Topic: Employee Experience


Essential Guide to Employee Gifting and Celebrations

Insights from

Updated on 

March 8, 2024






Employee appreciation is recognizing and honoring the achievements of your people. There are many ways you can recognize your employees for their accomplishments and milestones. However, the most important thing is that you do it, and do it in a way that takes your company’s culture — and the needs and preferences of the individuals being recognized — into account.

Only 1 in 3 workers strongly agree that they received recognition for doing good work in the past seven days.

According to Gallup, “only 1 in 3 workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days.” Meanwhile, O.C. Tanner research reveals that when companies give formal recognition, employees feel 355% more appreciated. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel like their hard work is being ignored or doesn’t make a difference.

Employees feel 355% more appreciated when companies give formal recognition.

Why is it important to celebrate employees?

Celebrations help give meaning to significant moments in life, mark milestone achievements, and help us connect with friends, family, or coworkers. Anniversaries, birthdays, career milestones, and holidays are all times to make an effort to celebrate and let your employees know you truly care about them and appreciate the time and effort they devote to your company. According to SHRM, 68% of HR professionals said that employee recognition has a positive impact on retention and 56% said these programs also help with recruitment.  

Handwritten notes celebrating company achievements


It’s important to celebrate employees’ individual accomplishments and milestones as well as team and company successes and achievements — such as your company’s “birthday.” Here are just a few occasions you can celebrate:

  • Company milestones and anniversaries
  • Employee accomplishments and achievements
  • Employee anniversaries
  • New product launches
  • Meeting sales goals or other financial metrics reached
  • New clients won
  • Team successes

Having appreciation events is a terrific way to boost morale or make an employee’s day by sharing how much you appreciate their contributions. And the long-term advantages are considerable for any company culture. The best way to achieve these benefits is with a formal employee recognition program. You can find more details about building a recognition program in our Complete Guide to Building Successful Employee Recognition Programs.

If you find yourself resorting to the same few ways of celebrating year after year, we have some ideas to help keep your employee celebrations fresh and varied.

Men and women celebrating in an office


When should you celebrate employees?

Frequent appreciation can improve employee morale and motivation, increase employee retention, and improve job satisfaction. According to SurveyMonkey, 63% of people who are “always” or “usually” recognized at work consider themselves “very unlikely” to seek a new job in the next three months, while only 11% of those who are “never” or “rarely” recognized feel the same way.

Companies that have an effective and integrated recognition program like O.C Tanner’s Culture Cloud are more likely to have highly engaged employees and have increased revenue over the preceding year. Regular recognition can be anything as simple as a handwritten note, a team celebration, or a gift card to that employee’s favorite store.

Some times to celebrate employees include:

  • Birthdays — a card, a small gift, a birthday lunch, or having your team sing happy birthday are all ways to make employees feel special on their birthday
  • Work anniversaries — you should always do something special for employees’ work anniversaries, especially if it’s a milestone year, like their 5th, 10th, or 15th anniversary
  • Employee Appreciation Day — don’t forget this important holiday, which falls on the first Friday of March every year
  • Holidays — Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas are all fun days to do something special, but don’t forget “sillier holidays” like National Bagel Day (Jan. 15), Pi Day (March 14), or Star Wars Day (May 4)
  • Work milestones — when an employee gets a promotion, successfully completes a huge assignment, or goes above and beyond on a special project, they deserve to be celebrated
O.C. Tanner's Culture Cloud Yearbook for celebrating years of service or other milestones at a company


Getting started with employee gifting

Who doesn’t love receiving a special gift that was picked out just for them? When an employee can see that actual thought went into a gift, they will feel like your company truly appreciates their contributions and cares about them as an individual.

Another way to make employee gifts feel personal is to allow them to choose a gift they’ll love from a selection of thoughtfully curated gifts. A curated awards store gives your employees access to a range of high-quality gifts, such as gift cards, the latest tech gadgets, charitable gifts, and unique, company-branded items. Giving points through your company’s employee recognition program is a fast and easy way to celebrate, and lets employees choose the perfect gift for themselves.

