HR and People Teams: Don’t overdo it this Employee Appreciation Day

“Turn the dial of appreciation up a couple of notches, but keep it genuine. Your employees can tell the difference.”

Every year, Employee Appreciation Day offers a moment to pause and reflect on the invaluable contributions of our workforce. It’s a day marked on calendars across organizations worldwide, dedicated to expressing gratitude and acknowledging the hard work and dedication of employees.

It’s great, it really is.

But the point of it is to serve as a reminder for how the employee-employer relationship should be year-round.

At its worst, from an employee’s perspective, it can serve as a day of hollow programming and words which are incongruent with the lived experience the rest of the year.

Imagine an employee who’s been working hard throughout the year. Checking back in at 10pm to get some extra work done. Collaborating proactively cross-functionally on projects. Her check-ins with her managers happen inconsistently if at all and when they do, they tend to be project update readouts and not much more. Her direct work or broader department’s work has never been mentioned in company-wide meetings or comms.

Now, during employee appreciation week, she is being told by the CEO and leadership how much her (and everyone’s work) is appreciated – they even designed a vibrant poster saying so.

The HR lead steps in to say.

Her manager that week, seemingly reading off a script, awkwardly mentions how much her work is appreciated. What is she telling her friend that week over dinner about how she is being treated at work?

My #1 recommendation for companies looking to celebrate employee appreciation day – turn the dial of appreciation up a couple of notches. Do NOT completely flip the day into something that feels unrecognizable to employees. It will have the opposite of the desired effect regardless of how well-meaning the exec or HR team is.

The easiest test is to get feedback from trusted employees who can tell you what’s really going on about a potential program you might launch.

Let this holiday serve as a reminder for the kind of employer brand you’re striving for and experience you want to drive towards year-round instead.

So what could you be doing?

Well, we certainly have ideas there. The Cleary platform is built for organizations looking to weave appreciation into the fabric of their corporate culture. With a suite of features designed to facilitate recognition, connect team members, and foster professional growth, Cleary champions the notion that appreciation should not be confined to a single day but rather embedded into every aspect of the employee experience.

Here are some programmatic ideas:

Recognizing Achievements

The heart of a thriving workplace culture beats with the rhythm of regular achievement recognition. If a team hits a milestone, ensure there’s a process in place to recognize it. Whether it be an email/written comms internally created by the lead.

Or, it could be featured as an agenda item during the next all-hands. Maybe it’s pausing and having the team spend time together reflecting on their success. It’s a great time for the key leads to recognize employees or departments who have helped behind the scene.

These moments are important – don’t let them pass you by.

Personalized Acknowledgment

Every employee’s journey is unique, filled with personal triumphs and milestones that deserve recognition. Personalizing acknowledgment means going beyond the generic “job well done” to highlight specific achievements and the impact they’ve had on the team and the organization as a whole. This bespoke approach ensures that employees feel truly seen and valued for their individual contributions.

For one employee, it could be a written shoutout. For others, it could be a concerted thank you from the manager during their 1:1. Maybe it’s as simple as sharing a meme with them in the center of it.

It could be a coffee chat or a message from a leader who they don’t usually have access to.

Creating a Culture of Peer-to-Peer Public Recognition

Manager and exec recognition is great but creating a culture of peer recognition is priceless. Think about all the things a culture of peer recognition signals:

  • 5-10x more moments of gratitude possible by sheer numbers of peers.
  • Unlike managers, it’s accepted that peers don’t thank each other just because “it’s a part of their job”.
  • Signal employee autonomy. If recognition is not the singular purview of management, even the most junior employee is being shown that they can and should seek out and recognize positive behavior.
  • Company values come off the corporate poster and into everyone’s lived experience. 

The power of public recognition lies in its ability to amplify the achievements of individuals across the organization. By celebrating successes in a public forum, employees not only receive the acknowledgment they deserve but also inspire their peers through their exemplary work.

Implementing platforms or programs that facilitate peer recognition allows employees to easily express their appreciation for their colleagues’ hard work and achievements.

This could be through a dedicated channel on the company’s social intranet or through regular peer shout-out sessions during team meetings. Encouraging the nomination of colleagues for special recognitions or awards can further enhance the sense of camaraderie and respect within teams. This not only celebrates individual contributions but also reinforces the value of teamwork and collective success.

