Recognition & Appreciation

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Employee recognition and appreciation make up a big piece of the employee experience. And they can make or break an employee’s perception of your company. The right communication strategy can create a strong, positive company culture of recognition and appreciation.

What is employee recognition and appreciation?

Employee recognition and appreciation is quite simply a company’s efforts to thank and recognize employees for their work and impact. At PartnerComm, we think about the big picture of employee recognition and appreciation. To us, it’s more than an annual Employee Appreciation Day or an employee holiday gift of company swag. (Not that those aren’t pieces of the picture — they just aren’t the whole picture.) Employees should be able to recognize your recognition and appreciation efforts as part of your company culture.

Why is employee recognition and appreciation important?

Employee appreciation has been shown to be tightly linked to employee retention in multiple studies over the past few years. In a report by Appirio, 60% of surveyed workers said they put the most value on being appreciated by management.

And in a long-term study by O.C. Tanner, employee recognition was cited as the main factor as to whether or not someone stays with their current employer. The same study reported that 79% of employees who left their jobs cited lack of appreciation as their main reason for leaving. These studies indicate that recognition and appreciation shown by managers and the company are an important part of an employee’s overall experience.

The importance of employee retention itself may seem like a no-brainer. But here are some numbers to help put things in perspective. Some studies predict that every time a company replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average in training and recruiting expenses. And that doesn’t account for the qualitative loss of engagement from other employees along with the negative cultural impact.

Workplaces that embrace and cultivate a culture of employee recognition and appreciation are more likely to reduce turnover, increasing productivity and profitability.

How to communicate employee recognition and appreciation

At PartnerComm, we focus on 2 main components of employee recognition and appreciation communication:

  1. Cultivating a culture of recognition.
  2. Creating surprise and delight experiences.

Both elements are equally important. Employers need to cultivate a culture of authentic day-to-day recognition, while also surprising and delighting employees with special events and experiences.

Here’s another way to think about this. Pretend for a moment that a company is a family. A culture of daily recognition is similar to the routines that make up everyday family life. What is discussed at the breakfast table, how chores are divvied up and so on. The surprise and delight experiences are like holidays — time-bound events that punctuate the rhythm of everyday life with stand-out special celebrations.

Both pieces come together to define what employee recognition and appreciation mean at a company. It’s important to focus on both when communicating with employees.

Cultivating a culture of recognition

A culture of recognition and appreciation goes beyond a company-wide Employee Appreciation Day. It involves creating and maintaining a culture where saying “thank you” is woven into the fabric of daily operations and employees feel appreciated. There are 2 main pillars of cultivating a culture of employee recognition — peer-to-peer recognition and top-down recognition. Here are some ideas for both.

Peer-to-peer recognition
  • Give them tools. This could play out in lots of different ways. You could use physical laptop stickers or buttons that employees can share with peers to say, “thank you.” Or create virtual cards sent via email. You could even create a digital social feed on your intranet or another recognition tool. Whatever tool you choose, make sure it feels authentic to your company culture and is accessible to all employees.
  • Leverage your values. Looking for one surefire way to make recognition feel authentic to your company? Tie it to your company values. Does your company value transparency? Ask people to recognize peers for moments of stellar transparency. Do you beat the drum of integrity? Let people pass along kudos to coworkers who do the right thing. When you live your values, it becomes part of your company culture.
Top-down recognition
  • Give them tools (the same tools). Leaders can use the same tools you give employees to use for peer-to-peer recognition. Encourage them to lead by example and model how to use your employee recognition tools.
  • Make it a challenge. Try challenging leaders to thank a different colleague every day. This small effort can make a big impact. (Remember that stat from earlier? In a report by Appirio, 60% of surveyed workers said they put the most value on being appreciated by management.) That means leaders, direct managers and supervisors recognizing employees for their hard work can have the biggest effect.
  • Create mandatory training all about the importance of recognition. Teach leaders how to thank and recognize employees and colleagues every day in authentic ways. Create helpful handouts or takeaways that can remind leaders to practice recognizing their peers.

Creating surprise and delight experiences

Surprise and delight experiences are stand-out moments that stick with employees when they reflect on their experience at a company. These are the wow moments that stand out from the daily humdrum of emails and conference calls. They cut through the clutter and make employees sit back and say, “I can’t believe my company did this. This is actually really cool.”

This might sound like an expensive and time-intensive mountain to climb. But surprise and delight experiences can be created regardless of budget or time. Here are just a couple of employee appreciation ideas that might work for you and your company:

  • An employee appreciation week with themed fun days.
    • Maybe on Music Monday, you ask people to share their favorite artists on your intranet social feed and raffle off concert tickets. Then, on Throwback Thursday, you put out a call for throwback photos and host a virtual game of “Through the Decades” trivia. Themed days aren’t just for elementary school. This works because it’s easy to get involved and creates a sense of community.
  • A fun event that employees actually want to attend.
    • Here are a couple of ideas we’ve tried: A virtual improv show during the work-from-home days of the pandemic and a game show with leaders during a town hall. Take the time to make these experiences feel special and unique to help engage employees.
  • Creative ways to distribute gifts.
    • Handing out swag isn’t the whole picture of employee appreciation. But when it’s done well, it can be an effective tactic within a more robust strategy. We recommend handing out prizes through a spinning prize wheel, a vending machine or a giant slingshot during a town hall.

By integrating surprise and delight experiences within a larger employee recognition and appreciation strategy, you can communicate to employees your appreciation and improve their employee experience. This will also increase productivity and employee engagement.

An employee recognition and appreciation communication example

One of our health care clients approached us about creating a truly unforgettable 2021 employee appreciation surprise and delight experience. They wanted something that would blow their employees away with appreciation, especially after a doozy of a year (2020). The concept was simple — Employee Appreciation Week with 5 themed days of activities, games and more that would go live 1 day at a time.

The employee appreciation experience would be built around these core pillars: epic meaning and calling, leader support, gamification, recognition, unpredictability and curiosity, and a clear dynamic brand. Each day would kick off with a leader video, then give employees many ways to engage — through trivia games and contests, raffles and prizes, employee spotlights, peer-to-peer recognition, playlists and more.

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