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Person on laptop celebrating Employee Appreciation Day
Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

In the United States, the first Friday of every March is Employee Appreciation Day.

The tradition of recognizing employees on this day was started in 1994 by Dr. Bob Nelson, who, according to Business Insider, co-founded Employee Appreciation Day with the publication of his book, “1001 Ways to Reward Employees.” In a 2015 article with Business Insider, he admitted that the concept of the day is a bit “silly,” adding that he knows ongoing employee recognition is important.

“I’m a big advocate of using recognition on a daily basis ... But I did want to have one day where we could call attention to the topic and have conversations about its importance,” he tells Business Insider. He also acknowledges how the times have changed, saying, “A lot of employees today — particularly the younger generation — expect to be recognized regularly. It’s not because they want to be pumped up or because they have a frail ego, it’s because they’re smart enough to realize that in the fast-moving and dynamic times, we’re in today, you have to have a steady stream of feedback.”

With Dr. Bob’s words in mind, here are eight ways to meaningfully celebrate employee appreciation day based on research from Paul White and Gary Chapman on the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace:

  1. Quality time
  2. Words of affirmation
  3. Acts of service
  4. Tangible gifts

Quality time

Paul White explains that quality time falls into two categories: individual and collegial. Individual quality time is generally focused on a one-on-one meeting type of interaction. Collegial quality time is more about doing activities with colleagues.

Here are two ideas for showing employee appreciation through quality time:

  1. Take your employees to a one-on-one lunch. Do this during the week leading to employee appreciation day. If your team member is working remotely, have a virtual lunch together. Allow them to expense their food, and focus on having a casual chat and getting to know your team member outside of work.
  2. Host an event for employees. Play a game, hire an astrologer to read your team's astrological profile, or have a cheese-tasting together! There are so many ways to create quality time as a team – see our list of 50 games to play at work and 25 remote-friendly team-building activities for ideas.
  3. Volunteer together. Research has shown that 70% of working Americans believe that volunteering together goes further in boosting morale than a company-sponsored happy hour.

Words of affirmation

According to Paul White, this is the most popular language of employee appreciation. It’s also the easiest to trivialize with generic statements like “Good job” or “Well done.” Our guide to employee feedback examples provides clear direction on how to give effective ongoing feedback.

On Employee Appreciation Day, try these ideas:

  1. Write letters of appreciation. You can send these to your direct reports, team members, colleagues, or anyone you work with who has made a difference. Make your message personal, individualized, and specific.
  2. Take time out of your team meeting to provide words of affirmation. Let your team know ahead of time that you will ask everyone to provide appreciation to someone else on the team so they are prepared. Public appreciation is a great way for your team to learn something new about each other.

Acts of service

“It is always critical to ask first when considering helping a colleague. If you dive in to help on a task when the coworker does not want help, it can create tension rather than encouragement,” says Paul White. With this in mind, think of building up acts of service for future use on Employee Appreciation Day.

  1. Offer to help a colleague or team member with a task they’ve been working on recently. Find a part of the project you can help move forward, and ask if they’d like you to take it on.
  2. Buy your peer a meal or buy them a cup of coffee (or their favorite beverage). This is especially meaningful if you notice someone working late during the week of Employee Appreciation Day.

Tangible gifts

According to Paul, “Only 6% of employees identify tangible gifts as their primary language of appreciation.”

When employees at Culture Amp took the Motivation by Appreciation assessment, we were split between quality time and words of affirmation, with a few acts of service and not a single mention of tangible gifts. However, this doesn’t mean that people don’t enjoy gifts. They just don’t want it to be the only way they’re appreciated at work.

Try these meaningful gifts on Employee Appreciation Day.

  1. Create curated gift bags. Create a fun bag with goodies like company swag, snacks, gift cards, and more. Make it extra special by personalizing the gift.
  2. Give a gift with intention. Does your direct report or team member like sports? If so, a game ticket is great. If not, it won’t feel like much of a gift. Find out what gift makes sense by understanding your coworker. Ask people closest to them at work, and you might find out more about them in the process.
  3. Give employees time off of work. If you’re able, providing a half day, or additional vacation day is a great gift almost any employee will enjoy. Just ensure that your employee can unplug and relax when the time comes.

Why you should foster a culture of employee appreciation year-round

“While formal recognition is important for an organization, appreciation is more accessible on a daily basis because it can be given to anyone, from anyone, and at any time. Showing appreciation to employees on their worst day is just as important as providing recognition on their best,” says Josh Berman, Customer Success Coach at Culture Amp.

Josh ran an internal workshop focused on fostering a culture of employee appreciation because of its impact on employee engagement. Incorporating appreciation and recognition into your company culture year-round has positive effects you can see and measure.

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