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Turning Gratitude Into Growth: 10 Ideas for Employee Appreciation

With Gratitude Month fast approaching, organizations across the country are already starting to reflect on what they’re most grateful for. And it’s easy to see why—after a tumultuous year of rising geopolitical tensions and socioeconomic unrest, it’s only natural that workforces are looking inward to focus on the positive things around them.

Growing gratitude within your organization has been proven to directly elevate overall wellbeing and company culture—creating healthier, happier employees without spending a dime. In a study by the American Psychological Association, over 90% of employees who feel valued at work also feel way more motivated and engaged, with only 21% planning to look for a new job.

At the end of the day, today’s employees want to feel appreciated and valued for what they do, and gratitude is the catalytic force that can do just that. Demonstrating and expressing sincere gratitude for individual contributions is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to move the needle toward greater engagement and productivity.

How Does Gratitude Impact Employee Wellbeing?

Expressing gratitude plays a critical role in improving workplace wellbeing. Whether it’s expressed between coworkers, managers and direct reports, or members of the C-suite, it’s something anybody can do for one another at any time—and the benefits are felt throughout the entire organization. 

From a physiological standpoint, regular expressions of gratitude can actually improve employees’ responses to stress and burnout. A study from the University of California San Diego's Rady School of Management found that teammates who thanked each other before performing a high-stress task had a better cardiovascular response compared to teams who did not express gratitude, leading to increased concentration and confidence on the job.

In addition to reducing headaches, boosting immune responses, and improving sleep, showing gratitude at work also leads to holistic improvements to employee wellbeing. From greater satisfaction with life and more meaningful social relationships to increased mental strength and self-esteem, creating a culture of employee recognition poses tangible benefits to employee morale, engagement, and productivity.

Appreciation is More Than Just Saying “Thanks”

Showing appreciation for employee accomplishments is an act that comes directly from the heart. And while saying “thank you” is a great starting point, employees feel valued through personalized and humanized expressions of gratitude.

The way in which team members recognize one another should embody the company’s values of respect, gratitude, and support through genuine gestures like:

  • Acknowledging hard work for both big and small tasks
  • Celebrating each employee achievement
  • Offering opportunities for growth

When cultivating a culture of gratitude, it’s also important to encourage employees to appreciate one another’s contributions in addition to leaders recognizing the accomplishments of individual team members. This multifaceted ecosystem of recognition creates a supportive, empathetic web from the ground up to ensure everyone in the organization feels valued.

10 Ideas for Showing Employee Appreciation During Gratitude Month and Beyond

Before we dive into the top ideas for fostering employee recognition in the workplace, it’s important to remember that material tokens of gratitude don’t always match the power of interpersonal expressions. While gifts and bonuses can temporarily improve an employee’s financial and emotional wellbeing, nothing beats a verbal or written act of recognition.

Take, for example, Deloitte Greenhouse Experience group’s survey of more than 16,000 employees’ preferences when it comes to receiving recognition in the workplace. When asked how they prefer to be recognized for day-to-day accomplishments, employees ranked a verbal and written “thank-you” far above group celebrations and physical gifts:


Now that we understand how to create and maintain a strong culture of appreciation, here are our top 10 employee recognition ideas to foster growth and gratitude:

1  Personalized Shoutouts

Employee shoutouts are a classic choice to show appreciation. Whether it’s on an organization-wide chat thread or in a small-group email chain, sending shoutouts to individual staff members who go above and beyond can do wonders for employee morale. Use a personal anecdote if you have one, or if the platform allows, you can try incorporating personalized GIFs from TV shows or movies the employee likes. 

2  Letters and Gift Cards

Sometimes, truly exceptional performance calls for a special reward. One simple yet effective gift idea is the gift card. It’s easy to go with a generic option like a big box store, but finding a place that’s fun or a favorite store or cafe of the honorary employee can truly show how valued they are. Combined with a handwritten letter for a personal touch, these tangible gestures convey genuine thoughtfulness and appreciation.

3  Thank-You Baskets

To truly go above and beyond, you can also put together gift baskets from the company. These could be for a special occasion, such as an employee getting married or becoming a parent, or they can become an annual act of kindness every Employee Appreciation Day or during Gratitude Month. The point is to show employees appreciation with a sampling of hand-picked products, from sweets and snacks to self-care products.

4  Company Merch

Speaking of gift baskets, a great way to show appreciation is with branded merch and gear. From water bottles and stationery to clothes, apparel, and more, these items can be fun rewards to earn, win, or simply enjoy. However, a gift bag full of brand-centric trinkets doesn’t say much on its own. Instead, make it clear that the emphasis isn’t on the company itself by limiting excessive branded items as incentives.

5  Lunch Parties

Pizza parties aren’t just for kids—everyone loves a free meal! When team members knock it out of the park, rewarding them with a lunch out can broaden appreciation to the group level. Not only does it serve as a treat to boost morale, but it can also be an extremely valuable time for communication, team-building, and camaraderie. 

6  Birthday Celebrations

While not everyone views their birthday as an achievement, celebrating them in the office shows employees that they are seen as individuals. Because birthdays aren’t work-related, it also shows employees they are valued beyond their performance. Plus, it’s a perfect opportunity to share some laughs and foster community. 

7  Celebrity Cameo Videos

A fun and personalized idea for honoring an employee is getting their favorite celebrity to show gratitude on behalf of the company. With personalized videos from platforms like Cameo, you can have almost any actor, athlete, musician, or comedian make a guest appearance in the next meeting via a pre-recorded video to brighten up the employee’s day. Alternatively, you can aso collaborate with other team members to create a personalized tribute video of your own.

8  Team Games

Whether it’s a group game night or an activity like an escape group, hosting events is a great way to celebrate accomplishments while incorporating a bit of fun and team-building at the same time. Friendly competitions and collaborative activities are a great way to foster unity in an informal setting.

9  Help Employees Grow

There’s no better way to thank an employee than to set them up for success in their own life. Professional development programs are a must, but they shouldn’t be used as a reward. Instead, employers can recognize hard work by working with each staff member on an individual level to understand their passions and goals and help achieve them.

10  Implement a Recognition Program

Of course, all these ideas can be done on a case-by-case basis, but designing an official employee recognition program is a crucial part of instilling gratitude in company culture. One of the best ways to do that is with a comprehensive workplace wellness platform that features peer-to-peer recognition, points-based gifting, and rewards for employee achievements.

Show Your Appreciation With a Personalized Wellbeing Program

At WellRight, our employee wellness program has helped transform countless workplaces, building vibrant, supportive cultures that value gratitude and recognition. Traditionally, companies used vast, complex spreadsheets to track all of this information, but our robust platform simplifies all this to deliver wellness programs that truly work.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to discover how employers are showing their appreciation for wellbeing done right.


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