Top 5 Ways to Make Employees Feel Appreciated

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

March, 2021

We all want to feel appreciated in our relationships- personal and business. While I could share with you why this is vital to the strength of your connections with your significant other, children and friends, the purpose of this article is to discover ways to make employees feel appreciated.

When it comes to appreciation at work, there is good news and some not-so-good news. Let's start with the latter.

  • 82% of employees say managers fail to recognize them for their contributions.
  • Employees who feel they are not recognized at work are twice as likely to quit as those who feel appreciated. 
  • Now for the good news 
  • 70% of employees whose managers showed appreciation are happy with their jobs. 
  • 80% of employees recognized in the last month say they’re fulfilled at work.
  • 79% of employees report recognition motivates them to work more effectively.
  • 69% of employees reported they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated (Hubspot).
  • 50% of employees believe being thanked by managers not only improved their relationship but also strengthened trust with their superiors.

What’s more, showing appreciation to your team helps boost engagement. According to Gallup, 85% of employees lack engagement at work. Why is this a troubling statistic? Because disengagement negatively impacts your bottom line. Conversely, a meta-analysis found teams that scored the highest on employee engagement showed 21% greater profitability than those in the lowest quartile. 

How can you help boost employee engagement? Well, when asked what leaders could do in order to improve engagement, 58% of respondents responded, “give recognition.” Another bonus: companies with recognition programs that boost employee engagement have 31% lower voluntary turnover.  With the high cost of turnover, as well as how an employee’s departure can impact your reputation (hello, Glass Door), recognition is key both financially as well as to your brand perception.

When asked what they viewed to be the critical thing a manager or a company could do that would help the employee be successful, the majority identified recognition as the most crucial method of support.

With such compelling stats, it makes sense that businesses would be dedicated to showing appreciation for their employees. And yet, many seem to be falling short. Why? Certainly, a large percentage do not know the compelling data supporting the benefits of employee appreciation. But there are additional reasons, too, that interfere with recognizing team members. 

 

As a consultant working with companies to help them boost employee engagement and, ultimately, profit, one common concern I hear voiced has to do with cost. "We don't have the budget to be giving everyone bonuses." As you will discover by reading this article, sharing appreciation for employees need not cost you a dime to be effective. Really!

Another often-cited apprehension I hear centers around the sense of this being a complicated process, requiring excessive time and energy. Like any new habit, integrating the suggestions shared here may seem a bit awkward at first, but the more you do it (and the more positive results you witness), the easier it will get. 

Some managers share concerns that expressing appreciation for employees feels inconsistent with the ability to provide developmental feedback. And yet, consider a close relationship in your life. Like most healthy relationships, there is probably a lot of positives shared and some honest disclosures on things that might not be going all that well. Similarly, not only is there a way to offer both congratulatory and constructive information, but providing both will help enhance your employee’s sense of appreciation.

Now, maybe you think that you are already showing appreciation to your team. However, research suggests you might be wrong. In collaboration with Harvard Business Review, a study out of Babson College found that, overall, "Managers incorrectly assumed employees knew how they felt about them.”

And yet, we cannot put all the blame on managers. Only 14% of organizations offer managers with the needed tools for rewards and recognition. As such, this article will provide you and your team specific steps you can take to make employees feel appreciated. Let’s look at five strategies as well as specific tactics to doing just that.

 

Show appreciation for the whole person

 

Long gone are the days when an annual performance report suffices for sharing what you appreciate in your team member. A theme among employees is the desire for management to connect regularly.

This category includes recognition (for a job well done), and appreciation for their work as well as for the person who they are.

Help your team members feel like a truly valued person (not an easily replaceable job description). Do simple things like asking them how they are- and then LISTEN. Show interest in what interests them: a hobby, sports team, the wellbeing of their partner and/or children (including the four-legged type).  If, for example, someone mentions that their child is applying to colleges, follow up later and ask how the process is going. If a family member is struggling with their health, make sure you check in to see how they are doing- the patient as well as your team member. (Being a caregiver can be tough!)

Relate to your employees as a person. Please don't act like you are above them. We are all human and all share similar fears, worries, loves and values.

When recognizing accomplishments, consider events inside and outside of work. Winning new business is certainly reason to celebrate. So, too, is receiving an award for volunteering or even just the act of serving others.

What is the best way to recognize your employees? Well, it depends. One study found 43% preferred private recognition where they had a one-on-one interaction with their manager. Ten percent favor public recognition in front of peers (such as sharing on social media and/or company-wide newsletter). A little less (9%) selected private recognition, such as a written note or email. 

Do something special to recognize and appreciate your team. We will talk more about this in more detail below.

 

Be flexible

 

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the best way to showing appreciation for your employees, so get creative.

Some ideas include:

  • Writing thank-you notes for a job well done
  • Sending an email expressing appreciation for their specific contribution to a project
  • Calling people out at the beginning of meetings for stellar work
  • Offering congratulations for accomplishments outside of work
  • Highlighting a positive event in a loved one’s life (such as a child or partner) 
  • Scheduling one-on-one times to check-in
  • Having a monthly award
  • Giving time off
  • Offering gift cards
  • Giving tokens such as coffee mugs or company swag

Remember, per above, there are different ways people want to be recognized (person-to-person, privately or more publicly), so make sure you show your appreciation in the means each employee prefers. Not sure what your team members prefer? It is a great idea to assess everyone’s love language.

Another approach is to share your appreciation/congratulations with the member via email or note, with a question asking permission to share with others.  For example, “Would you be OK if I announced this at the next team meeting?”

