Posted February 27, 2022 by Mark Perna
The “employee of the month” award hasn’t aged well. Here’s how to celebrate your people on Employee Appreciation Day—and every other day of the year. Mark’s article, “Employee Appreciation Day Is March 4. Here’s How People Want To Be Thanked,” published at Forbes.com on February 15, 2022.
Employee Appreciation Day, which falls on March 4 this year, has suddenly become a holiday that employers need to pay attention to. In the past, employers and bosses could have let this day go by without even realizing it. But the dynamic changes brought on by the Great Resignation, Great Reshuffle or, if you prefer, the War for Talent, have lent new importance to the valuable role every employee plays in the success of an organization.
If employees don’t feel accepted or appreciated, they’ll walk. But on the flip side, new research by Workhuman has found that people who were thanked at work in the last month are only half as likely to be looking for a new job. They’re also three times more likely to see a path to grow within the organization.
To mark Employee Appreciation Day, I asked a group of executives from leading organizations how employers can show authentic gratitude to their employees. Here are three key ways they shared to meaningfully thank your team.
A sincere thank-you can be expressed in many different ways. One size doesn’t fit all, but no matter how you convey gratitude, you must mean it. Perhaps counterintuitively, most people prefer receiving praise over an alternative like money or gifts—as long as it’s authentic.
“Never underestimate the power of sincerity and looping it back specifically to how someone helped the company or another employee,” says Renée Holland, global head of people at Contentstack. “Helping employees see how they’ve made the company better encourages continuation of the behavior and it also helps reinforce what is important for the organization’s success at a deeper level of understanding.”
It’s also helpful to rely on feedback you receive from that person directly. “As a leader or people manager, you can start with the simple question, ‘How are you?’ to strike up a conversation with employees on topics ranging from workplace flexibility, burnout, career advancement and much more,” says Rosanna Durruthy, VP of Global Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at LinkedIn. “It’s important to move from transactional conversations to ones that are inclusive of how employees are feeling on top of all that’s happening with work.”
But as great as that conversation may be, don’t stop there. Durruthy suggests the following techniques to take the experience deeper:
While every employee wants to be appreciated, they don’t all want to receive it in the same way. “An employee should never have to question if the recognition was meant for them,” says Durruthy. “Make sure any form of recognition is specific, timely and thoughtful.”
“When focusing on employee appreciation and recognition, it’s important not to generalize or assume that what supports and recognizes one employee will have the same effect on another,” says Matt Norman, Chief People Officer at DigitalOcean. “When recognizing an employee, keep it simple, never underestimate the power of a ‘thank you’, give praise and constructive feedback regularly and often and don’t forget to recognize the people behind the scenes.”
Not everyone wants to be thanked in a public way. The “employee of the month” award hasn’t aged well. In fact, about 50% of people prefer compliments privately, says Holland. An exception to the rule might be Millennials who, in general, crave frequent public praise. Not every Millennial is wired this way, however, which speaks to the need to not paint with broad brushes when thanking employees.
One way to praise or thank an employee who values their privacy is to take them out to lunch or coffee where you can specifically thank them for what they did and how it made their company, or their department better. “If it makes you proud seeing them accomplish something or help another employee, use specifics to make sure they know you saw them,” says Holland.
While every employee is unique, there are some loose generational insights that inform the way many people want to be praised. For example, Gen-Xers are far more focused on social causes than most realize, which means they might appreciate the chance to take time off to volunteer for a passion project of theirs. Similarly, members of Gen-Z might jump at the chance to give back to their community as a thank you.
“People want to be seen, heard and understood, and when you can demonstrate that you did those things when showing appreciation, you validate their ‘goodness’ and encourage them to continue that behavior,” says Holland. “And who doesn’t want more of that?”
Giving employees a clear path to grow their own career and aspirations within the company is another big way to say thanks. Some 37% of employees are looking for some sort of change in their career, whether they are exploring new possibilities, seeking a new job or exploring a new role within the organization.
“One of the best ways leaders can show appreciation for their employees is by making meaningful investments in their career growth,” says Cameron Yarbrough, CEO and Co-Founder of Torch. One such investment could be hiring a career coach who can work with employees to learn where they want to take their careers—and how the company can help fuel that growth.
“Let employees know that their professional growth is important and that you’re willing to invest in them through educational, networking and mentorship opportunities,” says Durruthy.
That might be especially true when it comes to members of Gen-Z, who will seek out a wide range of experiences and skill sets over the course of their career. “They want broader and tangential knowledge of things for the security it brings,” says Holland. “By broadening their skill sets, Gen-Zers are giving themselves more long-term career growth opportunities and the flexibility to move across multiple fields as the economic market changes.
“Give them those opportunities to job shadow something tangential to their roles—they’ll appreciate that.”
Every organization today is striving to recruit and retain great employees. And perhaps the best investment they can make in those efforts is to evaluate how they recognize the employees who make it all possible. Given all the challenges everyone has been through over the past two years, your team deserves that kind of thanks and recognition.
Though Employee Appreciation Day is a holiday worth adding to your calendar, it’s just one day out of 365. A workplace culture that makes employees feel appreciated every day is what everyone wants to be part of, so start winning the war for talent—one “thank you” at a time.