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  • LeCarie Whitfield

The 5 ways a business says “I Care.”

Do your employees matter to you? At first blush, this seems like a ridiculous question—your business would not run without a staff. Of course, employees matter.


However, if you believe that assigning important responsibilities and paying a fair wage shows workers they matter, sadly you may be missing the mark. Piling on new duties and paying a cost of living increases are the minimum threshold to keep staff showing up to work as scheduled.


A better question, then, may be this: Do your employees feel that they matter to you?

Employees feel they matter when the organization shows genuine appreciation for their contributions to the workplace. According to research, when employees feel they matter, they perform better, experience fewer internal conflicts, have higher productivity, and enjoy longer tenures with their place of employment. Showing genuine appreciation may not be as easy as it sounds, so when it comes to the art of employee appreciation, here are five ways to show workers that your business truly cares.


1. Public Recognition


Public recognition is easily its own reward--when it is done well.


The most common, and perhaps easiest, public recognition program for an employer to set up is an “Employee of the Month” program. Traditionally, management chooses the winner and the employee’s photo is prominently displayed for peers and customers to see. Even your most humble employees appreciate being noticed in this way.


However, if an employee of the month criteria is defined so narrowly or obscurely that the same person or members of a single division win time and again, this can have a depressing effect on the staff.


You can avoid “employee of the month fatigue” by including employees in the recognition selection process. Hang a corkboard in the breakroom where coworkers can pin notes acknowledging their colleagues’ excellent performance. Digital platforms—such as Bonusly and Kudos —make it easy and fun for employees to express appreciation for each other. These peer-to-peer programs work like social networks, allowing employees to congratulate and reward one another for great performance.


Whether a recognition system is management or peer based, recognition becomes meaningful when given in real time. This could mean featuring employees on the company’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds. In a simple post, shout out appreciation from the virtual rooftops. A word of advice: if you post on social media, have your social media maven on the ready to manage comments.


In its simplest form, publicly acknowledging employees takes a few minutes out of a day or week. If you have a budget to play with, then consider pairing recognition with a tangible gift for a lasting impact.


2. Giving Gifts


A good gift will be useful or thoughtful. A great gift, however, is both useful and thoughtful.


Whether you are welcoming new members to the team or recognizing milestone achievements, nothing says, “you are a valued employee” like a useful and thoughtful gift. When an employee starts a job, being handed a unique lapel pin, custom designed with the company’s logo, gives the employee a sense of belonging to a great workplace. In the same spirit, rewarding employees with a watch for serving 5, 10, or 20 years on the job, with a custom right-hand ring for promotion to partner, or with a custom champions’ ring for top-tier sales, sends the message loud and clear that the employee is respected, admired, and held in high esteem.


Only you can decide if your employees are worth useful gifts (such as a coffee mug), thoughtful gifts (such as a custom-made backpack) or something truly great in its uniqueness (such as a ring of distinction). Whatever you choose, keep in mind that employees will gauge their value to your organization by their perceived value of the gift. Giving great gifts usually cost far less than you’d think and are incredible motivators for any team.


Finding a great gift for your employees does not mean spending hours of your week searching for something uniquely personal to each individual. Instead, a better approach may be for the company to create a line of branded items with a design-house that specializes in custom design and offers a personalized experience.


3. Memorable Experiences


Everyone, including your employees, experiences the world differently, so when it comes to creating a memorable experience to show employees you care, the sky’s the limit, literally. Experiences can be on or off campus, during or after work hours, with or without significant others, and virtually with any budget. The goal when creating a memorable event is that employees have an experience, not another work assignment.


Cost-effective on-campus events can be setup with little advance planning and can range from staff lunch (if you work at a tech firm, you may be surprised to learn that most companies do not provide free lunch every day), to birthday celebrations, to office dance-offs, to whatever your team finds entertaining. Allowing your employees a break from work--while paying them to have fun--builds camaraderie and loyalty. At the end of a long, hard day, it is a welcome change for employees to go home excited to share about the fun they had at work.


