What does appreciation at work really mean?
Employee Appreciation Day is Friday, March 4. Isn’t that nice? It celebrates the feel-good connection between workers and the workplace.
But let’s be real. Done right, workplace appreciation is not a single date on a calendar. It’s something good workplaces practice year-round.
When The Washington Post’s partner for Top Workplaces Energage reviews employee sentiment, it’s clear high-performing workplaces are better at giving appreciation to employees. An analysis of more than 3 million employee surveys from January 2020 through August 2021 shows employees who work at companies that earn Top Workplaces recognition are more likely to feel appreciated – by 7 percentage points – than employees at companies that did not rate as Top Workplaces.
The data reveals some common-sense insights about appreciation. Employees who earn less (especially those who earn less than $30,000 annually) are less likely to feel appreciated. Rank-and-file team members are less likely to feel appreciated than senior managers.
But here’s something intriguing: The workers who feel most appreciated are newer employees (those who work for a company for a year or less) and veteran employees (those with a company for 5 years or more). The ones in the middle – especially those with a company for 3 to 5 years – feel least appreciated.
So how do the best workplaces convey appreciation of all employees, regardless of pay, seniority and role? The answer is, there is no single way to show appreciation. But there are some common themes, based on feedback Energage received from dozens of workplaces that rate highly for employee appreciation.
Build it into the culture: Gratitude is a key value at organizations where workers feel most appreciated. A steady stream of appreciation year-round helps people through stressful times.
Have a system: Workers want to be acknowledged when they exceed expectations. It could be publicly. It could be quietly, with a hand-written note. It should come from peers as well as leaders. Honor people for their time, talents, assistance, and insights.
Get personal: The best companies value relationships and the quality of life of their employees. Especially with remote work, employers need to find ways to get people to know each other.
Recognize people differently: Not everyone wants to be recognized the same way. Consider a recognition questionnaire that asks how people would like to be recognized and some of their favorite things.
Leaders listen and respond: Most employees value being heard more than they value perks. People want opportunities to share ideas, complaints, suggestions, and observations. Leaders need to listen and respond.
Go beyond pay and benefits: Employees consider pay and benefits the binding contract in the employer-employee relationship. Appreciation reflects discretionary effort beyond those terms. Milestone benefits, such as for anniversaries, are a nice gesture.
Support professional growth: This is key for those middle-tenured employees who tend to fee less appreciated. When employers see the potential in people, and offer training for hard skills as well as leadership development, it gives employees a reason to invest more of themselves in the organization.
Promote people internally: A culture that encourages, trains and rewards people to take on increasing responsibility will boost retention.
Gifts are nice: Gift cards, food, clothes, keepsakes. Raffles for prizes. People appreciate even small, meaningful gifts for acknowledgement of a job well done.
Employees want to feel they matter. When they do, they are more likely to give more of themselves and stay for the long haul.
Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s partner for Top Workplaces.