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Make Every Day Employee Appreciation Day


trophy hand shutterstockIn case you didn’t get the memo, March 3rd is National Employee Appreciation Day.

Created in 1995 by a board member of Recognition Professionals International, a professional association dedicated to supporting employee recognition, Employee Recognition Day provides an extra opportunity to thank employees for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.

Growing numbers of businesses have begun to recognize the day in many different ways, ranging from catering in lunch (with managers serving employees) to handing out gift cards to having managers tell employees one thing they really appreciate about them. However you do it, recognizing employees on Employee Appreciate Day is a great idea.

But let’s face it – if you really want to have a motivated, fully engaged workforce, one day a year won’t cut it. Winning organizations make employee recognition an ongoing process. And I’m not talking about just buying lunch every now and then or having quarterly meetings where employees are publicly recognized (although those aren’t bad ideas). Appreciation also includes understanding what employees care most about and making those things part of your everyday work environment.

Answer the “Need to Know” Questions

One of the best ways to make staff members feel appreciated is by answering the five questions every employee wants to know – but almost never asks – about working for you.

  1. Where are we going? For most people, work involves more than just bringing home the paycheck. People also crave a sense of meaning and purpose in what they do, which is why employees want to know where the company is going and what it will take to get there. They also want to know how their individual jobs help the organization reach the destination. 
  1. How will we know when we get there? Unless you tell them, employees won’t know when you’ve crossed the finish line. To help them understand, describe – with specificity – what the business will look like once you reach your destination. For example, what strategic goals will you have achieved? What will the company culture be like? Which customers/markets will you serve? What tools, systems and technologies and work processes will you use to serve them?
  1. How are we making a difference? Today’s workers want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world. You can inspire them by explaining how your company’s product and/or service helps people solve problems, save time and money, make life easier, or any other benefits you provide. Tell people often because they can easily forget in the relentless quest to get the product out the door time. 
  1. Why do you care about getting there? Employees also want to know what drives you when it comes achieving the organization’s goals. Why do you believe in what the company does? Why do you find the destination so compelling? What does winning mean to you? Constantly talk about what the goals mean to you personally and what motivates you to achieve them. 
  1. Why should we help you get there? This one seeks an answer to the age-old question of what’s in it for me? To answer it, focus on what employees are looking for beyond good pay and benefits: opportunities for growth, career development, and a positive work environment. Let people know that they have an opportunity to be part of something special by helping the organization win.

Answer these questions on a consistent basis and you’ll have more than a group of employees who feel appreciated. You’ll also have a dedicated, passionate workforce that can accomplish just about anything.

Serve the Breakfast of Champions

The General Foods cereal Wheaties has been proclaiming themselves the “breakfast of champions” since I was a little girl. For employees, positive feedback is the breakfast of champions that nourishes their attitudes, motivations and on-the-job performance.

Positive feedback has long been recognized as a foundational element in high-performing organizations. These days, when job security has become a thing of the past and trust in business leaders has sunk to new lows, it has become more important than ever.

Why does positive feedback make such a difference?

Humans have an innate need to seek feedback on how we are doing.  In the absence of feedback, we tend to make up information to fill the void. Moreover, the information we make up is usually negative, and often gets in the way of achieving the desired results. Giving positive feedback helps to prevent these information gaps. It strengthens relationships between employees and their supervisors, and helps improve individual, team and organizational accountability and performance.

Equally important, receiving positive feedback feels good. Even when managers treat them with courtesy and respect, employees will wonder how their boss really feels about them unless they hear it verbally. Giving positive feedback to employees has the same impact of saying “I love you” in a marriage. Even couples who have been married 25 years still need their spouse or partner say those magic words on a regular basis.

Giving positive feedback involves recognizing and praising employees for behaviors and accomplishments that go beyond the basic expectations of their jobs. For example, praise employees when they develop a new skill, create a new process or approach, or go out of their way to help a customer or colleague resolve a problem.  Even when an employee comes up with a new idea that isn’t feasible at the time, or tries something that fails, positive feedback reinforces the behavior of continuing to come up with ideas and continuing to try new things (within appropriate risk tolerances).

Positive feedback also lets employees know that you are paying attention and that you appreciate their efforts. It only takes a few moments to give someone a verbal pat on the back, and your appreciation can have a real impact on employees’ self-esteem and their attitudes toward their work and the organization as a whole.

To make your positive feedback more meaningful, provide recognition as soon as possible after the event. Identify what the person did that met or exceeded expectations, and explain how the event or behavior contributed to the team’s and/or organization’s success. Remember to focus on the positive. If you see anything that needs changing or adjusting, save it for a different conversation at some other time.

Above all, positive feedback must be sincere. Employees can spot a false compliment from a mile away, and it makes them wonder about your real agenda or whether you’re trying to hide something.  Also, future attempts at giving honest praise will have far less impact, so never give positive feedback unless you mean it.

By all means, celebrate your employees on Employee Appreciation Day. But don’t let another 364 days go by before expressing your appreciation again!

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