7 Employee Appreciation Ideas People Love

Content Impact Award - TalentCulture 2022

Employee appreciation is naturally top-of-mind for employers during the holiday season. But employees actually prefer recognition throughout the year. In fact, according to a HubSpot survey, 39% of employees don’t feel appreciated, and nearly 7 in 10 think better recognition would boost their performance.

So, what can you do to help your workforce feel more deeply appreciated?

Some organizations rely on standard, old-school methods like plaques. But a more personalized approach is far more effective. A thoughtful token of appreciation is worth much more than its monetary value, alone. It tells people they matter. And that kind of message lasts long after it is received.

Here are some meaningful ways to show your team members just how grateful you are for their contributions.

7 Ways to Elevate Employee Appreciation

1. Give Hard Workers a Break

When you recognize employees for an extraordinary effort on a project or success in achieving an important business goal, don’t just say thank you. Reward them with some well-deserved time off.

In going above and beyond, employees often put in extra hours working on weekends, at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, they’re likely to lose precious sleep or family time. By letting them redeem some of that time you can help them relax and recharge after an intense work effort. Even one day away can make an impact.

Providing time off is easy. And if you toss in a bonus gift card or cash for these employees to spend on activities they enjoy, that break is likely to be especially memorable.

2. Spotlight Your Stars on Social Media

Want people on your team to feel like stars? Showcase top performers on social media for the world to see. Share photos or video clips of them on your organization’s accounts and express your gratitude for their unique contributions in an uplifting caption.

Invite your leaders and others to congratulate featured individuals in the comment section. Your “stars” will love the attention as it spreads across social media for others to see. These interactions also increase visibility for your business in all the right ways.

This kind of public recognition is personalized, community-minded, and compelling. Above all, it can boost an employee’s pride, confidence, and morale in ways that private recognition can’t touch. 

3. Create Customized Rewards

Are you thinking of giving top performers a framed certificate, a trophy, or maybe a cash reward? Instead, why not appeal to their particular interests? How do they spend their free time? What hobbies or passion projects matter most to them?

For example, do you have fitness freaks on your team? Reward them with a gym membership, a network pass, or a subsidy.

Maybe some of your people are into group activities. Why not share experiential rewards with them? For instance, you could arrange an outing at a local bowling, bocce, or Topgolf venue.

Or for those who love outdoor adventures like hiking, fly fishing, or river rafting, you could go all out and book a fun vacation package like this: White Water Rafting Montana.

Imagine how thrilled people will be with rewards that fit their interests. Whatever your budget, this is a highly effective way to keep employees motivated and reinforce your relationship with them.

4. Treat Your Team to a Tasty Meal

Everyone loves to eat. And there are endless ways to show employee appreciation with the gift of free food. You could send each employee a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Or to celebrate as a team, why not organize a surprise lunch out?

If your people work remotely, you can arrange to have a meal delivered to everyone’s door at the same time on the same day. Contact a restaurant each employee loves and order their favorite menu item. Or send a gift card to everyone in advance. This is an easy, cost-effective way to bring people together for a casual meetup. And don’t forget to send a heartfelt thank you note to each recipient, as icing on the cake.

5. Celebrate Everyday Efforts

To build and sustain a thriving workforce, look for ways to celebrate individuals and teams on a frequent basis. Ask for your workforce to be your eyes and ears to nominate people who deserve recognition for everyday accomplishments, little wins, and hard work, as well as big achievements. And encourage everyone in your organization to celebrate others, as well.

Genuine, ongoing praise is a powerful employee feedback tactic that drives engagement and job satisfaction. It also models the kind of spirit you want to see at the core of your culture.

Also, don’t forget opportunities to celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones. Let your employees know these aren’t just “checklist” items, but heartfelt gestures. You’ll see them smiling more often and sharing appreciation with peers.

6. Highlight Employee Excellence in Internal Newsletters

Internal newsletters and intranets are great for informational updates, but they’re just as powerful for employee appreciation. It pays to think creatively about how you can acknowledge your best performers through these channels.

You could dedicate a regular column in one of these vehicles to highlight stories about the hard work and accomplishments of top performers. These stories are an excellent way to boost morale and inspire top talent to remain engaged and keep aiming high.

7. Make The Most of Anniversaries

Some organizations treat anniversaries as just another day. But wouldn’t it be great to work for a company that celebrates every year of your employment as an important milestone?

The average employee turnover rate remains 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. In this tough talent market, why would any employer let an anniversary go to waste?

Each year matters in the life of an employee. Whether they’re new to your organization or they’ve been on board for a long time, every member of your team deserves a celebration dedicated to their service. This kind of recognition can take many forms. But whatever you do, be sure to sincerely acknowledge people for their loyalty and their role in helping your organization advance its mission.

