I still remember the day I heard that statement. It was January 2007, and I was in the U.S. Postal Service’s operations supervisor training program. It was a required six-month program that combined classroom and on-the-job training to be an operations supervisor. In my class there was a fellow trainee who I will never forget. He was incredibly smart and talented. He understood the operation manuals, collective bargaining agreements, Key Performance Indicators, etc. better than I did and I was in awe of his expertise. He had a lot of experience as an interim supervisor before beginning the program and I knew he was going to be a rock star in the organization.
Toward the end of the program, one of our last workshops was on the topic of employee engagement. When the speaker began to talk about employee appreciation, my fellow trainee rolled his eyes and said, “employee appreciation? That’s no big deal. All that matters in the end is meeting your KPIs.” He then left the room for a break and didn’t return until the next seminar. I was shocked. However, I’ll tell you more about his story in a moment.
Is my former fellow supervisor trainee right or wrong? Does employee appreciation really matter and have a measurable benefit? Some may say (and I have heard personally) that employee appreciation is just more fluffy HR talk to get you to be nice to your employees. Also, let’s be clear — employee recognition and employee appreciation are both very important parts of employee engagement. However, they are different and it is an important distinction. Employee recognition spotlights great work toward a goal or objective. Employee appreciation spotlights how the employee is valued overall. In simple terms, recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to a recent Bamboo HR survey, there are some interesting statistics about employee appreciation.
The survey found that three in 10 employees stated that in the last seven days they have received appreciation or praise. What would employees on your team say? When was the last time you showed your employees appreciation? If you said, “the last time they got a paycheck!” Well, then bah humbug! The spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge clearly lives on through you.
Also, it is possible employee appreciation can affect employee turnover costs. For example, the survey found that employees who do not feel adequately appreciated are twice as likely as those who do feel adequately appreciated to say they’ll quit in the next year. Consider this: According to the survey, 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized and 78% of employees said being appreciated motivates them to do their job.
Some of the benefits of regular employee appreciation include enhanced employee motivation, increased employee morale, providing a sense of accomplishment, boosting employee engagement and increasing productivity. Considering these benefits, what are some ways you can show employee appreciation on a regular basis?
Say thank you! Sounds oversimplified, right? An employee told me that in their regular one-on-one meetings with their manager, the manager always remembers to thank them for their work at some point in the conversation. That small token of appreciation lets the employee know they are valued and it is a great motivator.
Remember the small stuff. Birthdays, anniversaries (work or otherwise) and special achievements (earning degrees or certificates) matter. If it is completion of a special assignment, go public and invite the team to join in on the appreciation.
Have fun and be creative with employee appreciation. Send a hand-written thank you card to their address. Also, create fun awards. In a previous position, a former HR manager gave actual “trophies” for spontaneous recognition for even the smallest accomplishments. On one occasion a few years ago, I got a trophy for “best hair in the office.” Spoiler alert: My hair situation is lacking in a Bruce Willis sort of way. One employee got a trophy for “best shoes in the office” because she loved to shop and had an extensive collection of shoes. Bottom line — creativity shows authenticity in how we appreciate our employees.
Ask for input. Simply providing employees an opportunity from time to time to share ideas or input on how to make things better on the team shows their input is valued an appreciated. Simply ask, “what do you think about this?”
Unsung hero. Is there someone on your team who does a lot behind the scenes but their work can often go unnoticed? Give this employee the “unsung hero” award to recognize the fact that the small things lead to big success.
Free ideas. In most cases, it costs nothing to show employee appreciation! For 37 great ideas for employee appreciation, visit the following website: https://wheniwork.com/blog/37-employee-appreciation-ideas
You may be wondering what happened to that former fellow supervisor trainee who said employee appreciation is “no big deal.” Thirteen years after our training, before leaving the federal government in 2020, I checked in to see where he was working. I expected him to be in a high-level administrator position in the district. However, I was told that he had encountered a series of self-inflicted employee relation nightmares in offices he managed. His KPIs often suffered because he did not value or appreciate his employees. Therefore, he lacked the ability to motivate his employees to support his goals and objectives. He was given one last chance and some training, but never changed. As a result, he was demoted to postmaster of a small, one-employee, rural post office. The one employee? Him. I guess he now has time to focus all of his employee appreciation on the one employee who really mattered all along.
Now for a story with a happier ending that includes some positivity. An employee recently shared that their manager likes to give out funny desk name plates. This employee recently shared the desk name plate they received from their manager simply said, “I’m kind of a big deal.” The employee thought that this was a funny, creative way to show not only does the work they do matter, but they matter as a person. The employee received this at a time they were feeling a bit discouraged. It provided some encouragement and reminded the employee why they made such a great decision to work for their organization. Every time this employee sees the desk plate, it serves as a reminder to laugh and stay motivated. Showing employee appreciation promotes committment, which is one of Easton Utilities values.
The truth is that it is an honor and a privilege to be able to lead others. What I have learned in my experience (and from the failures of other leaders) is that an employee is not just some number that leaders plug into an operation to produce KPIs. Sure, there is a positive business outcome when employee appreciation is part of your overall employee engagement strategy. However, employees are fellow human beings that need and deserve appreciation for who they are. Never lose sight of that. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” My former fellow supervisor trainee is an example of what happens when you embrace the reverse of that quote.
Here is your mission if you choose to accept it (cue the “Mission Impossible” music): I challenge you to get out there, be authentic and make it an ongoing habit of appreciating your employees on a regular basis.
In closing, employee appreciation matters because our employees are a big deal. We’re lucky to have them as fellow human beings on our team. Make them feel like they really are a “big deal” to you.