognized Platform offers a comprehensive solution that can host your recognition efforts, including milestone and service awards, peer-to-peer social recognition, feedback and communication, and performance and incentive rewards.

If you want to integrate more recognition and appreciation into your culture, we’re happy to help! Give us a shout, we can’t wait to hear from you.