Have you marked your calendar yet? Employee Appreciation Day is observed every year on the first Friday in March. It's a day when companies across the world take time to express appreciation for their employees.
Some buy lunch for employees, while others throw parties or give out awards. A few might even give their team the day off! So how do you know the time, effort, and other resources you're putting into recognizing employees are well spent?
Good intentions, limited impact
Employee Appreciation Day dates back to 1995. Bob Nelson, a founding board member of Recognition Professional International, created the holiday with his publishing company Workman Publishing.
Over the past 20 years, many other companies have embraced the unofficial holiday. However, a problem presents itself when an organization limits employee appreciation to that one day.
An annual employee recognition celebration may feel like the right thing to do, especially as Employee Appreciation Day draws near, but to truly appreciate your employees, you'll need to go further.
Nelson himself explained the problematic nature of this approach in an interview with Business Insider:
I'm a big advocate of using recognition on a daily basis...By no means is Employee Appreciation Day meant to be this one day to thank people or this one day to bring in doughnuts...But I did want to have one day where we could call attention to the topic and have conversations about its importance.
Celebrating your employees only once per year:
- Rewards everyone collectively, regardless of their individual contributions.
- Occurs too infrequently to be much of a motivational tool.
- Can come across as insincere, especially if there's minimal appreciation the rest of the year.
So what's the solution?
Make every day Employee Appreciation Day
Show genuine appreciation to your employees throughout the year. You don't need to throw a party every day; it's about building a culture of appreciation across the entire organization.
Easier said than done? Not really.
To help get the ball rolling, we built a list of easy ways to recognize employees on a regular basis, along with quotes from organizations with recognition-rich cultures:
1. Celebrate diverse wins, results, and contributions
Have you ever noticed the same superstars getting all of the recognition? Are rewards are tied to sales or years of service? As deserving as your top producers and senior employees may be, your other employees are contributing to the company's success, too.
While one employee may have landed a big new account, another may have reduced the company's exposure to risk, and yet another may have recently completed an intense training program. Look for and celebrate "wins" of all kinds both publicly and privately.
2. Encourage peer recognition
Encouraging peer recognition is an effective way to ensure that your employees feel recognized and appreciated for their contributions. Instead of an annual, top-down approach, peer recognition programs like Bonusly empower employees to recognize and reward one another on a much more frequent basis.
Crowdsourcing employee recognition makes celebrating the myriad achievements and contributions of all the members of your team much easier, more organic, more genuine, and much more realistic to accomplish.
Although peer recognition is one of the most effective methods to ensure employees know they're appreciated, there are many other complementary initiatives you can implement that dovetail nicely with it.
3. Host Lunch and Learns
Each of your employees has a list of unique talents. Some of those talents may still be hidden. Take the initiative, pick up lunch for the team, and organize a half-hour event to learn from each other.
Perhaps someone from the team is a bicycle enthusiast in their spare time and would be willing to teach a quick seminar on basic spring bike tune-ups.
The talent pool isn't limited to members of your team. There are other experts you can bring in to share their expertise. For example, if you don't have a bike expert on staff, check in with a few local bike shops and see if any of their techs are willing to give a half-hour lesson. They'll get a great opportunity for exposure, and your team gets some expert instruction.
What would your team like to learn about or share? Use your creativity, and solicit feedback from the team on what they'd like to hear about.
4. Offer professional development
Providing professional development opportunities and encouraging employees to grow within your organization is one of the most powerful ways you can show your appreciation.
The first step toward this could be something simple, like providing a monthly allowance for education and development. Modern educational tools like Lynda and Udemy make this simple and cost-effective. Think about setting up a stipend for relevant conferences or training.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that investing in your team's education is simply grooming them for their next position at another company. By supporting their professional development, you're showing the team how much you value their current skills, and the things they bring to the table. Your investment also shows your interest in seeing them grow with you over the long term.
Peter Baeklund has a great quote on the topic:
A CFO asks a CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?
The CEO responds: What happens if we don’t and they stay?
5. Provide functional equipment
It's hard to say you appreciate your team if they're using outdated, barely functional equipment.
You don't have to spring for the most expensive tools, but it's important to ask your employees if there's anything you can provide that would make their job easier. It could be a more ergonomic tool, a new web service, or anything, really.
No, you don't need a Porsche when a golf cart will do the job, but the important thing is to keep an open line of communication about the needs of your team.
6. Prioritize personal outreach
Personal outreach takes just a few minutes of your time, and is an incredibly powerful way to help employees feel appreciated. There are a lot of great tools and techniques out there to help make this happen on a mass scale, but it's important to remember to personally thank your teammates for the work they do.
7. Provide open communication channels
Andrew Schrader, HR Manager at Chobani, shared one way that he and his team communicate appreciation:
Our employees wanted frequent recognition, and the program empowers them to recognize each other. Having the ability to recognize someone immediately is the most valuable part of Bonusly. Whether you have 20 employees or 2,000, it doesn’t matter. People just want to be told they’re doing a good job.
SnackNation's Emil Shour shared two great examples of what he and the SnackNation team do to make sure the team feels like every day is Employee Appreciation Day: Crush-It Calls and Shout-outs.
