24 Creative Employee Appreciation Day Ideas

Every year, Employee Appreciation Day is the day you show your team how valuable they are to you by recognizing their hard work and dedication. If employee recognition is a huge part of your company culture (it should be), there's no better day to reinforce that.

This year, instead of giving out the same old gift cards or generic thank-you notes, try one (or more!) of these 24 creative ideas to make your employees feel truly appreciated.

Every year, National Employee Appreciation Day falls on the first Friday in March.

From 2024 through 2030, here are the exact dates:

  • 2024: Friday, March 1
  • 2025: Friday, March 7
  • 2026: Friday, March 6
  • 2027: Friday, March 5
  • 2028: Friday, March 3
  • 2029: Friday, March 2
  • 2030: Friday, March 1

So mark your calendars and start planning ahead to make this day a memorable one for your employees.

What is Employee Appreciation Day?

National Employee Appreciation Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the hard work, dedication, and contributions of all your team members. It is a chance for employers across the country to show gratitude towards their employees and make them feel valued.

Dr. Bob Nelson, a founding member of Recognition Professionals International, launched the workplace holiday in 1995 in collaboration with his publishing company, Workman Publishing. Its original purpose was to commemorate the release of his book 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees and to serve as a vital reminder for employers to express gratitude to their hardworking employees.

Today, thousands of companies worldwide observe Employee Appreciation Day, and it has become a significant part of workplace culture.

Why should my company celebrate Employee Appreciation Day?

For starters, because you appreciate your employees. And if you don't, you've got bigger problems than not knowing what to do on Employee Appreciation Day.

Beyond the obvious, there are several reasons to make this holiday a priority:

  • It's a foundational building block in your rewards and recognition program.
  • It's good for your employer brand (current team members, future talent, customers, and investors will all see your company as a great place to work).
  • It boosts employee engagement, happiness, and retention.
  • It facilitates a positive workplace culture.
  • It shows your team you care about them as individuals, not just as employees.

Data compiled by NetSuite tells us more than half (55%) of employees cite "lack of recognition" as the #1 reason they left their last job, two-thirds of those would have stayed if they felt more appreciated, and nearly 9 of every 10 HR professionals agrees recognition improves employee morale and engagement.

All that to say: Employee Appreciation Day deserves your full, undivided attention.

Writing an Employee Appreciation Day message

At the bare minimum, no matter what you do, you have to write a message out to your team.

  • From the top level of your organization, a companywide email or Slack message.
  • From department heads, a department-wide email or, ideally, an personal private message.
  • From team leads, a brief team huddle speech.
  • On the company socials, a thank-you post with a photo of your team.
  • On the company blog, a formal thank-you post, complete with team photos, accomplishments, and testimonies from executives.

Whatever your approach, here's a quick 5-step formula for crafting an Employee Appreciation Day message that hits the right notes:

  • Show sincere appreciation. This goes beyond a simple "thank you." Tell your employees why you appreciate them and their work.
  • Highlight specific accomplishments or contributions. This shows that you truly see the value in each individual employee and their unique role within the company.
  • Share the impact of their efforts. Letting your team know how their hard work has affected the company, client satisfaction, or team success reinforces their value and importance.
  • Include future goals or plans for the company. This allows employees to see how their contributions fit into the bigger picture and motivates them to continue working hard.
  • End with a sincere thank you. End your message by reiterating your gratitude and expressing how important each employee is to the company's success.

Employee Appreciation Day ideas for in-office team members

1. Host an office party.

If you have an office, the best way to make employees feel appreciated is to dedicate a few hours in the afternoon to spend time together. Order food, play games, and have casual conversations.

Here are a few of our favorite office party ideas:

  • Have a local restaurant cater the event (poll everyone beforehand for dietary restrictions and preferences).
  • Hire a few food trucks and comp everyone's meals.
  • Host a potluck where everyone brings in their favorite dish to share.
  • Set up a DIY mimosa bar or coffee bar in the break room.
  • Have a fun theme like "Luau" or "Casino Night."
  • Plan team-building activities like escape rooms or laser tag.
  • Organize a company-wide game tournament (trivia, Pictionary, etc.).
  • Rent out a karaoke machine and have a singing competition.
  • Hold a cornhole championship, with an exciting prize for the winning team.

