Thanksgiving pulls together 3 of my favorite things – Family, Football and Food. It also revolves around the critical leadership behavior of giving thanks. At one age or another, we’ve all spent Thanksgiving sitting around a table saying what we’re thankful for. While the kids at the table roll their eyes (as well as some adults) it’s a great exercise for two reasons: (1) we get to reaffirm that, regardless of our current situation, we do have something/someone to be thankful for, and (2) it helps us take the time to thank the important people in our lives. It is in these moments that great memories are made.
As a manager, it’s important to know that saying thanks is no less important in the workplace. You need to take the time to thank and appreciate employees: it makes people feel appreciated; it helps everyone feel valued and engaged in the organization’s mission; and it drives optimal performance. This isn’t just my opinion. Research has shown that appreciating employees is worth the time and effort. For example, in 2012, Deloitte found that “organizations where recognition occurs have 14% better employee engagement, productivity and customer service than those without.” The same study also found that companies with more effective employee recognition programs have 31% lower voluntary turnover (when great employees choose to leave) than companies with less effective programs.
One of the misconceptions with employee appreciation is that it costs “too much money.” Some managers think their department’s budget is what’s keeping them from appreciating employees. It’s not. You don’t need to spend any money to properly thank employees. In fact, I have found that being appreciated feels just as good no matter what form the appreciation comes in. For this holiday season, here are 10 low-cost ways to say thanks to your employees:
1. Just saying ‘thank you.’ Dropping by an employee’s desk to thank them in your own words can be more impactful than you think and all it costs is a few seconds and a short walk. Thanking someone in person allows you to personally connect with them in a way that an email, phone call or note won’t. (And it comes off as the most genuine way to thank someone because, well, it is.)
2. Hand-writing a note. I love to hand-write thank you notes because I think they are thoughtful and very personal. A handwritten note is special because it shows the time you took. It’s written in your own words, in your own hand, and it’s a “thank you” that an employee can save (and revisit) for as long as he or she would like. I know my staff fully appreciated these when I found them hanging in their offices or cubicles (sometimes tucked away where they can see them from their desk).
3. Hold an in-house awards ceremony. Holding an in-house awards ceremony is very inexpensive. It’s also an important communication tool for the organization. Not only do employees get recognized in front of the entire organization but it allows you to communicate the kinds of behaviors and accomplishments that are tied to your goals and values. In-house award ceremonies are perfect for highlighting the important accomplishments of your staff that wouldn’t necessarily be recognized by external organizations or the press.
4. Public mention in a meeting. While publicly congratulating or thanking employees in a meeting might make them blush, it’s a perfect way to give them the credit they deserve in front of their peers. It’s also free.
5. Thank them on social media. Thanking employees on social media is perhaps the quickest, most inexpensive way to show your appreciation. Still, it’s an impactful, thoughtful, public and fun way to recognize them before the entire online community.
6. Frame an article as a gift. This is something I do for employees who are highlighted by the press. I frame the article and write a short congratulatory note in the matting. This is very inexpensive for how meaningful it can be. Chances are, the articles you frame for your employees will follow them throughout their career. I also find these hanging in their offices with pride.
7. Acknowledge/thank them in a speech. If I’m with an outside organization or in a community meeting, there are often some staff members present. If their recent accomplishments fit with the subject of the speech, this is a great opportunity to take my employees by surprise (extra bonus for me) and show my support by highlighting their work in front of an audience.
8. Get the press involved. If one of your employees has accomplished something noteworthy, what’s stopping you from picking up your phone, calling a local paper and pitching a story? If an article winds up getting published, it’s something your employee will cherish forever. Absent this option, a newsletter or annual report can accomplish the same impact.
9. Give the gift of time. The gift of time is perfect for new or junior employees. Most new or junior-level employees don’t get a lot of face-to-face time with the boss. Taking an hour to grab a coffee is an inexpensive way to reward a young employee with the attention and access they don’t often get. It also gives you the time you need to get to know them personally and to find out what motivates them professionally.
10. Mention them in a blog post. Mentioning an employee in a blog post is just as inexpensive, public-facing and meaningful as the other items on this list. What makes blog posts so impactful, however, is that it gives employees the chance to share the recognition they receive with other people. If I write a blog post and mention my great Administrative Assistant Joann, she can post the blog on her Facebook page, email it to friends or family and print it to save as a memento. Blog posts may have the potential to become the “viral thank-you note” of the future. If you don’t blog, here is another example where a website, newsletter or the right group email may do the trick.
Thanks = Performance
Forbes magazine has highlighted that modern recognition programs that say thanks can have a “HUGE” impact on business performance. They reported that companies that scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition – rich culture” actually performed stronger. They found that, “organizations that give regular thanks to their employees far out perform those that don’t.” Where most traditional recognition programs, which focused on tenure, were ineffective, programs focused on recognizing behaviors and saying thanks helped drive better performance, particularly when the recognition was peer-to-peer. The key take away is that saying thanks is good for your employees but it’s also good for your organization’s performance goals as well.
Following my own advice, I’d like to take the time to thank a few employees who do not often get the attention from the press or recognition from outside organizations. These are our vital support staff in the Managing Director’s Office–the ones who actually keep our office running. While other public-facing employees may get the spotlight, we would accomplish nothing without our administrative support staff. Specifically, I’d like to thank: Joann Gontarek, Sheila Olivo, Candace Carey, Robert T. Allen, Yvonne Brown-Gore, MaryAnn Womelsdorf, Stephanie Byrd, Barbara Kopecki, and recently retired Deborah Davis.
On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for your great public service. While I can’t include all the great employees who contribute to our organization, I hope that my entire staff knows that they’re the ones I am thankful for this season. Thank you for your time, your effort and thank you for buying into the great things we’re trying to accomplish for our citizens.
To everyone else, I wish you a great Thanksgiving holiday. I hope you are able to spend at least a portion of your holiday giving thanks at home and at work.
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.