8. Crush-It Calls
We know that a lack of appreciation is the #1 reason why Americans quit their jobs, so creating a culture where recognition and praise are abundant has been ingrained into SnackNation from Day 1. On a weekly basis, we host what we call the Crush-It Call. Each Friday afternoon, the entire team huddles together and we go around the room answering 2 things: a coworker you want to 'crush' (i.e., praise) for something awesome they did in the past week, and something you're grateful for.
I love the Crush-It Call because everyone on the team a chance to see all the cool things happening in each department. As SnackNation has grown, each department has become a little more compartmentalized and we often miss all the valuable things our coworkers are accomplishing.
We actually filmed one of our recent Crush-It Calls. If you want to see what it looks like so you can replicate it at your company, check it out here.
-Emil Shour, SnackNation
As for a daily practice, we encourage people to give shout-outs to the team when it's deserved. You'll often see emails like this going out to the whole team:
Plus, having unlimited healthy snacks to fuel our team is something that makes us all feel very appreciated on a daily basis!
-Emil Shour, SnackNation
10. Team events
At Bonusly, in the spirit of our mission to help people connect with their work and each other in meaningful ways, each month we do a fun, company-wide team event together.
Past events have included a virtual escape room challenge, boba tea and popcorn chicken making (or tofu depending on preference and dietary needs!), Hispanic Heritage Month trivia, and—maybe our most popular—a virtual safari where a zookeeper fed giraffes live.
Teams look forward to these events as a way to connect with one another, have fun, and break from the normal routines at work. What better way to do that than a live giraffe feeding?!
11. Treat your team to lunchWeekly meal reimbursements and Grubhub, Doordash, or UberEats credits are becoming commonplace work perks and it's easy to see why! Employees love this simple gesture of appreciation. What's not to love when you can order your favorite meal and have it delivered to your doorstep?
12. Pleasant surprises
If you're like most of us, you have a life outside of work. And that means that you also have important life milestones worth acknowledging! Help your employees celebrate with a thoughtful and meaningful gesture. Consider sending flowers, a signed card, and a bottle of champagne to help an employee celebrate their recent marriage. Did someone on your team recently buy a new home? Send a simple housewarming gift in the mail with your team's congratulations.
Other milestones or events to acknowledge: welcoming a newborn baby (company-branded onesies anyone?!), the loss of a loved one, and following through on a personal goal like running a marathon or mastering a new skill.
We are all running a mile a minute at work, so we lose track of communication, and then when we do take time to talk, we focus on the negative. Yes, we need to talk about ways we can improve, but we also need to be appreciative more. And to do it in a specific way, not just a 'Thanks for everything' type of message, but compliment your coworkers and recognize them for doing something special.
-Jennifer Riggins, Happy Melly and Management 3.0
A lot of companies make saying 'thank you' a visible practice. Virgin calls them Rippas, some call them hugs, at Management 3.0, we call them Kudos. You can put up a bulletin board to publicly post your employee recognition or you can take the time to celebrate these little thank you notes once a week or once a month. And it doesn't have to be just for those in the office. You can show anyone a remote thanks on Twitter with Kudobox.co.
-Jennifer Riggins, Happy Melly and Management 3.0
You don't need to install nap pods or provide free yoga lessons (though you could), but it's important to let your team know your organization values their health, both on and off the job. That dedication to employee health is valuable both on an individual and group basis.
In a recent interview with us, Button's Stephen Milbank explained why employee health is so important, and how something as simple as your attendance policy can have a surprisingly large impact:
We have a pretty open policy where you can take those days off and not put other people at risk. By doing stuff like that, you allow people to be more responsible. They are going to act on the side of caution, which is ultimately better for the organization.
-Stephen Milbank, Button
Wellness isn't just about physical health either. Make sure the team isn't saddled with assignments keeping them from occasionally unplugging from work. That recuperative time is crucial to their performance, their stress levels, and ultimately their retention. In the same interview, Milbank shared some more great advice on this topic as well:
If you're creating an environment where someone is never able to go home and relax—where they work all sorts of crazy hours—the other people in their lives are going to be unhappy.
-Stephen Milbank, Button
Looking out for the health of your team isn't just valuable as an expression of employee appreciation, it has clear bottom-line benefits.
Putting it all together
This final tip is crucial: putting all the right strategies together into a sustainable practice that fits your company culture.
When I Work's Rob Wormley shared how he and the When I Work team expertly combine several of these techniques into one cohesive strategy:
At When I Work, we celebrate and show appreciation to our employees in a number of ways:
First, we give them the tools and resources they need to be successful in their roles. We’ve found that this ultimately has a positive impact on employee happiness and retention.
Second, we give employees the opportunity to continue learning by sending them to conferences and buying books that they want to read.
Third, we plan fun monthly and quarterly company and team outings in an effort to thank our employees for their hard work. Finally, we stock our kitchen with free food and drinks to keep employees energized and happy throughout the day.
-Rob Wormley, When I Work
Did this year's Employee Appreciation Day catch you off guard? Use these tips to make every day Employee Appreciation Day, and you'll never have to worry about the first Friday in March sneaking up on you again.