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How to Improve Employee Morale

Try some of these simple ways to re-energize employees—and have some fun!

Young african american businessman sitting in front of a window.


Whether facing a summer slump or the winter doldrums, everyone occasionally needs a bit of help to remain engaged and motivated. We recently asked you to share your ideas on social media for fun and easy workplace morale boosters. Boy, did you come through! You shared so many creative concepts that we couldn’t fit them all here. Based on your responses, it appears that many of the best things in life are, in fact, free—particularly when they involve food. 

Surprise Smoothies

I work for a bank with 19 locations, and it’s important to find ways to connect with the employees at all of them. Our wellness committee members created a “smoothie patrol,” which makes surprise visits to the branches. They show employees how to make a healthy smoothie, and the best part is that everyone gets to enjoy one afterward.

—Janice Mazzallo, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, PeoplesBank, Holyoke, Mass.


Good Eats

Cocoa Competition

My most memorable morale booster was a “Death by Chocolate” competition. I sent a challenge to our large staff for people to make their best chocolate dessert and present it creatively. The entries were judged by our company’s head chef and “celebrity” judges, including the CEO. Participants could name a price to sell their culinary delights, and the money went to a local charity. The winner received a check to be donated to the same charity in his or her name.

Our donations over the years increased, as did employees’ participation. The event showcased individual employees’ cooking prowess, and the contributions to a community outreach program were excellent morale boosters.

—Jim Carlson, senior account manager, Galaxy Software Solutions Inc., Detroit

Waffles for All!

Our mental health agency, Motivational Services Inc., breaks up the winter doldrums in Maine by having a Belgian waffle breakfast. Some of the staff bring toppings to share: whipped cream, fresh berries and real Maine maple syrup. I keep two waffle makers humming along, one to make gluten-free and dairy-free waffles and the other for traditional ones. Between the waffles, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the laughter, we send our case managers, supervisors and nurses out the door with big smiles on their faces to start their day. We call it the “Chasing the Winter Blues Away” breakfast, and we decorate the office in various shades of blue and icy white.

—Barbara Gabri, SHRM-SCP, HR director, Motivational Services Inc., Augusta, Maine

Free Food and Fun

Our company provides a free staff breakfast once a month. We all enjoy good food, conversation and laughter. We also have had days when ice cream cones were handed out. We celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by giving gifts to all men and women, even if they aren’t parents. We have an in-house gym, which is free for staff. We coordinate charity drives that make staff members feel good and valued.

—Sean Bowes, HR manager, ELB Engineering Services, Johannesburg, South Africa

Cool Treats

It gets really hot in our manufacturing plant in summer, so last year I bought Popsicles and kept them in the freezer so employees could have one whenever they wanted. I also started writing thank-you notes and stamping a smiley face on each paycheck. I personally hand the checks to employees. That seems to be a big hit!

—Melissa Horvath, HR employee engagement manager, SPI Industries, South Bend, Ind.

Hot Dog Days

We have board game days, cultural or “childhood favorite” potlucks, company-sponsored bowling for an afternoon, and a company spelling bee. We have company kickball games and hot dog and pizza lunches. We also have “guess the baby” photo contests and a “high school reunion” with a slideshow of staff members’ high school photos.

—Nicole Baber, HR specialist and administrative services manager, REACH Community Development Inc., Portland, Ore.

Friendly Competitions

Let It Grow

Last year was exceptionally cold and abysmal in Toronto, so I proposed that we plant sunflowers.

Green-friendly workplaces tend to be high-yield environments, and I sourced products that were budget-friendly. The pots averaged around $2 each, and I bought three large bags of potting soil and fertilizer. I purchased genetically modified seeds that don’t produce pollen, which is better for those with allergies. The 250 seeds cost $60. All in all, we probably averaged less than $4 an employee for materials.

