Around this time last year, I stopped by a friend’s office to pick her up for a lunch date. I noticed a poster on the wall about the upcoming annual holiday party.

“That will be fun,” I said, nodding at the sign.

My friend rolled her eyes. 

“It’s supposed to make us feel appreciated,” she said. “But we don’t hear a word of thanks throughout the year, so a party feels insincere, like ‘too little, too late.’”  

Both Erin and I have heard employees say this kind of thing many times before. Here’s why: Every year, company leaders feel obliged to spend a few hours recognizing their employees for all their hard work. So, they have their HR team plan a holiday party, shell out for some nibbles and drinks, and crank up the iPod with some tunes. (Another version of this is handing out the token $50 bonus or gift card.) Afterward, they cross off “Thank employees” on their to-do list—and then it’s business as usual for the next 12 months.

Recognize your employees to boost engagement

This one-off approach to showing appreciation inspires eye-rolls at best. At worst, it may jeopardize employee retention, motivation, and morale. Productivity levels can suffer, too.

Research backs this up. According to Nine Lies About Work, when leaders check in with their team once a week, engagement jumps by 13%. When they check-in just once a month, team engagement drops by 5%. Bottom line? Scheduling weekly conversations with employees shows that you care about their well-being and happiness at work. Use this time to offer positive or constructive feedback or to find out what’s on their mind. (Read this post to learn about a simple, effective strategy for giving feedback.)

Not convinced that leveraging human resource strategies drives employee engagement? Consider these statistics from Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace study:

  • Companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable  
  • Engaged employees have 41% lower absenteeism
  • Companies with engaged employees experience 24% less turnover  
  • Companies with engaged employees experience 70% fewer safety incidents  

3 ways to show your appreciation 

Here are three suggestions for recognizing your team.

  • Actively look for opportunities to celebrate employees. Make a point of “catching people doing good” each and every day.  
  • Write handwritten thank-you notes. Have a manager or direct supervisor write an appreciation note about employees’ specific acts of awesomeness.  
  • Give a high-five. Physical distancing may make actual high-fives tricky, so find another way to recognize an employee’s efforts in real-time. (Read this post to see how a $20 birthday cake boosted employee engagement at one company.)

“Thank you” goes even farther during challenging times

The pandemic may scuttle holiday party plans this year, but maybe there’s a silver lining. With everyone working—and juggling—harder than ever in 2020, it’s pretty obvious that finding meaningful ways to say thanks isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s absolutely essential. 

At People Spark Consulting, we’re not against holiday parties or end-of-year bonuses. On the contrary, we cheer wildly whenever business leaders let their hard-working teams know they’re doing a great job. But as our friend’s “bah-humbug” comment makes clear, when you make such gestures in a vacuum, don’t be surprised if eye-rolls—and even resignations—follow. Instead, implementing consistent, ongoing HR strategies will engage and retain employees and make them feel seen, heard, and valued. And that’s very good for business. 

Stay well,

Kristen and Erin

Want to learn how to use smart HR strategies to grow your business faster? Book a call (it’s free!). 

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