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8 Cost-Effective Ways to Make Your Team Feel Appreciated This Season

'Tis the season for recognizing your employees' hard work. Team recognition programs have a wide variety of benefits—and no, they don't need to break the bank.

“Take a moment to craft individual handwritten notes for each team member, expressing sincere appreciation for their unique contributions and accomplishments,” suggests Alicia Jenelle, director of experiential event production at The Jenelle Group Inc. “In a digital era, sending a handwritten message along with a gift card via mail to their home can have a significant impact.'
“Take a moment to craft individual handwritten notes for each team member, expressing sincere appreciation for their unique contributions and accomplishments,” suggests Alicia Jenelle, director of experiential event production at The Jenelle Group Inc. “In a digital era, sending a handwritten message along with a gift card via mail to their home can have a significant impact."
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

In 2022, Workhuman and Gallup partnered to ask thousands of employees across the U.S., U.K., and Ireland what recognition means to them. The result was a comprehensive report on the power of recognition to transform the workplace.

“Organizations are facing a monumental moment of transition in the world of work,” notes the report, adding that on average, just 1 in 4 employees feel strongly connected to the culture at their companies. “To build the right workforce for the future and leverage its capabilities, leaders must take a human-centered approach to building their employee experience and employer brand. It starts by demonstrating to employees they are valued by recognizing their contributions."

The report also found that an alarming 81% of leaders say employee recognition is not a major strategic priority of their organization—but on the flip side, creating a culture of recognition can save a 10,000-employee company up to $16.1 million in turnover costs annually. Employees who feel appreciated are 73% less likely to feel burned out, 56% less likely to be looking for other job opportunities, and five times as likely to see a path to growth at their organization.

With stats like that, finding ways to appreciate your team feels like a no-brainer, right? So why do so many leaders neglect to recognize their teams in personalized, meaningful ways? For many, the issue may come down to time and money—but simple, thoughtful gestures can often hold just as much value as expensive gifts. The key is understanding what resonates with your individual team and making efforts to acknowledge their hard work and dedication.

To help, we asked event professionals to share some of the simple—and cost-effective—ways they’re celebrating their teams this holiday season.

1. Flexible Scheduling
Allowing flexible work hours or extra time off during the holidays can be a significant relief for team members juggling personal and professional commitments.

“We do our best to ensure our employees have the time and space to be more present (no pun intended) around the holidays,” notes Margo Dunnigan, COO of speakers bureau All American Entertainment. “To give our people more flexibility, we build half workdays into our schedule during the week of Christmas and New Year’s Day, and make coming into the office optional during this time. Each year, photos start popping up on our company Slack of our employees and their families making the most of the holidays, and we get to see firsthand how much of a difference this makes.”

Lauren Merge, managing director of event agency Hit Play, agrees. “More than anything, the team needs time to fully check out and recover from the busy fall season,” she points out. “We show our appreciation with ample time off to decompress and enjoy time away.”

2. Team Bonding Events
The team at pc/nametag likes to incorporate fun activities and gatherings throughout the year to improve team camaraderie and show employees they care. Some of their go-tos include in-office hot cocoa or ice cream sundae bars, food truck visits to the office, craft days, or team scavenger hunts around the city.

It can also be a chance for some friendly competition. “Host a ‘soup day’ or chili cook-off,” suggests Meaghan Maybee, pc/nametag’s marketing communications specialist. “Our employees always look forward to sampling everyone’s creations and voting on which one should take the grand prize. You can even have a fun trophy that the winner gets to keep on their desk until the next cook-off rolls around!”

If you’re opting for a more formal holiday party, hosting it in January can be a less expensive option—that also might be a less stressful alternative for team members who are busy with holiday events. 

