Employee Recognition Gift Ideas in 2020

Lori Li
11 min read
Jan 28, 2020

Employee recognition

Every year, $90 billion is spent on employee recognition non-cash recognition rewards. It’s a huge market—and for good reason.

As humans, we all have a deep desire to be recognized and feel appreciated. Chalk it up to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but today’s workforce is looking beyond paychecks and bonuses.

And employers should take note.

The Importance of Employee Recognition & Appreciation

Employee recognition is important because it serves as a motivator for your team and provides tremendous advantages to your organization as a whole.

By recognizing your employees, you can increase employee productivity and improve their job performance. With an entire 69% of employees reporting that they would work harder if they were appropriately recognized, the benefits are hard to ignore.

Recognition also impacts employee retention. A recent Reflektive study found that not feeling valued was one of the top reasons employees would consider leaving a company. This is especially alarming because only one in three workers report that they receive recognition on a consistent basis.

So how does recognition lead to such dramatic, across-the-board improvements?

Recognition is all about building a positive relationship with employees and showing them that they are valued. When your employees feel appreciated, they become more engaged in their work and more invested in your company.

The bottom line? When we recognize and show appreciation to our employees, our companies benefit too.

Surprising Effects of Employee Recognition

Employee Recognition vs. Employee Appreciation

When we talk about employee recognition and appreciation, we often use the words interchangeably.  

While they are synonymous words and often work harmoniously, there is a slight difference. In their book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, authors Paul White and Gary Chapman emphasized that recognition is about behavior while appreciation is about the employee’s value as a person.

When we recognize an outstanding team member for their performance, we often don’t acknowledge the effort they put in or their individual traits that made their performance successful. Appreciation is when we express gratitude for both the employee’s performance and effort.

The difference, at the core, is whether you are recognizing a job well done or appreciating your employee’s individual contributions. That’s not to say the two terms are mutually exclusive; appreciation often comes with recognition. And most employees want to be both recognized and appreciated.

While you can (and should) continually recognize and show gratitude to your team, there’s one day in particular when it’s especially important: Employee Appreciation Day.

When is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day always falls on the first Friday in March. This year, it will take place on March 6, 2020.

The Most Popular Employee Appreciation Day Gifts for 2020

Employee Appreciation Day gives us the opportunity to show our employees just how much they mean to us. An easy way to do this is by giving your team thoughtful gifts that reflect how much you value them as individuals.

Knowing what to get is always the hard part. The go-to gift for many organizations is often gift cards because they’re easy and folks usually like them. While gift cards are always welcomed, they are often used quickly and easily forgotten. They might even undermine your efforts.

"Gift cards put a price tag on the recipient's value and make them feel like they're worth $25,” Hani Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of Snappy, explained in a recent interview with SHRM.  

This year, try to think outside of the box when it comes to your employee appreciation gifts.


2020 Employee Appreciation Day Gift Ideas

Need some ideas for your Employee Appreciation Day gifts that will get your creative juices flowing?

Here are the most popular gifts for 2020 Employee Appreciation Day to show your employees they are valued team members:

$ Under $20/employee
$$ $20 to $99/employee
$$$ $100+/employee


Tech gifts

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Tech Gift: Google Nest Mini

Bring fun and freedom into your employee’s home or office. With hands-free functionality, they can play music, listen to the news, and more.

Tech items will be one of the most popular gifts given this year. Since there is so much new technology on the market, you won’t have to spend a ton of money to find a cool tech gift for your employees. Whether you go with the Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo Dot, there are affordable options your staff is sure to love.


If you’re looking for employee appreciation tech gifts, here are some gifts that are low in price but not appeal:

 Wireless chargers | $

Wireless chargers like the Yootech can be found for less $15 and are compatible with most newer smartphones. This device lets your employees easily charge their home or work cell phones.

USB mug warmers | $

Nobody likes their coffee getting cold. USB coffee cup warmers—like this one on Amazon—are the perfect way to show your gratitude.