Final Thoughts

Great companies embrace employee appreciation as a crucial way to boost motivation, minimize turnover, and set their organization apart from competitors. Appreciating employees doesn’t need to be difficult, but it should be timely, sincere, and relevant.

Even if your budget is limited, there are endless ways to acknowledge people while reinforcing your organization’s goals, values, and culture. Why not think outside the box and show your appreciation in a truly unique way? All it takes is your commitment, consistency, and some thoughtful planning.

This is What Happens When You Pay For It

If it’s not in the compensation plan it won’t get done.

If you don’t pay employees to further the strategic goals of the organization, they won’t be achieved.

That’s a fact; that’s the reality.

Why do you think sales bonus plans are so pervasive?

It’s all very well to strike an audacious goal and throw it out to the organization expecting employees will somehow identify with it, get excited about it and do whatever is necessary to implement it.

But this view is a colossal pipe dream.

The challenge for leadership is to make strategic objectives meaningful at the individual employee level.

Lowering a high level nonspecific organizational end game on employees creates dysfunction at best; everyone is forced to invent what it means to them in their particular role.

Typically different people come up with different interpretations; confusion results and little if any progress is made.

To make the strategic purpose a reality requires 2 fundamental steps.

  1. Translate the critical components of the organization’s strategy to what it specifically means to each function. What does sales, marketing, engineering and finance have to do day-in and day-out to deliver the expected results?
  2. Incorporate the specific deliverables into each employee’s annual performance and bonus plan.

Some organizations attempt to translate their high level objectives down to lower levels but few actually integrate them into the bonus plans for the many positions in its organization structure.

The human resource function is not responsible to make this happen.

It’s a leadership responsibility because aligning and motivating employees are key to execution; without strong performance in this area, little progress is made.

7 steps to integrate strategic objectives into the compensation plan of the organization.

  1. Keep the number of objectives to 3 at most. People can’t achieve meaningful progress when they are assigned a grocery list of deliverables.

Determine a few critical objectives that will achieve 80% of the results expected and avoid taking on “the possible many” things that might be related to strategic outcomes expected but are not vital.

  1. Prioritize the objectives; make it clear what the pressing need is and where expected results MUST be delivered. This defines the absolute minimum set of expectations that are acceptable to leadership.
  2. Weight the priorities to influence where people spend their time. Not every objective has equal import on the strategy and this should be reflected accordingly. If the top priority is given a weight of 60/100, for example, it will command the majority of a person’s time.

This is critical. If people are left on their own to determine how to allocate their time, they will most likely get it wrong, or at least there will be “attention spray” in the workplace resulting in inconsistency and dysfunction.

  1. Regularly review—with each employee—the results they have achieved versus the objectives they’ve been assigned quarterly or more frequently if the nature of the strategy is significantly different from the old plan.

The only way to make strategy execution matter to people is to keep progress achieved constantly in front of them. Occasional review sends the message that the strategy of the organization isn’t really all that important and that leadership has other more important matters to attend to.

  1. Provide whatever leader support is needed to remedy off target performance. Quite often barriers get in the way of making progress; eradicate these immediately. If no leadership intervention is seen, the message to the workforce is that leaders aren’t serious about making it easier for employees to succeed.
  2. If necessary, tweak the objectives mid-year if results are coming in considerably below objectives. It’s extremely important to keep employee motivation high and if people believe the goal is impossible to achieve, they will shut down and little progress will be made.

As a rule of thumb, if the results for a particular objective were below target by more than 30% after 6 months of the plan, I would consider making a target adjustment.

However if the target were lowered, I would also reduce the potential payout amount as well.

  1. Celebrate successes and learn from failures. NEVER repeat mistakes; ALWAYS repeat what worked. Again, regular recognition reinforces the importance of achieving the organization’s strategic goals and enhances employee engagement to keep working hard to make progress.

You get what you pay for. If strategic goals aren’t tied to how people are paid, they won’t be achieved.

Photo Credit: perzonseo Flickr via Compfight cc

Does your HR Function need to Rebrand?

What?‘ I hear you ask. Departments don’t have a brand – surely they come under the company umbrella.

Actually, every component of a company, from its newest employee to its global empire has a brand. And if your team and department is being kept out in the rain when it comes to strategic policy-making, is the last to know about significant changes or is rarely visited by the top executives then you may need to fashion your own form of weather protection – and the brighter it is the better!

Why Brand the HR Function?
In some ways, HR Tech and HR Analytics have been the saviours of the HR function, cutting down on costs and time and enabling HR to be leaner, agile and more productive than ever. But the flip-side to this development is that HR is now becoming a target for the outsourcing fetish – bundled up with IT and accounts as something that can be done somewhere else for less money.