There are literally millions of possibilities here. You can be as creative as you want.

2. Hold a company-sponsored happy hour.

Office parties are great, but sometimes it's nice to get out of the office. So, why not host an after-work happy hour at a local bar or pub? This gives employees the chance to relax and bond outside the office walls.

If you're able to rent the whole place out, you can even take the abovementioned "office party" concept to a bar or restaurant.

One additional pro tip: If you have remote employees who work in the same city, invite them along, too! Getting face time with colleagues helps build stronger relationships and promotes a more cohesive team dynamic.

3. Have a picnic and games in the park.

If the weather permits, take your team outside for a fun picnic and games in the park. This is a great option if your office doesn't have a designated break area or if you want to switch things up from the typical indoor lunch in the break room.

4. Host your own version of The Dundies.

The Office is meant to be a parody of what everyone thinks office life shouldn't be, but there are a few gems in there.

"The Dundies" is one of the funniest episodes from the series, and we can't help but think employees would love a chance to recognize each other in silly, ultra-personalized categories, just like the characters at Dunder Mifflin.

Of course, if you actually do this, use it as a time to be constructive. Draw inspo from Pam's "Whitest Sneakers" award, not Toby's "Extreme Repulsiveness Award."

Bonus points if you encourage employees to submit nominations, then order custom-engraved trophies for the winners.

5. Take the team out for bowling.

Some of us are great bowlers. Most of us are average at best. That's part of the fun. Rent out a few lanes, grab some refreshments, and knock some pins down with your team.

6. Go on an adventure together.

Depending on where your office is located, geography might be able to bail you out when you're trying to come up with employee appreciation ideas.

  • Live by the mountains? Take the team on a hike.
  • Near the coast? A paddleboarding or kayaking tour will help everyone bond.
  • Have any wineries nearby? Wine tasting, anyone?
  • A pool or lake? Grab some floats and spend the afternoon relaxing.

7. Hold a team retreat.

Whether it's a spa weekend, camping trip, or adventure excursion, getting away from the office can be a refreshing way to show appreciation and strengthen team dynamics.

Team retreats are great for getting to know each other personally, building trust, and reenergizing the team for future projects.

Since retreats generally cost more than other appreciation ideas, they're best for when Employee Appreciation Day coincides with a huge milestone, like a successful product launch or record-breaking sales quarter.

8. Offer everyone a small bonus.

You might think bonuses are best saved for incentive programs and end-of-year rewards. But giving a small financial reward on Employee Appreciation Day is an awesome way to say "thank you" while giving each team member the freedom to choose how they use theirs (something a gift card could never do).

Using employee bonus software makes it easy to disburse these bonuses through payroll and account for them on your taxes, without having to give out cash or cut physical checks.

9. Have everyone take a cooking class together.

This idea is a little more involved, but hear us out.

You can rent space in a commercial kitchen or find a local business that offers cooking classes to groups. Plus, everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor (literally) at the end.

10. Get everyone personalized desk toys.

Everyone on your team has something they love that has nothing to do with work.

  • A sports team
  • A favorite movie
  • A music artist
  • Pets or a certain type of animal
  • Something they don't stop talking about

Whatever it is, we're willing to bet you can find something unique that's related to it on Amazon for sub-$25.

11. Make a scavenger hunt.

Hide eggs with prizes and money all around the office, then watch everyone scramble and have fun searching for them.

For a twist on traditional scavenger hunts, use QR codes or virtual clues that lead to different locations around the office.

12. Have a companywide car wash (from the leadership team).

Okay...maybe you offer commuter benefits. But is "free car wash" one of them?

When your team members pull up to work on Employee Appreciation Day, they'll be enthralled to learn they're going home in a freshened-up ride.