Touchscreen gloves | $

Gloves like Achiou’s are both fashionable and functionable. With special pads on the thumb and fingers, your employees can stay comfortable while they use their phone.

Professional Gifts

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Professional Gift: Company Swag

Promotional water bottles—like this one from iPromo—are swag your employees will actually use. Bundle it with themed-items to create a gift basket that’s sure to be a hit.

This year, professional gifts are becoming more popular for employee appreciation. Not only does it show your employees you are vested in their career, it also helps them stay current in their field.


Here are some of the most popular professional gifts that are sure to delight your employees:

Professional magazine subscriptions | $$

A subscription to an industry trade magazine helps keep your employees stay up-to-day on the latest developments. Depending on your industry, there are likely many options available. Pro tip: Take the time to review your options and find a credible one.

Professional conferences | $$$

Most employees cannot afford to travel to and attend a professional conference in their field. A company-paid trip will likely be very appreciated and it supports innovation and professional growth.

Company swag | $$

While swag can be hit or miss, if you’ve developed a strong workplace culture, your employees will want to show off your brand. Rather than randomly pulling items together, build around a theme and create a well-thought out swag basket with a handful of items and other themed-gifts.

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Foodie Gifts

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Foodie Gift: SnackCrate Subscription Box

Subscription boxes are great because it’s a gift that keeps on giving. With SnackCrate, your employees can try snacks from a different country every month.

Food baskets are tried-and-true employee appreciation gifts. After all, who can resist a gift basket filled with dark chocolate? This year, put a new spin on the classic gift.


Here are some popular, creative food gifts for your employees: 

Baking gift basket | $-$$

Create a more personal experience with a gift basket filled with essential baking accessories and top it off with a handwritten recipe.

DIY pizza box | $$

Rather than giving your staff a gift card to a pizza joint, let them create their own. The Pastiche has a great article on how to put together a basket with simple items like basil and parmesan.

Cooking classes | $$

While gift certificates and cards aren’t ideal, getting one for local cooking classes is different because it’s the gift of an experience. To really show your appreciation, you could even allow your employees to take a class during work time.

Note: Be careful with food-related gifts because you don’t want to create the perception of gender-bias. Gifts like this should be made across the board—not to one particular employee.

Life-style gifts: $$

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Lifestyle Gift: Succulent Box

Succulents are a great gift for anyone because they are easy to maintain. This Etsy bestseller is sure to make your employees’ home or office inviting and serene. 

If your company values wellness, being active, or the outdoors, consider getting your employees gifts that support this lifestyle. When your gifts align with your company’s culture, it will strengthen it and help your employees feel more connected to your organization.


If you want to give a lifestyle gift your employees will love, here are some popular options:

Bonsai Tree or Indoor Plant | $

Bring the outdoors inside. These types of plants make for great gifts because they last much longer than a bouquet. They can also improve indoor air quality and boost happiness throughout the workday.

Fitbit Fitness Tracker | $$ - $$$

A fitness tracker like the Fitbit Inspire is a great way to help support your employees’ active lifestyle. Gifts like this are especially good for companies that have a strong wellness program in place to provide encouragement throughout the year.

Picnic Set | $$

Show your appreciation with a unique gift like a Harry & David picnic set. Picnic sets aren’t something many own today. Why not take the opportunity to give them a way to have an impromptu afternoon lunch this spring?

Tackle Box | $$

If your employees are avid outdoor enthusiasts, chances are they already have a tackle box. This is your chance to give them an upgrade with a high-quality box like Cabela’s Extreme Slacker 3600. They won’t be disappointed.

Event tickets:  $$-$$$

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Event Gifts: Tacoma Rainiers Group Night

Group nights to sporting events can help your team strengthen relationships and it shows your gratitude. Minor league teams like the Tacoma Rainiers are particularly good options because it helps keep expenses in check.

If you know your employees well enough, tickets to a special event shows that you pay attention and creates a memorable experience. These types of gifts can be risky because they may have something scheduled already. But if it’s something you know they’d be thrilled about then it may be worth the risk. Be sure to announce the plans ahead of time so your employees can keep their schedules clear.


