Employee Appreciation Day is an amazing opportunity to recognize your people’s positive impact on your company and celebrate their work and contributions.

Smart and empathetic business leaders consistently practice employee appreciation. The people who power your workplace and drive your company’s values, mission, and vision deserve a day dedicated to their unique contributions.

Taking the time to recognize your people, not just on Employee Appreciation Day but throughout the year, can help to promote a happier, more productive workplace.

In this article, we’ll cover the following:

Why celebrate Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day is an annual event that falls on the first Friday of March every year. Celebrating this day is a great way to show that you care, boost employee engagement, and create a rich culture of gratitude.

“A sense of appreciation is the single most sustainable motivator at work. Extrinsic motivators can stop having much meaning — your bonus gets spent, and your new title doesn’t sound so important once you have it. But the sense that other people appreciate what you do sticks with you,” explains Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist.

Showing appreciation for employees is important for morale. And it’s a top driver of engagement, with the power to increase productivity, improve retention, and strengthen culture. When people work in a happier and more cooperative environment, they are more engaged.

In 2022, 8 in 10 people were working remotely. No matter the work setting, it’s essential to be inclusive of all of your people and send a strong message of appreciation and gratitude. This includes all employees — whether they are working remotely, in-office, or a hybrid of the two.

The benefits of gratitude

Happier, healthier people

Gratitude is a positive emotion felt after receiving something of value. And science has shown that people who are grateful feel happier. The benefits of gratitude include:

  • An improved sense of well-being
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Less depression and anxiety

Boost employee engagement

Modern workplaces are seeing declines in employee engagement. Research shows only 32% of the U.S. workforce is consistently engaged with their work. Disengagement leads to turnover: among actively disengaged workers in 2021, 74% sought new employment. With higher employee engagement comes lower turnover and increased personal investment in a company’s mission and vision.

Improve productivity

A Glassdoor survey found that 81% of employees are willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. And research has even found that employees who practice gratitude take fewer sick days. Organizations prioritizing employee recognition create more positive and productive work environments while positively impacting business outcomes.

Strengthen connections

Employee Appreciation Day offers an opportunity to strengthen connections on your teams. When leaders connect with their people personally, employee engagement improves. People who feel strongly connected to their direct managers are more proactive and prosocial. Appreciation from a peer-to-peer place is equally, if not at times, even more impactful.

Employee Appreciation Day offers an opportunity to strengthen connections on your teams.

Increase collaboration

Expressions of gratitude have a radiant effect: individuals become more trusting and willing to help each other out. Because gratitude is a complex social emotion, it draws people together to pursue a shared vision. Gratitude enhances one’s sense of social worth. And feeling valued by others makes people more helpful, supportive, and collaborative.

Built-in resilience

A culture of gratitude helps people prepare for the stress that accompanies conflict, change, and failure. Gratitude as a regular practice “builds up a sort of psychological immune system,” writes psychologist Robert Emmons. “There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”

Bridge the gratitude gap

Even with its compelling benefits, expressing gratitude at work can be challenging. Most of us spend more time with our co-workers than our families and friends, yet we are less likely to share our appreciation with them in kind. This muted expression of thanks in the workplace is called the gratitude gap.

When people don’t feel psychologically safe at work, they can’t ask for help. Thanking someone means admitting you can’t do it alone while celebrating others’ individual or team achievements. Yet when your people can express gratitude freely without fear of criticism for needing help, it creates a supportive, healthy culture of collaboration.

Practice gratitude to set an authentic example

Organizations boost employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty when leaders express more gratitude at work. Skipping gratitude makes it difficult for leaders to create a shared vision and retain talent.

Simple, manageable efforts toward mindfulness and gratitude pay off.

Whether your team leaders are gratitude all-stars or spearhead Employee Appreciation Day for the first time, it can be helpful to get (back) in the habit of practicing appreciation. Simple, manageable efforts toward mindfulness and gratitude pay off.

Make time for reflection

Simply reflecting on things you’re grateful for can boost levels of gratitude. Start with supportive colleagues, opportunities or advantages you’ve had, and even just gratitude for your work. Leaders have an opportunity to promote a culture of gratitude by building it into cultural spaces. For example, creating an employee challenge to write down something they’re personally grateful for.

By doing this every morning, an employee’s day starts on a positive note — alternatively, reflecting at the end of the day with the events fresh on their minds. By the end of each week, employees can look back at these big and small reminders of the goodness in their days. Sharing thanks with fellow workmates maintains the spread of gratitude while emphasizing it galvanizingly throughout a company culture.

10 proven Employee Appreciation Day ideas

Build an employee experience that suits your team and resources by combining complementary ideas from the list below. And be sure to roll out practices you can continue year-round. Or make popular activities into an annual tradition.

