Every workplace interprets employee appreciation differently. Some hang “Employee of the Month” plaques on the wall. Others celebrate staffers with gift cards or send high achievers on paid trips. Taking time to show appreciation can lead to big benefits, from improved productivity and enhanced engagement to reduced turnover and a strong company culture.

However, despite these payoffs, studies show that many companies aren’t praising their team members nearly enough. A Gallup/Workhuman study from earlier this year found that recognition isn’t a major priority at 81% of companies and that two in three leaders say their company has no budget for recognition programs.

When companies don’t prioritize appreciation—or express it at all—it shows. A OnePoll survey from Bonusly, an employee recognition and rewards program, reveals that two-thirds of staff members say they feel unappreciated at work on a daily basis. More than half (59%) say they have never had a boss who truly appreciates their work.

This lack of love can be disheartening and demotivating, and eventually it can drive workers away. People are hardwired to not only want acceptance, but also appreciation. They want to know they’re making a meaningful difference and that they’re valued and important. This matters so much, in fact, that one in three workers say they would give up a week’s worth of pay for more recognition from their boss, according to the Bonusly survey.

Fortunately, organizations can profess their appreciation in all kinds of creative ways. For example, global management consulting firm McKinsey hosts an annual “thank-a-thon,” where employees publicly thank each other for their hard work. The gifting company &Open encourages its employees to send each other taco emojis via Slack. The staffers with the most tacos at the end of the month get a lunch voucher. And at O.C. Tanner, a software company, employees’ family members are invited to Zoom meetings to celebrate workers’ accomplishments.

Whether companies recognize staffers with taco shout-outs or other forms of appreciation like logoed merchandise, salary bumps or more flexible work arrangements, this gratitude often helps them keep their top talent. More than half of employees (53%) who responded to a Glassdoor survey say they would stay longer at a company longer if they felt appreciated.

This retention is more important than ever, considering that the Great Resignation is upon us. On TikTok, the hashtag #quittingmyjob has more than 137 million views. Two out of every five workers who changed jobs over the last year are looking for work again, according to survey results from Grant Thornton, a consulting firm. One of the biggest reasons for their discontent? A lack of appreciation. Nearly half of American workers (46%) have left their job because they feel unappreciated.

A steady paycheck and an occasional “thank you” isn’t enough to keep workers happy. To create productive workplaces with engaged staffers, employers must be authentic and consistent in recognizing their team members. Promotional products can help companies celebrate and thank their most valuable assets—their employees.

Market Snapshot

Gamification is a trend worth exploring when it comes to employee appreciation. Essentially, it’s using game-like elements, such as rewards, point scoring and competitive platforms to create a little friendly competition with the winners scoring prizes. Globally, the gamification market is valued at nearly $12 billion and is projected to grow almost 13% by 2025.

Gamification is especially helpful to engage employees and boost morale with dispersed teams since workers can participate without ever stepping foot in the office. One survey from TalentLMS found that 89% of employees felt gamification made them feel more productive at work and 88% said it made them happier at work. Promotional products can add to the fun, whether companies use gamification to let employees earn badges, score rewards or celebrate milestones.

Generational Differences
While employees of all ages benefit from sincere and specific appreciation, younger workers crave it the most. Nearly 40% of Gen Z employees want to be recognized by their boss at least a few times a week, but only about a quarter receive recognition at this frequency. About 25% of Millennials, 17% of Gen Xers and 16% of Baby Boomers want to receive recognition a few times a week or more.
Source: Gallup

Well Done
Employees say they most want recognition from:

  • Their immediate boss
  • Their customers or clients
  • Their directors or executive leaders
  • Their immediate colleagues
  • Co-workers in other departments

Source: Quantum Workplace

Recognition Pays Off
Large organizations (those with 10,000 or more employees) can save more than $16 million annually in turnover costs simply by making recognition part of their culture.
Source: Gallup

A Shot Of Productivity
Showing employees appreciation doesn’t require a big budget, but it can lead to tremendous payoffs. Consider these stats:

  • Thoughtful recognition programs create an average of an 11% boost in employee performance.
  • Employee productivity and engagement is 14% higher at companies with recognition programs than at those without.
  • If organizations double the number of staffers they recognize every week, they can see a 24% improvement in work quality, 27% reduction in absenteeism and a 10% reduction in staff shrinkage.

