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employee recognition

Is Employee Appreciation Day a Real Thing?

If you have a calendar on your wall, you’ll find Employee Appreciation Day printed on the first Friday of March. But you’ll also find Earth Day, Columbus Day, and Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Chances are we aren’t celebrating any of those. So does the unofficial official Employee Appreciation Day really count? Or is it just another made-up holiday like National Hot Dog Day or Walk Your Rabbit day?

The short answer is Employee Appreciation Day is officially unofficial and yes – it matters.

employee appreciation day

What it is:

Employee Appreciation Day was invented by Dr. Bob Nelson. Dr. Bob, as he is most well-known is the world’s leading authority on employee recognition. To date, Dr. Bob has worked with 80% of Fortune 500 Companies and sold over 5 million books on management, employee motivation, and engagement. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about retaining, motivating, and engaging employees.

Why March? 

There’s nothing truly special about the first Friday in March. However, there is a reason why this is the month for Employee Appreciation Day. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, December and March are the two most popular months for employees to leave their jobs. Many employees who are thinking of leaving choose to do so in the month of March, so having the holiday within the first week makes a lot of sense.

Also, because February is the shortest month of the year, it usually has the shortest deadlines and turnaround times. Many employees power through the first two months of the year and by the time we get to March, Employee Appreciation Day is a helpful break to reaffirm your connection with employees, rest their talents, and re-energize them. 

Why it Matters:

Over the last 25 years Employee Appreciation Day has grown into a respected tradition in the US. Surprisingly, according to a survey by employee recognition firm O.C. Tanner, 44 percent thought it was “extremely or very important” to recognize Employee Appreciation Day. However, in that same survey, only 10 percent said that their current place of employment does anything to actually celebrate. (Even less knew when Employee Appreciation Day was.) 

employee recognition

How to Celebrate: 

Dr. Bob himself gave some professional suggestions as to how you can effectively celebrate Employee Appreciation Day. He recommends the following: 

  • Be Sincere: It’s important to be sincere in your praise, gifts, or recognition. Praise because you are truly appreciative of what they do. A lack of sincerity only comes across as manipulative. 
  • Be Specific: Avoid general statements like, “You all did great this year” or “we’re doing a great job”. Instead, point out specific things that you appreciate about individual employees. 
  • Be Personal: Sure, an email is better than nothing- but if you can deliver praise or rewards face to face, it’s even better. This shows that it’s important enough for you to put aside all of the other things you have on your plate and focus on showing your gratitude for that one other person. 
  • Be Positive: Don’t use this day as a reason to undercut praise by saying, “You did great on that report, but there were a lot of typos.” When you use the word, “but” it completely erases all the praise. Instead, keep everything 100% positive. 
  • Be Proactive: When you know that employee appreciation day is coming up, look for people doing good. Be proactive in watching for people doing things right. This will help you in your sincerity, specificity, personal, and positive approach to the day. 

It’s a simple moral calculus – every person who works for a living deserves to be recognized and appreciated. This is especially relevant in the US, the birthplace of Employee Appreciation Day, where employees often have no guaranteed vacation time and typically work longer hours than most other developed economies. 

What to Give Your Employees 

Here are a few ideas to celebrate Employee Appreciation Day this year. Pick one or two that would serve your employees best and be sure to include a sincere, specific, and personal word of appreciation: 

employee appreciation
  1. Free Food: Food is a great equalizer. It’s also the most direct way to everyone’s heart. You can offer free lunch on site, or even gift cards or dinner packages to send a meal or two home for each employee to enjoy with their family. 
  2. Gift Packages: You can create some great gift packages for employees and their families. Give gifts, snacks, candy, and add in branded merchandise for some extra oomph!
  3. Special Award: If you have an existing recognition system you can incorporate an Employee Appreciation Day initiative to reward everyone in the office.
  4. Flexible Scheduling: We can all appreciate getting some hours back in our day, so consider ending the day early or starting the day late as a way to give your employees time to relax and kick their feet up. 
  5. Leadership Message: It’s always beneficial to have leadership record a video message, send out a special email, or give out personalized cards to show appreciation from the top down.
  6. Experiences: Give your employees the gift of experience for Employee Appreciation Day. This could be concert tickets, theme park admission, vacation vouchers, or skydiving for the whole team. If these types of experiences are outside of your budget – consider smaller experiences like admission to a local museum or art gallery, a fitness class, or a spa day coupon. Think about what your employees are interested in and get to know them to find an experience that would fit their personalities.
  7. Everyday Help: Your employees still have to get their oil changed, go grocery shopping, and walk the dog when they get home after work. Celebrate employee appreciation day by helping with the everyday. Offer a gift card for grocery delivery or a home meal service. Have an oil change service come to the office or offer home help during the workday. This can be a great way to show your employees you understand their obligations outside of work and are willing to support their home and family.

Employee Appreciation Day is a golden opportunity to set the tone of your culture and serve as a regular touchstone to reinforce your ideas. The real question is why AREN’T you celebrating?


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