Here are 10 proven ideas for celebrating Employee Appreciation Day that will boost workplace happiness for your people — wherever they work:

1. Have your leadership team express their gratitude

Whether they’re spoken expressions of appreciation or written notes — words matter. Take inventory and extend appreciation to the people who help the team in all ways, big and small.

2. Thank the people who seldom get thanked

Say thank you to someone behind the scenes — show them their work is valued. This may extend beyond your own team to people you encounter informally during your workday. Making a point of explicitly acknowledging efforts can be a deeply meaningful moment for the recipient of your gratitude. Thoughtfulness has an impact, and small acts of gratitude have a ripple effect.

3. Offer personalized employee benefits with an LSA

Learn about your people and give super personalized recognition powered by a Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA). An LSA is a fantastic way to demonstrate to your people that you value and appreciate them as individuals.

Find out more: What is a Lifestyle Spending Account?

4. Roll out or revamp your employee recognition program

This is a powerful way to recognize employees. Rewards can include bonuses, additional paid time off, and employee-selected gifts. Espresa’s employee rewards and recognition program drives more fulfilled, happy, and engaged workplace cultures.

5. Plan a team-building activity

Connect team members in remote work environments to feel more aligned with one another and the company. Activities can range from casual gatherings to more structured activities that foster collaboration and fun.

6. Support mental health and well-being

Offer mental health breaks throughout the day and mental health PTO. Mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation, or even taking a few minutes to breathe and stretch can make all the difference for your employees’ well-being. This can easily be coordinated for distributed teams. Pair with a thoughtful gift centered on self-care to supercharge the experience!

7. Announce a surprise day off

The whole team can spend it together connecting and doing something unrelated to your work (see #8), or each person can choose to spend a day however they’d like. The goal is an intentional respite from all work activities.

8. Spend time together as a team

Sponsor an outing, organize an employee volunteer program, cook or get creative together, and treat your people to a meal. An experiential gift involving time as a team can have incredible positive outcomes for morale and engagement.

9. Keep a collaborative gratitude journal

Peer-to-peer recognition, kudos, and leaderboards enable your people to celebrate one another with gestures of gratitude. Consider starting this as a daily practice of everyone sharing something they are thankful for on a culture-based employee engagement platform. This is especially powerful for distributed teams. However you approach the collaborative effort, it’s an added gift to hear about the boundless things for which people are grateful.

10. Write an open thank you to your team

It can be an absolutely beautiful appreciation piece celebrating the many helping hands around you. You may share more authentically than you would in a different medium, and your team will feel incredibly honored for your expression.

Read also: 21 Creative Employee Recognition Ideas

How to create a culture of gratitude in the workplace

Start at the top

The most important takeaway from workplace gratitude research: employees need to hear thank you from the boss first. It’s up to the people with the power to clearly, consistently, and authentically express thanks in public and one-on-one settings.

Focus on people, not performance

Focus on social worth and think about how people make an impact. Give thanks for their flexibility, collaboration, energy, positivity, and loyalty— not just for spreadsheet-driven achievements and KPIs.

Empathetic and appreciative leaders think more deeply about all employees’ unique needs and talents.

Personalize your appreciation

Practicing gratitude on your team means tailoring your thanks to each individual. Appreciation has the greatest impact when it demonstrates a thoughtful approach.

Empathetic and appreciative leaders think more deeply about all employees’ unique needs and talents.

Be specific in your gratitude

When expressing appreciation: give context, identify the specific behavior, and describe how it impacts you. Saying “Thanks for being so awesome!” doesn’t have the same impact as, “Thank you for taking the time to help me yesterday. I got so much more out of the project.” Also, anchor these to your company mission and vision.

Be authentic

In order for your expressions of appreciation to be effective, you have to actually feel grateful. Forced gratitude makes gestures feel inauthentic. Look for opportunities for voluntary, spontaneous expressions of gratitude. In this space, peer-to-peer recognition offers the big culture win.

Your competitive advantage is your people. Celebrate the good frequently!

Expressing appreciation for your people doesn’t have to be complicated. Dedicating a day to celebrate the people who support your mission, vision, and values shows them how much they mean to you.

Employees want to feel valued for their hard work. Being recognized and rewarded validates their contributions. People like to know that they made an impact, that their efforts were meaningful, and that you noticed. Tell them! With these creative ideas, celebrating Employee Appreciation Day will be fun and rewarding for everyone.

Happy people make more successful companies. A Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) from Espresa demonstrates that you understand your employees and what they want and need in their lives. Engage your people wherever they are with Espresa. Reach out to our team for a free demo!

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