Showing appreciation for your employees is a powerful way to boost employee engagement and increase motivation and dedication. Whether your people have been working from home or sacrificing on the front lines, it’s more important than ever that employees feel seen and valued. A great way to do this is to thank them for their efforts.
Even if you don’t have a formal employee recognition program or a budget to give employee appreciation gifts, you can still show your gratitude for them with a simple employee appreciation letter.
Whether it’s an email, handwritten letter, or even a voicemail or text, follow these simple steps to create a meaningful, memorable appreciation moment for your people.
In a recent survey, 53% of employees said they would stay at their jobs longer if their employers showed them more appreciation. Unfortunately, many employers have forgotten the priceless value of providing recognition to employees through their words.
Put away the checkbook and express your gratitude by writing a heartfelt letter to your employees. Here’s how:
5 Employee appreciation letter best practices
1) Be timely.
Appreciation is more impactful when it’s immediate and in the moment. Writing a note or letter three months after the fact will make the recognition feel like an afterthought—and worse, it will make your employee feel like an afterthought.
So be sure to send your recognition right after the accomplishment or contribution. It will make your employee feel good in that moment and for days and weeks to come.
2) Be specific.
A generic “great job” might be easy to write, but it’s just as easy to forget. Reference sample letters for inspiration but make your letter personal with details.
Call out the recipient’s unique talents, skills, insights, and contribution. Connect their accomplishment to company values and be specific in how they made a difference. Whether they went the extra mile, displayed strong leadership skills, saw a great opportunity to wow a client, hit a new sales target, or put in extra time and effort to make a project successful, let them know exactly what it was that you saw worthy of recognition.
3) Make it genuine.
Remember, appreciation should match the effort. If a simple “thanks for finishing that project on such a short deadline” is appropriate, then that’s all you need to say. If your gratitude is deeper and more personal, express it. Don’t heap on excessive praise, but don’t be stingy with it either. Sincerity is the key.
With more employees working remotely and less opportunity to present recognition in-person, it’s even more imperative that your note or letter reflects your true appreciation. Combining details of what the employee did and what impact their work had on your team or customers communicates that you noticed them. And until employees work side by side again, your letter could be a rare moment of real connection that they need.
4) Give appreciation often.
Appreciation and employee recognition are not just a job for Human Resources, nor should it only be reserved for a major event like Employee Appreciation Day.
Research conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute shows that when recognition is perceived to be a priority for their organization, employees are 68% more likely to feel like the recognition they receive is an empty gesture. One way to ensure recognition is seen as a priority in your company is to give it often.
Employees work on important projects every week—are they being praised or recognized every week? Or is it only once a quarter, or a couple of times a year? Recognition needs to be frequent and timely (see above), but also not a task to check off a list or an automated transaction. When recognition happens often and is given in a personal way, it can transform the entire employee experience.
5) Cultivate culture.
When you create a workplace that centers around regular employee recognition, your employees will be more motivated to also boost their team members. This is how you cultivate a culture of appreciation—one where hard work is rewarded beyond a paycheck with a sincere celebration of individual strengths and group unity.
Recognizing employees the right way not only impacts their relationship with the giver but changes how they feel about the organization and its company culture.
What NOT to say in an employee appreciation letter (and what to say instead)
If at all possible, do not include these phrases in your appreciation letter:
- Dear employee. Personalize the letter and use their name.
- Thank you for all that you do. Be specific about what you are recognizing/appreciating.
- From all of us at ABC. Unless this is a mass email or letter, or the recipient is winning a company-wide award, it should always come from you personally. “I want to thank you” is better.
- A belated thank you. Barring extenuating circumstances, recognition should always be timely. Even if it’s late, you can say “I want to thank you for the work you did last month….”
- Good job! We appreciate you. Problematic if this is the only thing you write in your letter. Be sure to detail out what the individual did specifically and why it matters.
Ways to make your employee appreciation letter extra special
1) Write it by hand. An email or text is great and works in a pinch. But for something truly special (and something that may even be kept), mail or hand someone a handwritten letter.
2) Use nice paper. Beautiful, handcrafted paper and a nice pen isn’t a lost art. Use tools that will make the recipient know you really spent time and care about your words.
