April 6th, 2022 | Sterling

Employee Appreciation: Not Just a Day, But All Year Long

Every HR professional knows that appreciation is what makes the world go round, but how many of us do our part every day to keep it spinning?

On a recent episode of Sterling Live, Katelyn Brower, Social Media Manager, sat down with Jenna Gardner, Director of Employee Experience at Sterling, and Ashley Hollender, Sterling’s People Experience and Learning Partner. Together they discussed the ways in which HR teams can help to build a work culture that enables their employees to share appreciation with everyone in their work lives. While our guests shared many of their favorite ways to give genuine thanks in the workplace, they also emphasized the importance of remembering to reach out and appreciate not just today, not just for the month, but all year round.

Where’s the Love?

Kicking off this incredibly important discussion, Jenna shared her view that first, employers must clearly define what their ideal employee experience should feel like. As Jenna relates, “It really is about the end-to-end experience and the value you’re providing to your employees.”

“Think back to the last Employee Appreciation day you had. Maybe someone sent you a little gift or recognized a memorable contribution you made. Remember how great you felt. Now imagine that day lasting all month long, and turning into a whole month, then a year, and then never stopping. That’s what an evergreen employee appreciation strategy should feel like.”

It’s also important to realize that, even while working remotely, you can always take time to make a positive impact on someone’s day. Genuine appreciation is always a great way for HR teams to inspire their co-workers, and in turn inspires them to do the same in a virtuous cycle.

Traditionally, most companies focus on an Employee Appreciation Day complete with snacks, thank-you notes, and appreciation. That’s certainly a great start, but to take your culture to the next level, you have to go beyond what’s expected. At Sterling, for example, we take a unique approach to employee appreciation. For us, it’s all about how people experience us as a company and workplace, from all our communications down to special events like virtual happy hours. Building this kind of ideal employee experience into your HR strategy helps to create a strong work culture, whether virtual or in the office.

For example, we’ve created a campaign centering on employee experience for the entire month of March. Many people say it takes at least 21 days to create a habit, so with that in mind, it’s a great idea to take a whole month practicing what it means to be appreciative of one another and to give thanks to one another in a new way.

“Show for Me and I’ll Show for You”

Your employees show up every day, but are you showing up for them? Again and again, this discussion went back to the crucial need for organizations and HR/people & culture teams to “show up” for their employees.

While many of us have left the office and transitioned to hybrid work or fully-remote roles, think back to when companies would write their values on the walls. If you didn’t feel the truth of those values, those walls only served as an everyday reminder of how you weren’t feeling appreciated at work. Jenna revealed the depth of Sterling’s employee appreciation, first in the form of over 2,500 digital peer-to-peer thank-you badges given out, just in March 2021.

“This year, to make employee appreciation go global, Sterling decided that creating a word cloud would be a fun way to get people engaged for the entire month of March. It’s as simple as it is uplifting: first everyone chooses words for a question or topic expressing the gratitude they feel. Then, as people keep adding similar words, the cloud becomes bigger and bigger, showing the positive mood and making for a really fun experience.”

Using our word cloud as a virtual canvas, we can ask a question like, “Why are you grateful for Team Sterling?” and we can see a lot of our most popular phrases and words online, such as “people first” and “keeping us safe.” Everyone on our global teams can view the word cloud online any time they like. It’s a great example of how everyone — both managers and employees — can successfully contribute to a truly global sense of appreciation.

Ideas like the word cloud act as proof that your organization is actually living its values. At Sterling, our people experience our values every day, which really is a testament to their truth. Our values allow us to go to clients, potential clients, and partners to show them who we really are and what we stand for. It also showcases that we’ve remained a people-first company throughout the Covid-19 environment that we’re still currently living in. With this reality in mind, remember that employee appreciation shouldn’t just be another meeting block on your calendar. It should be put into practice every single day.

Who Do We Appreciate?

If you really appreciate working with someone, or you just want to show that you’re grateful for all the work they do, employees should feel empowered to simply tell them. It doesn’t have to be formalized; just be sure to tell them while you’re feeling that appreciation.

Sometimes, though, HR teams want to offer employees a more systematic approach. Jenna outlined why it’s important to use a shared HR platform like Workday to help deliver this employee appreciation on a larger scale.

“At Sterling we have a couple of key differentiators. Here’s what we’ve recently put into place to help empower our people leaders to encourage employee appreciation. This year we’ve decided to make full use of our data. For example, we displayed all of the thank-yous on our intranet. This year we’re already at 2,500.”

“Now that we’re a virtual-first business, we have this really great opportunity to engage employees more globally through these virtual appreciation campaigns, so we can utilize things like our corporate internet, which is a part of our new workplace. We’re always showing people ways to appreciate each other online through things like quickly sending a thank-you note to really make someone’s day.”

We also utilize the technology we have in place (including Workday) to support a fully 21st– century experience that allows employees to say “thank you” virtually, and also allows managers to see the thanks their employees are receiving. Workday also allows us to promote our employees’ career development and skill sets to further their careers at Sterling. Virtual platforms like this are a great way to truly modernize your remote workspace and help people feel connected throughout the year.

Here are just a couple of a few examples of the many thank-you that we’ve seen so far:

  • “Thank you for being an incredible mentor to me. These last two years I continue to learn from you on a daily basis. Your leadership and feedback have allowed me to grow and stretch myself here at Sterling. So truly, thank you. I appreciate you every day.”
  • “Thank you for being such an awesome team member. I’m very grateful to have someone as passionate as you on our team.”

Ashley related her own people-first experience: “For us at Sterling, our ideal state of mind is one where we don’t have to intentionally create a campaign to boost employee appreciation. We’ve added all this technological enablement and put valuable HR integrations in place so that being appreciative to one another now just comes intuitively to both our employees and team leaders.”

Ashley added, “There are other ways we can filter the data from our intranet, and one I especially like allows us to see just how many thank-you notes are being given and received by our different verticals or functions. It’s really rewarding to examine all this data at different levels, for example in each vertical, our region-specific teams, and at the company-wide level. Most recently, we were surprised to learn that the most thank-you notes out of any group were sent by our Industrials, Government, and Education vertical, so that creates a fantastic opportunity for us to recognize their extra contribution to our overall employee appreciation efforts.”

Final Thoughts

As this uplifting episode of Sterling Live wrapped up, Jenna expressed her final thoughts for the audience: “It’s just so important for HR teams to recognize that yes, you do need to put serious thought into your employee appreciation efforts, especially these days when workers have so many options. Our own campaigns at Sterling are rapidly getting our leaders and employees to really flex that appreciation. It’s just one instance of many highly-effective ways to make employee appreciation a habit, not just an afterthought.”

Ashley gathered her own takeaways for HR teams working to create a healthy culture: “Employee appreciation is really the cornerstone supporting your company culture. It’s how you can keep your people happy and feeling valued, while keeping business moving forward. Ideally your culture should allow everyone to take their own opportunity to be grateful all the time.”

Smiling ear-to-ear, Katelyn finished the episode with a call to action for everyone in the audience: “Go show your gratitude to someone: if you work for Sterling, you know you can use all these internal ways to do it right now. If you don’t work for Sterling, you know there’s always an opportunity to go out and give thanks to someone you know. Show your gratitude not just today, but all year, every year!”

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