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How To Show Appreciation to Employees: 10 Simple Ways With Big Impact

Source: "How To Show Appreciation to Employees: 10 Simple Ways With Big Impact"
Upwork, June 8, 2023

Everyone wants to feel their work matters and that the company they work for values them. That’s why when you sincerely show employees that you appreciate the work they do and that you care about them as people, they’re inspired to do their best and help others succeed.

How much impact can showing employees appreciation make?

According to research by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, giving sincere thanks more than doubled a person’s feeling of self-worth. In a fundraiser study, thanking employees boosted their number of calls by more than 50% from the previous week.

Here are 10 simple employee appreciation ideas you can apply in the workplace:

1. Recognize hard work
2. Provide professional development opportunities
3. Create a positive work environment
4. Offer flexible work arrangements
5. Provide incentives and perks
6. Celebrate milestones and special occasions
7. Give personalized gifts
8. Encourage feedback and suggestions
9. Show empathy and support
10. Express gratitude and say thank you

1. Recognize hard work

Recognition shows people you see their great work and don’t take their contributions for granted. Recognition can come in many forms like annual bonuses, team retreats, and fancy dinners. Bordio gives employees extra time off. “If they’ve been working hard and delivering, I see no harm in giving everyone an afternoon or day off to decompress and spend time doing things they love,” said founder and CEO Jacob Udodov.

But recognizing hard work doesn’t have to be elaborate—just sincere. A $20 gift card to their favorite coffee shop can be effective. In fact, your most impactful ideas may be free. Appareify recognizes top-performing salespeople by inviting them to executive meetings. “Most of them don't get much face time with senior leadership,” said co-founder Nora Salama. “Putting them in the same room allows us to highlight their achievements and get their perspectives on certain ideas, which allows them to feel like they are part of the decision-making process.”

Employee recognition doesn't have to be elaborate - just sincere. In fact, your most impactful ideas may be free.

It’s good practice to have a formal process for recognition so that it’s done regularly. The leadership team at City Wide spends the beginning of their monthly department meetings recognizing “Blazers.” These are people who made the extra effort to help a co-worker.  “Blazers are then highlighted at the company-wide meeting so the entire organization can be made aware. It’s a simple but impactful way to let employees know they are appreciated,” said marketing director Kasey Skala.

However you recognize hard work, make sure you’re specific. Giving someone a generic “thanks” or “good job” feels insincere. But saying something like, “I appreciate how you patiently handled the changing deadlines and worked hard to deliver on time” feels genuine.

“The most important thing is to seek out their ‘work love language,’” said Professor Donna Lubrano, virtual exchange officer at United Planet. She said everyone has different ways of feeling appreciated. Some may prefer movie tickets for their whole family, some want a shout-out on the company’s social media, and some may prefer a pat on the back. “If someone is not a ‘joiner’ giving them a big party feels tone deaf.”

2. Provide professional development opportunities

Employees want to know their career potential in a company, and they feel valued when the company supports their growth. Show you care by offering opportunities that are appropriate for their experience level and industry. This may be providing a stretch assignment, connecting them with a mentor, or sponsoring them to attend industry events where they can learn and network.

Although most employees welcome the chance to level up, many have trouble making time for it. Electrly solves the time issue through their “Lunch-and-Learn” events where an external expert provides training over lunch. “The events allow us to show how much we appreciate our employees and help them upskill without impeding their productivity or disrupting their work schedules,” said co-founder Doris Joyce.

Read: Why Companies Should Develop a Remote Learning and Development Strategy Now

You could also give employees opportunities to pursue their creative interests. This may range from giving access to tools and resources to build out an idea to encouraging them to participate in a hackathon.

“Employees need to know that the business isn’t just interested in what it can get out of them, but that it is also interested in what it can invest into them,” said Marbue Brown, author of “Blueprint for Customer Obsession.” Brown suggests deploying programs that support employees' hopes, dreams, and aspirations. This includes programs like tuition reimbursement, scholarships, and affordable childcare options. When employees see you’re willing to invest in their growth, it can improve retention rates and make your company more attractive to potential hires.

"Employees need to know that the business isn't just interested in what it can get out of them, but that it is also interested in what it can invest into them." - Marbue Brown, author of "Blueprint for Customer Obsession"

3. Create a positive work environment

Providing a positive work environment can increase employee retention, collaboration between team members, and employee engagement.

Understand that a positive work environment has little to do with where a person works. Although having a comfortable office and catered lunches are nice perks, what matters more are the company culture and company values, and how employees feel about their work, bosses, and colleagues. So, a positive work environment is as important to remote workers as their onsite counterparts.