There’s no need to limit employee gifts to any one type. A good mix of gift types to match each celebration or accomplishment will keep things interesting throughout the year and feel much more personal. It’s also important to make sure that the award is equal to what you’re recognizing. An award for someone who’s completed a multiyear project will probably look different from an award for someone who completed a one-and-done task for their manager.

A recent O.C. Tanner study found that 40% of employees feel that the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture. This is often because the recognition is impersonal — a year-end cash bonus or a generic gift card on Employee Appreciation Day. How about putting the checkbook away and showing employees your appreciation with a more personalized gift?

This SHRM article lays out several good guidelines for appropriate rewards:

  • Awards should be consistent with the achievement you are rewarding
  • You should deliver the reward as close as possible to the time of the accomplishment
  • The reason for the reward should be clear
  • Awards should be presented in a sincere manner
  • The recognition process should be straightforward and administratively uncomplicated
  • Awards programs should be monitored for relevance and adjusted as needed

It’s also important to make sure employees get their gift as part of a meaningful recognition experience, and that their manager and senior leaders are part of it.

A woman opening a parcel at home


Gifts for remote workers

What about employees who work remotely? They deserve to feel included in the office culture and have their accomplishments and milestones recognized as well. While getting physical gifts to them may require a little more logistical planning, there are still many ways to include them in your recognition efforts.

Have a virtual coffee gathering and get coffee and a pastry delivered to them via a food delivery service. Or send them a snack box via a snack box service (be sure to check if they have any dietary restrictions or allergies first). Or just mail your remote workers a special gift you know they’ll love. And don’t forget to include your remote employees when handing out gifts like company-branded office swag.

Onboarding swag boxes to celebrate new employees on their first day, when employees change teams, or when they get a promotion or move job roles is a gift that works well for both remote and on-site employees. A thoughtful collection of branded items can help employees embrace company pride and the corporate identity that sets your company apart.  Include a mix of company swag and things your new or newly promoted employee might need or enjoy, like office supplies and snacks.

How to set an employee gifting budget

The financial incentives for recognizing employees are clear. A survey by OGO shows that 40% of American employees would put more effort into their work if they were recognized more often. That said, it’s important to lay out a budget for employee gifts and rewards, so your employee gifting program doesn’t put you in the red. Especially if you have a large workforce, all those gifts and rewards can add up quickly.

This article lays out some good guidelines for determining your budget:

  • Determine how much you can spend: Figure out how much budget you have to work without cutting into your budget for other essential operations.
  • Create a gift list and do some math: Determine how many people you’ll be buying gifts for, then determine a per-person gift budget. It’s better to give smaller gifts to everyone than to leave someone out.
  • Don’t forget business gift deductions: Some business gifts are deductible, which can help you out at tax time. Learn more on the IRS website.
  • Consider low-cost alternatives: Sometimes there’s just not enough budget to give everyone a physical gift. Other thoughtful gestures like a handwritten note, a discount on your company’s products or services, or maybe just a day off or a small outing can help your employees feel recognized.

How and when to throw great employee events

When your organization accomplishes something great or hits a major milestone, it’s important to celebrate that with your employees. O.C. Tanner research shows that there is a 57% increase in feelings of appreciation when news of success is spread across an organization.   

+57% in feelings of appreciation when news of success is spread across an organization

One way to do this is with company events. When you celebrate team anniversaries and milestones, it helps your employees bond over their collaborative efforts — and reinforces how much those efforts contribute to your company’s success. Give your people a break from their daily routine to show you appreciate their contributions to the company’s success, and find ways to keep it engaging by finding new and unique ways to celebrate.

If your company is having in-person events, there are many ways you can celebrate.

A family celebrating over a video call

Throw a celebration that includes friends and family

While you’re celebrating your employees, why not allow them to invite their friends and family to the party. For example, try an outdoor celebration at a park, complete with a cookout, ice cream cones, live entertainment, and a bouncy castle or play area for the kids.

