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Employee Appreciation

How to Be More Thankful for Your Team (Easy Employee Appreciation Ideas)

by | Nov 20, 2023 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

Your team yearns for a cadence of sincere “thank yous”
more than grand gestures

Every week we hear from hard-working, high-performing employees who long for more appreciation at work. Ironically some of these complaints come after some kind of big employee appreciation event.

It’s about time, I’ve been killing myself all year without even a thank you!

Just like a great Thanksgiving meal is nice, but not sufficient when it comes to letting your family know how grateful you are,  it’s hard for a grand gesture to make up for week after week of feeling over-pressured and undervalued.

When it comes to appreciation at work, what most organizations need is more people saying “thank you” more often.

If you’re familiar with the Gallup organization and its extensive research on employee engagement, you know they focus on a dozen key drivers of employee engagement, known as the Q12 survey.

Question 4 reads, “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Why 7 days?

Because frequency matters.

It’s the cadence of positive reinforcement that creates a consistent dopamine response. People need to feel seen and appreciated regularly to feel valued.

You get more of what you regularly encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

The Frustration is Real

And it’s not just front-line employees sharing their lack-of-appreciation-induced frustration. In fact, it’s one of the hottest topics in senior-level coaching conversations.

  • “I just wish my boss would say thank you!”
  • “We always talk about where we have to improve, I just wish we could take a breath and look at how far we’ve come.”
  • “I just finished a big project, and my manager didn’t even acknowledge it before she dumped the next one in my lap.”
  • “Arghh, I haven’t even spoken to my boss in a week, I’m not sure they even know what I’m doing.”
  • “Our virtual one-on-ones are always about the work on my plate, never about what I’ve accomplished.”
  • “I’ve worked for this guy for a year, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard what I’m doing well, only what I need to do better.”
  • “My boss does great recognizing employees on the front line, but behind closed doors with his direct report team, it’s a whole other story. I don’t need much. Just a simple thank you would make a difference.”

How to Get Better at Consistent Employee Appreciation

  1. Schedule time each week (or daily) for informal recognition
  2. Keep track of who you’ve appreciated and how
  3. Encourage others to notice and celebrate what’s working
  4. Vary your celebration and employee recognition methods
  5. Take an extra three seconds in your emails
  6. Ask for feedback on how your appreciation is landing

Employee appreciation doesn’t need to take long. Imagine how many people you can appreciate in a block of just ten minutes on your calendar.

Here are a few practical habits that can help.

1. Schedule time each week (or daily) for informal employee appreciation

Some leaders I know make this the first task of the day, every day. It becomes automatic. Just like pouring that first cup of coffee.

Of course, when you begin your day with a bit of celebration, you feel better too.

If every day feels overwhelming, start with a slightly longer block one day a week. Schedule the finish by putting it on your calendar, as you would other meetings. If something comes up, don’t cancel it. Commit to rescheduling the time to keep your commitment to employee recognition.

2. Keep track of who you’ve appreciated and how

Giving yourself a micro-goal can make all the difference when it comes to employee appreciation.

If you have a large, or remote team, you might find it helpful to keep a list of your employees’ names on your desk and record each time you gave them appreciation or recognition that week.  When I’ve done this, I’ve often been surprised at who I’ve overlooked on any given week, and then make a deliberate effort to notice something important.

3. Make employee appreciation a team sport

The larger and more disbursed your team is, the more help you’re going to need. Set up systems and people to help you, even with your informal employee recognition. It doesn’t have to be a big formal process.

For example, each week, you might ask your direct reports to give you three people to call and thank them for their work. You don’t even need to know the whole story. You can just ask open-ended questions, such as…

  • “Hey, I heard you did a great job on ______.
  • Can you tell me more?
  • I’d love to hear how you did that.
  • What are you most proud of about this?
  • What are you excited about next?

And of course, you don’t always need to be involved. Carve out time and encourage your team to appreciate and celebrate one another.

4. Vary your celebration and employee appreciation methods

When we teach communication, we talk about the importance of 5×5 communication. An important part of capturing people’s attention is mixing up the WAY you celebrate. Sure, thank you emails are always good. And a thank you email every few days certainly can’t hurt. But, imagine the power of mixing in a hand-written note, a video message, a haiku, a cup of coffee, or your manager as a surprise guest popping into your Zoom call, just to say thanks.

5. Take an extra three seconds in your emails

Every now and then I have a manager tell me, “yeah, I just tell my employees to not expect too many “pleases” or “thank yous” from me. We’re moving so fast I don’t have time for that.

Okay.  So I just timed it.

Here are appreciation phrases you can type in three seconds or less.
  • Thank you.
  • Great job.
  • Much better.
  • Significant improvement
  • Getting closer.
  • Excellent.
  • Yes!
  • Nice job.
  • Perfect. Game on.
And here are a few that can be done in seven seconds or fewer.
  • I appreciate your time.
  • I know this isn’t easy. Thanks for the extra effort.
  • I really appreciate the work you put into this.
  • I’m impressed by the level of research you put into this.
  • I know there’s a lot going on, thanks for making time for this, this weekend.

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6. Ask for feedback on how your employee appreciation is landing

If you’re not sure how people on your team want to be recognized, ask them. No one will be offended if you set a clear intention to do this better. “It’s really important that you know how much I value you and your important contributions to the team. Beyond the usual that everyone wants (e.g. raises, bonuses, etc), what kind of recognition do you find most meaningful?

And don’t be surprised if you hear “Gosh, I just really like a sincere thank you.” If you hear that, keep those thank yous flowing.

Your turn.

We would love to hear from you. How do you ensure employee appreciation is a regular habit?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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