Rewarding, cost-effective off-site events can include local activities such as karaoke (for the daring), golf outings, tickets to a concert or local sporting event (college, semi-pro, or professional), museum trips, or wine-tasting (be sure to rent a party bus). Day-trips might be exactly what your team needs to feel appreciated, particularly if you do not have the budget for exotic trips or cannot afford time off during a busy time of year. The benefit of hosting a day-trip is that the entire team can attend. If your company has multiple offices or divisions, each office or division can plan its own event. Employees love to share (and compare) with other branches how they were rewarded, so such experiences can motivate performance company-wide, as each branch strives to earn a better outing.


When your company has the budget (both time and money) for a luxury experience, consider incentive travel. Such programs have been around since the 1970s and recently have grown in popularity as younger employees place more value on unique experiences. Incentive travel directly relates to your business objectives--employees invited on the trip will have achieved sales or productivity goals that are important to your company. Even though only a select group of employees earns the trip, the entire team is motivated by the prospect of earning the reward and this positively impacts organizational culture. A Google search of “incentive travel” will connect you with a plethora of companies providing these travel services. A word of caution: Make sure to establish a budget for team travel that is affordable and not perceived as an extravagance. In addition, words to the wise: Plan ahead, choose boutique-style hotels for an authentic experience, and go in the off-season when you can get better rates.


Employees love talking about and sharing photos of their dining and travel experiences with colleagues, friends, and family. When you give your employees an experience they enjoy, you show them that you care about their quality of life. Whatever level of experience you can provide for your staff, it is worth it.


4. The gift of time


Employees spend far more time on focused on work than their 8, 9 or 12-hour daily shift. Even after calling it quits for the day, employees can spend additional hours on tasks related to their jobs, such as commuting, thinking about incomplete projects, or even washing uniforms. So, finding ways to give employees time away from work may be the key for reducing burnout and showing employees you care about their well-being.


It is easy to improve your time off policies by giving employees their birthday off as a paid holiday, or allowing time off for parental leave, sick days, or any personal emergency that may arise. Allowing flexible schedules, if your business can afford the irregularities, encourages employees to work during the times of day that they are most productive on work-related tasks. A more daring gift of time would be offering unlimited vacation time.


Unlimited vacation policies require that you place a high level of trust in your staff. As an employer, you will have to trust that employees know how much vacation time to schedule without adversely impacting their workload and your company goals. This trust is usually well rewarded, as studies suggest that an unlimited vacation policy has a mildly limiting effect on the use of vacation time. In other words, most employees will not abuse the policy.

The important thing is to show employees that you appreciate their time away from work as much as you appreciate their time at work.


5. Be a great place to work


Conspicuously absent from this list is “the almighty dollar.” That is because money shows hourly worth, not genuine appreciation. Employees expect added compensation for doing their jobs well—either with raises or bonuses—but often use financial rewards to pay everyday bills. Once the money is spent, the appreciation is forgotten. While employees do appreciate year-end bonuses to help with holiday purchases, money does not necessarily show employees that you care.


Consider, instead, achieving loyalty among your staff by creating a great place to work. If you do not know how to create a great workplace that excites your employees, buy a book or simply ask your employees what would make the workplace better for them. You might be surprised to learn that employees want a pet-friendly environment, better chairs, volunteer opportunities, two-way performance reviews, clearer paths to climbing your corporate ladder, or even more frequent meetings.


A workplace does not have to be an austere, oppressive environment. Nor should you try to make it a carnival or coffee shop (unless you are running a carnival or coffee shop). The point is this: create a workplace that employees look forward to coming to day in and day out. When company culture becomes more than a collection of benefits and on-site services, employees feel truly valued, appreciated, and that the company cares about them.


Conclusion


Whatever your business, if you have employees, then it is important that they feel valued. Whether through words, deeds, physical objects, or time, when employee appreciation is genuine, it will have a positive net impact on your company and all of its divisions, branches, and teams. When appreciation is expressed in a manner that resonates with the employee, the result is a win-win for both employee and employer.