Employee Appreciation: 5 Ways to Focus on People

A group of happy employees sit in a meeting.

Employee appreciation may be the secret sauce at the heart of HR expert Steve Browne's strategies for HR leaders.

Employee appreciation may be the secret sauce at the heart of HR expert Steve Browne's guide to successful HR management, "HR on Purpose: Delivering Deliberate People Passion." In this series on must-read books for HR professionals, we're taking a closer look at Browne's tips for recognizing your employees, showing appreciation and building a strong culture that employees want to be a part of.

Here are five ways to take your recognition efforts to the next level.

1. Stand out by Offering Employee Appreciation

According to Gallup, only one-third of American employees strongly agree that they were recognized or praised for doing good work during the past week. Further, Gallup reports that employees who feel unrecognized are twice as likely to leave their jobs in the next year. HR leaders should assess whether their teams feel appreciated. There are numerous ways to do this including annual employee surveys, dedicated internal market research and exploring the issue during employee interviews or team meetings. Based on the data, it's possible to determine:

-How appreciated your employees feel

-Where the gaps exist, especially within certain departments or locations

-What strategies you can implement to make a positive impact on morale and recognition

2. Focus on Individual Recognition

Many organizations address the need for employee recognition by implementing large-scale service programs. Browne describes one business he worked for that had a traditional service recognition program, rewarding individuals for each year of service by inviting them to participate in a banquet with leadership. This approach may sound familiar to many HR leaders. Yet, Browne notes that "after every banquet, the corporate leaders and team members felt that it was somewhat 'icky'…We were going through the motions of recognition, but it didn't reflect the warm, inviting, family-oriented culture of our restaurants and our brand."

Instead, he developed a sustainable approach that focused on the organization's brand mission. The business' motto is "Reach Out and Make Smiles." The HR team sent a gift card that the employee could use as they wished, a card from the CEO and President and a bag of smiley cookies. Personalize your recognition efforts to both the individual employee and the values of your brand. Give employees the most flexibility to enjoy their rewards in a way that's consistent with their own interests and priorities.

3. Meet Employees Where They Work

One of the challenges of effective employee recognition is that in today's organizations, teams are disbursed around the globe or work in various time zones or shifts. Browne personally visits his employees on major service anniversaries, regardless of where or when they work.

While this may not be practical in a global organization, it shines a spotlight on the importance of high-touch employee recognition. Can a local HR representative spend 10 minutes representing the organization in this regard? Think of ways to "meet employees where they work" to show them you appreciate their contributions and help increase the impact of your efforts.

4. Incorporate High-Level Workers Into Appreciation Efforts

Gallup reports that the most meaningful recognition comes from an individual's manager or the CEO. There are different ways to incorporate these individuals into your recognition program. For instance,

-Implement fireside chats and skip-level meetings that provide access to top leadership for your high performing employees

-Encourage your CEO or leadership team to send handwritten notes or cards for service recognition or major achievements

-Incorporate a personal touch, such as signed holiday cards, to an annual holiday celebration or recognition program

-Look for ways to incorporate one-on-one leadership meetings to foster stronger relationships between workers and teams, such as an annual paid lunch for each manager and direct report

5. Build a Strong Culture

Browne writes, "You have to assess HR from two perspectives — an organization's culture and its views on employees." However, as he notes, culture is often synonymous with conformity to specific values. He recommends taking the time to understand the unique cultures that can form in different areas of the business and investing in initiatives that contribute to a positive, healthy overall corporate culture. By focusing on people and moving beyond static notions of what culture can be, it's possible to develop an organizational culture that helps your team perform at its best.

Attracting and retaining the best employees likely starts with building a strong culture of appreciation and recognition. When you have the right strategies in place for employee appreciation, your top talent will have the incentives needed to generate outstanding results year after year.

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