Spread the Love: How to Retain Employees Through Appreciation

employee appreciation and retention


You’ve taken the time and resources to develop a thorough hiring process. You’ve collected and interviewed candidates. You’ve identified the best fit and hired and onboarded them. You’ve trained them and they’re becoming a valuable contributor to your company. And now they’re putting in their two weeks notice.

That hurts, right?

The number one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. So if you want to retain the employees you worked so hard to hire, focusing on appreciation is critical. In fact, 80 percent of workers who feel appreciated by their employers stay with their companies. Employee appreciation and retention go hand-in-hand.

Here are eight ways to express appreciation to employees that will make them feel valued, and in turn help with retention.

1. Create a forum for team members to publicly express gratitude to each other

Coworkers go above and beyond to help each other every day. Too often, though, they don’t have a forum to thank each other in front of a wider audience, so these good deeds go unsung. To that end, SnackNation, a snack delivery service for workplaces, has created a weekly opportunity for team members to recognize each other and bring individuals’ hard work to the attention of the entire team.

“We host a Friday ‘Crush-It’ call,” says Daniel Pawlak, a marketer with SnackNation. “The entire team huddles together and we go around stating two things: 1) ‘crushing’ someone on the team whose work you want to recognize and why, and 2) something you are grateful for. To have your name mentioned and to be applauded by your peers is a reward bigger than any gift card or thank-you lunch.”

2. Do something special for employees on their birthday

Remember how awesome it was to wake up on your birthday as a kid? There were presents to open, treats to hand out at school, maybe a party to anticipate. It was YOUR day. And deep down, that feeling never goes away.  

“Acknowledging birthdays is a gesture that employees react to in a positive way, says Anastasia Pashalis, a marketer for Shoplet, an office supply ecommerce company. “Ordering a small dessert, or simply sending a company-wide happy birthday email, will go a long way in spreading the love and igniting a smile.”

At Recruiterbox, we send employees Sesame gift boxes on their birthdays. Who wouldn’t like arriving home on their special day to a s’mores kit or an assortment of gourmet chocolates? And at my last employer, my team created clever posters and hung them by the birthday boy/girl’s desk. I remember the smile on my face when I walked into the office and saw this hanging on my door (yes, I was pregnant at the time):

mock Juno poster

3. Give them a small budget to take care of their needs

Dropping cash on relaxation or self-pampering can feel indulgent, but it’s money well spent. (When was the last time you did something nice for yourself and regretted it?)  Employees at Binti, though, don’t have the dilemma about whether to shell out or save –  they can go to the spa on the company’s dime. The adoption-support technology company has a monthly ‘Take Care of Yourself’ benefit of $100 that employees can use toward home cleaning, transport, gym membership or a massage. “I think that employees appreciate perks more than salary,” says Felicia Curcuru, Binti founder and CEO. “It’s also very tax-efficient for the company, so it’s a win-win.”

4. Carve out time to have fun

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of fun at work. It helps employees bond with each other, promotes collaboration and productivity, and increases retention. That day at the ball game isn’t a frivolity – it’s a necessity.

When Joe Saul-Sehy, host of the Stacking Benjamins podcast, was a financial advisor, he gave his employees a ‘free day’ once a quarter. “I’d take them to a movie, or bowling, or an extended happy hour,” he says. “We worked really hard and really fast, and I loved being able to have some time as a group. We’d jokingly (and maybe not so jokingly) say, ‘We’re too busy to say please, thank you, and I love you most of the time, so let’s take an afternoon and do that.’ Because of that bonding we got along really well as a team and my turnover was nearly zero.”

Last year, AvenueWest, a corporate housing company, began doing an office ‘staycation.’ “We work hard and have very little time to spare for fun outside of the office, so we started this new tradition,” says CEO Kimberly Smith. “We brought in chair massages and lunch, and a local athletic wear vendor came by with a collection of bamboo clothing and everyone could choose one item to take home.”

5. Let them know that their opinions count

You didn’t hire your employees to be robotic yes men – you hired them because they bring skills and ideas to the table. Chris Huntley, owner of Huntley Wealth & Insurance Services, recognizes that employees are the lifeblood of a company, so he takes pains to foster a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

“For me, it’s important to be able to listen and place value on opinions that are different from my own,” he says. “You hire people to make things easier and to grow a company so it is absolutely imperative that you take the time to really listen when an employee is offering input. I may not always agree – but I try to keep an open mind, listen to the end and marinate on my thoughts before making a decision. Diversity of opinion is a truly valuable resource.”

Monica Eaton-Cardone, founder and COO of Chargebacks911, a credit card security company, makes sure her employees know they have a voice in shaping the future of the organization. “I believe that one of the best ways to make your employees feel like they are valued and appreciated is to involve them in decision-making processes,” she says. “Your employees have a vested interest in the company, so it is only fair to give them a say when it comes to questions which will affect the company. As members of the organization, all of my employees have a stake in major decisions; therefore, trusting them to have some say in that process makes everyone feel like a valued partner rather than a mere expendable worker.”

6. Treat them like family

At a certain point in your life, your Facebook feed becomes filled with pictures of adorable children. People love to showcase the talents and accomplishments of loved ones. Nedalee Thomas, CEO of Chanson Water, a water product supplier, does the same thing with her employees. “I have one employee who makes tin foil art on his break, creating small animals, and we always get a kick out of it,” she says. “We praise his work and feature some of them on our Facebook page.”

Another aspect of treating employees like family? Recognizing that they have a family, and all of the obligations that come with it. “I need flexibility in my life, so I try to be flexible when the absences or delays of everyday life come up, like when an employee needs to pick up a child from school. We’re all people with lives outside of work.”

7. Take the time to really know them

Quick! What’s the favorite sports team of one of your team members? What’s the last concert they went to? What do they do on the weekends for fun? We spend a third of our adult lives working, which means that the other two-thirds of our lives… aren’t. Your employees are interesting, complex people with identities that extend far beyond the office.

Scott Crabtree, the head of Happy Brain Science consultancy firm, advises managers to recognize employees in a personal way. “I’ve showed appreciation for employees by buying The Onion books, Tom Petty albums and gardening magazines, because I knew them well enough to know what they might enjoy. A hand-written note is always treasured. In this highly digital, too-rarely personal world, a personal touch speaks volumes.”

By tailoring the act of appreciation to the individual, your employees will feel like you value them not just for the work that they produce, but for the people they are.

8. Celebrate holidays – or even create your own

Sure, the company holiday party is an old standby. But that’s a once-a-year deal and most companies leave it at that. At the University of Advancing Technology, however, they keep the party going all year long. For Valentine’s Day, they organized a card decorating event. At Halloween, they hold a costume contest and hand out awards. And if there isn’t a ‘real’ holiday to celebrate? No problem – they come up with their own.

“We did a Christmas in July, where we watched Elf, put up Christmas decorations and made arts and crafts during the work day,” says Lauren Fach, a digital media specialist at UAT. “We organized a Hawaiian day, where we dressed in Hawaiian prints and leis, and a snow cone truck stopped by during lunch. On Dress like a Lumberjack day, people wore plaids and outdoorsy clothes. During yoga pants day, employees could participate in a relaxing yoga class at work.”

There are scores more ways to express appreciation to employees, from implementing a formal employee recognition program to bringing doughnuts on Fridays to a sincere ‘thank you.’ You don’t need a big budget, just some forethought, consideration and creativity. Reward your employees for their contributions, and they’ll reward you with their loyalty.