Today (Friday 4 March) is Employee Appreciation Day. Created in the mid-1990s by Dr Bob Nelson, founding member of Recognition Professionals International, it is intended be an opportunity to remind employers to appreciate and recognize their workers.
This year’s Employee Appreciation Day is perhaps more important than ever before. North America and Europe are living through a mass talent exodus – dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’ – and talent shortages are very real across a range of sectors.
In response, companies have embraced flexible working, raised wages, hiring bonuses, introduced new benefits, including tuition support and extra paid time off, to attract talent into their teams. But this doesn’t seem to be working, at least not in the long-term. The ‘Great Resignation’ is showing now signs of going away – so it’s time for employers to rethink and refocus on retention, as well as talent attraction.
This suggests the solution could be as simple as improving employee’s experience at work and focusing more on appreciation – and making this evident to your candidates in the job application process.
Of course, this needs to be done not just today on Employee Appreciation Day, but the other 364 days of the year, if it is going to help companies attract and retain their top talent.
Appreciation and the ‘Great Resignation’
Motivosity VP of marketing Logan Mallory tells UNLEASH: “Right now it is so crucial that companies recognize and appreciate their team members. Employees have countless options and can make a career change at a moments notice.
“They’re more likely to stay, and stay engaged, if they know you appreciate their day-to-day efforts”.
That is the key – you might attract people into your company with a bonus, but will they stay long-term without a good employee experience and company culture that includes recognition? Probably not.
The link between recognition and retention is also mentioned by Globalization Partners’ founder and CEO Nicole Sahin. She tells UNLEASH: “Employees who don’t feel appreciated may quickly look for the exit. Studies show that 79% of people who quit say ‘lack of appreciation’ is their main reason for leaving”.
Other benefits of recognizing staff include productivity and motivation at work – not only do workers stay in their jobs, but they actually work harder. Mallory acknowledges the link between appreciation and productivity, while Sahin notes: “Four out of five employees are motivated to work harder after their boss shows gratitude for their contribution.”
OC Tanner’s latest global culture report found that when recognition is part of the culture, there is a 173% increase in engagement at work, a 114% growth in sense of purpose and 151% hike in feelings of success. Ultimately, happy, valued employees are productive employees.
Linked to this, Tax Systems CFO Bruce Martin notes that not only do appreciated employees work harder and are more motivated, but since they are generally happier, they “contributed to a better all-round working atmosphere”. Who doesn’t want to work somewhere all employees are engaged, motivated and enjoying their jobs?
SumTotal’s regional vice-president of sales in EMEA Ian Rawlings adds that as well as having a “measurable impact” on performance, recognition can also help improve the health and wellbeing of workers.
MYNDUP founder and CEO Joel Gujral agrees: “This will create a culture of openness, and in turn will create an environment that people genuinely enjoy being in and will be willing to work hard for”.
How best to appreciate your employees
It is clear that companies must get better at appreciating and recognizing their employees. But how should they actually turn theory into reality?
The first thing to do is to figure out precisely how employees actually want to be recognized.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all. Some employees will appreciate public recognition, while others will really dislike it. Key to success is appreciating people in a way that factors into their diverse needs and personality type”, explains OpenBlend founder and CEO Anna Rasmussen.
Sahin agrees. She explains that in multi-cultural teams, which are becoming more and more common with the growth of hiring from anywhere, this is especially important. “What is rewarding to one global team member can cause stress of even offence to another”.
The challenge is while some cultures are individualist, others are collectivist. “Team members from collectivist cultures often appreciate the work of the team more than the contribute of any one individual, and find it awkward of embarrassing to be called out.”
In this context, it is crucial “to make sure you approach thankfully with an accurate understanding of what gratitude looks like for your employee, and how to express it in their culture”, adds Sahin.
Start small with ‘thank you’
Taking all of the above into account, the best thing is to do is start small, according to Rasmussen.
A simple thing to do is to say thank you to employees regularly.