Amplifying Recognition

If manager and peer recognition is happening in pockets of the org, amplifying it using internal communication channels such as company newsletters, intranet posts, or dedicated recognition platforms can effectively publicize achievements. This public acknowledgment fosters a sense of pride among employees and encourages a culture of excellence and mutual appreciation.

This can also happen through virtual recognition events or town hall meetings where teams and individuals are celebrated for their milestones fosters a sense of community. These events offer a platform for storytelling, where the journeys behind the achievements are shared, further enriching the culture of appreciation.

Milestone Celebrations

Celebrating career milestones acknowledges the journey and dedication of employees over time. Whether it’s a work anniversary, a significant project completion, or a professional achievement, these milestones are pivotal moments that merit celebration. This can be done through a virtual event, a personalized gift, or a heartfelt message from leadership as long as it conveys the organization’s gratitude and recognition of the employee’s long-term commitment and contribution.

Additionally, in a world where the personal and professional are ever-blending, it may make sense to celebrate personal milestones – from finishing a marathon, to a child’s birth, or an employee birthday – as long as it feels natural to the leader and employee. These stories can be featured in company communications, offering insights into the diverse paths of success within the organization.

Team Building Activities

Regular team-building activities are essential for nurturing connections and fostering a sense of team identity. These activities encourage collaboration, communication, and understanding among team members, contributing to a stronger, more cohesive team dynamic. Organizing virtual or in-person team-building exercises that cater to the interests and strengths of team members can significantly enhance team cohesion. Activities can range from collaborative projects and problem-solving challenges to informal social gatherings.

Leveraging virtual platforms to maintain engagement and connection in a remote work environment is crucial. Virtual coffee chats, remote lunch and learns, and online team games can keep team members connected and engaged, even when they’re physically apart.

Reserved time for team building activities serves to grease the wheels of any recognition program you might want to put in place.

Asking for feedback

Recognition rings true when people know it comes from a source that genuinely cares about them. Caring about someone means caring about what they think. What’s the best way to know what they think? Ask!

Actively soliciting feedback on programmatic initiatives around the employee experience can help organizations continuously improve and ensure that their efforts resonate with the entire workforce. This feedback loop can inform future planning and help create more inclusive and meaningful celebrations.

Fostering Continuous Learning and Growth

Emphasizing professional development and growth opportunities is a powerful way to show appreciation for employees. By investing in their development, organizations demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ success and well-being.

Relatedly, celebrating learning milestones can be a great recognition practice. Acknowledging the completion of training programs, certifications, or significant project milestones celebrates employees’ dedication to their professional development. Relatedly, sharing success stories of employees who have leveraged learning opportunities for career advancement inspires others and highlights the pathways available for growth within the company.

Cleary Badges can be used to help simplify this process and also gamify it along the way. Badges stand out on an employee’s profile and are earned through activities they have completed that the company values.

It can be potent in combination with Cleary Pages, where organizations can highlight and promote professional development programs and resources, directly linking employees to opportunities for growth.

Professional Development Opportunities

Offering structured opportunities for professional growth signals to employees that their career aspirations are supported and valued. Access to training, workshops, and mentorship programs can empower employees to pursue their goals and contribute more effectively to the organization.

Establishing clear pathways for professional development, including access to external courses, internal workshops, and mentorship programs, encourages continuous learning and skill advancement. Creating a mentorship culture where experienced employees guide and support newer team members can enhance the learning experience and foster a sense of community and mutual support within the organization.

Constructive Feedback

The Ying to the recognition Yang is constructive feedback.

Integrating regular feedback mechanisms into the workplace culture allows for the moments of recognition to standout in the best possible right way. Implementing regular performance reviews and feedback sessions helps employees understand their progress, celebrate their achievements, and set goals for further development.

Employee appreciation is a cornerstone of a thriving organizational culture, and its impact is most profound when it is woven into the fabric of everyday interactions. By recognizing achievements, enhancing connections, and fostering continuous learning and growth, organizations can create an environment where employees feel genuinely valued and supported.

We recognize it’s a long and winding journey for leadership teams as they work towards creating an ideal organization that oozes appreciation for employees. Don’t let this intention create dissonance amongst your employees. If you feel you are FAR away on the spectrum of being an organization with a recognition culture, let this day serve as a reminder to take a step in the direction of the organization you want to be.

I hope some of the tactics here can help you push forward on this scale. 


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