Heard in the Lunchroom®: How to Get Employee Appreciation Right

By Robert Half on March 4, 2020 at 11:00am

Robert Half's Heard in the Lunchroom® blog series offers real-world advice on navigating tricky topics that can impact your professional happiness and career prospects.

Remember back in elementary school, when it was a big deal to get a great grade on a paper followed by that coveted smiley face from your teacher? People don’t outgrow their desire to receive praise from those around them, particularly their boss.

Are you giving employees that smiley face kind of joy? Do you know how your team members prefer to be recognized? How you thank your employees for their hard work affects your ability to retain them. Read on to see if you need to rethink your approach to employee appreciation.

Yes, we’re talking to you!

You may be thinking, “Hey, I rock at showing employee appreciation! No worries here.” In some cases, you may be right. According to a new survey from Robert Half, most professionals (80%) feel appreciated at work. 

But do you know how your team members prefer to be recognized? According to the same survey, employees enjoy being acknowledged with money (54%) the most, more than a promotion (17%), praise from their manager (14%), extra time off (10%) or a recognition lunch/dinner (5%). 

Let’s look at some common employee recognition mistakes, and some easy ways to celebrate your staff regardless of your budget.

Employee appreciation mistakes to avoid

Showing gratitude is great, but it’s easy to goof it up and send the wrong message if you’re not careful. Here are some missteps to avoid:

  • Don’t underwhelm them. The form of recognition should fit the degree of achievement. Giving a strong performer a $5 gift card for their five-year anniversary, for example, doesn’t exactly send the message that you view the milestone as significant.
  • Don’t overwhelm them. Recognition doesn’t always need to be extravagant to be effective. Frequently saying “thank you” or giving credit for good ideas can be a powerful motivator.
  • Don’t be vague. Just telling someone that they did a “good job” is too generic. Properly give thanks by tying acknowledgments back to specific actions so the employee knows exactly what they did well.
  • Don’t leave people out. Although some workers naturally gravitate toward the limelight, don’t forget to celebrate the unsung heroes who help behind the scenes. Nothing’s worse than thanking an employee for something that another team member did.

Shake it up

There are times when you may need to be creative when it comes to employee appreciation. Here are some ways managers can make an impact:

  • Look into monetary rewards. As our survey indicates, few things have a bigger impact than extra pay. Provide spot bonuses, raises and other financial rewards if budgets allow. You may decide to save this type of employee recognition for only the most exceptional achievements, so establish criteria that separate outstanding effort from other activities. (While you consider bonuses and raises, it’s also smart to make sure your company’s salaries are competitive. Check out our Robert Half Salary Guides now.)
  • Offer awards. Nominate staff for external or internal accolades, such as “employee of the month.” Company awards may come with enviable prizes.
  • Encourage professional development. Invest in your employees by reimbursing them for participation in industry associations and conferences. Also consider giving them subscriptions to work-related publications and programs.
  • Ask for their feedback. You may believe your staff appreciation program is awesome. But would your team say the same thing? Do you possibly have employees who feel undervalued? (Remember that 20% of the professionals we surveyed said they do not feel appreciated at work.) If you can’t answer these questions with confidence your efforts won’t have the intended effect. 

Today’s war for talent is real. Skilled professionals often have ample occasion to find new job opportunities. Giving employees due recognition and making them feel appreciated can sometimes make the difference between them sticking with you or pursuing greener pastures.

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