The Slice

Why Employee Appreciation Days Fail (And What To Do Instead)

September 16, 2022

Whether your organization celebrates its employees annually or monthly, celebrating every employee at once can seem like a foolproof idea. Unfortunately, employee appreciation days often fall flat and sometimes even do more harm than good.‍ Let's take a look at why employee appreciation days fail and what you can do instead. 

On the first Friday of every March, there is an unofficial holiday known as "Employee Appreciation Day." However, many companies might choose to have a day of appreciation for their employees any time of the year. Whether your organization celebrates its employees annually or monthly, celebrating every employee at once can seem like a foolproof idea. Unfortunately, employee appreciation days often fall flat and sometimes even do more harm than good.

Let's take a look at why employee appreciation days fail and what you can do instead. 

The Benefits of Showing Your Appreciation to Employees

Don't get us wrong– showing your employees that you appreciate them is an awesome idea.

Before we talk about some of the reasons that an employee appreciation day might not be the best way to recognize the hard work of your team, let's talk about why letting your workers know that you think they're great can be a win-win for everyone involved:

  • It helps to build a positive work environment.

  • It fosters company loyalty.

  • It can help improve retention and reduce turnover.

  • It can boost productivity.

  • It can help provide a better customer experience.

  • It can help improve the well-being of your employees.

  • It boots employee engagement.

As you can see, showing appreciation for your employees can have a seriously positive impact on your office.

If employee appreciation is so great, why do days held in the name of employee appreciation sometimes fail? Let's take a look at some common culprits.

Why Do Employee Appreciation Days Fail?

There are a lot of possible reasons that your employee appreciation days might be falling a bit flat. It could be as simple as not scheduling them at a time that works for your employees, or it could be a symptom of a larger problem.

Scheduling Them on a Day Off

If you have a team that doesn't all work the same hours, it can be a huge failure to schedule your employee appreciation day on a workday when not everyone will be present. Or, maybe you're one of those bosses that don't want to cut into productive hours, so you schedule an appreciation day on everyone's weekend. While we get the urge to not waste time on the clock, you likely won't get the result you're looking for if everyone feels like they have to show up when they would otherwise be enjoying their free time.

This puts your employees in a pickle– they have to decide whether they want to go to work on their day off and if it will look bad if they don't show up.

You'll want to make sure that everyone who wants to attend will be able to attend without cutting into their free time. While this might limit when you can schedule your employee appreciation day, it's worth the extra effort to ensure that no one is left out or feels compelled to show up when they would rather be at home.

Giving Out Gifts No One Wants

Giving gifts to your employees is a sweet and splendid idea, but don't do it just for the sake of it. We've all been there– you attend an event, and you're given a bag of plastic junk with a logo plastered on it that you'll simply never use. Rather than going out of your way to spend money on stuff that no one will like (after all, even the cheapest gifts get pricey when you're buying them in bulk,) consider using the same budget to create an event that everyone will enjoy or purchasing gifts that your employees will be genuinely happy to receive.

They Often Take the Place of Private Acknowledgement

Your team is working hard most days of the year in a way that is integral to the success of your organization. While having a day of celebration for your employees isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can be when it seems like a year's worth of recognition is crammed into one tiny day.

An employee recognition day might have an awards night or something that gives people credit for the areas they are excelling at. However, this definitely runs the risk of leaving some people out, having some feel that their hardest work wasn't recognized, and it can appear that certain people are being favored over others.

Public recognition can be a fine thing, and some employees might really value it. But, in general, it is typically better to focus your energy on private recognition. When you tell your employee that you appreciate them without an audience standing by, it helps communicate that you actually mean what you say, and they aren't just receiving a participation trophy.

They Aren't Specific or Personal Enough

In reality, the best type of feedback is specific. Having a lunch party for your employees is obviously a great idea, but it shouldn't take the place of more detailed recognition and communication.

When you have one big employee recognition day for everyone, you're lumping everyone into one pile and saying, "great job!" There's a time and a place for that, but if it stands alone as the only time you're patting your employees on the back, it can end up not offering very much useful information and feel a little weak in the eyes of your team.

Everyone on your team contributes something unique, and they all have their preferred way of being thanked. While it might be impractical to make things too personal for everyone on your large team, an employee appreciation day often has the effect of leaving everyone feeling pretty displeased.

Your Employees Might Smell the Favoritism

Favoritism in the workplace is a common issue, and employee appreciation days aren't free from this problem. Having a big party for everyone can be a fun time, but it's important that certain employees aren't celebrated disproportionately over others. If this occurs, it can backfire and leave many of your workers feeling severely underappreciated.