Here are some popular events to consider for your staff:

Play Tickets | $$ - $$$

Tickets to a popular play or a local production is a great way to show your appreciation to your employees. Plays give new meaning to everyday situations and can help spark creative juices. It’ll be an experience—but one your employees will be grateful for.

Sporting Events | $$ - $$$

Sporting events—like tickets to a baseball or hockey game—are a fun way to recognize your employees. You can either provide tickets to individual employees or even arrange a group outing for your team. Either way, it’s an event they won’t want to miss.

Personalized luxury gifts: $$-$$$

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Featured 2020 Employee Appreciation Luxury Gift: Personalized Charging Valet

A leather personalized charging station valet—like this one from Personal Creations—gives your employees’ most important items a space to call home.

By 2021, the global personalized gift market is expected to exceed $30 billion. The personalized luxury goods market in particular is rising steadily. Luxury gifts work well because your employees normally wouldn’t splurge on them, so it’s a real treat.


If you’re looking for a luxurious gift your employees will treasure, here are some popular ones to consider:

Engraved Watches | $$ - $$$

Watches are a timeless employee appreciation gift for both men and woman. The engravement adds a personal touch to your gift and shows your employees they matter.

Embroidered Throws | $$ - $$$

Monogrammed throw blankets in fabrics like cashmere and faux fur are sure to be an employee favorite. It’s hard to resist the softness of these blankets and the personalization makes it even more special.

Vacation Getaways: $$$

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Source: Pixabay

Not every company can afford to send their employees on a Hawaiian adventure, but trips are becoming increasing popular employee appreciation gifts. Tech company FullContact, for example, is just one of many companies that provide their employees with annual travel stipends. Every year, they invest in their employees’ well-being by giving each of their employees $7,500 to put toward travel.

If you can’t afford to give your employees a first-class trip to Italy, you can still give them a high-class vacation. Take a look at local options that can provide a much-needed vacation for your employees. A local bed and breakfast or high-end resort, for example, could be great ways to provide a quality experience for less money.

The Gift of Time: $$

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Source: Pixabay

Gifts aren’t always something you buy. The average American spends almost 1,800 hours of their year at work. Oftentimes, the best gift you could give is the gift of time.

Here are some popular ways to show your employees you value their time.

Time off Work | $$

Paid time off from work—whether it’s a day or a week—is one of the most popular gifts for Employee Appreciation Day. And they’re sure to appreciate it. It says that you are grateful they work for you and that you recognize their need for a work-life balance.

Coupon Book | $$

If you don’t have the capacity to provide your employees with a full day off work, a coupon book for shorter time periods can be an appealing alternative. To do this, create a small booklet with a nicely designed cover and include coupons like “take 15 minutes off work early” or “take an extra 30 paid minutes on your lunch break.” These small acts of kindness will show that you value your workers.

Lunch with a Leader | $$

It’s not very often that front-line staff get to interact with leadership—particularly at large organizations. Having a one-on-one or small group lunch with a division leader, VP, or someone else in upper management gives your employees the chance to share their ideas, express their concerns, and network with influential leaders. This, in turn, will strengthen the connection between your employees and your company.

Final Thoughts about Employee Appreciation Day Gifts

When you take the time to find a gift that’s in alignment with your employee’s personality and interests, you’re sure to get them a gift that makes them feel valued. Sometimes, you just have to go with a gift card, and that’s okay too. Despite the fact that gift cards can feel impersonal, they are the preferred item for most employees and one of the most popular gifts for Employee Appreciation Day.

To make a gift card more personal, focus on the details. For example, rather than sticking the card in an envelope, you could enhance the presentation by adding it to a small gift basket or goodie bag. You could also deliver it in person or add a handwritten letter to make the experience more memorable.

With Employee Appreciation Day gifts, the idea is to make it personal and meaningful. Any of these popular 2020 gift ideas we’ve shared in this article (including gift cards) are sure to do just that. 

What do you plan to give out to your employees? Feel free to share in the comments below!




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