7 Ways to Let Your Employees Know You're Thankful for Them This Week

The old model of employee motivation was all about the carrot-and-stick: Work hard, be rewarded with a raise, and work harder. Rinse and repeat. (And the opposite was true if you didn't work hard.) But thanks to the work of innovative thinkers such as Daniel Pink, author of the landmark book Drive, we now understand human beings are a lot more complicated than that. Intrinsic motivation is what keeps employees feeling fulfilled—we need to feel a sense of inner satisfaction that what we're doing matters.

Let your employees know

That doesn't mean employers are off the hook, though. A key element of intrinsic motivation is being recognized for your work. If you see that others value your contributions, you'll value them more yourself.

There are many simple, low-cost ways employers can contribute to an employee's sense of intrinsic motivation. The key is to consistently find ways to genuinely express that an employee's work is important and appreciated. It has to feel natural, not forced or cheesy, so experiment with options that are not only appropriate for your company culture but also for you. Here are some ideas:

1.  Spotlight Large and Small Successes Via Company Communications

Whether it's dedicating a staff meeting agenda item to team successes, featuring employee wins in a company newsletter or posting your good news on social media, expressing public appreciation for a job well done goes a long way with many employees. Eventually, you'll create a culture where your employees are suggesting victories to celebrate and recognizing peers for their accomplishments.

2.  Take the Time to Write Handwritten Notes

Whether you keep a stock of note cards for this purpose or even rely on sticky notes, leaving a handwritten note of thanks at an employee's workstation while he or she is out to lunch makes a lasting impression. This is exactly the type of keepsake that gets tucked into a drawer, where it manages to get found exactly when an employee needs some encouragement on a frustrating day.

3.  Award A Rotating Trophy, A Stuffed Animal Mascot, or…

This concept isn't for every workplace, but in the right environment, it can be fun and motivating. Find a culturally appropriate award—maybe a thrift-store trophy you've decorated with your company logo—and rotate it between employees on a regular schedule to reward successes both large and small. Everyone gets a chance to publicly display the trophy, so you're able to consistently focus on a diverse group of contributions.

4.  Provide a Spontaneous Treat to the Entire Team

Maybe you bring a gourmet blend for the office coffee pot or surprise everyone with breakfast one day. However, you choose to treat the team, spend as much time on your messaging as you do on deciding what to bring. Deliver the goodies with thanks and recognition for a job well done so employees understand the connection, then encourage them to spend a little time socializing while they enjoy the treat. (Be conscious of any dietary restrictions your team might have and sensitive to the needs of those with celiac, diabetes, nut allergies, etc.)

5.  Allow for Some Impromptu Time Off

This won't work in every industry, but if you have the flexibility to reward employees with an early release on a Friday once in a while, you'll be banking some good will for the next time you need them to work late. Time off signals you recognize that employees have lives outside of the office and you appreciate all their commitments, not just their commitments to you. (Just don't rely solely on impromptu time off—it's great to have an extra hour or two, but employees also appreciate being able to plan for their free time, too.)

6.  Set a Meeting Just to Say Thanks

This can really catch an employee off-guard, so call it carefully. You don't want to cause alarm unnecessarily with a "see me in my office" email. It could be as simple as asking an employee to stay behind for a few minutes or just emailing to say you want to chat about their good work on the XYZ project. Keep the message short and sweet: You're doing a good job, and I've noticed, and I appreciate it. Skip the "but," and your employee will be surprised. We're all so attuned to look for bad news; a completely positive interaction will be noticed and remembered.

7.  Call for a Midweek Casual Day

Once again, this suggestion isn't appropriate for every work environment, but if you have the flexibility for an occasional "Jeans Tuesday," go for it. If your employees are working hard and don't have client meetings, then allowing them to dress comfortably can be a treat—and also helps them save a bit on dry cleaner bills.

Depending on your work environment and function area, you'll need to find different ways to says thanks—sometimes even among departments at the same company. But as long as the message is heartfelt and everyone has a chance to be recognized, your employees will take note, and you'll build goodwill, leading to increased employee retention and less workplace conflict overall.

One more thing: Take note of how spending time on employee appreciation affects your own attitude about work and your team. It can be easy to cut the niceties out as "fluff" when you're busy, but consider it a form of self-care. When you take time to look for and call out the positive, you'll feel more positive overall.

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