It Feels Like Too Little, Too Late

This one's a biggie. If all of your employees have been burning the midnight oil for weeks or months trying to meet a deadline, all without any praise or positive feedback, it's only a matter of time before they start feeling underappreciated. Of course, you don't literally have to be walking around patting everyone on the back once every fifteen minutes. But when your team is working hard and putting their all into a project, it's only natural that they will start to question whether it's worth all that effort when it seems like no one has even been noticing.

If you let this type of thing go on for too long, and tension is simmering under the surface for months on end, a measly employee appreciation day isn't going to do the trick. In fact, it could even flair up some of those issues, leaving your team thinking, "I did all that hard work, and this is the thanks I get?"

There's No Oomph

We've all been there– an office party that's supposed to be all about how awesome everyone is, but the spirit doesn't really seem to be there. Maybe the employers didn't put much thought into the event and half-heartedly threw everything together, or maybe the employees aren't really the type to like big she-bangs anyway. Alternatively, maybe there's a major conflict in the office that management has struggled to handle gracefully and instead is trying to force everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya like nothing happened.

Employees can tell when the appreciation they're receiving isn't genuine and is, instead, just some initiative created by higher-ups to try and boost engagement or receive other positive work results. If you want to show your employees appreciation with a day of celebration, you'll want to plan it like you mean it.

There's No Food

It's possible that your employee appreciation day didn't go as well as you hoped simply because you didn't feed everyone. It might seem silly, but being hangry is no joke. (Seriously. We checked with the pros.)

Luckily, this is a really easy problem to remedy. A lunch party might be the perfect solution if your employees aren't feeling the love because their blood sugar is low.

Are your employees remote? No problem. We'd love to organize a lunch party for you so fresh, delicious meals are delivered to your entire team no matter where they are in the world.

How to Make Employee Appreciation Day a Success (Or What to Do Instead)

There are tons of ways to show your employees that you value them, whether you do so on a special employee appreciation day or on a random Tuesday.

When it comes to how often you should show your employees appreciation, the answer is a lot! It's generally advised that you show appreciation early and often, which is particularly important when you're team is remote. After all, when you don't have body language and tonal feedback from your boss the way you do in an office, it can be hard for remote workers to know if they're doing a good job without being told they are.

When throwing an employee appreciation day for your remote team or coming up with ways to show your appreciation during any old week, you'll want to come up with ways to bring everyone together regardless of how far apart they are physically.

First, let's talk about how to throw a great remote employee appreciation day event:

  • Make sure the event fits within everyone's schedule.

  • Ask for input about events and experiences during the appreciation day.

  • Don't try to jam in too much work-related stuff– let this be a day of celebrating the people on your team.

  • Take your team members' personalities into account– a team of mostly introverts likely won't enjoy the same time of shindig as a team of extroverts.

  • Incorporate some meaningful and thoughtful gifts.

  • Announce some big news– Fridays off during the summer or an extra long weekend next month, etc.

At the end of the day, what really matters is that your appreciation for your employees is genuine. People seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to this sort of thing– if you're forcing it or you don't mean it, it probably won't really be worth the effort. Taking the time to think about what you honestly appreciate about your team as a whole and each individual can go a long way in making the event meaningful, fun, memorable, and effective.

Now it's time to talk a bit about showing your employees you value their hard work outside of a special appreciation day.

It's ultimately best to create an overarching culture of appreciation that is planned ahead of time. For example, if you're going to celebrate one employee's retirement, it's best to make sure that all employees receive the same treatment when they're ready to leave the 9-5 for a life of mai tais and beach sunsets.

Though creating an employee appreciation plan is good, you'll also want to maintain some flexibility in this regard. Each of your employees is unique and has their own preferences, and identifying the types of appreciation most valuable to each employee can go a long way. For instance, one employee might want an extra day off more than anything, while someone else might be more inclined to respond positively to a tangible gift.

Is It Time to Treat Your Employees?

You don't have to wait for an annual employee appreciation day to tell your employees that their hard work isn't going unnoticed. Creating opportunities to let your team know how valuable they are is especially important when you're all working from different parts of the world. After all, it can be hard to know if you're doing a good job when you're only interacting with your colleagues and superiors through chat and the occasional video meeting.

At PizzaTIme, we know that creating shared experiences for your virtual team is essential to creating a strong culture. So whether you're looking for fun team challenges like a virtual escape room or a live music DJ for a team member's birthday, we're here to help. Looking for some munchies to enjoy during your virtual employee appreciation get-togethers? We've got you covered there, too.

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