Not us!‘ I hear you say. We have been in the industry for years; we know exactly where the future talent can be found, we have created the perfect compensation package to balance wage costs and talent retention and we bake a pretty mean cake for the annual Christmas party.

This may be true, but if your department’s self-perception is not shared by the increasingly remote C-suite, then you probably need to do something about it. That ‘something‘ is branding!

Branding and Motivation
Before we look at the nuts and bolts of branding, there is another big advantage of creating a department identity.

When individuals unite behind a coherent set of standards and beliefs than they tend to have a clearer focus and become more motivated. Just like people, entire departments can become undervalued and that naturally affects those who work there. If you have ever been part of a company where one department (usually sales or marketing) gets incentives and a brand new office while another is shunted down to the basement and misses out you will know what I mean.

However, once a department’s workforce becomes motivated by a rebrand, something magical happens!

They puff out their chests, they become more creative and industrious, they are more forthright when asking for the tools they need to perform their work. This in turn strengthens the department’s brand further and will raise its profile in the company.

How to Brand: the Power of Psychology
Please do not think that branding is just about creating a mission statement and handing out a company rulebook about how people need to behave.

This will just strengthen the existing (often unfair) ‘meta-brand’ of HR as a gathering of pen-pushers and petty bureaucrats. A brand is much bigger than a mission statement – it is the living, breathing proof of the mission itself.

The first step of any branding exercise is to get a handle on the existing brand identity. This can be done by a twin process of in-department meetings and anonymous focus groups involving the company as a whole and any external stakeholders who have connections with the department (e.g. recruitment agencies, HR Tech vendors).

Next, you need to decide whether you want to tweak the existing perceptions or, in some cases, make a complete u-turn.

You may need to overhaul a number of processes and policies, from the way you answer the telephone to the dress code and – ultimately – who you choose to recruit.

The new brand values will need to be consistently applied across time and location until the entire culture of the department shifts into its new identity.

I have not mentioned the department’s name yet because branding is sometimes erroneously confused with names and logos, but a powerful psychological technique for rebranding a department is to call it something else. Perhaps you could now be known as the ‘global people team‘ or the ‘people capital department.’

Whatever you decide, rebranding is a top technique for reasserting a department’s critical position in the eyes of a company’s decision-makers.

Photo credit: Bigstock

What Truly Motivates Employees

Employees who go above and beyond are the dream of any hiring manager. Is doing so some kind of innate quality only a gifted few possess, or is it something that’s brought out of everyday employees?

If it’s the former, how can you tailor your business to attract such rock-star employees and weed out the pikers? If it’s the latter, what does it take to bring these qualities out of the nine-to-fivers? What motivates employees to do better?

Peer Motivation

In 2014, TINYhr – creators of the anonymous employee survey-app TINYPulse – set out to answer that question. In a survey of more than 500 organizations and 200,000 respondents, their report found that the No. 1 thing employees cite as their strongest motivator at work is peer motivation; that is, the drive to help their team succeed.

Peer motivation isn’t something that just magically happens. To encourage it, employers have to take a hard look at the way their business operates. They need to ask themselves whether their management style fosters cooperation, leaves workers feeling isolated or forces them into competition.

Opportunities To Grow

While peer motivation is what drives employees to succeed, opportunities to grow are what drive them to stay. According to a BambooHR survey of more than 1,000 workers, a lack of opportunities is the single biggest factor that will chase good employees away.

The logic here is pretty simple: Good employees are also innately ambitious. Ambitious employees seek better opportunities. So if you don’t provide them with those opportunities, they’ll pack up and look somewhere else.

As the TINYhr report shows, opportunities to grow don’t necessarily just mean advancement up the career ladder, fancier titles or even more money – all of which ranked toward the bottom in the engagement survey. Rather, it means opportunities to learn new skills, meet new people or to be granted more responsibility.

Strong Work Culture

Think of it this way: employment is just like dating. You can’t achieve happy results without the foundation for a good relationship. In the workplace, that foundation is a strong culture that reinforces company philosophy and values the employees that uphold it.

It’s simple. Happy employees are more productive; unhappy employees leave.

Employee happiness can be difficult to quantify, but it is a concrete value, and it matters.

Engaging, Interesting Work

Employee engagement and job satisfaction are not the same thing. An employee can love her job, her pay, and her co-workers, while still finding the work itself utterly tedious.

Making your workers happy will help keep them around, but if you want to really motivate them you have to find ways to let them engage with their work. That means incentivizing creative thinking and discouraging a nine-to-five, nose-to–the-grindstone, shut-up-and-do-it mentality.