3) Share the greatness publicly. Even if you write a letter, you can still recognize the individual publicly. We all like to be appreciated, and we all like others to see the great work we’ve done. It doesn’t have to be a major event or complicated process. Even if you give the letter privately, or the recipient is more reserved, let others know about the great work they have done in an email, meeting, or internal newsletter.
4) Copy their leader. If you are giving praise to someone on another team, be sure to copy or notify their leader. In many cases managers aren’t aware of all the great work their people are doing every day. Be sure to let their leader know, so they can offer their own appreciation to the employee.
5) Invite peers to comment. Recognition’s effect is amplified when the recognition is shared. So invite team members or colleagues to add their own words of appreciation. Leverage your recognition program’s social wall, if it has one. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud makes it easy to give and receive personalized appreciation where peers can see, like, comment, and share in the recognition.
6) Include customer comments. Employees love hearing how their work impacts your customers. Companies that include customer recognition in their overall recognition solution have employees who are 4.5X more likely to feel connected to something bigger and 4X more likely to handle frustrations at work.
10 Sample letters of employee recognition
You can use an email template to write an appreciation letter, but the most meaningful letters come from the heart. If you are using email, pay attention to details like the subject line and signature so it’s clear your email is personalized.
Below are a few examples of different types of employee recognition letters that might help spark some ideas.
1) Great work or a major achievement
Amazing work on this quarter’s marketing campaign. The Management team could not have been more impressed when we presented the details and advertising examples to them. Our CEO Dave commented on how beautiful the imagery was and how relevant the copy was to our clients. I wish you could have seen the smiles around the room as we shared each piece.
All of your hard work and extra time spent on this campaign will result in happier clients and increased revenue for our company. We really appreciate your creativity, thoroughness, and taking a risk. Bravo!
2) Extra effort on a project
Thank you for all of the extra effort you put into closing our accounting books on time this year. During such an unusual year, we had numerous disruptions, uncertainty, and financial complexities. I’ve seen how much attention to detail and learning you put into your job to understand all the new rules and regulations that came out this last month, and I know it’s extended well past your normal working hours.
I want to tell you how much we appreciate your diligence and self-motivation to make sure our records are perfect. Your hard work and effort have not gone unnoticed. We are grateful for you.
3) Years of Service
Congratulations on 5 years with ABC Company!
I remember your first day of work, and how excited we were to have you on the team because of your design skills. Now 5 years later, you’ve developed an entire new catalog for us, created 3 new products to sell to our new markets, and helped increase efficiency in our production line.
You’ve made such an impact on our company in just a few short years. You don’t just do good work; you do great work. You play such an important role in our company’s innovation and success. We are so thrilled you chose to join us 5 years ago. Happy 5-year anniversary.
I love your idea for remote workers that you brought up in our team meeting yesterday. It has been a hard year trying to keep our remote employees engaged and connected in the same way as our front-line workers, and it’s been difficult to find a good solution. Thank you for speaking up yesterday, but also for working tirelessly this past year with the other teams to ensure our remote workers are not forgotten in company decisions, events, and changes.
You are a great collaborator and that’s why so many people enjoy working with you. Thank you for helping us break silos and bridge teams. Our company is better because of you.
5) Great customer service
Thank you for the great customer service you provided XYZ company yesterday. The client was so pleased they personally left me a voicemail and mentioned how you saved their program from falling apart. No one else on the team knew how to fix their complicated issues, but you stepped in with grace and patience and walked them through the steps. If it wasn’t for you, they would have been frustrated and we could have potentially lost some of their business.
You truly saved the day. Team members like you help us be successful. You help our clients be successful. You make all the difference.
6) Sticking through a challenging project or challenging times
We made it! And you helped the rest of the team get through one tough project. Thank you for always being optimistic but also real when the situation required. You kept us moving forward, and you encouraged and inspired us when times were tough. You never gave up.
Your positive attitude helps to build our team and company culture. I wish every employee had your same spirit. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
I wanted to commend you on a great quarter of fantastic innovation. In just 3 months you managed to improve our IT processes, but also prototype a new user interface for our customers. Incredible! I admire your creativity and innovation, but also your fearlessness in taking risks. Your positive attitude about making changes and adjustments without giving up is inspiring.
