Whether you call it Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day or I-Don’t-Give-A-Flying-Flip Day, the thought behind the holiday is all about expressing your love and adoration to those you care about. Acknowledging and expressing gratitude at work is just as important. Of course, the best scenario is for all of us to convey that appreciation on a regular basis, but hey, everyone needs a nudge now and then.

When we work with executives and company leaders, recognizing employees is a frequent point of conversation.

The two most frequent comments we hear are:

    • I know I need to show appreciation for my team more, but I don’t know how to do that.
    • I don’t see why I should be recognizing employees for doing something that is already a part of their job.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to give answers.

Employees Need & Want Appreciation.

Celebrating workplace friendships and the unity of strong teams is a good practice for healthy organizations in general, but more importantly, feeling appreciated is what employees need and want.

In the 2019 International Employee Survey Report published by Workhuman, research reinforced that, “For humans to thrive, companies need to double down on programs and human applications that enhance trust, appreciation, respect, gratitude, autonomy, and equity.”

In the study, participants were asked to identify one thing they wished their manager did more of. Here’s what they had to say:

    • Show more appreciation (31%) 
    • Focus more on my career growth (19%) 
    • Give me more independence (15%) 
    • Focus more on my learning and development (14%) 
    • Have more frequent 1:1s and check-ins (8%) 
    • Other (11%)

In addition, the study showed that employees who have a sense of meaning and purpose are more than four times as likely to love their jobs. More than pay or free food or a fun team, workers are looking for meaningful work at organizations where they feel recognized and respected.

Action Plan for Leaders

Leaders need to be proactive in showing appreciation and recognizing individuals and teams on a regular basis. Even if they’re doing exactly what is required for their role, just the act of acknowledging a good job or special personality trait and showing appreciation can improve employee performance and overall morale. Here’s how you can implement gratitude strategies into your daily structure.

1. Know what individuals need. Teams are not made of cookie-cutter personalities. Individuals have different needs and respond in different ways. It’s important for leaders to genuinely know and understand each employee, and realize what drives them or makes them feel appreciated. One way to do this is to know their Love Language. Yes, we’re serious.

For example, we recently worked with a leader who didn’t know how to show appreciation for one particular employee. She described him as being collaborative in nature, but particularly stressed and buried in a big project. When asked what his Love Language was, she said it was Acts of Service. We were then able to identify meaningful ways she could show appreciation, like:

      • Taking some extra, one-on-one time with him to talk through projects.
      • Removing obstacles out of his way so he can be more effective, like temporarily reassigning some of his less urgent tasks to other team members in order to lighten his load.
      • Hand-delivering his favorite takeout meal for lunch on a high-stress day. 

2. Make appreciation a part of the culture. Expressions of gratitude shouldn’t just come from the top down. Peer-to-peer recognition goes a long way and should be a natural and frequent occurrence within the workplace. There are plenty of ways leaders can facilitate this. Here are some ideas:

      • Have a traveling trophy, stuffed animal or another symbolic object that is presented from one employee to another every week or month. Make it a fun, regular feature of team meetings, and make sure the presenter verbalizes why that person has earned the recognition.
      • Create a message board in a high-traffic area, complete with paper and pens, where employees can easily write notes of appreciation for colleagues and display them publicly.
      • Give each employee a stack of sticky notes and encourage them to leave supportive or kind comments on their coworkers’ desks throughout the year.

When employees feel supported and recognized by their colleagues, it boosts their levels of productivity and unifies the team. In addition, close friendships in the workplace have a positive impact on employee satisfaction.

3. Be intentional and make it count. When gratitude is expressed in a sloppy, generic or insincere way, it ends up feeling hollow and ineffective at best, hurtful at worst. Take the time to thoughtfully consider the delivery. Prepare your comments beforehand, and clearly convey what it is you’re showing appreciation for. By making the message personal, with sincerity and intent, your employees will feel truly appreciated, which is what they need and want.

4. Recognize anniversaries and milestones. Imagine if a family birthday or anniversary was forgotten or ignored at home. There’d be lots of hurt feelings and relationship damage to deal with. So why would you ignore a workplace anniversary or milestone?

According to the Workhuman survey, more than half of all workers surveyed (51%) say their last work anniversary was not even acknowledged. When the data is filtered by workers who have been at their company for more than eight years, that number ticks up to 53%. Creating a meaningful and social service milestone is one area companies can use to increase employee satisfaction.

When asked what people want from their anniversary experience, survey respondents replied in order of preference:

1. Shared memories and congratulations from co-workers and managers
2. Private congratulations from my manager
3. Public congratulations from my manager
4. Being the guest of honor at an event

How do you show appreciation in the workplace?

The best Valentine’s Day gift idea for your workplace is frequent – but not frivolous – expressions of continued appreciation given throughout the entire year. Employees who feel supported and acknowledged are more satisfied and will choose to stay with your company for the long-term.

What are the ways you or leaders in your organization show employees that they are appreciated? We would love to learn from your experience. Please share your examples in the comments section below, and happy Valentine’s Day!

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Most leaders struggle with disengagement, dysfunction, and non-productive behaviors with their teams. We deliver training that develops leaders and engages teams to increase your company results.