Employee Appreciation Day is Friday, March 5, so I’ve been pondering what that looks like as a newly remote company. Within my circles, “appreciation” can sometimes feel synonymous with “awesome perks,” making it harder to compete as a seed-stage company. Kard doesn’t have the resources to provide round-the-clock meals, gym classes, and massage credits for every employee, but with the COVID-related office closings this year, that playing field has been leveled. Stealing from Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, here are five currencies of appreciation to consider when you’ve maxed out on perks.
1. Words of affirmation
Humans love knowing that our work matters to others, which is why we find it so unsatisfying to do pointless work. Implementing channels for praise can let employees know how much their work means to you, to your customers, and to each other. Some will thrive on more public versions of praise, but for others, a few thoughtful sentences during a 1-1 will make a huge difference.
Some examples include:
- Shoutouts during company all-hands, either for individuals or for teams, who went above and beyond to accomplish a goal
- A Slack channel for positive customer comments
- A handwritten note of thanks left on a desk or mailed to the employee’s home
- A glowing performance review after a stretch of hard work
- Compliments from other employees during a 1-1
2. Acts of service
Have an employee for whom actions speak louder than words? Show them your appreciation by doing something thoughtful instead.
- Invest in their career. Most jobs are merely a stepping stone on a longer career path. If you can provide more stones, employees will want to stay longer. Ask them where they are headed and brainstorm together how their current role and the company can move them in the right direction.
- Make an introduction. Are they struggling with a particular work challenge that you know another colleague just faced? Are they hoping to learn more about another career field? If they’re open to it, set up a time for them to talk with someone in your network who can provide a new perspective on the issue or interest.
- Listen well. Feeling heard and understood is a gift, especially in a world of constant distraction. Show that you’re in the moment with them by being a great listener, and maybe you’ll even learn more about how they prefer to be appreciated.
With the rise of loneliness during the pandemic, some employees may be looking to their job for camaraderie and connection. Yes, we may be tired of Zoom happy hours, but encouraging social connection at work can help reduce isolation. Freshen the company social scene with these ideas.
- Include family members. We’re already peeking into each other’s lives a little more by taking video calls from home, so lean into that by featuring the offscreen characters. Extend an open invitation to significant others and/or children during more casual calls, or host a “bring your pet to work” day for added levity.
- Foster friendships. Having friends at work is an important factor in happiness and productivity, and the workplace might be the only reliable source of connection for employees just starting out their careers. Build opportunities for colleague interactions by implementing an onboarding buddy system, events around shared interests, or interdepartmental competitive events.
- Network with peers. Missing the days of work travel and constant conferences? Bring back some of that magic by holding virtual customer events, pairing up with a vendor to co-host a happy hour, or giving Lunchclub a shot.
4. Quality time
Google famously grants employees 20% of their company time toward a project of their choosing, the idea being that employees who spend time working on what interests them are ultimately more productive. Even if your company can’t afford to shuffle resources that way, there are plenty of ways to invest time in what matters to the employees.
- Offer in-house learning opportunities. For an engineer, this might be implementing a new service or working on a hard problem. For an employee early on in their career, it might mean shadowing someone in a different department for a day to learn more about different career options. Investing time into the employee will expand their skillset and build a more loyal employee base.
- Turn off notifications during meetings. Between constant pingings and urgent emails, it’s easy to let ourselves mentally wander. Undivided attention shows that what the other person is saying matters.
- Make space for deep work. Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, is a popular read, but how much time are we actually making for our most important priorities? Give your employees the space to produce their finest work, whether that be through a meeting-free day, permission to treat notifications asynchronously, or freedom to work on their own schedules.
Chapman’s fifth love language is typically gifts, but there’s a limit to how much swag you can buy your team. As the world has dramatically shifted away from an in-person, perk-based economy, perhaps the new appreciation language is choice. Employees are getting a chance to choose where they will work and what hours they’ll keep. Without being tied to a specific location, they’re picking their own office setups and daily routines. They’re deciding between higher salary or increased equity, commuting or resource optimization.
Not every employee will want to choose, as too many choices can overwhelm and confuse us. But for the right person, freedom in decision will make a huge difference in knowing how much you appreciate them.
Appreciation will look different for each employee, and part of being a great manager is finding out what makes them tick. Show them you care by taking the time to do so.