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The happiest, most loyal, and engaged employees all share one thing: They feel appreciated at work. But what benefits do employees value most? Competitive pay and good benefits are certainly sought after, but, according to Gallup research, being personally recognized by your manager for your hard work can outweigh salary increases in terms of the effect on employee engagement.  

Of course, being recognized by your manager  isn’t just about promotions or awards. Instead, it’s about capitalizing on everyday opportunities to remind someone of a job well done. “It’s almost impossible to over-appreciate your employees,” says Jodi Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, which offers etiquette training and webinars. Here, employees reveal the gifts and moments of appreciation that left a lasting impression. 

Luxurious day off 

Without question, employees want extra time off more so than any other perk. Couple that with a meaningful gift to enjoy on your day off, and you’ve got a winner. For Kathleen Carter, who runs a book communications company, the most memorable thing her employer gave her was a generous spa gift card with permission to take a day off to use it. “As someone who rarely treats herself in this way or takes days off, it was exactly what I needed to feel refreshed and relaxed,” says Kathleen. Encouraging your employees to unplug and enjoy their free time also hits the mark. “My favorite was an at-home movie night basket that was filled with a bottle of wine, a bag of popcorn, some candy, and a throw blanket,” says Karen Gordon, VP of Growth at Goodshuffle Pro, an even and party software rental company. “It was their way of telling me to slow down and take care of myself and my relationships.”  

Gifts that do the trick: Spa Basket, Movie Night Kit, Family Mega Blanket and Game Set 

Photo of Will Ward

When employers take the extra step to make their employees’ lives better at home, it is such a refreshing feeling.

Will Ward


Translation Equipment HQ

A fun outing 

Escape room keys

Employees love fun team events like dinner and shows, escape rooms, and boat cruises that create bonding opportunities. When sales executive Amy Hayes was pregnant, her boss threw her a surprise brunch at a cute restaurant. “It was so special and showed me that she was in tune with my life,” says Amy. When your team is dispersed, and you’re managing a remote workforce, think about ways to re-create these experiences virtually. “My employer invited us for a virtual cocktail making workshop and had dinner delivered to each employee’s house,” says Dorota Lysienia of LiveCareer, a professional resume service. “It was such a fun time with my colleagues and so needed after months of limited social interactions.” 

Gifts that do the trickAlice’s Table, Cheese & Wine Spread, Picnic Basket  

Something useful 

A gift that may initially be perceived as generic can be magical when given in spirit to help improve someone’s life. Consideration and thoughtfulness topped the list of adjectives from employees who received items that helped make their workspace more comfortable and pleasant. “When employers take the extra step to make their employees’ lives better at home, it is such a refreshing feeling,” says Will Ward, CEO of Translation Equipment HQ, a translation equipment retailer. An aromatic candle he received from a boss was his most memorable gift. “I didn’t really feel much for it at first, but the aroma was super calming, and it brought a positive change in my life. Later I learned that it was intentional to help employees relieve stress at home.”  Likewise, for Stanley Tate, owner and founder of Tate Law, a thermos flask has remained on his top list. “I know it’s not a very cutting edge gift, but it’s super useful for those who like to keep their beverages hot throughout the day.”  

Gifts that do the trick: Aromatherapy Gift Set, Hug in a Mug Gift Set, Desktop plant 

Blocks of employee benefits

Surprise splurge team gift 

When you want to show your appreciation for your team, whether they’ve just completed a big project or know that they’re going through a challenging time, surprising them with a “just because” gift can boost team morale. Even better, try to figure out what is most meaningful to your employees and, when possible, offer them a choice of a gift. “It’s fun to be able to pick out what you want,” says HR executive Katie Brown, whose company let them select an item from Patagonia. From vouchers for “Food Truck Friday” to gift cards, employees like to feel part of the process. You can also customize your gift-giving by asking the question: “What makes you feel appreciated?” That’s what marketing head Mark Hayes does. He listens to his employees’ answers and creates a “gift-giving strategy” that satisfies the things that his team most values.  

Gifts that do the trick: One of a kind bouquet gift card, Choose Your Own Coffee, SmartGift 

Photo of Petra Odak

One of the best things I received this year from our CEO was recognition.

Petra Odak

Petra Odak

Better Proposals

In the end, a genuine note with a bouquet of flowers can go a long way. “As an employee, one of the best things I received this year from our CEO was recognition,” says Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals, a platform to design and send business proposals. “He made sure to publicly acknowledge the work that I do, reflecting on very specific results and improvements I made — it was a huge boost in self-confidence for me.” 

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With more than 20 years experience in the media world, Kathleen Harris has been an editor, writer, and content strategist for media companies, premier brands, and startups alike. Her specialties include business and career insight, leadership advice, and lifestyle trends. Her track record includes working as the Editor of RealSimple.com and Deputy Editor at The Knot. She has written for Huffington Post, Washington Post, Pop Sugar, Real Simple, and more. She was trained as a journalist at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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