Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You”

Thank YouTelling an employee “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, and with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday just four days away, I thought I’d share ten easy, no to low-cost ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In David Letterman, Late Night style…The Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You:”

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one Easy, No to Low Cost Way to Tell Employees “Thank You” is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

35 Comments on “Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You”

  1. I can imagine being on the receiving end of every single one of these ideas and how appreciated I would feel!!! Great blog … and I will be sharing!! I think the concepts can work for family members and other situations as well. Thank you!!

    • Thanks Lois! I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of these gesture and they feel great!

      Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Those are fantastic ideas, Randy! I already use some, and definitely plan on trying a few of the others.

    On the low-cost side, either the 3 or 12-count Ferrero Rocher Italian hazelnut chocolates go a long way for both men and women (although women seem to appreciate them more).

  3. Thank you for the excellent reminder and list, Randy.
    I work for a family-owned wholesale plant nursery where we are all responsible for the cleaning. One of a few things that I do to show my appreciation is collective. For the female outdoor workers, I clean and restock their restroom. Working in the high desert with blowing dust and trampled mud created from constant watering, one can imagine how quickly the need for cleaning becomes visible. In the busy season when they are hot and tired, this small act speaks loudly to them when they least expect it.
    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    • Hi Kimberley,

      That is a great way to show thankfulness and appreciation! What an honoring thing to do for your team.

      Happy Thanksgiving!


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  5. I have been doing handwritten birthday cards for my staff for the past 5 years, and the response has been very good. They appreciate the effort to remember their special day and it’s a good opportunity to acknowledge their hard work as well.

  6. Thank you for sharing this list. Great reminders that a low-cost show of appreciation goes along ways!

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  8. This is an outstanding list, Randy. I was especially delighted to see what you selected as #1, because I am a passionate advocate for the personal handwritten note as a powerful connection tool. Thanks for helping spread the word!

    • Thanks for you feedback Elizabeth! Handwritten notes convey our message with more personal warmth and connection than an email, so if I really want to communicate with a personal touch, it’s always a handwritten note.

      Happy Thanksgiving!


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  10. Excellent post ! A list of powerful actions that take as good as no time. I would just add: do the thanking (nearly) right away, and don’t do it if you are about to ask for something in ….

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  12. Great list! I’d like to amend item #1 about handwriting the thank you cards. It could be considered a hybrid with #2.

    Yes, write the card. However, mail it directly to the person’s home instead of their mail slot at work. Kids will pick up the mail on their way home from school and tell you that you got mail from work. After wondering what the benefits people are sending NOW (said in jest because I work in HR), you open the card and share it with your family. What a powerful way of saying thank you!

  13. I think Randy practices what he wrote about in this article. Great example to everyone reading Randy. You gave positive feedback to everyone who took the time to post! Great Job! 🙂

    • Ahhh, thanks Sandra! I appreciate the positive feedback. I’m grateful whenever someone takes the time to comment on an article.

      Enjoy your weekend!


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