How do you show your employees that you appreciate them, beyond the old-school printed “Employee of the Month” certificate? One key is through real-time communication– rather than waiting once a quarter to thank your employees, show them that you are aware of the work that they do and the skills they bring to your business as successes happen.
Employee recognition is less of a “nice to have” and more of a “must do” than many employers think. One of the biggest reasons why employees stop caring about their jobs and the company they work for is because they feel underappreciated. Rather than viewing employee recognition as a way for leaders to pat themselves on their own backs or as a gift to employees, employers need to reframe their approach to understand recognition as a business strategy that is essential in building a healthy, productive, and sustainable workforce.
Leading a team can be one of the biggest day-to-day challenges for managers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Beyond the many intricacies of interpersonal relationships that affect any working team, there is an added layer of difficulties with regard to the employer-employee/leader-team member dynamic—recognition.
Valuing your employees as team members and as integral members of your small business operations is a key to entrepreneurial success. Employee recognition and appreciation is a powerful tool to promote healthy coworker and team relationships, reinforce productive and creative behaviors, celebrate success milestones, and ensure that you retain good employees.
Conversely, not showing genuine appreciation can cause good employees to quit their jobs. Employee appreciation is a broad term that can relate to salary and benefits, recognition, the celebration of successes, and team building. It goes beyond the surface level of gratitude, like a casual thank you or good job, and should be reflective of your company culture and values at its heart.
Timing is everything
As with many things in business, timing is key with respect to employee appreciation. Many find that smaller, but timely appreciation gestures are more satisfying or perceived as genuine over larger, but later thanks. Speaking personally, I’d rather be thanked or shown appreciation at the close of the project over a gesture that takes place six or ten months after the fact.
Of course, both are still appreciated and meaningful in their own ways, but there is something to be said about timely delivery that heightens one’s gratitude. Saving the large gestures, such as a yearend bonus, for later is warranted, but consider smaller gestures that respond to the task at hand as a more day-to-day option.
Humility and Teamwork
Being thoughtful about the way that you communicate your appreciation requires a degree of humility about your own role as an entrepreneur or business owner. While it may be easy to think that by paying your employees competitive wages or by thanking them for going above and beyond their responsibilities you are doing them a favor, you run the risk of entirely missing the point of employee appreciation.
The employee and employer relationship is bilateral, not one-way. Your employee is doing as much of a service to you by choosing to work, and do good work, in pursuit of your business’s vision as you are by hiring them and financially providing a livelihood.
You are all part of the same team. Every team member, provided that they are the right fit, brings something integral to the table. Working together as a unit requires that each member feels valued in their role and supported as they work together towards goals.
1. Give a Bonus at an Unexpected Time
Quarterly or year-end bonuses are a popular way to incentivize employees and celebrate a successful year or timeframe. While this old-school option may feel outdated, there are ways to update the tradition without losing sight of the goal.
Including a handwritten note thanking your employee for their contribution to the team during the year, giving the bonus during a more unexpected time than the company holiday party, or offering it as a stock option, are all relatively easy-to-implement options.
2. Feed Your Team
Throwing a small offer party at the end of a quarter or after a company goal has been reached is a great non-financial way to thank your team for their hard work. The party doesn’t have to be an extravagant event. All you really need is your staff and food.
There is something about a gathering around food that makes people forget their troubles. Buying pizzas, sandwiches, or doughnuts for your staff almost always boosts morale. Even if it is just for that day, providing a party atmosphere for your staff will help them feel more appreciated by your company.
3. Thank Them On Social
Giving your team or individual team members a shout-out on social media is a way to broadcast your appreciation to the world. If an employee is wanting and willing to be featured and publicly thanked on your company’s Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok page, then use that opportunity to let your followers know how much you appreciate your team.
To truly make public acknowledgment a powerful tool, make it something that is done regularly. Instead of publishing a post once or twice a year, acknowledge 1 or 2 team members per month.
4. Individualize Your Appreciation
What works for one employee may not be meaningful to another or fail to appropriately recognize their success. For instance, one employee might find it appropriate to mention their hard work and collaboration on a project in front of the collective team, while another might find that embarrassing and will shy away.
It truly does depend on the individual, and it also requires you to assess the situation and determine what sort of gesture is appropriate both for the person and for the situation. It includes an awareness of personality type and working style, as well as sensitivity around the issue. Different people want to be appreciated and recognized in different ways.
5. Give them Time Off to Volunteer
Sponsoring a day where your employees can go and donate their time to a cause they care about is a powerful way to support your team in matters that have nothing to do with work. You can do this by offering volunteer hours. Volunteer hours work similarly to paid time off. An employee can accrue hours every pay cycle. You can set the max hours to be 8, 16, or 24 hours per year.
When the team member has enough hours, they can use those hours to volunteer at their church, shelter, charity, or event that helps their community. These hours would be used anytime during regular business hours.
While acknowledging the work of your team and feeding them may be great ways to show appreciation, supporting them in causes that they are passionate about adds a separate level of appreciation that goes a long way.
6. Recognize Non-Work Related Accomplishments
Did one of your employees finish a half-marathon? Become a U.S. citizen? Buy their first home? If so, take this opportunity to celebrate with them! If you have a team member that has accomplished a goal outside of work, acknowledging then the achievement will help them feel like more than just an employee.
Take the time to send an email, create a banner, or acknowledge it at the next team meeting (with the employee’s permission). In order to do this you must have a work culture where your team feels comfortable sharing the details of their life outside of work. But once you do, this is a great way to show your employees you appreciate them.
Finding good employees can sometimes be difficult. This is why it is important to focus on retention of your best employees. Showing your appreciation for your employee and recognizing their contributions should be a thoughtful and strategic gesture that is part of your culture and way of doing business. Employees that feel appreciated and valued are more likely to be happy, productive, and engaged in the workplace, and they are less likely to jump ship.
As a leader, your role in the workplace should be as a representative of your company culture, and integrating appropriate recognition into that structure will go a long way in ensuring that your business lives its values.