Chances are that you didn’t do much to celebrate Employee Appreciation Day, a date that passed with relatively little fanfare last Friday. Perhaps you received a modified version of the Society for Human Resource Management’s employee recognition letter from your supervisor, a concept that was met with some skepticism by certain segments of the HR community. Or perhaps you participated in the #EmployeeAppreciationDay Twitter campaign.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with such communications. After all, who doesn’t like receiving a personal call-out celebrating his or her work?
But if employers want to create an environment in which employees are actively engaged as partners in improving the company’s performance, supervisors need to do more than send out an annual email celebrating an individual’s work accomplishments. Instead, employee appreciation needs to happen every single day in sustained and substantive ways.
Recent research by Rob Goffee of the London Business School and Gareth Jones of the IE Business School identifies six principles that companies can adopt to enable employees to do their best work and contribute effectively to the organization. Among these six principles is that the company offers value to employees. That is, employees need to be more than simply appreciated. They need to feel that their contributions actually matter to the organization’s outcomes and that they can have an impact on how the company operates.
Goffee and Jones suggest a number of programs that companies can offer to make their employees feel valued (e.g. perks of the sort offered available at high-tech firms, but also funding for job training, education and employee development). Valuing employees takes more than distributing a list of programs with the orientation handbook. It also means creating a company culture in which employees can – in Goffee and Jones’ words – “be themselves.” This means accommodating and celebrating differences of all kinds, and appreciating that individuals have different needs and require different incentives to contribute their best work.
Goffee and Jones cite the example of Waitrose, a British food retailer that sponsors employees’ development in areas in which they are interested – piano, sailing, etc. This kind of financial investment in employees’ individual interests may not be possible at all companies. But recognizing that people who have different backgrounds than those who typically perform certain job functions may not only be just as capable of performing the job, but also may also be able to make unique contributions is something that every company can do.
And providing opportunities for employees to engage and celebrate those differences together – whether through a program like Books@Work or some other platform – can do much to create a sense of community, allowing employees to see not only that they are valued by supervisors, but are part of a team committed to recognizing each person’s strengths, abilities, perspectives and backgrounds.
Employee Appreciation Day is a nice start, but if it is to make a difference in employee engagement and loyalty, that day must be the start of something bigger – something that makes employees feel valued as contributors, partners and people, not just workers. Something that recognizes their contributions and allows them opportunities to develop individually and as members of a team. Employers would do well to transform appreciative comments into commitments to making employees feel valued every day of the year.
Image: Bartholomeus van der Helst, The Celebration of the Peace of Münster, 1648, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons