The Ultimate Guide to Employee Appreciation: Fostering a Positive Workplace Culture

The very fact that a National Employee Appreciation Day exists gives some indication of just how recognized the power of staff appreciation is. 

The annual recognition event (celebrated on the first Friday of March, for those marking the calendar!) traces back to 1995 and, each year, new employee appreciation activities and ideas emerge to make the day count.

Feeling appreciated at work shouldn’t be a once-a-year event, though. Fostering a positive workplace culture means showing you value your employees the other 364 days of the year, too.

When was the last time you felt genuinely, authentically appreciated at work? On the flipside, when was the last time you showed appreciation for a colleague or direct report? Sometimes, in the bustle of everyday business, moments like this can get overlooked.

Showing appreciation to employees isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ gesture of goodwill – thankfulness and gratitude are ‘must-haves’ in a thriving work environment. A culture of appreciation leads to happier employees, better work and less turnover. It truly is beneficial for everyone involved.

Here’s what you need to know, from winning ideas for Employee Appreciation Day to the most impactful ways to show appreciation to employees every day.


Understanding Employee Appreciation

There are many reasons why employee appreciation is important. Appreciation is a fundamental cornerstone of organizational culture and, ultimately, human psychology. Acknowledgment and validation of an individual's efforts, skills and contributions within the workplace is a key part of making sure employees feel valued.

In all other relationships, we’re taught to say thank you and show gratitude. You might send a handwritten card to a friend who supported you, or bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, or pick up a loved one’s favorite snack for no reason other than how great they are. Humans thrive on feeling valued and appreciated.

And that’s equally true in the workplace – an environment where people spend a significant portion of their time.

  1. 19% of managers and leaders say recognition is a priority at their organization (Gallup)
  2. 40% of employees say they are only recognized a few times a year or less (Gallup)

Employee Appreciation vs. Employee Recognition

Employee appreciation and employee recognition very much go hand-in-hand. At first glance, they may seem to be two sides of the same coin.

While there are a lot of similarities between the two – particularly in terms of how they can boost employee engagement – there are a few key differences worth pointing out.

The easiest way to think about it is:

  • Employee appreciation is about who people are. You’re showing gratitude for the employee’s intrinsic value as a person and what they bring to the table as themselves.
  • Employee recognition is about what people do. You’re acknowledging their contributions and measurable impact on the organization.

Taking a purely performance-based approach can leave gaps and missed opportunities to acknowledge people who quietly get their work team effort. A big sale, product launch, won case or other achievement is almost always a team effort.

Employee appreciation, on the other hand, makes sure everyone is involved – which can be particularly important during times of economic uncertainty when KPIs and other metrics shift.

The best workplace cultures bring together both recognition and appreciation to make employees feel valued for what they bring to the organization.

Types of Employee Appreciation

There are a lot of different ways to show appreciation to employees and foster a culture of recognition. The most important thing is that the appreciation is genuine.

Which type of appreciation is best? It depends on the needs and preferences of each workforce (which you can find out through an employee survey) but here are some staff appreciation ideas to get started with.


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    Verbal Appreciation and Recognition 

    Communication is the cornerstone of appreciation. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. In fact, 85% of employees say they are pleased with even just a simple “thank you” for their daily efforts and accomplishments.

    What does verbal appreciation look like? Ways to praise employees can include:

    1. Personalized emails or messages
    2. Handwritten thank-you notes
    3. Thoughtful, specific compliments during one-on-one meetings
    4. Shout-outs in team meetings
    5. Social media acknowledgments



    Tangible Rewards and Incentives

    There’s something about a gift that just makes the message that much more tangible. Rewards don’t have to break the bank – using a platform like Inspirus provides options by budget range from top brands.

    With gifts and rewards, hone in on specific behaviors that you want to acknowledge. Studies show that 92% of employees are likely to repeat a specific action if given recognition for it, so reward employees for showing traits like collaboration, innovation, leadership, initiative and other award-worthy qualities.


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    Professional Development Opportunities

    Providing professional development opportunities is a great way to underscore your organization’s commitment to nurturing employees’ long-term growth and success. It’s also a powerful way to acknowledge an individual’s strengths and invest in their career progression.

