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Employee Appreciation Day: 7 Creative Ways to Appreciate Your Employees

Topics: Retention

Promotions, raises and being named “Employee of the Month” are all tried-and-true ways to reward outstanding employee performance. And while they’re usually well-received, in today’s often imaginative and fun-focused workplaces, these well-worn approaches might feel a little … stale. (Beyond that, you may not have budget for a timely raise.)

So, what’s a well-meaning manager to do when it comes to rewarding hard work, above-and-beyond performance, and generally kicking butt at work?

Beyond the old standbys, there are literally countless ways to show your best employees that you value their efforts. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Award Extra Vacation Days or PTO Hours … and Encourage Their Use!

No offense, but as much as your top-performers shine at the office, odds are they’d still rather be somewhere else. Giving your employees an extra vacation day or additional hours of Paid Time Off (PTO) as a reward for a job well done lets them do just that. And if they’ve been burning the midnight oil on a successful project, some additional time off will likely be very welcome.

On top of that, it could benefit your organization, too. According to Forbes, employees who take vacation days are more productive, have higher morale, are more likely to stay with your organization, and are physically and mentally healthier, meaning they’re likely to take fewer sick days and/or get their coworkers ill. The problem is, many American workers don’t use all their available vacation days or PTO hours, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. So, if you give your employees the chance to take time off, encourage them to do so! A good way to do that is to…

2. Give Airbnb Vouchers/Lift Tickets/Sporting Event Tickets/Airline Vouchers/Etc.

Set aside budget for any of these – or similar – and then let your top-performer choose which he or she prefers. If she likes to travel, maybe she’ll want a gift certificate for an airline or Airbnb. If he’s a passionate skier or snowboarder, maybe he’d appreciate a company-funded day at the mountain. If she’s a rabid sports fan, maybe she’d be over the moon if you gave her tickets to the big game. These awards not only make employees happy in-and-of-themselves, but they encourage time away from the office, which – as noted above – further improves employee and organizational performance.

3. In-Office Events: Spa Days/Fitness Classes/Celebrity Appearances/Baristas/On-Site Chefs

Not every award has to encourage time away from the office. Providing at-work perks like a professional massage at your desk, or having lunch catered by a five-star local restaurant, or a presentation or appearance from a local celebrity or professional athlete can make your employees feel valued. These types of rewards work especially well for teams, or – if you’ve reached an organization-wide goal – are great for thanking all your employees at once. And, c’mon; who doesn’t appreciate a massage after a long day – or quarter – at work?

4. Donate to or Get them a Membership to a Non-Profit of Their Choice

Some employees may be of a philanthropic mindset, and/or feel strongly about supporting certain non-profits or organizations that align with their values. If so, consider rewarding your employee by donating to the organization of their choice in their name, or even buying them a year’s membership. It’s a great way for your organization to support a good cause and to make your employees feel good about themselves. (Though, if you’re not familiar with the organization chosen, it’s probably a good idea to vet it first.)

5. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Given the current prevalence of the open office layout, noise-cancelling headphones can be a relatively inexpensive but thoughtful gift for high-performing employees, particularly those who work in a noisy environment and/or struggle with interruptions; They may even improve performance by minimizing distractions. From personal experience, this gift can be very well received.

6. Make an All-Company Announcement

Either sent via email, proclaimed in a company all-hands meeting, or hung in the office lobby, a public “thanks” in front of the entire organization can be a great way to reward a standout employee. One caveat: make sure the employee is OK with this form of public thanks. Some people prefer not to have attention drawn to them, so it’s important to make sure you’re not going to inadvertently cause discomfort or embarrassment!

7. A Handwritten Thank-You Note

It may seem old-fashioned, but in our fast-paced, digital business world, a thoughtful, personal, hand-written note is still one of the most meaningful ways to say, “thank you.” And it’s practically free. A thank-you note can accompany any of the above rewards, or stand alone as a heartfelt way of expressing gratitude. The classics never go out of style.

Want more ideas on what you can do to foster greater employee engagement? If so, check out this guide Getting Real About Employee Engagement.

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What unique employee rewards has your organization given out, and how were they received? We’d love to hear!

Image: Courtney Hedger/Unsplash

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