A positive work environment is as important to remote workers as their onsite counterparts.

This is why ContentGo ensures remote workers have access to all the tools and information as onsite members. Managers give updates via Skype and Slack, so everyone can participate. And managers check in with remote members regularly over the phone or in one-on-one meetings. “This helps foster a sense of togetherness and reinforces the idea that everyone is connected,” said company co-founder Ahmet Durmusoglu.

Read: The End of Corporate Culture (and Here’s What’s Next)

If budget allows, don’t be shy about celebrating employees on a grander scale. Instead of an employee appreciation day, Elior North America hosts a week-long campaign called BetterWithYou. The company encourages a supportive company culture by giving employees tools to express appreciation for one another as part of an employee recognition program. Tools include digital templates to use on Yammer and print-outs to fill out and share with their team and post on company-wide bulletin boards.

4. Offer flexible work arrangements

Offering flexible work arrangements shows you value team members by giving them room for work-life balance. This could look like offering flexible work options and extra time off. Or letting people work their own hours, so they can go to a doctor’s appointment during the day and make up for the time after regular business hours.

Offering flexible work arrangements shows you value team members by giving them room for work-life balance.

Michael Green, head of clinical operations at Winona, believes offering flexible work arrangements shows employees you trust them to manage their time and finish their work. “When employees show up on their terms, they’re more energized and better budgeted to suit their own needs and lives,” said Green. “We still check in regularly, at least once a week through video or Slack, but we don’t always need to be in the office together.”

There are many creative ways to offer flexibility. Small Business Manager gives their employees the opportunity to leave early or start late on certain days. Employees can use these half-day increments to start their workday late, leave work early, or add it to their vacation time. Owner Anna Ohler said the half-day options make employees less stressed and more focused when working on demanding projects. Because “they know they'll get a mental break once the project is complete.”

Miguel Camperos, VP of operations at SunVara, strives to be as accommodating as possible. For example, employees can leave early to attend a child’s soccer game and work from home when they want. “Each person is different and has unique needs in their personal lives, so I want to show appreciation for my employees by allowing them to adjust their schedule how they’d like in order to meet their needs,” said Camperos.

5. Provide incentives and perks

Performance and nonperformance-based incentives and perks demonstrate your gratitude for the quality of work and dedication your employees give. Perks can range from offering gym memberships and subsidizing childcare, to reimbursing certification programs. Whatever you provide, offer something workers value and make it easy for both remote and onsite employees to participate.

Offer something workers value and make it easy for both remote and onsite employees to participate.

Searchbloom uses perks to increase employee engagement by having employees give each other gifts. Each employee receives 100 points every month, which equates to $10. They can gift points to a co-worker with a message recognizing something they did. Recipients can save up their points and trade them in for gift cards.

Instead of giving the typical annual bonus for great work, Gambit Partners offers a quarterly program. “The frequency of payout fosters a greater sense of ownership and connection, as employees can see how their contributions directly impact the short-to-medium goals of the business,” said founder and director, Ajay Mistry. Custom Excel Spreadsheets adds a personal touch when giving bonuses. CEO Colton Cauthen mails each person a check with a handwritten thank you note. He takes time to specify what he appreciates about them and the impact they are making on the business and customers.

Totally Promotional lets employees decide on the perks. They give an employee-led committee a budget to show employees little acts of appreciation year-round. A popular one is placing a small bag of nuts on everyone’s desk with a note saying, "We'd be nuts if we didn't thank you!"

6. Celebrate milestones and special occasions

To show you really appreciate employees, celebrate the whole person. This means in addition to recognizing work-related milestones—like reaching a business goal or landing a huge client—commemorate personal occasions too. This may be their birthday, the birth of a child, or hitting a personal goal like running a 10k race. Just be sure to get their permission before sharing their personal milestones.

When you acknowledge both professional and personal milestones, you demonstrate that you care about the employee as a whole person—not just what they deliver at work.

Demonstrate you care about the employee as a whole person - not just what they deliver at work.

Living.Fit likes to celebrate an employee’s milestone by hosting a team lunch or happy hour to give people a break from work and time to socialize. During each event, co-founder Jay Perkins gives a shout-out to the employee and highlights their contributions.

SEO Travel celebrates an employee’s hard work by making their personal dream come true. Every employee drops a handwritten dream into a suitcase-shaped box (for an added brand touch). Some submitted dreams include a honeymoon in the Maldives, attending the Champions League Final, and swimming with sharks. A dream is drawn when a team hits a company target.