Employees Are Motivated By Being Involved

The truth about employee motivation is painfully simple, and there are decades of surveys to back it up. When asked what motivates them at work, employees reliably answer the same things, in generally the same order. When managers are asked what they think motivates employees, an interesting discrepancy emerges:

What Employees Want

  1. Appreciation of work done
  2. Feeling of being in on things
  3. Sympathetic help with personal problems

What Managers Think Employees Want

  1. Good wages
  2. Job security
  3. Promotion

Notice the difference? All the soft factors, the ones that are hard to quantify, have been stripped out.

For decades, managers have labored under the misconception that employee motivation and loyalty can be bought for cold, hard cash — and for decades, they have been totally wrong.

Every workplace is different, and the same goes for every worker. At the end of the day, if you really want to know what will motivate your employees to do better, why not just ask them?

Chances are, they’ll be all too happy to tell you.


Image: bigstock

Growth From Within: 7 Ways to Compete on Employee Talent

Does your business compete primarily on product and price?

That kind of old-school strategy may win you customers in the near term. However, competing on price or product is really just a race to the bottom.

Along the way, you’ll miss the broader opportunity — the chance to win a sustainable position of market strength.

Rethinking Business Strategy

Competing on price and product is finite. Eventually, either or both will stop yielding the desired business results. Then what can an organization do to kick-start momentum? There are several choices: 1) Retire the product, and replace it with a new one, or 2) Develop a new pricing strategy.

Either option can breathe new life into sales, right? Sure, but only for a limited time. Price and product can be duplicated or replicated. But there’s a source of competitive advantage that is nearly impossible to duplicate or replicate — and that is your workforce.

The Human Element

Does your organization compete by tapping into your people’s infinite, unique potential — their talents, skills, knowledge, experience, energy and creativity?

Access to any of these is boundless. These inherent strengths can be directed toward developing the next great product your customers need, or that pricing strategy that paves the way to increased market share. For example, think of Southwest and its refusal to charge customers for flying with luggage. Southwest was expected to earn over $200 million from baggage fees. Instead, the airline earned over $1 billion by choosing not to charge.

In the 21st century, people are celebrated as the cause for success that catapults organizations to the top. So, what does an organization do to shift its focus to compete on employee talent? Here are seven people-centric ways that signal organizational commitment that puts people first.

1) Identify how employees set your company apart

Spend time understanding how your employees’ skills, experiences, strengths can help advance your strategy. Focus on how they differentiate you from competitors. You should be able to answer this question with confidence: “How does our work environment let our employees’ talents thrive and grow?”

2) Invest in true workforce development

Don’t just send employees to compliance training. Involve them in training that elevates their skills and knowledge. At its best, workforce development makes it possible for employees to learn on-the-job skills that are crucial for their growth, and helps them contribute more effectively to your organization’s goals.

3) Adopt a customer-centric strategy

Look to build and deepen relationship with customers by transforming products, services and the customer experience. Align your employees to create solutions in each of these three areas. This work is meaningful: it helps employees see how their work ties to the bigger picture. Plus employees want to “be in” on important work.

4) Align your reward mechanisms

Are your reward programs considered irrelevant or worse? Employees should be recognized in ways that are meaningful to them. Rewards must be appropriate and timely. It’s important to motivate people with a mix of regular quick-wins and long-term incentives.

5) Modernize how and where work gets done

Mobile technology and remote work policies can transform how and where your employees get work done. They want the responsibility and flexibility to choose. It’s time to begin trusting your employees to be accountable for when, where and how they contribute. Mobile is not going away.

6) Reevaluate workload

Is there a healthy tension between employee workload and time to get it done? If expectations don’t support optimal performance, then your environment is likely creating distress. Excessive stress leads to anxiety, as people begin to feel undervalued and question their well-being. That’s the start of a long downward slide to disengagement and attrition.

7) Invest in learning employees strengths

Strengths-based leadership is about understanding the kind of work that energizes employees and leads them to perform at their peak. Just as your business must adjust to external factors, it is essential to reshuffle employee responsibilities on an ongoing basis. The more time employees spend in the zone of peak performance, the more likely you’ll see creative contributions from their efforts — and the more meaning you’ll bring to your organization’s value proposition.

Today’s topsy-turvy marketplace sometimes scares executives into behaving like cash-hoarders. But organizations that compete on employee talent position themselves to outwit, outplay, and outlast their competition.

What ideas would you add to this list? Please add your comments.

(Editor’s Note: This post is republished from SwitchandShift, with permission)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter and G+ conversation anytime. Learn more…)

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