Here’s What’s Wrong with Employee Appreciation Day and What You Can Do About It

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer, Ideal Outcomes Inc.

National Employee Appreciation Day is just around the corner (March 4.) Naturally, employers are considering how they can show their workers that they care about them as individuals and the contribution they make to the business.

Perhaps a pizza party? A gift card? Giving them the afternoon off?

All worthy ways to show appreciation, of course, and ways that are typically used at companies across the country. But, hold on a minute. What’s wrong with this?

Companies that have an ideal workplace culture show their employees that they appreciate them—every day of the year. It’s not just an annual occasion when leaders can feel “OK. Done that.” And check it off their to-do list.

It’s important to let members of your team know that you value them all the time. Unfortunately, according to research at Harvard Business School, more than 80% of employees do not feel recognized or rewarded. That’s something that’s relatively easy to change, and companies don’t need a huge budget to be able to make a meaningful impact. In fact, rewards don’t need to be financial.

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters,” says Ashley V. Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.”

Here are seven ways you can show appreciation that will resonate with employees and improve their workplace culture.

Put it in writing

Write a personal email expressing your appreciation for a specific job well done, or for a team member’s overall everyday performance. Better still, take it a stage further and take the time to write an old-fashioned thank you card, and send it via snail mail. In today’s digital world that kind of effort is more significant than ever.

Give the gift of time

You can let members of your team quit early on National Employee Appreciation Day but a far more potent idea is to give them year-round flexible working hours and conditions. All the evidence points to workers enjoying the extra flexibility of the work from home situations that came with the pandemic. A hybrid work environment is the future.

Give the gift of giving

Many employees donate to charitable causes and in a survey of 1,200 workers, 66% felt it was important for their companies to be philanthropic. Seventy-five percent of Millennials even said it was important for employers to match employees’ charitable contributions through a workplace giving program. It’s an approach definitely worth considering depending on your company’s financial health.

Listen and learn

Employees appreciate being heard. Give them frequent opportunities to voice their concerns and share their ideas. Then show them that you have listened to them by taking action. Stay in tune with your employees and acknowledge their life priorities and what’s important to them. When you tap into their hearts and minds, you’ll have a stronger, more engaged, and more committed workforce.

Make it personal

If you do want to give employees a tangible financially-based gift don’t hand out the same thing to everyone. Different people have different interests. Give movie tickets to a movie buff, a restaurant card to a foodie, tickets to a game for a sports fan, or—for the exercise enthusiast—a gift card to a store that sells workout gear.  Also recognize something that the person has accomplished outside of the workplace. This will highlight that you care about them as individuals and not just part of the payroll.

Encourage camaraderie

Encourage team members to publicly recognize the achievements of their colleagues. Peer-to-peer appreciation has been seen to have more impact than that from management down. People expect feedback from those in supervisory positions—not so much from fellow workers.

Reward with responsibility

When you give someone additional responsibility you demonstrate your trust in him. You may well be surprised how they step up to the plate and not only respond positively but also become more productive.

All of these strategies facilitate a sense of well-being and belonging amongst the workforce. A meta-analysis of 339 studies, involving nearly two million employees, found a strong connection between employees’ satisfaction with their company and employee productivity as well as leading to lower turnover.

Year-round appreciation is a major part of a thriving workplace culture, keeping team members motivated and loyal and improving employee retention.