7. Give personalized gifts

Giving gifts that reflect the employee’s interests and needs shows you care about them as a person, not just as an employee. So do more than give a company mug with their name inscribed on it or a watch for a work anniversary. When giving gift cards, make sure it’s to a business they enjoy or have talked about wanting to visit.

REACHRIGHT creates uber-personalized “appreciation packages for its team who all work remotely. The packages may include items like a book they've been wanting to read, wellness products, and small gadgets that can make their work-from-home experience more enjoyable.

“By tailoring each package, we demonstrate that we value not only their professional contributions but also their individuality and well-being,” said company founder and CEO Thomas Costello. “The personalized gifts have had a significant positive impact on our remote team. Employees feel more valued, leading to increased engagement, higher job satisfaction, and a renewed sense of motivation.”

Don’t underestimate the power of personalization. Abdul Saboor is a developer at The Stock Dork. As an employee, he appreciates receiving a handwritten thank you note more than an email. To Saboor, a thank you note from a manager shows “you care so much about the work I do for the company that you’re willing to take time out of your hectic schedule to sit down and write it all out in longhand.”

8. Encourage employee feedback and suggestions

Strong, mutually beneficial relationships require balanced communication. If you follow the old command-and-control leadership style where you do all the talking and don’t care what team members think, they’ll soon feel unappreciated and dissatisfied with their jobs. Shift to a more participative style to improve employee morale.

“When team members feel that their opinions matter, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and feel invested in the company's success,” said Ellie Borden. As the clinical director and clinical supervisor at Mind By Design, Borden intentionally creates a safe space for team members to share their thoughts and ideas, so they feel heard and valued.

Jacob Udodov founder and CEO at Bordio promotes feedback and suggestions by fostering trust. “I try to encourage and enable my team to come up with ideas and act on them. And I only offer guidance as they do that, so there is no feeling that they are being micromanaged.”

Many managers schedule regular times for feedback, such as during monthly check-ins and annual reviews. If you get so busy that you’re tempted to skip these types of meetings, remember this: When these meetings are canceled, employees usually feel they’re not valued. If you can’t reschedule a meeting and must skip it, explain why, so they don’t think it’s about them.

9. Show empathy and support

Employees prioritize empathy in leadership so much that they’ll quit a job if the boss isn’t supportive enough. Research by Ernst & Young shows more than half (54%) of the employees surveyed said they left a job because their boss wasn’t empathetic enough to their challenges at work. Nearly half (49%) said they left a job because their boss wasn’t empathetic to struggles in their personal lives.

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‍David Scott, co-founder and CEO at Top Reviews, improves his ability to empathize by getting to know every team member. Without prying, he invites members to talk about their professional and personal dreams, worries, and personal interests. Getting to know the whole person helps him determine what’s important to them and how the job could potentially evolve to better support them.

“At the other end of the spectrum, it's essential to respect and acknowledge those times when employees are grappling with setbacks, challenges, or trauma in their personal lives,” said Lisa Honig Buksbaum, CEO at Soaringwords. “A kind word, the ability to listen, and assuring them that their personal situation is the priority is an invaluable gift that relieves pressure, allowing the employee to focus on what's most important.”

10. Express gratitude and say thank you

You may have heard how feeling grateful is shown to improve a person’s emotional, social, and psychological well-being. But did you know gratitude creates a chain reaction of more gratitude? When you regularly express how much you appreciate your team members, they feel good. Then those good feelings inspire them to spread their positive vibes to others.

Jacob Binke, managing partner at The Birmingham Group believes everyone likes to feel appreciated and know that others are thankful for their contributions. Showing gratitude “doesn’t have to be a big show with cake and decorations (although it never hurts). It can be as simple as telling them when you’re walking out of the meeting or stopping at their desk after and letting them know that they’re doing a good job.”

Will Yang, head of growth and customer success at Instrumentl, has his entire team giving thanks on a regular basis. During the team’s biweekly virtual hangouts, members share recent achievements and give a shout-out to colleagues who helped them succeed. “This company-wide call has established a culture of mutual recognition, increasing employee engagement and the overall positive atmosphere in the workplace,” said Yang.

Executive life coach Smita D. Jain adds a personal twist by sending personalized video thank yous that highlight specific contributions and include personal anecdotes. She said members feel seen and heard, and “receiving a personalized message from a top executive helps team members feel more connected to the company and more invested in its mission and goals.”