Thanksgiving is typically a time we think about being grateful for the blessings in our own lives, and enjoy (or at least tolerate) spending time with our families. But it's also a great time to start thinking about how to thank your employees and/or co-workers who help make your company successful, and even more important, can make the many hours you spend at work pleasant and fulfilling instead of frustrating and tedious. 

How can you show your teammates how much their hard work and their camaraderie mean to you? Year-end bonuses and holiday parties are a given. Free food and extra time off (including closing the office early on the day before a holiday) are also the norm at many organizations. Those things are all great, and they contribute to employee engagement. But it's worth going an extra step and putting some thought into showing your appreciation to employees as real people.

None of the suggestions below require a big investment--most will only cost a few hundred dollars or less. But they all show the people who work with you that you really care about them and aren't just going through the motions. Give one or more of them a try this holiday season.

1. Create a wish fulfillment team.

I saw this in action at a Qualtrics annual conference, and I think it's a phenomenal idea. Recruit volunteers from among your employees to make up a small team of people who, for one day, or one week, are charged with fulfilling as many of their co-workers' wishes as they can. This can be anything from "I wish I had a hot cup of tea right now," to "I wish I wasn't always so cold in my office," (a space heater and cozy blanket, maybe) to "I wish I had tickets to a fun concert. Give your team a small budget for fulfilling wishes and let their creativity do the rest. If you want to start small, have employees write down their wishes and throw them into a bowl and let the wish-fulfillment team pull one or more out at random.

2. Hide a surprise in employees' desks.

After employees leave for the day is a great time to sneak a little surprise into their desk or under their computer. What that surprise is should be individual to the employee. If someone's been dying to see the latest movie, consider a Fandango gift certificate. A small box of fine chocolates might be the right treat for a different colleague, or perhaps a book that you know someone's been wanting to read. No need to surprise your whole team the same day--it can be fun if surprises are given out to team members over the course of a week or two. And if you have too many employees to come up with a good gift for each of them, or don't know what some team members would like, enlist their colleagues to help you.

3. Send a handwritten note.

It could be a simple note on nice stationery or a printed thank-you card, or even a note on your company's letterhead. The important thing is that you 1) Thank each employee for his or her work this year, and 2) Be specific about what you're saying thanks for so that the employee knows you appreciate his or her individual efforts. Be sincere. If your team is too large for you to really know the contributions of individual team members, enlist their direct supervisors to send them notes instead. 

Your note should be mailed to the employee's home, not just handed out at the office. It can come with a small gift, or gift card, or it can just be a note by itself. Research shows that a personalized, handwritten note is highly motivating to your team members, so don't skip this simple, extremely inexpensive, and very effective way to convey your thanks.

4. Go on an outing.

A day or half-day break to visit anything from a spa to a bowling alley can make employees feel appreciated and bring them back to their jobs feeling refreshed and relaxed and thinking more creatively. There are extra benefits if, weather permitting, you take them out into nature, say for a hike or cross-country skiing, or a bonfire on the beach. 

5. Donate to charities they care about.

You can either offer a smaller donation to a charity selected by individual employees or teams, or you can allow the whole company to vote on a more substantial donation to a charity they all choose together. The important element is that your employees choose the charity, not you. 

6. Take a volunteering day.

One of the things I love about my credit union is that one day a year all its offices close so that every employee can spend the day volunteering. At a time of year when people are thinking about helping their communities, giving them the time and support to do that is a great way to show you care. Make sure you have some fun and interesting volunteer suggestions to offer employees who may not know where to donate their time. And encourage pairs or teams of employees to volunteer together.

7. Get together to support a team member.

Think old-fashioned barn-raising here. Is one of your employees expecting a first child? Get a team together to go over and help paint the nursery and assemble the crib. Has someone just bought their first home? Maybe a team of employees can go over and plant a couple of trees. Helping out should be optional, and you should carefully choose someone who really needs assistance to avoid jealousies. Better yet, let employees nominate colleagues who may need a helping hand.

8. Help them get around.

It seems like holiday time--just when the weather is at its worst in many parts of the country--is when you need to be out and about the most, shopping for presents, shopping for groceries, going to parties and other functions. There's nothing you can do about the weather, but at least you can help them get where they're going a little more easily by giving them a month's worth of commuting support, either gift cards for gas, or a commuter pass, depending on their preferred form of transportation.

9. Start a "G" book.

This could either be a paper notebook or something virtual like shared document. The idea is to write down things that individual employees have done well, or that other employees appreciate. Set the right example by writing in the book yourself, and encourage employees to share their praise or appreciation of colleagues as well. Then, at your holiday party or end-of-year meeting, read the book out loud, or have one of your team members who's good at public speaking do it. It's a great way of letting your whole team know that their talents and efforts are noticed and appreciated.

10. Give shout outs on social media.

Don't underestimate the importance of telling the world how smart and dedicated each of your employees is. If they use LinkedIn (as so many professionals do) make sure to find their profiles and add recommendations, calling out their skills and expertise. Finding that your boss has added a glowing recommendation to your LinkedIn profile can really make an employee feel noticed and valued.

11. Let them design their own giveaways.

T-shirts and mugs with your company logo are great, and something most employees will appreciate. But you can go one step better if any of your employees have design skills or artistic talents. Invite your employees to work together to create a t-shirt, jacket, mug, or other giveaway that only they will receive. Remember, the fewer people have something, the more precious it is.