Sources: Gartner, Gallup and Deloitte

Cheers From Peers
The best employee-recognition programs include opportunities for colleagues to recognize each other. Peer-to-peer recognition is 36% more likely to have a positive impact than manager-only recognition
Source: Society for Human Resource Management

Budgeting For Appreciation Programs
Annually, businesses spend about $3.25 billion on merchandise for employees. They budget an average of 2% of payroll for employee appreciation programs, but this number can vary from 1-10%.
Source: Zippia

Feeling Good
When you say a kind word or thank someone for their work, research shows that it sparks oxytocin in the other person. As a result, they feel happy and confident about their contributions. Want to boost morale? Show some appreciation. You can make those positive feelings last with promotional products.

Thanks, Boss!
Managers are the least likely to receive recognition for their efforts. They give recognition three times as much as they receive it from their own bosses, according to Gallup. Senior leaders and business owners can turn to promotional products to thank leaders at all levels within their organizations.

It’s The Little Things
So, you don’t have the budget to send your team on an all-expenses-paid vacation? That’s OK. Nearly half of employees (46%) say simple surprises like a lunch or thank-you note from their boss make them feel appreciated, according to Zippia. About one in four workers say they would also feel appreciated if their company hosted an event like a holiday party or cocktail hour.

Save The Date: National Employee Appreciation Day
National Employee Appreciation Day falls on the first Friday in March every year. In 2023, the commemoration happens on March 3. Employers can use the day to thank employees for all the contributions with luncheons, awards ceremonies and logoed merchandise.


Whether employees are celebrating one year, 50 years or any milestone in between, organizations can commemorate their anniversary with the Stock Service Pin. A customized message card adds a special touch.
GEMPIRE / Floral Promotions / PPAI 113471, S5 / www.gempire.com

Featuring a frosted, elongated shape and four slices to reveal the inner design, the Vivacity Art Glass Award makes a statement at any recognition ceremony. Each art glass item is hand-made and includes a gold or silver color blast.
Moderne Glass Co., Inc. / PPAI 112536, S10 / www.glassamerica.com

Raise a toast to retiring employees or celebrate new employees’ achievements with an Etched Bottle of Chardonnay. Each bottle is handcrafted in California and features a custom-etched logo or personalized text. Add an optional color fill for an extra wow factor.
A+ Wine Designs / PPAI 173549, S4 / www.apluswinedesigns.com

Crank up the employee appreciation with the Powerjam Kit, which includes a power bank and a wireless speaker. The Boxanne speaker features a looping strap that makes it easy to attach to any bag or bike. Dual-sided, full-color printing lets companies amplify their message.
HPG / PPAI 110772, S11 / www.hpgbrands.com

Show employees they’re real go-getters with the Go Getter Kit. This gift set includes a stainless-steel bottle, ballpoint pen and genuine leather journal tucked inside a two-piece gift box.
Spector & Co. / PPAI 168328, S10 / www.spectorandco.com

Say thanks on an employment anniversary with the Urban Adventure Kit, which includes a portable charger, foldable phone stand and a charging cable. It’s all packed inside a zippered travel case. There’s room on each item for a company logo and an option to add a custom-etched patch to the top of the case.
Powerstick.com / PPAI 383252, S8 / www.powerstick.com

Celebrate a promotion or sales victory with the Blue Dial Chronograph Watch. This Swiss-made timepiece features a stainless-steel case, luminous hands and a day/date calendar. It’s also water-resistant up to 330 feet. Laser-engrave a congratulations or thank-you message on the case back.
Victorinox Swiss Army, Inc. / PPAI 113873, S8 / www.vsacorporate.com

Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth-based writer and former associate editor at PPAI.