Employees could decorate their pots and grow the sunflowers right at their desks. We have an open office with large windows, so sunlight could easily find its way in. People helped their deskmates by watering their plants and providing growing advice.

To increase participation, I offered three competitive categories: largest bloom, tallest plant and best decorated pot.

By summer, we had hundreds of sunflowers. It boosted morale in so many ways. I am certain this project helped to decrease absenteeism, for example.

—Barbara Moy, manager of people and culture, CaseWare International Inc., Toronto

Let the Games Begin

To recognize the hard work our employees did to implement a quality improvement program that reduced costs, we held an onsite carnival-style event that we called “Gunfight at the Quality Corral.” We had food, carnival games and a dunk tank, where senior management took turns as the target. Everyone had fun with it.

—Linda Cummings, HR consultant, San Francisco

FromTee-Offs to‘Dip-Offs’

Our company brings in lunch for everyone on the last Friday of every month. Each month, we have a different theme. During March Madness, we played an indoor game of HORSE. For an in-office golf tournament, staff worked in teams to create golf holes in the office.

Other activities have included “dip-offs,” where employees were invited to bring their favorite dip; dessert bake-offs; and potlucks. I also like to surprise my employees with doughnuts on random days.

—Laurie Schnase, SHRM-CP, HR manager, BlackPoint IT Services, Seattle


We recently started doing company bingo. We created bingo cards with phrases that are commonly heard around the office or common occurrences such as spotting maintenance workers. The first to get bingo and notify HR gets a small prize. This has got everyone laughing, and I believe it is building morale.

We have also planned a day of service that everyone will participate in. It is being done through one of our clients that is a nonprofit organization. Recently, we began holding a monthly potluck to celebrate the birthdays for that month.

—Tracy Winn, SHRM-SCP, HR specialist, Ventris, South Jordan, Utah

Cornhole Tournaments

My company has Washers and Cornhole tournaments at lunchtime. We also have certain days when everyone brings something in for lunch related to a certain theme.

—Seth Howard, team member, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Princeton, Ind., and a graduate student in HR development

 Pumpkin Carvings

Last year at an office brainstorm session, everyone shared ideas on how to have some fun. We plan large events after work once a month, and throughout the year we conduct smaller activities such as pumpkin-carving contests, chili cook-offs, themed jeans days and Super Bowl parties. We also now dedicate time at each weekly team meeting to express appreciation to team members who have gone above and beyond in some capacity.

—Holly Nowak, director of HR, western New York division, Alcott HR, Buffalo, N.Y.

Ugly Sweater Contest

Last year we held a Halloween costume contest and an ugly holiday sweater contest, and we allow departments to decorate their areas for the holidays. We also distribute free pies to all employees at Thanksgiving.

—Lindsey Garito, SHRM-CP, senior HR talent acquisition partner, WESTMED Practice Partners, Purchase, N.Y.

‘Seinfeld’ Fridays

We had a month of “Seinfeld” Fridays. We played a couple of episodes of the TV show at lunchtime and invited everyone to watch together. We provided snacks that tied into the episodes. For example, we supplied pretzels for the episode in which Kramer repeatedly says, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.”

We also have had a springtime office treasure hunt, similar to an Easter egg hunt. HR hid candy-filled plastic eggs around the office. Several eggs had vouchers for company logo items, and the person who found the “golden egg” got a special treat—an extra paid time off day. The employees really got into it!

—Rosanne Wahl, HRIS and payroll specialist, ClarkDietrich Building Systems LLC, West Chester, Ohio

Appreciative Acts

Catch ’em in the Act

I recently spoke with a health care company that shared a great idea. They called it “Getting Caught.” They encouraged employees to “catch” their peers when they go above and beyond the call of duty. Both the recognized employee and the person who recognized him or her would receive a small gesture of appreciation, such as Friday afternoon off or a free lunch.

—Keith Law, HR management consultant, ADP, Allentown, Pa.

