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The Origin of Employee Appreciation Day: Q&A with EAD Founder, Dr. Bob

Bob Nelson, Ph.D.
February 28, 2022

Friday, March 4th is Employee Appreciation Day, a calendar event I created 27 years ago to celebrate the publication of my book, 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, and remind managers everywhere of the importance of thanking their employees when they do a good job.

Of course, I’d be the first to admit that you need to thank, praise, and recognize your employees when they do good work throughout the year – not just on a single day, but I wanted to call attention to the fact that most organizations can be doing a better job - only about 12% of workers feel recognized in a timely, meaningful way for the job they do, even though some 80% of managers think they do a pretty good job with this topic.

What that leaves us with is a “knowing-doing” gap that I have spent my career researching and helping others solve through webinars, training, and books. My latest book, systematically shows real-life examples of ways managers and companies successfully recognize employees in 28 specific categories from no-cost to low-cost to team-based and company-wide examples, all of which are currently working for someone and any of which could potentially work for you.

I’ve found that simple conversation starters are some of the most powerful tools for managers and their teams to start improving the appreciation gap -  even if time, resources or budget are limited.  The important part about that many forget is to try. If an idea doesn’t work, try another small experiment find one that could perhaps work better for your circumstances.  

Along the way, this book has helped open people’s minds to think creatively to consider “what if” possibilities that they could do and moved them away from the no-win starting point of thinking that money or things that cost money are the only things that motivate workers today.

When in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. People want to contribute, do their best, and be acknowledged and appreciated for that effort when they are successful. And the ways they’d like to be recognized are very diverse.  For example, 9 percent of employees would like to be thanked for excelling by being given more responsibility. Or more visibility, flexibility, autonomy, choice, or involvement.  Giving them those things doesn’t require spending a dime.

Yes, money is important (we all need to pay our bills). Still, once you can meet your basic needs, our attention tends to turn to higher-order motivators of being part of something larger than oneself or being held in high esteem by one’s peers and leaders or challenging oneself to overcome obstacles and barriers to reach new heights at work.

We also need to stop doing those things that demotivate workers; 34% of whom report that what their company does to recognize them demotivates them instead. Things like pizza parties, gift cards, and birthday parties are well-intended, but often such programs lose their luster along the way. What good is a once-a-year lottery for a logoed water thermos for excellence when in reality you need every employee to do their best work every day?

The book struck a nerve in America and has gone through 64 printings to date with over 2 million copies in print domestically and translations in over 30 languages around the world. Along the way, we expanded and updated examples and provided greater context for the topic to show that recognizing your employees is no longer optional. The revised version, entitled 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees, is still available wherever books are sold.

Employee appreciation and motivation is a moving target and the challenge is ongoing wherever you work. Keep working on it to make work a better, more fulfilling experience for everybody.


Join us March 2nd at 12 pm ET / 9 am PT to learn the 10 ways to thank your employees on Employee Appreciation Day with Dr. Bob Nelson, PhD.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is the leading advocate for employee recognition and engagement worldwide, president of Nelson Motivation Inc. ( and a founder of Recognition Professionals International. His books have sold over 5 million copies and, in additional to 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees, include The 1,001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees, and 1,001 Ways to Energize Employees. He frequently presents for management teams, conferences and associations about strategies for better motivating today’s employees. You can contact him directly at or by phone at (858) 218-5049.

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