13. Bring the team to a sports game.

This Employee Appreciation Day idea works if you live in a city with a sports team. Get everyone tickets to an upcoming game. Or, ball out and get a box suite.

14. Give everyone a half day.

Letting your team out early to kick off their weekends is a small, thoughtful gesture that will make everyone smile. Plus, a half day here and there is good for their work-life balance.

For team members with big meetings or important deadlines that afternoon, give them the option to take their half-day at a different time.

Inclusive Employee Appreciation Day ideas for remote employees

1. Send hand-written notes.

We can't tell you how much more meaningful a card is when it's written by hand. For your in-office staff members, it's easy to slide

For your in-office team members, it's easy to slide an envelope onto their desks. You'll need to plan a little further ahead for your remote folks, who will want to open and read their cards on Employee Appreciation Day.

In each note, say one personal thing you appreciate about that team member. It could be something they did recently, or just a character trait you admire.

2. Make personal video calls.

If you want to take the personal message a step beyond a hand-written note, call each remote employee personally to thank them and let them know why you appreciate them. Saying it to their (virtual) face makes everything more sincere.

3. Give everyone "pick-your-own" company swag.

Giving your work-from-home employees the ability to rep the company while they're logged in at a coffee shop, headed to the gym, or taking their dog to the dog park makes them feel like they're a part of something bigger.

  • T-shirts
  • Coffee mugs
  • Water bottles
  • Pint glasses
  • Tote bags
  • Anything with utility

Set a budget for each team member, then let them choose the item they want the most.

4. Curate personalized gift baskets.

There are plenty of different sites where you can order customized gift baskets, from food and drink to self-care products. Give each remote employee a basket full of goodies based on their personal preferences or interests.

5. Send them an extra work-from-home bonus.

You may already offer a remote work stipend. And you might be familiar with what to buy with them.

The idea here is a little different. While they might use it to spruce up their home office, let them know they can use this cash reward for anything they like — health and wellness, entertainment, or education — whatever would make them personally happy.

6. Offer professional development opportunities.

Depending on who you ask, anywhere from half to over three-quarters of employees want more opportunities for growth and development at work.

If one of your remote employees has been asking about a conference, training, or certification program, use Employee Appreciation Day as an opportunity to give them the time and resources to pursue it.

7. Order them lunch on the company.

It's hard to feel recognized and celebrated when you're sitting at home by yourself. But it's a little easier if you're sitting at home by yourself eating a free meal your company (that appreciates you) paid for.

Have everyone order their favorite delivery food and expense it back to the company using your expense reimbursement platform.

8. Send a houseplant (or deskplant).

Everyone's home office needs a little greenery. It's calming. It freshens the air. It looks flat-out nice.

Succulents, cacti, snake plants, and air plants are all incredibly easy to keep alive. And pretty much everyone likes them.

9. Write LinkedIn recommendations.

LinkedIn recommendations are the new highly personalized references. They're broadcast to anyone who views that employee's profile, which is great for them.

But also it's an opportunity for you to say something meaningful about that particular team member, which is great for your relationship.

Make sure you mention their impact on your company and team. Include specific projects or accomplishments you think would impress someone viewing their profile.

10. Hold any of your in-office events virtually.

If you have an all-remote team (or employees who work from offices around the country), use video conferencing tools to connect with them and celebrate.

  • Have a virtual happy hour.
  • Play online games together.
  • Host an award show.

Not all Employee Appreciation Day events translate well to a virtual setting, but team bonding activities like games and happy hours are perfect for keeping your team connected and appreciated.

There's more to recognition than Employee Appreciation Day...

While 98% of employees who receive daily recognition feel their employers value them, just 37% of those who are recognized once a year can say the same.

Taking advantage of this annual holiday is a good start when you're forming an appreciation habit within your organization. But you have to recognize employees on a more consistent basis.

Making employee appreciation part of your culture warrants a comprehensive rewards and recognition program with all these things.

And we're here to tell you...you can't do it without software. Compt is the 100% tax-compliant solution you can use to reward and recognize your team members all year long. Learn more here or let us show you how it works.

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