According to EmployeeChannel, as few as 16 percent of employees say that they feel “connected and engaged” at work. This is a staggeringly low number that becomes even more pronounced when you consider that Mental Health America states disengaged workers may cost companies as much as $500 billion dollars per year in lost productivity.

Clearly, making your employees feel appreciated is necessary for both their productivity and retention, but many business owners feel that they cannot afford to implement an employee appreciation program. There are many affordable and even free ways for you to help your team feel appreciated and to spur their motivation to be productive.

1. Give a Personalized "Thank You" Note

One of the simplest gestures that you can make is to draft a personalized note indicating how valuable they are to the company and how much you appreciate their hard work. Do not assume that your hardest workers feel appreciated and know that you value their contributions. Remember that a handwritten note is more meaningful than a quick email. For less formal situations, however, something as simple as jotting a message down on a sticky note that you attach to their monitor can be highly effective.

2. Buy a Simple Thoughtful Gift

Gifts do not need to be expensive and elaborate to be meaningful. The most meaningful gifts are often those that are purchased with the recipient specifically in mind. Therefore, learn more about your employee’s needs, interests or aspirations. You can truly show that you care by simply investing some effort into your gesture.

3. Swap an Office or Parking Spot for a Week

You may also pamper your special workers periodically by giving up your parking spot or even your office for a day or week. While you definitely do not want to give up your responsibilities, you can simply swap locations to show your employee their value.

4. Shout it Out on Social Media

When an employee has risen above and performed in exceptional ways, a huge announcement is in order. One way to really make a splash with the individual and to subsequently motivate the rest of the team to work harder is to post a comment on Facebook or Twitter. Your clients may also see this, and they will see how valued your team is for an additional benefit.

5. Allow Them to Work from Home

Employees love working from home periodically. It helps them enjoy a work-life balance, and it can even boost productivity. If your team’s jobs can be completed in a remote environment, offer the ability to work remotely from time to time.

This shows them that you trust them and that you value their ability to juggle personal and work responsibilities. It may also save you money on overhead expenses.

6. Make Time to Talk about Their Career

In many cases, your employees work exceptionally hard because they want to advance in their career. When you notice a standout employee working hard, spend time speaking with the individual about their goals. You may offer to assist with those goals by providing networking and educational opportunities or even with something as simple as giving the individual a book that is helpful in some way.

7. Award Them with Food

You can easily plan a one-on-one lunch with an employee who has made a huge contribution recently. You can also send a gift basket of treats, give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or even cater breakfast and lunch for an entire team. From locally sourced health foods to pizza and more, there are plenty of food choices available to choose from.

8. Send Flowers

Flowers are a great go-to gift idea. They can be placed on the person’s desk to show others that their efforts are appreciated. You can even combine the gift of flowers with the meaningful gesture of a handwritten note.

9. Allow Them to Bring Family or Pets to Work

If you are looking for an affordable way to treat your entire team to a fun experience, consider hosting a day when kids or pets are invited to work. You may need to set limits on the ages of the children permitted or on the types of pets allowed. You can expect limited productivity on this day, but it will be a fun treat for all involved.

10. Acknowledge Their Hard Work in Public

There are many free or affordable ways to celebrate accomplishments and standout efforts in a public way. For example, you can implement an employee-of-the-month program with a framed picture of each recipient on the wall. You can create an end-of-year award ceremony or even write a blurb in the company’s newsletter.

11. Give Extended Breaks

Another affordable idea is to allow the individual to enjoy more time away from his or her desk. For example, you may offer to double their coffee and lunch breaks for the entire week. If funds permit, you may even give a gift card that pays for that individual’s coffee or lunch for the full week.

12. Offer Flexible Workdays

An affordable group reward is a flexible workday. This may be a day when the entire team can arrive late or leave early. Be sure to announce this ahead of time so that your team can make plans to maximize the benefit that this extra free time provides.

Acknowledging and even rewarding your employees from time to time is critical if you want them to feel valued. Appreciated employees may work harder and may remain with the company for a longer period of time. Remember that all gestures should be sincere and enthusiastic so that they are well received.

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