Low and No-Cost Ways to Show Your Appreciation

A white thank you card with a gold cursive "thanks" on the front, on a white desk with yellow flowers.

It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people. But it has major rewards.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and positivity with people, especially if you’re being genuine - even if you don’t have a big budget. In fact, sometimes it’s the little things that actually mean more.

TV and movies show us tyrannical bosses who yell and criticize their teams into producing amazing results, but that's not the case in reality. Would you rather your team succeed in spite of you, or because of you?

Showing your appreciation has so many benefits:

  • It builds trust. One study from Globoforce found that 86% of employees who had been recognized by a manager felt more trust with them, and having a trusting work environment means people are more productive, innovative and likely to succeed. 
  • Speaking of productivity, recognizing staff is important for workplace morale. People who feel appreciated are more likely to return the sentiment through their own work.
  • Gratitude is contagious! We know that a personal gratitude practice can have significant impacts on mental health, but showing it to others can be just as important. Some researchers even refer to gratitude as “social glue” because it’s so vital to benefiting society. 
  • Better morale means less turnover, better working conditions and being overall happier with a workplace. 
  • It can have a big impact, even when you don't spend a dime. Psychology researcher Bob Nelson has found in his research that “some of the most effective forms of reward cost nothing at all.”

Below you’ll find a few ways to show an employee or a coworker appreciation that cost little to nothing. You don’t always need a reason to put in a little extra effort. Sometimes it’s just a nice thing to do and makes the office a better place.

Write thank you notes. A simple note can go a long way! There are even studies that show expressing gratitude in the workplace is linked to employees reporting less stress, taking fewer days off, and having a more positive outlook on their work.

More than a quick "thanks" in passing, a note or card shows that you put in the effort to reflect on a person's hard work, success, or great idea. It’s a good idea to always have some nice thank you cards on hand.

An assorted pack of greeting cards is also great because you’ll always have whatever you need (thank yous, sympathy cards, a last minute birthday card), and each card costs much less in a set than when purchased individually.

When writing a thank you, you don’t have to write a whole letter, but remember to be specific. It's in the details that your appreciation will really shine through.

Pick up the tab. “People like to be fed,” says Tyler Butler, founder and CEO of 11Eleven Consulting. He’s a fan of this act of appreciation because it brings people together. Whether it’s picking up donuts on the way into the office or getting the tab on the afternoon coffee run, the small act won’t go unnoticed. For $20 or less, you can create an opportunity to chat and build rapport with teammates you might otherwise not get to talk to.

Listen attentively. It doesn’t cost anything but a few minutes of your time to listen to a coworker who may be having a difficult day or trouble understanding the task they’re working on. They may not even be in distress. They may just need to feel heard.

Empathetic or active listening communicates respect and care, which may be the ultimate form of appreciation. 

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But listening to understand — like asking questions or offering specific assistance — can be a big deal for a colleague. 

When listening make sure to make eye contact and avoid doing other tasks during the conversation. Giving someone your full attention is a great way to show appreciation.

Celebrate achievements. Work life can be really hectic, so celebrating achievements isn’t always a priority, but it’s a free and guaranteed way to bring a little gratitude and appreciation into the workplace. 

To really show some appreciation, think about achievements in new ways. Beyond meeting a deadline, achievements can include saving time or money, implementing a new idea, or increasing customer satisfaction. Quantifiable achievements are easy to track, but you don’t have to stop there. Publicly noticing someone's extra effort or natural abilities with something can be really meaningful.

A public kudos or hand-written note can really let someone know that you saw and valued an accomplishment of theirs. 

Encourage growth. Sometimes we get so busy we forget to look ahead, but encouraging coworkers to try something new or learn a new task is a simple way of showing you care about them and the work they’re doing. If you have the ability to help get a workshop or training paid for, do it! This shows how much you value their growth, and is a net-positive for you too, when your team grows and succeeds.

Organize a happy hour. Even if you’re not the one picking up the tab, taking the initiative to organize an event, like a happy hour after work or a team breakfast, will show your coworkers you value them. After all, we wouldn’t put extra effort into bringing people together if we didn’t want to be around them.

To show the office some appreciation, make sure everybody on the team is invited. While some acts of kindness are better suited for one person, the idea with this one is that it really only works if it’s for the group. Making someone feel left out would have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve. 

Upgrade office supplies. When you’re using a good pen, you know it. It glides across the page and makes any paperwork or meeting note taking way more bearable. A good set of pens or a high-quality notebook can be a nice "just because" gift to anyone on your team. Oftentimes it’s the details that put good work over the top, so do the same and show your appreciation with handy office supplies that go the extra mile.

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