On a Personal Note

When I worked for a small hospital, the directors were asked to write thank-you notes to hourly employees whenever they noticed employees going above and beyond in their duties. These notes were always handwritten and sent to the home of the employee (via HR, of course). This way, employees were recognized individually and they could tell that the directors put time into the thank-you cards. The fact that they were handwritten gave it a personal touch.

—Jenna Sturges, HR generalist/payroll specialist, ProgressiveHealth, Evansville, Ind.

Wow ’Em

At my previous employer, we had a “Wall of Wow” that was intended to visually represent the successes and accomplishments of the team. It was a huge display, divided into the four quarters of the year. By the end of each quarter, there would be positive e-mails, symbolic graphics, metrics, charts, photos and completed sample project documents. It was fun, and visitors to our building would make a point to check out the wall.

—Lori Buffington-Guiseppe, talent development advisor, Rite Aid Corp., Mount Joy, Pa.


We encourage anonymous Random Acts of Kindness. We leave an apple, a Coke, a small gift card for a coffee for someone with a note that says “You have been RAK’d. Pass it on.”

—Colleen Martin, SHRM-SCP, self-employed, Houston

Take the Afternoon Off!

I always found that an unexpected Friday afternoon off with pay was appreciated. If employees want to trade the date for another, no problem. I’d tie the offer to an achievement or when the employee had gone above and beyond the call of duty.

—Tamara Schisler-Wernle, SHRM-SCP, HR manager, Express Packing Inc., Indianapolis

Movie Motivation

We buy movie tickets in bulk and ask managers to give them out to deserving employees. We do the same with gift cards to restaurants. Not everyone gets them, but managers know who has really put forth a strong effort on projects or is getting a particular task done.

—Karen Lenihan, HR manager, Current Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo.


I bought superhero capes, complete with sequin superhero initials, for a few employees who really saved us by kicking it up a notch to cover for an employee who left unexpectedly.

—Katrina Paglierani, media strategist, JobTarget, New London, Conn.

Teambuilding Activities

Lend a Hand

At my former company, we would take on team volunteer projects sorting donations of clothing at women’s shelters, painting a playground in the inner city and building homes with Habitat for Humanity. The opportunities are endless. While we focused on helping people in need, another option would be to volunteer at an animal shelter. These events are not only great for team-building, they make everyone at the company feel good about themselves. We’re proud to have done something for those less fortunate.

—Teri Aguiar, SPHR, HR director, KB Home, San Francisco

What’s Cooking?

Last year, my firm spent half a workday at a place that offers interactive, group-based cooking courses. We had to work together to develop a five-course meal, and then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. I like the idea of quarterly offsite team-building activities. They’re a great way to connect and build relationships outside of the day-to-day hustle of the office.

—Stefanie Mockler, research associate, Vantage Leadership Consulting, Chicago

Accomplishment Jars

At a previous employer, all team members had clear, personalized jars on their desks. They were encouraged to give their colleagues a marble to celebrate each accomplishment, big or small. Marbles could be given by peers or by managers. At the end of the year, we held a raffle. The more marbles you had, the more times your name got thrown in the hat for prizes.

—Hyon Moore-Burke, SHRM-CP, HR manager, American Innovations, Austin, Texas

Get Hands-On

At the PETA Foundation, expensive perks are typically out of reach. But we hold victory parties whenever we have a big win for our mission. A lot of hard work goes into each campaign. The parties help keep staff motivated, and celebrating the wins shows how much progress is being made. We can lose sight of that when we see how far we have left to go.

We also encourage staff to volunteer during the workday to get hands-on experience with animals or to attend demonstrations, if that’s not part of their job. Some administrative staff can become disconnected from the mission when their days are filled with spreadsheets and deadlines, so helping provide some comfort to a dog who is forced to live outside all winter can really amp up their motivation again.

—Kristen Stine, SPHR, HR director, PETA Foundation, Norfolk, Va.