People & Leadership

Employee Appreciation Day: How to build a culture of year-round recognition

Employee appreciation shouldn’t just be one day a year. See how you can drive employee recognition all year round.

How do you show your employees you appreciate them?

Every year, the first Friday in March marks Employee Appreciation Day.

Obviously, appreciating your employees on only one day of the year is not something we advocate – you should be valuing and recognising your people all year round – but the day is a good opportunity to take stock and look at what your company is doing to appreciate its staff.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

Could you be doing better?

Employee recognition can mean the difference in an employee staying or leaving a company.

In fact, employees who are recognised for their jobs are six more times likely to stay than those who aren’t recognised.

And yet 29% of employees haven’t received recognition for good work in more than a year, according to recent research.

Why does recognition matter?

Recognising employees helps drive engagement and boosts morale, which in turn increases productivity. That’s vital when productivity levels have been low for years.

Appreciation is also a fundamental human need. It falls under the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self-esteem. It’s a degree of self-respect and respect from others which includes recognition, attention and appreciation.

With engagement levels reportedly at an all-time low, building a culture of appreciation in your company is not only the right thing to do but also a smart business move.

What kind of appreciation do employees actually want?

According to Gallup, the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualised to how each employee wants to be recognised. 

The key is to know what makes it meaningful and memorable for the employee, and who is doing the recognising.

Some ways you can recognise employees are:

  • Public recognition or acknowledgment
  • Private recognition from a manager, peer or customer
  • Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through performance reviews
  • Promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust
  • Monetary reward.

So, who’s going the extra mile and showing employees recognition all year-round? And how are they doing it?

Here’s four examples of employee appreciation at its best to help fuel some ideas of your own.

1. Airbnb shows appreciation through their product

Airbnb, the online global platform that shares spaces for temporary rent, show appreciation to their staff by enabling them to live the Airbnb lifestyle.

Firstly, it provides its people with a work-from-anywhere policy.

It’s not unique to Airbnb especially since the pandemic, but this along with its $2,000 stipend means it can say thank you by enabling its people to go and see the world, while helping them to experience Airbnb from their customers’ perspective.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky explains: “We’re only as good as the people we have, and we want the best people in the world. That was kind of where I started. We should be more flexible. Obviously, we should walk the talk.”

While this experience offered by Airbnb is fitting for that business, companies can really lean into their own employee experiences that enriches their lives – both in and outside of work hours.

2. Pleo offers employees the power to reward themselves

In a similar vein to Airbnb, Pleo, a company that helps businesses manage their expenses, rewards its employees using its own flexible technology as a way to thank its people.

Each team gets €2,500 in their equivalent local currency to buy their perks using their card.

It could be something simple like buying more holiday time – or it could be that you want to take a cooking class that you’ve never done before, or even hire a nanny so you can go out for dinner with your partner child-free.

“This wasn’t designed for a leader or to optimise for cost; it was designed as employee first, admin second,” Pleo’s Head of People, Jessie Danyi, explains on their blog.

“Our goal was seeing employees loving it and being really excited about it.”

Rewarding your people in the way that suits them means they’ll feel empowered to use that token of recognition in a way that they’ll truly appreciate.

3. Whole Foods shares its appreciation through transparency

Health food giant Whole Foods takes transparency to a whole new level, giving employees votes on new hires.

By building this practice into the business, it shows a level of recognition, appreciation and trust for your people who are already part of the business.

Employees are voted in after their first 90 days at the company with a two-thirds majority needed to keep an employee on board.

It appears to be a win-win for both current employees and new recruits.

Mirian Alvarenga, a graphic artist at the Whole Foods Market explains: “It’s actually really nice because it makes you feel like you have a say in what goes on.”

Clare Bender, Marketing Team Leader at one of their stores, was hired using this process and says: “It makes you feel like you really deserve to be part of the team. Like everyone wants you to be there.”

4. Salesforce relies on tech for successful employee recognition

Customer relationship management company Salesforce shows us that when it comes to employee recognition, sometimes the simplest ways are the best.

Salesforce use communications tool Slack for peer-to-peer recognition. It uses it to share when a colleague has done a good job.

It has badges for certain types of recognition that are displayed on peoples’ profiles on Slack and custom badges are also made for colleagues who have made a big difference.

This is something that everyone can get involved in, no matter where they work. 90% of Salesforce employees say they love where they work, so it might be simple but it’s effective.

Why it should be Employee Appreciation Day every day

Employee appreciation shouldn’t be just a day. Empowering your people needs to be constant to drive great experiences throughout the year.

However, Employee Appreciation Day can still be embraced as a way to shout about how your people can appreciate one another all year round.

You could share the latest benefits that have gone live that recognise your people for the job they do, or task your employees to share at least one piece of positive feedback to another colleague to start embedding a culture of recognition throughout the workplace.

83% of HR leaders told us in our recent research that employee experiences will be an even bigger focus for them.

So if employee experiences is a top focus for you also, then employee appreciation throughout the year needs to play a vital role in that, too.

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