On March 6, you’ll notice #EmployeeAppreciationDay trending across social platforms.
Twenty years ago, the first Friday in March was designated as such in North America, to create momentum around the idea of celebrating workers and their positive contributions to corporate culture. But rather than tweeting appreciation alongside blanketed tokens and goodwill gestures, shouldn’t companies be thinking on this theme more routinely—like every day?
Shouldn’t this be a notion that’s innately embedded in a company’s overall corporate mission? Picking a number on a calendar and slapping on a catchy theme seems too easy; not a whole lot different than #NationalPoutineWeek or #CoffeeDay.
It certainly contributes to headlines like this one proffered by a popular business magazine a couple years ago: “7 last-Minute Tips for National Employee Appreciation Day.”
Celebrating employee contribution by rote is one thing; doing it in a willy-nilly, shim-sham and lazy way will not enhance your reputation as a stellar employer and good corporate citizen.
If upping your employee engagement factor is in fact something your company values, then you may just want to get a tad more thoughtful when it comes to recognizing and rewarding your workers for their extraordinary achievements on the job.
“The way we live and work has radically transformed over the last 25 years,” says Cali Yost, author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Everyday.
“The boundaries between work and life are a lot less clear and technology does allow us to work in many ways, anywhere, anytime. I think what that does is it requires us to rethink our traditional models for work,” she says.
This includes how employers honour their employees. Human Resources professionals know that employee engagement is a fundamental focus in driving business results. Studies of engagement surveys show the number-one factor employees cite most frequently on their working wish lists is better communication, feedback, direction and recognition.
A company that adopts a great recognition and rewards program using best practices and technological innovation will benefit in many ways including a boost in overall business results; a reinforced emotional commitment among employees to their company vision and core values; enhanced employee engagement, productivity and customer service; greater employee retention and attraction to new recruits.
Recognition and Rewards: Separate Tools
If employee recognition wields more power than any other employee motivator, then when it comes to giving rewards, employers ought to be careful on how that’s done. Simply presenting a series of points to rack up merchandise, branded gift cards or the “old chestnut” gold watch doesn’t cut it anymore.
Indeed, if you’re looking to provide employees with a top-notch recognition and rewards program, your first key is to understand how these “Two R’s” operate. Part of the battle between recognition and rewards is that too often they’re used interchangeably and synonymously. And this can be scary. A lot of companies will get caught up in giving rewards they feel adequately represent a job well done when, in fact, they’re actually more tangible, or transactional—devoid of meaning, inspiration and humanity.
Let me get all Plato-like here. If I, as an employer, simply reward you, my employee, with a top-up of “points for stuff,” via e-card, I should really ask myself: Will this reward really connect with this person? Or will it be regarded as more of a transaction? e.g. “I’ve done my part; I’ve acknowledged you; Boom. Done; it’s transacted.”
Was that scenario really demonstrating recognition? Obviously not. Points or pithy rewards resembling this example can be fine just as long as they’re accompanied by the art and practice of giving good, meaningful recognition. In my example, I failed as an employer in my reward to you because it didn’t come with a truly tailored expression of appreciation and acknowledgment. I got so caught up in the frenzy of just getting my company on-board the recognition-and-rewards platform, it became more of I-was-too-close-to-the-forest-I-didn’t-see-the-trees kind of gesture.
Consider that recognition is intangible and relational. It’s something that an employee will experience. Moreover, he or she will know they’ve been recognized by the certain feelings evoked by that gesture; reward notwithstanding. So if “Great job!” and “Well done!” don’t cut it, then what will?
According to the Recognition Professionals International (RPI), “personalizing recognition can create a memory and those memories build higher performance.” We all know that traditional cash bonuses wind up paying our bills and token perks become Old Hat. I remember the day my former boss marked five years with our company. She got to choose between a set of silver candlestick holders, cubic zirconia earrings and another similar type of item.
I remember feeling this type of recognition and reward would definitely not make me feel truly appreciated. So make the recognition and reward meaningful. Don’t just festoon your employee with a gift card. However, if your heart’s set on doing so, then at least do it with his or her personality in mind. In other words, do your research.
Get to Know Me!
Say one of your top performers has a track record of getting a fancy trip every year as a result of her stellar sales. Here’s where you as employer can think different. Dig around and find out what’s most important to that person. Let’s say you find out spending time with family is what she treasures most. Instead of sending her on that tried-and-true trip, why not commission someone to paint a family portrait for her?
All of a sudden your reward has gone from “typical,” aka boring, to “Now you’re talking!” Your employee sees the meaning behind this recognition which, by the way, is still a reward. The sales trip was also a reward but it lacked meaning because you still didn’t know your employee. So it became just a transaction. This portrait reward, on the other hand, was more about the individual and what they value —time spent with family. Other examples of meaningful recognition suggested by RPI include:
- Schedule lunch dates with employees. Give them an opportunity to select the luncheon site, and use the time to simply get to know them better.
- Offer a free one-year subscription to an employee’s favorite business magazine and have it sent to their home.
- Give a fun-loving employee a series of On-your-mark-get set-GO cards that they can redeem at their discretion. For example: Leave work early to go to a movie, or shopping, or play ball.
Further, consider the needs of demographic groups. For example, your millennial workers will more than likely have a reward wish list that differs from their Generation X counterparts—simply due to the different work-life realities they face. The latter group, for example, might have families and value a reward of time off to go to their child’s weekly soccer game through the season. A millennial worker might rather appreciate a coffee card or a lunch or dinner out to their favourite hotspot—that the company pays for.
Get your Clients’ Attention
Gear your rewards and recognition to people who have a knack for creating great customer experiences. This will only reinforce your brand as one that puts client happiness front-and-centre.
Creating a work culture where people feel appreciated for their performance will also be noticed by your customers. They will see you’re a company fueled by innovation; one that inspires enthusiasm, passion and motivation among its employees. Clients will pay attention to the fact you’re recognizing and rewarding differently —by providing your people with unique and amazing experiences that are meaningful to them.
Lastly, before your company adopts any type of rewards and recognition program, do your strategic research and planning. Define what recognition means to you organization. Figure out your “Two Rs” philosophy and come up with a plan, be determined and get everybody in senior management on the same page.
Once you’ve done this, you can’t go wrong. The way you recognize employees is part of your brand now. If you do it right, you will have engaged and inspired employees who will now, in return, recognize and appreciate their fellow team members daily.
It’s a win-win.