“Since some of our team doesn’t celebrate the holidays, we changed our year-end holiday dinner to an employee appreciation dinner. We do it in mid-January, when everybody has had a moment to come up for air and relax a bit after the madness of our holiday catering rush,” explains Robin Selden, managing partner and executive chef at Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning. “We go to a nice restaurant, and all of our leadership team creates some kind of fun superlatives where they get to talk about each of our employees individually to celebrate them.”

3. Small Tokens of Appreciation
Selden notes that at the year-end dinner, employees are also given custom gifts with the company logo. These types of small gifts—like company merchandise, plants, or gift cards—can be a pleasant surprise for team members. One fun example? “We had a couple years where we were producing events inside major arenas and stadiums, putting a lot of mileage on our feet, and we sent our team and clients foot baths and salts,” remembers Jordan Kaye, founder and CEO of Analog Events & Marketing.

Small, inexpensive gifts can also be a way to commemorate the team’s hard work. “One of my favorite traditions was getting postcards in whatever city I hosted an event in and writing thank-you notes to my team on those postcards,” says MK Granados, co-founder and head of marketing at tech company Gen City Labs. “At the end of the year, they'd have a collection of a bunch of cities they had worked in that year.” 

The pc/nametag team takes it a step further by surprising employees with custom gift boxes. “In the past, we’ve assembled boxes filled with company-branded swag, treats, and refreshments to enjoy,” explains Maybee. “Consider creating an ‘activity in a box’ if your team works remotely. Include a bingo card, trivia card, or other activity everyone can log on and participate in virtually.”

4. Larger Gifts Based on Longevity
Of course, it can be worth spending a bit of extra money to recognize employees who have been with the company longer. Selden’s team, for example, offers awards for years of service: “So, essentially, if you’ve been with us for three years, you get something like a T-shirt that says ‘three cheers.’ If you’ve been with us for five years, you get a hoodie that says ‘high five,’ and if you’ve been with us for 10 years, you get a cool jacket that says ‘top 10,’” she says, adding that those who’ve reached 10 years often also get something more expensive like a watch or a Tiffany necklace. 

5. Customized Experiences
Gifting unique experiences based on team members’ interests shows a high level of personalization and care. “One year, we worked on a big sponsorship partnership so we gave the entire team tickets to that event,” remembers Amanda Ma, founder and CEO of Innovate Marketing Group. “The team loved it. And they get to experience the event too—even better!”

Samantha Rosen, senior event manager at Redstone Agency, fondly remembers a gift she received from her manager, Shayna Asgill. “[She] sent me a gift card to take my son to [Toronto's] Rec Room—his favorite spot—upon my return from an eight-day conference out of the country! Super simple, but beyond thoughtful because what I needed after a long time away from my family was an easy way to spend time together. Knowing your team personally is the key to making them feel appreciated and cared for.”

6. Handwritten Thank-You Notes
Don’t send the same canned thank-you email to everyone on the team. Employees know when gratitude is authentic—and one way to ensure the token feels personalized and genuine is by handwriting thank-you notes that call out specific contributions.

“Take a moment to craft individual handwritten notes for each team member, expressing sincere appreciation for their unique contributions and accomplishments,” suggests Alicia Jenelle, director of experiential event production at The Jenelle Group Inc. “In a digital era, sending a handwritten message along with a gift card via mail to their home can have a significant impact.”

7. Public Recognition
Acknowledging team achievements in meetings or through internal newsletters can significantly boost morale. Maybee’s suggestion? “Create a ‘Cheers for Peers’ recognition channel in Microsoft Teams or Slack. Here, employees can give informal shout-outs and highlight each other's accomplishments. Not only is this idea completely free, but it also spreads positivity and helps team members feel valued.” 

8. Health and Wellness Initiatives
Setting aside time for health and wellness initiatives—including mental health days—can showcase leadership’s care for employees' well-being. “Plan a workplace wellness day, incorporating activities such as yoga, meditation, or brief massages,” says Jenelle. “This initiative not only prioritizes the team's well-being but also communicates your genuine care for their health.”

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