April 23rd, 2021 | Sterling

Moments that Motivate: Why Showing Employee Appreciation is the Gift that Keeps on Giving… Especially in Today’s Virtual and Hybrid Workplaces

Smiling biracial woman show heart hand gesture

Can you put a value on employee appreciation? According to Forbes, the answer is a resounding yes. Noting that “Companies that prioritize recognition have a better chance of retaining the talent they fought so hard to attract in the first place,” the article goes on to point out that companies known for recognizing employee value regularly have “31 percent lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures.” It’s not just talent retention that gets a boost. When employees feel appreciated, employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity climb, leading to better customer experiences as well.

Reimagining Employee Appreciation for Dynamic Workplaces

Showing employees that they are valued is even more critical in today’s environment. The global pandemic has driven a monumental shift in how—and where—people work. Companies have largely worked out the technological kinks that plagued remote work early on, and as the world re-emerges from strict social distancing requirements, many companies plan to enable hybrid work models, supporting both in-office and remote employees. The transition faces some uphill battles, particularly when it comes to attracting talent, keeping employees engaged, and reducing turnover. Showing employee appreciation plays an important role in those efforts. In fact, ensuring employees feel valued for their work could become even more important in hybrid workplaces. HR Magazine notes that, “The wide acceptance of remote work has created a workforce that can work from anywhere, opening up new job opportunities that will test employee loyalty.” So, how do you recognize employees in a virtual environment?

Recently, Jenna Gardner, Sterling’s People & Experience leader, joined Katelyn Brower, Sterling’s Social Media Manager, for an episode of “Sterling Live” to talk about why employee appreciation matters, what it looks like today compared to a year ago, and how it will transform over time.

Take this year’s Employee Appreciation Day, which took place on March 5. Unlike past years, #TeamSterling celebrated remotely. While that meant no mingling with colleagues in person over coffee or lunch, #TeamSterling found a way, and it started with a mind shift. Instead of feeling frustrated that social distancing requirements made the traditional approach impossible, Jenna and her team had to look at how virtual experiences could open the door to new opportunities to applaud employees.

This year, employees were encouraged to use WorkDay to show their appreciation. Typically, these messages would be visible only to the recipient and his or her manager, but for Employee Appreciation Day, the notes of thanks were gathered into a virtual billboard, for the entire company to see. Over the course of a few days, more than 2,000 responses rolled in.

Not surprisingly, many individuals received shout outs for their efforts on particular projects. What both Jenna and Katelyn found especially gratifying to read were the notes praising colleagues for a welcoming smile or a can-do attitude that contributed to making Sterling a great place to work. Plus, instead of having a view limited to local colleagues, this approach provided glimpses into offices and teams around the world, emphasizing how truly global #TeamSterling is. Jenna said the shared messages really brought home the point that “Appreciation is borderless.”

What Will Employee Appreciation Look Like Moving Forward?

Jenna admitted to feeling a bit nervous about planning the virtual Employee Appreciation Day event — after all, it was uncharted territory. Her advice?

  • Start by looking at what resources your company already has in place to show appreciation for employees in a virtual or hybrid environment. WorkDay is one of Sterling’s tools, but for the event, they made a slight adjustment and moved those messages from private to company-wide visibility.
  • Companies can also use their intranet, messaging apps, or weekly team check-ins to show their appreciation.
  • Virtual thank you cards or gift cards are other easy ways to show employees they’re valued.

What else should companies consider? Think about turning a traditional approach on its head. For instance, one healthtech company put a “High 5” program in place, allowing employees to give each other notes of recognition. The twist? These virtual high 5’s can be redeemed for prizes.

Also, make sure that leadership is on board and visible in its support, whether it’s participating in Zoom calls or sending a note of appreciation. “Employees love to know that the people at the top of the organization appreciate what they do,” one HR VP told HR Magazine. Hospitality guru and New York Times bestselling author, Chip Conley concurs. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve saved cards that old high school flames wrote me as well as those that employees have written me over the years. The power of genuine, customized appreciation will never lose its value, even in a gloomy economy… in fact, it’s probably what we’re all thirsty for,” he wrote.

Look for opportunities throughout the year — not just on designated days — to celebrate the people that make your business tick. For our 45th anniversary in 2020, Sterling launched a webpage highlighting well-wishes from clients and employees, but what is truly gratifying is to see how these comments reflect gratitude for the many ways our employees create value within their teams and for our clients.

Looking ahead, the path may not be clear, but here at Sterling we’re committed to the journey. As Jenna pointed out, many companies have spent decades optimizing how they work — and show appreciation to employees — in person. Now, we need to expand those efforts to meet employees wherever they are.

There is certainly no one size fits all answer. It’s going to take some time to achieve that same level of knowledge, with some trial and error, for largely remote workplaces.

One fact is inescapable, however. We won’t be coming back unchanged from the past year. The shared experience of navigating uncertainty during a pandemic has created a mutual bond. And thanks to tools like Zoom and Teams — and the unpredictability of kids and pets — we now get a glimpse into people’s lives that we didn’t have before. Showing appreciation can be even more meaningful given the emotional toll of the past year. Never underestimate the power of a heartfelt thank you to boost someone’s spirits when they are feeling isolated or overwhelmed.

An annual celebration of employees is just a start. Sterling’s People First approach isn’t a marketing slogan to win customers; it’s a culture of commitment that extends to everyone we work with — clients, business partners, and employees. Appreciating our people needs to happen 365 days a year, and with the technologies we have at our disposal and a little creativity, it’s actually more achievable than you might expect.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.