Thinking Beyond the Consumer, Part 3: Give Your Employees What They Truly Need

What makes an employee quit? 

Often, it’s because they feel unappreciated, unnoticed, and unrewarded for their efforts. In fact, 79% of surveyed employees who left a job said lack of appreciation was a major factor in their decisions.

As a business owner, you may feel that employees are already fully compensated for their work. After all, you’re providing them with a job! You pay them twice a month!

But salary is just table stakes. That’s what it took for them to accept the position. But now that they’re working for you, they need to feel like they matter.

Last month, we discussed the importance of marketing your brand to your employees as aggressively as you do to your customers.

This month, we’ll move beyond that, explaining how you can show your appreciation for the daily efforts they make.

Moving Beyond “Employee of the Month” 

Many company owners who have heard of the concept of employee appreciation fall back on impersonal, ineffective methods. Plastering an “Employee of the Month” on a break-room bulletin board is nice… but real appreciation goes much farther than that.

Employees should be recognized for both daily and one-time contributions to the company. Is there one employee who consistently stays late to handle a difficult overseas client? Did another employee recently rescue an account that your company almost lost? Has one team recently exceeded goals in safety or performance? Each of these accomplishments is screaming for recognition, and yet they often get forgotten in the sea of daily crises that clamor for our attention.

In fact, only a third of North Americans reported that their workplace contributions were recognized in the past year. That means that two thirds of employees didn’t hear even a single appreciative comment — much less receive any concrete gestures — that let them know that their contributions mattered.

No wonder employees feel unappreciated! 

Contrast that with: 

  • DreamWorks – throws its teams a huge company party after the completion of any major project.
  • Salesforce – hands out free Giants tickets to employees who submit a referral for a position.
  • Nike – offers paid sabbaticals or tuition assistance to employees who show the most promise.

Employee Appreciation: Doing It Right

So how can you make sure your employees feel that you notice and value the work that they do? The key, according to customer-appreciation expert Chester Elton, is to give praise in a way that is frequent, specific, and timely.

  • Frequent: Give each employee reinforcement on a weekly basis, when possible. That might mean a quick email to an employee who you noticed being particularly patient with a customer, visiting an employee’s cubicle to mention that you noticed her taking a new intern under her wing, or mentioning to another how well-organized you found his recently completed report.
  • Specific: Phrases like “great job” or “thanks for everything” are trite and meaningless. Worse, generic praise can be worse than no praise at all. Instead, find specific aspects of the employee’s work habits or recent accomplishments that have added value to the company. Also, while recognizing a team is helpful, recognizing an individual’s contributions to the team is far more powerful.
  • Timely: When people have suffered to get something done, show your appreciation immediately. You don’t want them to go home bitter and complaining, even if you do give them a bonus at the end of the year. And practically, many well-meaning executives who push off praise or rewards will forget about them. Strike while the fire is hot, and show your appreciation as soon as possible.

For example, the German utility company E.On used an employee recognition program called “Buzz,” in which any employee could “buzz” another on the company’s website in appreciation of any action that they feel deserves recognition. The company’s executive board was especially encouraged to take part in this initiative. This which ended up having a huge impact on employee morale. Before Buzz’s implementation, only 39% of E.On’s employees felt valued for their contributions; just a year later, 52% felt valued. Enabling board members and other employees to show their appreciation with a click of a button helped to keep the feedback timely and frequent, while their need to pinpoint a specific reason for the “buzz” kept it targeted and specific.

Most importantly, get to know your employees well so that you recognize their accomplishments in a way that resonates with them. For example, if your company’s IT specialist is shy and socially reticent, a splashy public “thank you” might create more discomfort than satisfaction. Similarly, if your secretary is disinterested in sports but loves car racing, you’ll know to pass over the major league tickets and opt for tickets to a NASCAR race instead. By knowing your employees, you will be better able to match the recognition to the individual.

Be Creative!

The obvious ways of showing appreciation still work – giving a monetary bonus or a raise, offering a verbal compliment, or writing a thank-you card. (And in today’s technologically advanced age, a handwritten thank-you card is more appreciated than ever!)

But especially when an employee goes above and beyond, following suit and doing something above and beyond in response can make a big impact. Take a look at the Appreciation Board that medical records collector Legal Monkeys uses:

Looking for some different ideas? Try some of these other creative ways to show your appreciation:

  • Let an employee use your parking spot.
  • Treat your hardworking team to a catered lunch, an ice cream surprise, or a few boxes of donuts.
  • Invite a massage therapist to work for an afternoon.
  • Give employees a lottery ticket with a note: “To us, you’re worth a million dollars!”
  • Grant an employee a free day off after meeting a tough deadline.
  • Send a card – yes, through snail mail – to their home. 
  • Send an employee to a professional conference they’ve been eying, or give them the opportunity to cross-train with coworkers in a different department.
  • Present an employee with a small gift card to a local shop they like.
  • Ask for their help with a challenge similar to one that they have successfully navigated. (Doing so sends them the message that you value their expertise in that area.)

Once again, it is helpful to get to know your employees so that you can perfectly match them with the method of recognition that will resonate the most. Get to know their families, hobbies, preferences, and struggles, and reward or recognize them accordingly.

While in the past, employee recognition was the icing on the cake, it is now an integral ingredient in the cake itself. Show your employees how much you appreciate their contributions, and watch them stretch beyond what you’d ever believed possible.

This is part 3 in a series that examines how companies should look beyond the consumer when considering the use of marketing techniques. This post focuses on how to recognize your employees’ accomplishments so that they feel validated and appreciated. Part 4 will discuss when and how to stand behind your employees, while still trying to accommodate your customers’ needs. See all the articles in the series here