Host a company potluck where employees can bring their favorite dishes from their home states or countries. This way, your people can get to know each other better while they share a meal together.  

Plan an amusement park excursion

Break up the summer routine by getting your employees out of the office and onto a roller coaster. For really large groups, you can even rent out the entire park so everyone can enjoy their favorite rides with no lines.

Embark on a company scavenger hunt

A company scavenger hunt is a great way to get out of the office and discover some new locations in your city. Photo-based scavenger hunts require very little effort on your part — employees can take photos of whatever items they’re looking for with their phones. If you want to incorporate some team-building, split your employees up into teams so they can work together to find things. And don’t forget to provide some great prizes for the winners!

Choose your own adventure

Not every celebration has to be a group event. Give employees the option to pick exactly what they want to do (and when) with experience gift cards. Whether it’s taking their family out for dinner or treating themselves to a day at the spa, gift cards give each employee the freedom to design their own celebration.  

Remote company event ideas

Your remote workers want to feel included in the fun as well, so make sure to have events and celebrations for them as well. When you’re planning a remote celebration, determine what technology you will use ahead of time and make sure to test it in advance. You can read here for more ideas for celebrating remotely, including using special backgrounds to mark the occasion. Here are some remote variations of the ideas above:

Businesspeople gathered in a conference room


Have a family-friendly Zoom party

You can still have fun family-cookout vibes without the actual cookout. Send your remote employees a care package with cookout or party snacks and beverages and let them bring their family members to the Zoom gathering. Be sure to incorporate some recognition moments so their family members can see how much your company values them.

Host a remote scavenger hunt

Make a list of items or scenarios for your employees to find and photograph, no matter where they are. This is a good way for your remote workers to get a glimpse of where each other lives and get to know each other a little bit better. Don’t forget to mail prizes to the winners!

Men and women celebrating in an office


Benefits of company celebration events

Company celebration events aren’t just a fun break from routine or a way for your company to toot its own horn; they also help your employees feel a greater sense of purpose and belonging with your organization. According to an O.C. Tanner survey, only 66% of employees worldwide feel a sense of purpose from their organization. Design your events around your organization’s unique achievements with awards and activities that reflect and celebrate your company’s purpose. Celebrating together helps your people build connections with each other and feel a sense of belonging at your organization. This Deloitte article has a lot of reasons why belonging is so important for employees and the business.

When should you throw a company event?

A business anniversary isa good place to start for company celebrations. It’s something that happens every year, and it’s an easy way to include everyone in the organization in on the fun. Employee Appreciation Day — which falls on the first Friday of March — and any industry holidays relevant to your business are other places to start. There are also many ways you can celebrate, whether it’s a more low-key event, a no-expenses-spared blowout, or a remote celebration if your business is remote or hybrid.

In fact, determining the scale of your celebration is a good place to start. Keep your company’s size in mind, as well as how long you’ve been in business and if you want to host anyone outside of your workforce — such as current or potential clients, or employees’ family members. Then, scale your event accordingly.

If your event budget starts to spiral out of control, it’s OK to scale back, especially if your celebration isn’t for a major milestone, like a 5th, 10th, or 20th anniversary.

Regardless of the size or scale of your celebration, make it special with limited-edition products like company-branded swag. Maybe consider using this as an opportunity to refresh your logo or design a special anniversary logo. A gift like O.C. Tanner’s custom-designed symbolic awards will serve as a lasting reminder of your company’s milestones and achievements.

Employees enjoy getting gifts they can’t get anywhere else. Other unique, limited-edition products to celebrate company milestones could be items they use for work branded with the special anniversary, luxury items made specifically for your anniversary that they can’t buy at a store, or unique keepsakes that connect them directly to your organization. Gifts like these tell your company’s story and history, and will be remembered by your employees for years to come.

Once again, tying these items to your purpose or theme for the event will reinforce your brand and purpose as well as your organization’s culture and history in your employees’ and clients’ minds.

