The other day I was in a local restaurant picking up a tea to drink. The employee seemed upset and flustered. She was upset that she didn’t have extra help. She went on to tell me that she was running the front-line all by herself and that her boss was upset that the lemonade wasn’t filled.

“It’s frozen!” she said. “There is nothing I can do about frozen lemonade.”

“Well,” I said, trying to lighten her mood. “I think a frozen lemonade slushy would be an amazing new menu item!”

A faint smile appeared, and she said, “You know, all of this would be OK if they just appreciated me. I would feel much better if they simply told me nice job or thanked me for working through my life.”

How many times have you felt that way in your job? Middle managers are often in a hard spot of doing work, managing people, and helping plan for a better future for their team. Instead of making everyone feel encouraged and building growth plans, they are left putting out fires and running in circles most of the day leaving little time to recognize employees.

Start small: send regular thank you emails.

Recognizing and rewarding your employees doesn’t take as much time as you think. In fact, if you can flip your mindset, slow down, and invest in some low-cost ideas, I bet you can get started with rewarding someone right after you finish reading this blog post.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s the fact that everyone wants to feel appreciated.  Male or female, parent or child, manager or employee, husband or wife, we all want to feel valued and appreciated.   Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, over-worked, deadline-driven work environment it’s becoming increasingly rare for organizations to maintain consistent and meaningful reward and recognition programs.  It’s like we are too busy to say, “thank you” and yet we crave “thank you” just like everyone else.

When was the last time you thanked someone on your team? If you can’t recall the last time – stop what you’re doing and send a thank you email right now. Seriously, go on. We will be waiting for you when you’re back.

Focus on intentional, thoughtful recognition beyond pay increases.

Recent results of Gallup’s 2017 Study of Global Workplace revealed 85% of global workers are not engaged or actively disengaged.  Unfortunately, too many managers and organizations underestimate the power of employee recognition and it’s impact on creating an engaged workforce.   

Numerous studies have found money is important to employees but, what tends to motivate them to perform is intentional, thoughtful and true appreciation for a great job.  What’s more powerful?  When the recognition creates a story, which they can then share with family and friends. 

If you are an avid watcher of “The Office” – you know they do “The Dundy Awards” – while these are comical and often offensive awards from Michael Scott, there is a lesson to this approach. Having employee awards that celebrate your team members will go a long way. One step better? Include your employees as part of the nomination process. You can create a portal or form that your team can fill out to nominate employees for your annual, monthly, or quarterly awards. Recognize your employees in front of everyone during an all-hands meeting, present a plaque, and give them something special for their hard work and dedication. When I received the “Employee Excellence” award at my first job outside of college, I was celebrated at the annual Christmas party, received a plaque – which I still have on my desk today – and I got a $250.00 Amazon gift card, which I used to purchase my first kindle! That was nearly 5 years ago, and I will never forget the pride I felt as an employee. If that company wasn’t acquired, I can promise you that I would still be working there today – that’s how much I loved the company, the culture, and their focus on celebrating employees.

Your Go-To-List of Fun, Thoughtful and Effective Ways To Recognize Employees

When working with clients, we often hear rewards and recognition take a lot of time, money and resources to implement.  So, we’ve created a list of 20 ways to recognize employees that can be implemented by almost any manager with just a little effort and money.

  1. Number one should always be a handwritten thank you card, it’s an oldie but a goodie!
  2. Give your employees a casual dress day with a twist, like 80’s era or Hawaiian Shirt Day
  3. Host a surprise picnic for team members hosted outside on a beautiful day, sun usually equals fun
  4. Host a free car wash day in partnership with a local kid’s sports team
  5. Gift cards are always great but, do it with flare by rewarding them with gift cards from local unique small businesses
  6. Offer house cleaning gift certificate when a project required a lot of overtime to get it done
  7. Team mugs or t-shirts are a great way to recognize a special committee formed for a specific project, not only does it say thank you but, it helps them remember being part of this special project
  8. Offer a silver dollar or gold coin coupled a fun card that reads “You are the Gold Standard of Mentors” for a small thing like mentoring an intern
  9. Flowers or candy are always nice but, step it up a notch with companies like; Wicked Good Cupcakes or Apples Gone Wild
  10. Ship directly to their home a high quality engraved notebook like Levenger’s Circa Notebook
  11. Give them a book that aligns to their interest is a great way to say thank you, the key is….. aligned to the person’s interest
  12.  Host a pancake breakfast but, the manager, leader, or CEO is the chef (don’t forget the chef hat)
  13. Send recognition of a “job well done” email and copy their manager
  14. Do a “Positive Shout out” or thank you on a team call
  15. Award a half-day off on Friday
  16. Celebrate employees on Social Media and other online platforms
  17. Call to personally thank an employee for their contribution
  18. Offer to pay for lunch, their choice of location and their choice of who to bring
  19. A day out or evening out at a sporting event, movie or theater performance
  20. High-quality company swag like a Yeti cup with the company logo

Yes, yes, we know the saying “cash is king!” but, the reality is cash cannot be enhanced, can become expected and is not really exotic or fun.  That’s not to say a raise, bonus or other cash incentives should not be used because it should be but, cash is not always king.  Sometimes it just takes “thank you. I appreciate you and your work” that can make all the difference in the world to an employee like whether to stay or go.  The key is to recognize employees the way they want to be recognized.

So, the next time you are thinking of a way to thank you employees, for a job well-done pull out this list of 20 ideas! 

What’s one of your favorite workplace ‘thank you gifts’?  

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