Thank you for your great work!
Thank you for rising to the occasion these past 2 weeks. For standing up for the team, for encouraging our team members, for listening to other departments and offering collaboration during some difficult discussions. Because of you we are a better team and make better decisions.
You are the type of leader we all need. I know our team members look up to you and respect you. Thank you for rallying us and moving us forward.
Your work yesterday getting a giant order out the door showed true excellence. Not only did you make sure each order was accurate and complete, but you took extra effort to make sure the packaging was perfect and the boxes were not damaged. Your attention to detail and care for each order shows each client how important they are to our company.
Thank you for your display of excellence on this project. I see it and greatly appreciate you.
10) Demonstrating company values
You embody our company value of Inclusiveness. Thank you for always thinking of others and making sure all employees had the opportunity to participate in our new product launch. Previously, only employees in a specific region were allowed to be part of this special event, but you fought for all employees around the world to have the chance to see and hear from our leaders and celebrate our accomplishment.
Thanks to you, we now have a way for every employee in our company to be part of this momentous occasion. Thank you for reminding us that every employee matters and is an important part of our company.
Why write an employee appreciation letter
Still not sure when an appreciation letter is appropriate? Check out how companies like BASF and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) used appreciation to help employees feel seen, show their gratitude, and keep them connected and engaged, especially when times are tough
BASF, one of the largest chemical producers in the world, knows every recognition moment is an opportunity to help employees feel connected. And in difficult times, recognition and connection is invaluable. So the company encourages managers to recognize efforts as well as results. Things like:
• Embracing a positive attitude or lifting team member’s spirits
• Using collaboration tools effectively to keep the team connected
• Supporting team members in staying safe
• Being resourceful and creative
• Taking care of family obligations and still doing great work
• Quiet heroes who are working behind the scenes to make success happen
When done well, recognition not only focuses on what employees are doing, but how they are doing it. Says Samantha Elliot, Total Rewards Programs Lead, “Recognition and appreciation are really an opportunity to show your employees they are seen, they are heard, and they are valued. It’s important to understand the value that each of your individual employees is bringing to the table and appreciate who they are as a person, both the impact they make and the character traits that contribute to the diversity and success of your teams.”
During the global pandemic, PSE knew they had to keep their employees connected and help employee morale while they were physically apart. They rallied their managers to celebrate the extra work employees were doing to keep things moving. Karl Frunz, Training Consultant and Recognition Lead at PSE, encouraged leaders to use ecards and formal recognition as “morale boosters”—things to remind employees that the company values their uniqueness as individuals, something that can be lost behind a screen or phone.
Frunz asked leaders to use employee recognition to:
• Send and share quick, positive messages
• Celebrate operating excellence and staying compliant despite challenges
• Maintain connection and reduce stress
• Be forward-focused
With recognition, PSE ensured employees felt appreciated, seen, connected, and could weather the storm.
Creating a Culture of Appreciation
Employee appreciation letters can help build a culture of appreciation. Even if not every note is handwritten, simple emails, texts, messages, and verbal thank-yous and pats on the backs can contribute to a culture where people feel seen and valued.
Should your note be a handwritten letter, an email, or a text? In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you are recognizing great work. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are genuine, personal, specific, and timely, the recipient will be touched. Gift or no gift, fancy paper or inexpensive cardstock, eloquent words or simple, it just needs to be heartfelt.
Finally, remember that recognition is easy to do, but has a lasting effect. When recognition is an integrated part of company culture, organizations are:
- 4X more likely to have highly engaged employees
- 2X more likely to have increased in revenue over the past year
- 73% less likely to have had layoffs over the past year
- 44% less likely to have employees suffering from burnout
The most important elements of creating a recognition culture are:
1) Recognition is part of the culture
2) Recognition is given for both large and small efforts
3) Recognition is consistently seen throughout the organization
4) Peer to peer recognition is common and frequent
5) Recognition experiences are crafted around the individual
6) Leaders know the recognition preferences of individuals
7) Leaders frequently recognize employees
8) Recognition programs and technology continually improve
It doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to happen. So pick up your pen, turn on your computer, and start writing. Even the smallest, simplest words of appreciation can have the biggest impact.