It should go without saying that the U.S. workforce’s position has been tenuous since the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic kicked off with record-high unemployment rates, then took a turn last spring when the Great Resignation gave way to 33 million Americans leaving their jobs voluntarily.
Now? Employees have the high ground and can demand more from company leaders. That advantageous position means companies and recruiters should prioritize values like employee appreciation to enjoy the fruits of this qualified, available wave of talent.
And gratitude isn’t something that’s simply nice to have — it can yield positive, tangible results. According to recent research, high-performing teams receive twice the amount of appreciation from their teammates each month and twice the amount of appreciation from their managers compared to other teams. Plus, the American Psychological Association found that over 90% of employees who feel valued perform better and stay engaged at work.
As we celebrate National Employee Appreciation Day, business leaders need to find ways to communicate to their team members how much they value them. While many companies offer sizable raises and bonuses to attract and retain talent, less tangible methods can get the same point across.
Here are four steps executives can take to make their employees feel valued:
1. Reward them regularly.
According to McKinsey & Co., 52% of employees admit feeling undervalued by their managers. The current level of employee frustration underscores how critical it is that employers make appreciation foundational to what they do and practice it regularly. Gys Kappers, co-founder and CEO of Wyzetalk, believes routine shows of gratitude can spark higher productivity and keep attrition down.
“Continuous recognition empowers and engages employees, encouraging them to perform at their peak, improving productivity,” Kappers says. “When employees feel heard, valued, and appreciated, the outcomes are positive — they are more invested and engaged, morale is high, and productivity soars.”
Scheduled shows of recognition like “employee of the month” enable employees to see that their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. This is incredibly important for company morale. Plus, it can incentivize motivated team members to keep charging forward and less engaged ones to step up their game.
2. Recognize employees both near and far.
If there is one thing many companies have learned over the past year, it’s that remote work is here to stay. According to Upwork, 36.2 million Americans will be remote by 2025, which is double pre-pandemic levels. Furthermore, 95% of respondents to a FlexJobs survey said they’ve been just as productive (or more so) since going remote.
To continue capitalizing on a global workforce, leaders need to show appreciation and acts of good faith so non-local employees still feel like they’re a part of the team. FitOn CEO and Co-Founder Lindsay Cook said her company offers a better work-life balance.
“As a startup of 15, the biggest value is work-life blend — allowing people as much flexibility to manage their work and also their busy lives,” Cook says. “We appreciate our employees by minimizing the number of meetings and encouraging people to block off time to prioritize their well-being (such as midday workouts or breaks).”
Fellow fitness app CEO Ed Buckley of Peerfit supports remote teammates through communication, providing forums to share parts of their personal lives.
“As a fully remote workforce even before the pandemic, we leaned in heavily on our internal communications channel, Slack, to help connect our employees,” Buckley says. “In addition to the #appreciation station, we’ve also created other channels, like pets and kids channels, to allow our employees to show their family life, as well as a postcards channel, which is a great place to show where everyone has traveled and is also encouraging for people to use and celebrate their unlimited paid time off.”
Company leaders can take advantage of online communication platforms to show that they care. This can engage an entire company and foster consistent acts of appreciation.
3. Humanize gratitude for every employee.
Words of appreciation are valuable, but remember to put them into action as well. For example, leaders can deliver something to an employee’s doorstep unannounced or find other ways to celebrate the contributions of all workers, including those working from home. Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Reverse, took showing remote worker appreciation to extraordinary heights over the past two years.
“When the pandemic started, I was worried that people might feel a bit lost away from the office and away from each other or that they might feel like their efforts would be overlooked,” Sieffert says. “To bridge that void, we started sending regular gratitude boxes to our team members with various comfort items. These might be beach-themed, champagne-themed, or mindfulness-themed, reminding our people to take care of themselves and their families during these trying times.”
While “humanizing” gratitude may seem like a nebulous concept, it boils down to personalizing every act of appreciation. Make every gesture intentional, and this model will be sustainable for years to come.
4. Value small gestures.
Showing appreciation doesn’t require a lot of money and grand gestures. All it takes is a series of small acknowledgments to make someone feel valued. Bryan Adams, CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, understands the importance of gratitude in the employee experience.
“It’s not championing and celebrating success and achievement, though that’s important,” Adams says. “It’s acknowledging the difficulty of the climb or the stress of a particular situation of what people have to do to endure. The employee experience at the moment is probably the most powerful thing to create.”
Bryan started a chain of gratitude through his company by nominating three people he was grateful for and then asking those three to pay that appreciation forward. This became an organic, employee-generated content campaign that lifted the whole company. Ikaria Design Co. Founder and Chief Designer Pack Matthews also embraced small gestures of gratitude by addressing various employee needs:
“We communicate trust in the way we’ve implemented hours and work schedules,” Matthews says. “We use an app for all hourly employees to log their hours coming and going. We’ve also given all employees keys to the factory, so it’s very doable if we need to increase social distancing by staggering our time on site.
“We’ve also designed the workflow and job responsibilities so that employees can plug themselves into any particular station, easily see what tasks need doing, and use a Slack-like channel to get in touch with other team members for updates, questions, etc. Over the past year, we also implemented a four-day workweek and provided raises for hourly and salaried employees.”
Many companies realize that acts of gratitude don’t have to be massive undertakings or even overly complicated. All company leaders need to do is think outside the box and lead by example. Once they do this, the small acts of appreciation will trickle down throughout the company and create a gratitude-focused culture.