OC Tanner’s report is clear that recognition only works if it’s constant and fully integrated into the culture. It is no good if only one leader in a whole company does this, or if all leaders do it sporadically. In that case, it seems disingenuous and that it is being said for the sake of it.
Rawlings notes: “It is important that managers consciously plan space for appreciative words and gestures each day [and] recognize employee’s achievements as and when they happen”. Mallory agrees that managers need to tell their employees thank you and great job consistently.
It is also important that employers and managers encourage peer-to-peer recognition; this is noted by OC Tanner’s recent report. Tech can help here, particularly for hybrid and distributed teams – Motivosity is one example, others include Kudos, Assembly and Lattice.
Another option noted by Fluent Commerce global vice-president of people and culture Alex Pusenjak is to set up Slack or Microsoft Teams channels for employees to share ‘kudos’. This is a space “where any team member can call out a team member for a job well done” – Pusenjak notes that the channel has become even more important during COVID-19.
Also, Fluent Commerce has introduced a ‘Coffee and Gratitude’ Zoom call on Mondays where colleagues connect on any topics, including personal or professional successes or challenges.
The interesting thing about these approaches is they make a difference, without costing too much. “It’s the small and meaningful initiatives that bring people and make employees feel ‘seen’ and appreciated”, concludes Pusenjak.
Sending gifts and vouchers
Employers can also decide to intentionally spend money on their employees. One way to do this is for the whole team or company to celebrate business success.
This could be by sending everyone a physical gift – platforms like Snappy and Alyce can make this simple for HR teams and ensure that no-one gets overlooked. Or it could be sending virtual vouchers, such as for food, which platforms like Uber for Business and Just Eat for Business make easy.
In addition, companies could spend money on celebrating individual employees. To make this fair and not create a culture of favoritism, this could be done around employee milestones, such as birthdays or work anniversaries. This is something that we actually do here at UNLEASH for work anniversaries.
This is a “personalized way to help employees feel that extra bit special” – particularly when they are working remotely and are interacting less with their colleagues, according to Applaud CEO and co-founder Ivan Harding.
Technology can help here – there are tools that can remind managers of the milestones, and make sure everyone gets appreciated on their work anniversary or birthday.
“Ultimately, it is about making employees feel that their company really knows them, and values the work they put in”, according to Harding.
Dialing up benefits
However, Sahin argues companies need to go beyond saying thank you – or sending free gifts. While this can go a long way, it is also important that employers dial up their perks and benefits to make employees feel valued and appreciated.
Burnout and stress have been cited as major causes of the ‘Great Resignation’. And Ergotron’s future of work survey found that 73% of UK workers would choose their next employer based on their physical, health and wellbeing support. So one option could be for companies to dial up their offerings around mental and physical wellbeing.
This is acknowledged by MYNDUP’s Gujral. “This shouldn’t be restricted to just providing freebies. The wellbeing and mental health of employees must also be considered”.
Gujral noted that companies should go above and beyond to offer “therapy or counselling, life coaching or meditation tools” – this proves to employees that their companies see them as humans with struggles. Prince Harry recently spoke at a BetterUp conference about the importance of individuals taking time to mediate and slow down when they are struggling.
Another way to help companies with their burnout, and improve their work-life balance, is to offer flexible working as a perk; this is noted by Tax Systems’ Martin. This feeds into employee appreciation is it acknowledges that employers trust their workers to work where they are most productive.
“By being taking the objective approach of trusting our team to get the work done, we have employees who are happy, motivated and committed to the company”, concludes Martin.
Another major cause of the ‘Great Resignation’ is lack of career development. So by focusing on providing more learning and development opportunities, companies are showing that they are not just saying ‘great job’ but they actually mean it, and they want to enable their employees to grow.
Ultimately, “employee appreciation is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a business critical ‘must-have’”, concludes OpenBlend’s Rasmussen.
If you want to thrive in the current labor market, don’t dilly dally, use Employee Appreciation Day to start trying out some of these appreciation tips, but keep building out your approach in the weeks, months and years ahead.