    For example:

    1. Employee is showing leadership potential → Offer a chance to attend leadership training workshops or opportunities to assume a leadership role on a new project.
    2. Employees are great at mentoring and teaching others → Provide an opportunity to attend a conference or relevant workshop and ask them to share their takeaways with the team.
    3. Employee expresses interest in specific skill development → Encourage upskilling and cross-functional learning with training opportunities, seminars and educational programs.

    Start by actively listening to an employee’s aspirations and paying attention to the qualities they possess that make them successful. That allows you to hone in on opportunities to show appreciation for the employee’s strengths and help them continue to advance.



    Celebrating Work Anniversaries and Milestones

    Celebrating work anniversaries and milestones serves as a meaningful way to commemorate an employee's commitment and dedication to the organization.

    Typical celebrations are around anniversaries like 5 years or 10 years or retirement. The average tenure for an employee is 4.3 years for men and 3.8 years for women – waiting too long may mean missing the opportunity to show appreciation!

    The big milestones are definitely worth marking – perhaps with a personalized gift, team lunch or extra time off – but it’s well worth celebrating the smaller moments, too.



    Peer-to-Peer Recognition and Appreciation Programs

    To really make appreciation part of the day-to-day of a company’s culture, you have to be intentional about it. An appreciation program provides structure and helps get buy-in from leadership.

    At the same time, peer-to-peer recognition can be just as powerful as shows of appreciation from management. In fact, 41% of employees say they want more recognition from their peers and coworkers – and not just from their managers.

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    Building a Culture of Employee Appreciation

    A robust culture of gratitude thrives on the active involvement and commitment of everyone at the company, from executive leadership to managers to employees.

    Here are some best practices and tips to foster a positive workplace culture that acknowledges the different strengths of every employee:

    1. Provide frequent opportunities for thankfulness: Build moments of gratitude into team meetings and regular communication. 
    2. Recognize and reward behaviors, not just achievements: Don’t wait for a big win to acknowledge the efforts of the team
    3. Personalize your shows of appreciation: Different employees have different preferences on how they like to be acknowledged – some thrive in the spotlight, whereas others prefer more private affirmations.
    4. Always be authentic: Meaningful appreciation has to feel genuine, to both the giver and the receiver. Be specific in your praise. 
    5. Provide a platform and digital tools: Make it easy for managers and peers to express their gratitude to each other.
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    Employee Appreciation Solutions

    The right software platform facilitates creating a culture of gratitude and acknowledgment, streamlining and enhancing efforts. From powerful appreciation capabilities to points-based reward shopping, a platform like Inspirus means success is supported and impacts are measurable.

    When choosing an employee appreciation solution, make sure the platform includes:

    1. Peer-to-peer communication, in addition to manager-to-employee
    2. The ability to personalize the experience and create a branded program
    3. Flexible rewards options that meet your budget and employees’ needs
    4. Integrated survey tools for insight into employee sentiment

    This allows you to seamlessly scale your efforts, consistently celebrating employees and fostering a culture of appreciation.

    FAQs about Employee Appreciation

    Why is employee appreciation important?

    Employee appreciation is one of the most important ways to show that employees are valued. It’s a crucial part of fostering a positive work environment, improving employee motivation and boosting productivity.

    How often should you show appreciation?

    It depends on the organization and individual employees. However, research from Gallup found that at least once a week is the most impactful. In general, more is better. In fact, 52.5% of employees say they want more recognition from their immediate manager and 41% want more recognition from their immediate coworkers, according to surveys.

    How does appreciation affect employment?

    Organizations with recognition and appreciation programs have much lower turnover rates because regular praise and acknowledgment improve job satisfaction, engagement, and overall well-being. Gallup found that employees who are shown appreciation are 56% less likely to be looking for a new job and 73% less likely to feel burnt out.

    More Strategies for Showing Appreciation to Employees

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    Last Minute Employee Appreciation Ideas

    Peer Recognition

    The Power of Recognition: Fostering a Culture of Appreciation


    The Neuroscience Behind Gratitude: Improving the Employee Experience

    Download this handy PDF checklist to implement these employee appreciation insights and strategies.