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3 Reasons Why Your Employee Appreciation Strategy Isn’t Working

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It’s no great secret that engaged employees are happy employees, and that happy employees are productive employees. The tricky part lies in knowing how to effectively engage employees, particularly when your employee population is diverse or widespread. The more varied your workforce is across the categories of age, location, race, etc., the harder it is to come up with a strategy that will allow you to engage your entire workforce.

One of the cornerstones of an effective employee engagement strategy is an employee appreciation or recognition strategy. Whether your program follows the more traditional trend of “Employee of the Month” awards or takes more of a fluid approach, it’s important that your organization has a structure in place to let your workers know how much you appreciate their hard work. After all, the No. 1 reason Americans say they have left a job is that they felt unappreciated.

But simply having an employee appreciation program or strategy in place isn’t enough. Several companies, particularly large employers, struggle to keep once-vibrant programs going year after year, with the result that employee appreciation efforts feel stale or contrived.

Think about it: If you were asked to tell someone about your company’s employee recognition and/or appreciation program, would you begin to animatedly explain the nomination process and awards, or would you simply blandly recite the parameters of the program without any real enthusiasm?

If, as a manager or human resources professional, you can’t get excited about a program, what makes you think you can motivate your employees to actively participate?

Below are three of the most common reasons good employee appreciation programs go “stale”:

  • They’ve become routine.
    While there is a lot to be said for consistency, one of the worst things that can happen to an employee appreciation program is for your employees to feel like your program is more about going through the motions of handing out an award, rather than about recognizing and appreciating employees. When appreciation efforts become commonplace and lose their sense of being “special,” they start to feel less genuine. If, for example, a manager always brings breakfast for his or her team on Fridays, and has done so every week for six months, the gesture of appreciation starts to lose its meaning. An unexpected but thoughtfully worded email at the successful conclusion of a long project, on the other hand, seems more genuine because it doesn’t feel predictable.
  • There’s a lack of management buy-in.
    An employee’s direct supervisor or manager is the often the person they interact with the most, and who has the most impact on the employment relationship. As the group with the most exposure to the wider employee population and the day-to-day operations of the company, you have to find a way to get your mid-level managers to be the champions of your employee appreciation program. Encourage them to spend the last five minutes of their team meetings talking about success their teams have accomplished, and to open it up for employees to give “kudos” to their fellow team members. Simply giving employees a forum to express their appreciation can go a long way.
  • It isn’t personalized.
    Knowing when an employee is deserving of recognition and praise is just half the battle. How you show an employee your appreciation for their hard work is just as important as the fact that you do so at all. Not every employee wants to be shown appreciation in the same way – some may want public recognition in front of the whole company for a job well done, but for others the idea of being acknowledged in front of a crowd of people is downright terrifying. Tailoring the way you recognize an employee for their success to their individual preferences will be much more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. 

If your employee appreciation program is in desperate need of a refresh, the very best thing you can do is to ask your employees what they think about it. Send out a quick survey to your workforce asking them how they like to be rewarded, and what kinds of incentives motivate them. Just make sure to utilize the information you receive – there’s no more surefire way to annoy your employees than to ask them for feedback and then not making any changes.


What do you think are the must-haves for a successful employee appreciation program?

Let us know in the comment section below!

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