Employee recognition isn’t just about the holidays

Employee recognition isn’t just about the holidays

Wishing you all happy holidays and a great new year!

As 2018 winds to a close we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful December. Whether you’re a blog reader or a McQuaig customer, we appreciate your continued support and will be back in the new year to deliver more great content. Please enjoy a safe and happy holiday and we’ll see you in 2019.


Apparently, 2018 will see the fewest amount of holiday parties since the recession recovery period of 2008-2010. This makes sense from a corporate standpoint on a few levels, of course: holiday parties are a cost, and companies are traditionally very cost-averse. There are concerns, as there are every year, about alcohol-fueled bad decisions.

The problem with a reduction in holiday parties, though, is that it speaks to a broader problem about companies not recognizing their employees. There are generally low levels of appreciation throughout white-collar work, and holiday parties are often a quick and easy way to solve that.

What can be done?

On the holiday party side itself

If you want to have a holiday party but reduce some of the concerns around it from the business’ side there are a few things you can try including:

  • Work with the employees to see if anyone has ties to a venue that could host at cost

  • Limited drink tickets handed out to attendees

  • Taxi vouchers so no one drinks and drives

  • Invite the full family to make it a friendly affair

  • Do it yourself with a potluck to keep food costs down

  • Consider hiring entertainment to keep people engaged without an open bar

You can have a fun, employee achievement-centric holiday party at cost and without the focus being on over-consumption. It just requires some advance planning. Or if you want to avoid a party all together, don’t let that stop you from finding a different way to make your employees feel appreciated. After all, parties aren’t the only thing you can try. Some businesses have moved away from a party in favor of: an office raffle, ugly sweater day, a special holiday bonus, present exchanges, or volunteer days. There are many ways to show you care.

So why do so many companies struggle to recognize their employees, especially once December ends?

Pro-Tip: You can improve employee engagement without giving everyone a raise

On the broader employee recognition side

While a holiday bash is fun, it shouldn’t be the end of the employee recognition story. We don’t necessarily need appreciation from work as employees, no. We can get that from our families, activities, and communities. But when we get recognition from our employer, it’s very powerful — especially considering we often spend 8-12 hours/day for most of the week at our jobs.

Unfortunately, employee recognition is not very common in many organizations, especially with plans that stretch 12 months of the year and not just one.

There are roughly 2,400 Google searches per month for ’employee recognition ideas.’ That’s really not that many when you consider how many people are managers/bosses in the world, and the low volume shouldn’t be too surprising. In the book The Carrot Principle, they discuss one particular set of employee recognition ideas and how the problem is set up.

They refer to another book, Hardwiring Excellence, and four questions you can ask an employee at 90 days. (More on why 90 days is relevant in a second.) The four questions are all good ones:

  • Have we lived up to our promises to you?

  • What do you think we do best?

  • What have you seen in your other jobs that might work here?

  • Have we done anything in 90 days where you might consider leaving?

These four questions are awesome to ask at the three-month mark. It’s all about showing the employee you value them. It’s an easy, cost-effective version of employee recognition ideas. So in various studies around these four questions, consultants have asked employees one simple question:

  • Has your manager ever asked you any of these four questions?

In years and years of asking that question, they’ve never heard the word “yes.”

And here we are at the problem with employee recognition ideas.

Employee recognition ideas: Why do they matter?

Here’s the basic deal. People want a nice salary, yes, but they also want respect and opportunities for growth at work. Those are the big things. You may have seen this old New Yorker cartoon:

McQuaig - Employee Recognition New Yorker

That’s how many (not all) bosses approach work. When you work for a boss like that, you ultimately want to leave — even if you’re making bank. We’re social animals and we like unique breakdowns of our, well, uniqueness. When managers don’t recognize that, we care less.

Read more: Why is employee engagement so hard to generate?

Employee recognition ideas: The excuses

There are probably over 100 excuses managers give for lack of employee recognition ideas. Some of the main ones:

  • “I’m too busy.”

  • “It will be inconsistent.”

  • “I will recognize them in review season.”

  • “Our goal is to hit targets and make money.”

  • “I am afraid of showing favoritism.”

  • “It is too expensive to keep giving them Starbucks gift cards.”

  • “I don’t want them to get complacent in their role.”

  • “I don’t need to recognize them for doing their job.”

Consider this: if you were in a friendship where the other person never recognized you whatsoever, would you stay in that friendship for long? Probably not. And yet, at work that’s completely acceptable and oftentimes commonplace. And then we write 673,812 ‘thought leadership’ articles about the decline of employee engagement.

Employee recognition ideas: A simple example

Let’s try a simple example of something you could do as a manager. Look at this chart:

McQuaig - Employee Recognition Ideas Chart

Now, replace “Employee A” and so on with actual people’s names. But you see the concept here? You keep notes on different employees. You start by caring about their career goals! Also learn what’s important to them, what strengths they need to develop, etc. It’s a very basic chart.

Each week, try to find one positive per employee and quickly note it to them with a visit to their desk area. At four weeks, evaluate your relationship with them and their productivity.

This is an important example of employee recognition ideas because it costs nothing. It just requires a manager with some observational skills and 10 minutes a week to record what he/she observes. No movie passes here, guys! And it probably works better than that, honestly.

Employee recognition ideas: How do we get better?

Couple of quick ideas here:

Leadership Tracks: One of the biggest problems with American business is why people choose to become managers. Why is that? In most companies, it’s the only way to make more money. A person who is pursuing more money is often (not always) going to be a less empathetic soul and thus (again, not always) probably not a great manager of others. But they have to become a manager to get that money. We need two tracks: people managers and ICs. You can make the same money on either track.

Start by caring: You can say this about anything in life or business, and definitely about employee recognition ideas.

Tie it more to the bottom line: This is how decision-makers will care more. Basically, show them this math: with employee recognition ideas, people are working harder. The company is more productive. And yet, we don’t have to give as many raises and people are staying.

Care: Did we mention this one?

Appreciation should stretch beyond the season

While having a holiday party or some other winter event to show your team you care about them is great, remember recognition doesn’t stop when 2018 does. Employee recognition has a big impact on engagement levels, job satisfaction, and long term retention. There is no downside of taking the time to tell people they’re doing a good job and it might make them even more driven and productive. So this holiday, raise a glass to your team and remember to appreciate them even when the snow melts. 


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