3 Ways to Say Thank You to Your Employees and Show You Mean It

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

Showing employees that you care isn’t just nice — it’s good for your business. In a Harris Interactive/Glassdoor survey, more than half of the employee respondents said they would stay longer with their employer if they felt more appreciation from their boss. Four out of five indicate they work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.

And while most of those surveyed acknowledged that money is the greatest motivator, nearly half reported that “unexpected treats” like snacks, lunches and thank-you notes send a gratifying message as well.

Here are some tips for effectively saying “thank you” to your team.

Make It Personal

When considering how to show appreciation to the folks who make your business the success it is, here’s a piece of studied advice, echoed by workplace-morale experts aplenty: Look them in the eyes. Literally, yes, but figuratively as well. Consider them for who they are, and then convey your thanks accordingly.

Rob Bellenfant, owner and CEO of Nashville-based TechnologyAdvice, concurs. “The key is to remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “Different rewards resonate with different employees, so leaders must invest time in learning how best to reward their teams.”

Knowing the people who work for you enables you to choose gifts with meaning, and that builds loyalty, according to Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants, which has offices in New York and Toronto. Examples she cites are an extra day for a new mom to work remotely, a gift card to an employee’s favorite retailer, a nice lunch for an employee who rarely gets out, or binoculars for the avid bird-watcher.

Now, that’s not to say it’s necessary to give a different gift to each individual — just that you know what will be appreciated within your particular crowd.

Tell Them You Care

Just go ahead and tell your employees how much you appreciate what they do. It sounds novel, but you’d be surprised how effective it is.

“If a leader wants to be certain that employees feel connected to the business and appreciated, the best way to let them know is to tell them. That’s correct — actually tell them they are appreciated,” says Carole Stovall, a business psychologist, the president and CEO of SLS Global and the owner of WorkLifeMetrics.com in Washington, DC.

Stovall says the effect of such a simple statement should never be underestimated. “Money is good, but words of praise, whether in a note or in person, are very powerful,” she says. “They build loyalty, trust and people working for the right reasons. Praise is also one of the least used techniques to develop strong employees and teams.”

“If an employee stays overtime to complete a project, let him know you appreciate it,” she adds. “If a team finishes a project on time, under budget, go to the team and tell them.”

Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack, a Reno, NV–based company that provides software for social media and mobile campaigns, adheres to the same philosophy. “Some people need to hear that they're doing a good job,” he says. “I try to recognize that and remember to use words of affirmation with all my employees.”

Belosic works those interactions into the flow of the day. “I've strategically placed my desk near where a receptionist would sit so I'm out in the open and able to be involved in conversations with my employees,” he explains. “So far, I think it's worked. Since we launched in 2010, I've never had anyone quit.”

Build a Team, Bolster a Community

“Team-building” is a hackneyed term, but when catered to your team’s tastes, it can really work.

TechnologyAdvice paid for a four-day trip to Gatlinburg, TN, for its 35 employees. In addition to a day at Dollywood, a visit to the aquarium and some golfing, the staff participated in a few team-building exercises, such as zip-lining and whitewater rafting.

Bellenfant says the company has been growing rapidly, with the staff doubling in size in the past six months. The trip was a great opportunity for co-workers to learn more about one another outside the office. “Overall, our team has a stronger bond, better communication and greater motivation to work hard for each other after going on this trip,” he says. “And you can't put a price on that.”

“We have a genuine culture of working hard, playing hard and fostering personal and professional development,” Bellenfant adds. “I think this retreat was the perfect combination and celebration of that mindset.”

Got a particularly civic-minded bunch? The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston, TX likes to get its people out into the community, and the employees seem to appreciate the opportunities these activities afford. Training manager Anne Nolen says a team of employees has prepared meals on wheels at the Houston Food Bank kitchen; the staff has hosted the Periwinkle Foundation’s Cycle for Life, which raises millions for Camp Periwinkle, a camp for kids living with cancer; and they’ve held a clothing drive benefiting Cross Roads, a day center for Houston's homeless population.

Houstonian management feels that these experiences instill a caring, philanthropic attitude, and that their employees really feel gratified on a personal level from working together for a greater cause. “These kinds of events have been instrumental in creating the spirit of positivity, gratitude and contribution that our employees embody,” Nolen says.

The Little Things Do Add Up

“Recognizing employees when you have a small budget can prove to be a challenging task, but the key to rewarding them is knowing them,” Zugec says. “This is an area where small businesses have an advantage over larger organizations that are oftentimes ‘forced’ to provide a one-size-fits-all recognition or reward program. Because small businesses have a more personal and close relationship with employees, they are able to provide tailored recognition.”

Such is the nature of showing you truly care: a good, sound investment.

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