Food is another great way to show appreciation. While pre-pandemic, it was much easier to host a lunch at the office, it can still be done remotely. Consider offering gift cards to your employee’s preferred restaurant. This will be a gift for your team members and help much-need support of local businesses. 

Gamification can be a fun way for employees to receive the type of rewards they prefer as symbols of appreciation or recognition. They can choose items such as time off, gift cards or getting to choose a non-profit where your company will donate money.

Consider, also, experiences. Have a wellness day where you offer massages, workouts and meditations. (This can be done remotely). Create volunteer opportunities after or, even better, during work hours. Even during the pandemic, there are still non-profit organizations that are hosting events, such as Feed My Starving Children. Team-building experiences are also a great way to show your appreciation for your team.

Flexible work hours can be a great way for employees to feel appreciated.  Some people work better earlier in the morning; others excel later in the day. What's more, the advent of e-learning that so many parents are balancing can make this perk truly appreciated. 

Time off is another potential offering. A study by ONS found that 50% of workers would choose a three-day weekend, even if it meant losing a day’s pay.  

Consider benefits packages that offer choice. Research demonstrates that 60% of employees would be more likely to stay at their current companies if they received a personalized benefits package. Examples of offers could include contributing to retirement or to college loans, gym membership, massages, money for continuing education, vacation days…

 

Proactively and regularly discuss and assist with forwarding progression

 

One way to help your employees feel genuinely valued is to address something that is important to them- their career progression.  Almost half of the employees report knowing about career advancement opportunities within the company is very important to their job satisfaction. And, for millennials, that number is actually 87%.

Even in small businesses, there is an opportunity to enhance job responsibilities. Spend time really speaking with your employees to learn what interests them. For example, if your social media could use some help, and a team member loves communicating in the venue, give them opportunities to help out with your digital marketing. 

Offer continuing education on topics that excite your employee and could be helpful to the company. There is a powerful bottom-line advantage to this. A study conducted by LinkedIn found 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.

Offer "stretch" assignments for your employees to grow into a new role and offer support, so they do not feel like they are on their own. Create a mentorship program permitting employees to feel supported, and you, as the business owner, don't need to do all of the work. Be proactive in speaking with other team members about your employee's progression, such as managers in different departments. 

This strategy also includes providing developmental feedback. Overall, employees want to know how they can get better. How can you do this without hurting their feelings? The stronger relationship you have, built on trust and appreciation, the easier it will be for employees to hear your comments as helpful rather than insulting.  What’s more, let them know why it is important. “I know we talked about you wanting to take a leadership role in the company. One skill that would be beneficial is learning how to provide constructive feedback in a helpful manner.”

 Make sure you don’t neglect standard company procedures, such as annual performance reviews or quarterly check-ins. While they are not comprehensive as the only means for showing appreciation, not doing them is a signal to employees of depreciation. A previous coaching client who was initially excited for his new position at a company quickly became disengaged when his supervisor repeatedly put off performance evaluations. The result? A very strong worker left the company in search of a place where his expertise, efforts and strong success were appreciated. 

Offer new opportunities, and explain why. For example, "You did a great job creating that deck last week. We have a new client who seems pretty picky. Given how detail-oriented your work is, I think you're the best one for the job."

 

Make it part of the culture

 

As a manager, it is great that you are investing in appreciating your employees. Even better, create a culture where it is the norm. How? Here are some suggestions:

  • Create an employee recognition program 
  • Let employees give and receive appreciation. Start meetings where each person identifies one thing they appreciated in another co-worker. Allow all team members to share in recognizing team members to celebrate in the company-wide employee recognition program.
  • Modernize office/make internal improvements, like heat, paint…
  • Offer perks at work, such as coffee and a place to workout.
  • Celebrate anniversaries and milestones: Research shows that employees are more likely to leave after a year of employment, so celebrate their contribution to your team.
  • Put your staff on your website highlighting something special about them (When not working here, X volunteers for Y organization).

Any of these company-wide approaches can help boost a culture where appreciation is shared and felt.

 

Welcome feedback

 

Eliciting feedback signals to your employees, "I don't know everything. Please help this company be even better with your input." It indicates that you value their knowledge and opinion. Specifically ask- outwardly and via anonymous surveys questions such as:

  • What are we doing well?
  • Where can we improve?
  • What would you do differently if you ran the company?

A good old-fashion suggestion box (or an online version) can also be a great opportunity for you to be even better at sharing appreciation.

The absolute key to asking for feedback, however, is to do something with it. It is vital to listen to and address each concern. Otherwise, their trust will be broken, which can actually cause more problems than not asking. What do you do if you really cannot apply one of the recommendations? Be upfront about it. “One of our team members asked that we change to a four day work week. While we cannot do that every week, let’s make next Friday a day off.”

Overall, to optimize your business's success, it is vital that you make a habit of sharing your appreciation.  Commit to even just 15 minutes each week to write personal thank you notes or start team meetings with shared appreciation. Avoid all-or-nothing, start-then-stop approaches to sharing appreciation. This decreases trust and belief that you mean what you say or do.

One thing that helps is getting together with other managers to discuss gratitude strategies that have worked well (or haven’t). If you’re a manager, consider partnering with one or more peers to exchange ideas and create accountability for your efforts.

Here's your challenge: Today, take one step to show appreciation. And keep taking those steps in the right direction. Then you and your company can enjoy the benefits of a happier team, greater productivity and increased profitability.