A frequent complaint staff often make about their employer is that they believe their efforts and contribution to the business goes largely unnoticed and unappreciated. When I’ve asked what gives that impression, a common response is that they only get noticed when a mistake has been made or something different or more is being asked of them. The rest of the time, I’ve heard, they most often go without positive recognition or endorsement. ‘I’m just a number’, they say.

It can be argued that a weekly, fortnightly or monthly deposit into a bank account is a tangible acknowledgement of work undertaken. But the message I’ve heard and hear repeatedly is that it isn’t enough by itself. Money isn’t everyone’s primary motivator and employees generally need and want other forms of acknowledgement and rewards as well. So what can one do to show appreciation and make employees feel less like a number and more like valuable, contributing human beings? Consider the following smorgasbord and see what might work for you:

Random gestures

Provide morning or afternoon teas, for no apparent reason; say thankyou (often); use post-it notes and stick them on the computer screen, the returned file, the office door, with a note of thanks. Send handwritten cards with a personal message; give movie tickets for two; give flowers from your garden.

Seasonal rituals

Establish seasonal rituals i.e. a mid-year Xmas drinks and nibbles do; a thank-heavens-its-the-end-of-winter happy hour; a welcome-the-end-of-year with a BBQ, a southerly and accompanying light rain. Particular events could also be marked i.e. getting through a restructuring; the end-of-year budgeting processes; the company relocation; or an unforeseen crises.

Special days

Celebrate special company days i.e. the anniversary of a particular contract; the new building extension or the establishment of a new service. Celebrate successes when they happen – sales figures reaching particular levels; securing a prestigious contract; the completion of a building project or turnover reaching new heights.

Be personal

Publicly acknowledge staff in staff meetings – name the people and their effort; tell other colleagues about employees’ performance; have a face to face meeting with an employee and say what and how much you’ve appreciated their work; feature staff in the internal company newsletter, including a photo and their success story. Record staff achievements, in the annual report, the newsletter to clients, the web site.  Actively encourage and support staff in their endeavours.

Be seen and known. Take the time to know staff, their names, their roles. Spontaneously approach staff to acknowledge them when you’ve heard about their success and efforts.

Send formal letters of commendation. Give small gifts and notes. Ask the Board to send a formal letter of thanks.  Take people off-site for a coffee or lunch. Suggest someone leaves work early. Acknowledge employees’ life events such as bereavement, divorce, marriage, births. Personally thank employees for their contribution when they resign and leave. Say thankyou – often.

Make decisions

If you’re wanting to do better in the acknowledging employees stakes, consider what sort of employer you want to be known for – an employer of choice or one of the others. If you are committed to improving what you currently do, you’ll need to work on it. A cunning plan is needed.

Conduct a mini audit. Ask employees to rate the company’s current ways of acknowledging staff. Ask what could usefully be adopted, by way of rituals, celebrations, personal acknowledgements and then decide what you are going to use. Consider and action the information given– keep doing what’s successful and shed what’s not working so well.

Discuss the issue with your managers and supervisors. Determine the ways you want acknowledgements to be undertaken and implemented throughout the business. Ask managers and supervisors to ask their staff what motivates and encourages them and what forms of acknowledgement matter to them. Require all managers and supervisors to implement the range of acknowledgements available, guided by what the company can realistically provide and what would suit employees.

Lead by positive example. Encourage managers in their acknowledgement endeavours, so that it becomes automatic practice, not an isolated event every few years or so. Avoid making the annual staff performance appraisal meeting the only time that employees hear positive comments. Conduct regular audits of your workplace to determine feedback from employees about the culture and the practice of acknowledgement.

Wages and salaries are a form of recognition that certainly feed the bank account. For numbers of people however, money alone doesn’t provide the acknowledgement, motivation, stimulation, energy, encouragement, endorsement, challenge, food for the soul or uplift to the spirit. If you know you could do better in the acknowledgement stakes, then do something about it. Can you imagine how motivated and enthusiastic staff might be if they felt genuinely acknowledged for their efforts?


First Published in NZBusiness January 2002�

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