If you’re drawing a blank on ways to celebrate your company’s anniversary, we have a few ideas to get you started:

Host an intimate event to recognize your people

If you want to really help tie your employees’ contributions to your company’s purpose, organize an event where the focus is on recognizing your employees’ successes. This is something you can do in person or remotely. Create a video with footage and pictures of your team throughout the years, present years-of-service awards, and send out unique, personal profiles of each employee.

Smiling businesspeople at an office party


You can make things extra memorable by creating a time capsule filled with employee pictures and notes that you can open on your next significant anniversary.

Above all else, keep the focus on appreciating your people — they’re the ones who got your company this far and made this celebration possible. By focusing on thanking your people, you’ll have a meaningful celebration that will make your employees glad they chose to work at your company.

Volunteers helping out in their community


Host a charity event

Why not use your company celebration to give back to your community with a charity event? Choose a charity that lines up with your purpose and values. For example, if you run a chain of pet supply stores, find a charity dedicated to helping pets in need.

You can get your employees involved by letting them have a say in what charity you choose to sponsor.

Compete in a sporting event or trivia night

If your employees could use some fresh air, try hosting a company sporting event. Maybe a company kickball game at a local park, or even an Office Olympics where teams can compete in different relay-race-style activities. If your folks can’t gather in person, consider participating in an athletic or sporting event — like a marathon or bike race — remotely.

If a sporting event isn’t something your employees would enjoy, how about hosting a trivia night instead? This is also a good option if you have a considerable number of remote employees because it’s something that’s easy to host virtually. Employees can still get a break from their daily routine while competing on teams with their coworkers to win prizes.

Afterward, give everyone the chance to share their accomplishments online or on a Wall of Fame, have some food and drink, and hold a meaningful employee-appreciation ceremony.

Other easy, low-cost ways to show your appreciation

Appreciation doesn’t have to involve high-dollar gifts or elaborate events. And those ways of celebrating can’t really be done on a daily or weekly basis. If you want to incorporate employee recognition into your employees’ everyday routines — or if you just don’t have a big enough  budget to work with — there are many other easy, low-cost ways to show your employees your appreciation and make them feel special every day.

Send a handwritten thank-you note.

Imagine your employee sifting through the usual pile of junk mail to find a handwritten note of appreciation from their manager. This low-cost gesture can provide a pleasant surprise to brighten an employee’s day, and it’s something tangible that they can hang on to and remember for years to come.

A woman handwriting a thank you note


Start your meetings with appreciation.

Why not start your meetings on a positive note with some praise? Things like appreciation for extra effort, teamwork, collaboration, career milestones, above-and-beyond work, innovation, and exceptional customer service are all things you can call out and recognize your people for.

Share accomplishments on an internal Wall of Fame.

If you haven’t already, create a Wall of Fame in your office — or on an online internal channel like Slack or an intranet if your workforce is largely remote. Or try using a tool like O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud.

Showcase employees on company social media.

You don’t have to keep appreciation trapped inside your office walls. Share your employees’ accomplishments and milestones on your company’s social media platforms. In large companies with many departments or global workforces, this can be a great way to get the word out about your people’s accomplishments. This also lets your clients and vendors know how amazing your people are.

An employee appreciating the work of a coworker


Start your employee appreciation journey today

You can make amazing employee appreciation experiences happen in your organization, but you need the right tools to make it happen. O.C. Tanner’s employee recognition program can bring your ideas to life and infuse sincere recognition into the heart of your culture. We give you the tools to turn every employee win into a company-wide victory.

Now that we’ve given you some employee recognition ideas, it’s time to make them your own. Any recognition gift should start with personalization. Pay attention to your workers, help supervisors get to know their teams — and most of all, show your employees that you see them as people first, employees second.

The more forms of recognition you do — and the more you recognize your employees — the more engaged and motivated your employees will be, and the higher likelihood your organization will have to grow.



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