Employee Appreciation and Recognition Program Ideas

by Doug Claffey

Increase engagement and unlock potential with a culture of employee appreciation

The strengthening economy and low levels of unemployment in recent years are good signs for the American workforce. They’re also signs of an ongoing war for talent among employers. Add factors such as retiring baby boomers, skill shortages, employee mobility — plus the cost of employee turnover — and it’s no surprise the battle to acquire and retain the right people for the right jobs has intensified.

Years ago, companies focused more on their hard assets: machines, buildings, and infrastructure. People were considered a cost of production, perhaps even liabilities. After all, this is where the balance sheet categorizes their salaries and benefits. But accounting is about numbers; today’s successful organizations are about people.

It’s not just Apple and Amazon that are the game changers in this shift. Virtually every business relies on the talents, intelligence, and creativity of their people to grow in new ways — or to work better and more efficiently.

The notion that people are motivated purely by money has been largely disproven. More important is how people are treated and whether they feel genuinely appreciated. At Energage, we measure appreciation through our the survey statement: “I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.” And time and time again, it ranks among the top four culture drivers on the Energage employee engagement survey.

Top Workplaces excel at appreciation

Top Workplaces score 13 percentage points higher on appreciation than average organizations, and it gives them an edge. Leaders at these organizations are adopting a fresh approach to workplace culture that fully embraces how today’s employees want to participate. They also understand how to get the most out of them. Simply put, they appreciate their employees in ways that increase engagement and, as a result, unlock potential and inspire performance.

Appreciation isn’t one-size-fits-all

Don’t assume it means the same thing to every employee. It can take a variety of forms, from praise to concern and rewards. Here are some examples:

  • Praise: Seek opportunities to give sincere compliments or to simply say “thank you.” Incorporate meaningful appreciation into meetings with individuals, teams, and the overall organization.
  • Concern: Take a sincere interest in employees’ concerns. Emphasize appreciation in feedback and communication. Encourage — and model — a culture of appreciation that encompasses all levels of the organization.
  • Rewards: Explore strategies to find what works for the organization’s culture. This can be company swag, celebrations, time off for volunteer work, or even free food. Financial incentives can be effective as tangible evidence to supplement verbal or written expressions of gratitude.

How to get appreciation right 

So, how can managers and senior leaders express appreciation to their employees? It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Appreciation can mean different things to different people, but it should always be sincere and authentic.Consider these tips:

  1. Show appreciation often and generously — but most importantly — be authentic.
  2. Celebrate completed projects, significant milestones, and innovative ideas.
  3. Recognize each success at the highest level possible.
  4. Give specific credit to the individual(s) or team involved.
  5. If employee feedback inspired the action, be sure to make it loud and clear.

It’s more than just a pat on the back

To feel fully engaged in the organization, employees need to know their work is appreciated and important. It’s more than just a pat on the back from a supervisor. They want to hear from peers, managers, and leaders as well. Sure, appreciation lets your employees know when they’ve done a good job. It’s also what makes them enjoy their work and feel motivated to perform at their best. And they know it when they feel it.   

Learn more about how you can craft a culture appreciation at your organization. Download the Field Guide to Appreciation here.