Human beings want to feel recognized, valued, and believe they make a difference. They also want to be appreciated for the contributions they make to the organization, leaders, and peers they spend most of their waking hours with. And as we approach Employee Appreciation Day, on March 3, workplaces should strive to make their people feel valued every day, not just once a year.
Because unfortunately, the current lack of community in the workplace is concerning, and people aren’t feeling valued, appreciated, or connected to their co-workers. Amid layoffs, ever-shifting expectations for who is/isn’t supposed to be in the office, and continued talk of recession creates a culture of uncertainty that takes a toll. And if organizations lack programs with built-in recognition, they can find themselves with employees looking elsewhere to find that elusive sense of being seen, heard, and valued.
Employee recognition is not fluffy stuff
Talent is your competitive advantage, and you can’t afford a low human capital market share. Employee recognition is not fluffy feel-good stuff you don’t have time for, nor is it a fruit basket or pizza party, so let’s move beyond the idea that recognition is a one-off action. Instead, organizations should think more deeply about how and what people need from their workplace to feel fulfillment. Thinking holistically about what makes people happy both in and out of your organization can go a long way to making them feel appreciated.
Here are some examples of whole-person employee recognition in 2023:
- Positive feedback from colleagues and leaders
- Supporting employee wellbeing
- Flexible work arrangements and encouraging work-life balance
- Benefit equity
- Having human connections with your team
- Feeling like one has a purpose in one’s work
- And more
Employees who feel valued are more engaged, motivated, and likely to go the extra mile. Recognition-rich cultures are successful retention strategies for organizations.
The connection between a recognition-rich culture and employee retention
According to a 2022 report by Gallup-Workhuman, 81% of leaders indicate that “recognition is not a strategic priority at their organization.” Whereas 40% of employees indicate they receive recognition from leaders a few times a year or less. When recognition, culture, and wellbeing are not prioritized, turnover rises and cohesion and engagement decline.
To further reinforce the importance, Gallup-Workhuman shared that 5-year employee retention increases when:
- Recognition needs are fulfilled – 68%
- Life events are recognized – 66%
- Recognition is authentic – 65%
- Work milestones are recognized – 63%
- Recognition is equitable – 63%
- Recognition is embedded in culture – 63%
- Teams and groups are recognized – 62%
Essential components of successful employee recognition
- Regular. Demonstrating employee gratitude once a year doesn’t cut it. For employee recognition to be effective, it needs to be given consistently.
- Immediate. After an employee turns in high-quality work, recognition should immediately follow. If you wait too long, it loses meaning, and the individual won’t necessarily remember the reason for the reward.
- Specific. Ensure recognition is specific to the employee’s actions, values, and preferences. It’s disheartening to receive a generic thanks after much effort is placed against a challenge. Bonus tip: align recognition to your organizational values so they can see the impact they are having beyond their world.
Ten easy employee recognition ideas
Remember the first time you were recognized by leadership or a manager? That recognition showed that the senior-level staff is paying attention to you and appreciating your hard work, which was likely motivating and a surprise if you assumed your contributions were going unnoticed. It is likely it left a meaningful impact on your career. Now you are the senior leader or manager and can do this for your people. Below are some employee recognition ideas that organizational leaders can implement to demonstrate gratitude.
For the individual
- Values awards. Offer a monthly or quarterly company award where leadership selects an employee excellently exemplifying the organization’s values. Not only does this feel great, but it is also an excellent way to ensure everyone is aligned with your values, mission, and goals.
- Shout-out. At Virgin Pulse, we leverage our health and wellbeing platform to deliver values-based shout-outs to each other. The benefit? Immediate acknowledgment, aligned to values, and you can see a running list of shout-outs to like and cheer on peers across the organization. Bonus for remote, hybrid, or dispersed workforces – it’s always fun to cheer on our peers in Bosnia or see what the person down the hall is working on.
- Ship them something special. According to Custom Ink, custom t-shirts and gear shows employees that you are actively invested in and care about them. It helps employees feel like a team. It is easy to build up with accessories for tenure, reaching specific goals, taking the initiative on a project, or being a role model at work to show you appreciate their efforts.
- Contribute to their commuting costs (or WiFi for WFH). Recognizing inflation is at an all-time high and that employees can benefit from having basics taken care of or the impact minimized helps people feel cared for and valued. Gas cards, bus passes, and gift cards for WiFi might feel like small gestures, but they can be the difference between financial security and worry at work.
- Invite them to shadow (or replace you) at a meeting. Bring an employee to a leadership meeting they typically wouldn’t attend or have them return you if you can’t make it and report back afterward.
For the team
- The health and wellbeing challenge is a corporate wellness challenge. Bring everyone together, focusing on building a new healthy habit as an organization. This isn’t your parents’ work step challenge, health and wellbeing challenges in 2023 focus on helping people make small healthy habits they can sustain. Consider a hot topic right now, work-life boundaries. Launching a workplace challenge that supports employees taking a few mindful minutes, getting some fresh air, finding a healthy bedtime, going tech-free at dinner, or others significant to your organization can help employees feel seen, heard, and supported. Check out our 2023 wellbeing calendar to see the challenges we highlight each month with our clients for more inspiration.
- Give the gift of time off. Announce your new flexible work policy, increase mental health days, or give an unexpected “thank you” day off.
- Sponsor volunteer day (or week). If your organization is passionate about giving back to the community, offer to sponsor a volunteer day where everyone can make an impact. Last summer Virgin Pulse held our first-ever Virgin Pulse Service Week to make a difference in our local communities. Participants reported feeling energized, engaged, and grateful for the opportunity to contribute while building new peer-to-peer relationships.
- Offer a professional development opportunity. Why should an individual development plan get all of the fun? Professional development as a team combines upskilling and community building to deliver organizational results. You could focus on the department, job function, or employee potential when creating teams for development. Leverage a small budget to buy books to run a book club, take a facilitated course together, have an executive leader come and talk to a department about their career growth, or watch a recorded webinar and have a discussion.
- Employee appreciation day. The first Friday in March each year focuses on employees in all industries. Consider tribute videos or handwritten notes from leadership, arrange breaks throughout the day for together time or meditation, or organize a fun field trip to get everyone out and walking during meetings instead of in a conference room. Number one rule? Make it meaningful and genuine. People won’t remember the cold pizza delivered to them during their overnight shift but will remember the CFO working alongside them for a night.
Put supporting your employees into action at your organization
Employee recognition is a wonderful tool; we hope you find some inspiration. Looking to build a culture of care, belonging, and recognition? Check out our cultivating a culture of care and belonging activation kit for more ideas and best next steps.