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How to Give Thanks to Employees Without Breaking the Bank

In Company Culture — by Erin Engstrom

thank you| recruiterbox

Employee recognition is crucial to retaining top talent. According to the Globoforce Mood Tracker Survey, 80 percent of employees who have been appreciated by their employers are staying put. When you consider that 65 percent of employees are looking for a new job, an 80 percent retention rate sounds pretty darn good. If an employee doesn’t feel valued or appreciated, it’s a safe bet that she’s among the throngs of people hunting for their next gig.

It’s the end of the year and everyone is feeling festive, so the holiday season is a natural time to recognize employees. But not everyone has the resources to award year-end bonuses, rent out NBA luxury suites or throw a swanky holiday party – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“So many employers miss the mark each year by spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on fancy parties, dinners, team building nights and gifts,” says business consultant and five-time entrepreneur Jennifer Martin of Zest Business Consulting. “The best gift might be a lot easier to offer and cost a lot less.”

I’ve been lucky to be on the receiving end of a few really thoughtful employer gifts. One boss gave me a bottle of bubbly and a dozen macarons from a local patisserie, knowing my fondness for the French confection. I also happen to be a huge fan of craft beer, and another boss gave me a large-format bottle from a local brewery. When money is tight, you may have to be a little creative when considering how to give thanks to employees. But rest assured, there are plenty of ways to convey appreciation to your team without destroying your budget.

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It’s About Time

I once managed a particularly grueling, time-sensitive project that had me regularly working 14-hour days for a month. After the project was completed, my then-boss pulled me into her office and told me I’d be getting two extra days off as a reward. I was thrilled! I just so happened to have a vacation coming up and I was excited that I’d be able to save a few PTO days during my trip.  

The average American worker gets a mere 16 days of paid leave every year. Christmas/New Year’s and Thanksgiving constitute the busiest travel times of the year, so many people are using their precious time off during the holiday season. If the business cycle permits, consider giving your employees paid time off that doesn’t count against their vacation time. A Glassdoor survey found that 36 percent of employees consider this to be one of the best holiday perks from employers.

Victor Clarke not only gives his employees time off during the holidays, he allows them the flexibility to work remotely as well. As the owner of Clarke Inc., a three-person marketing services company, he’s vigilant about every penny he spends.

“Both of my employees do an excellent job and I couldn’t run my business without them,” he says. “Since I can’t pay them the same salary as a bigger company I reward them during the holiday season with extra vacation days. The official company calendar this year lists Dec. 24 and 25, plus Jan. 1 as holidays. Since business is typically slow this week I will allow them to work from home – if there is any work – from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.”

[Tweet “36% of employees consider extra PTO to be a top holiday perk.”]

Put the Choice in Their Hands

When you’re stumped about what to give a friend or relative, you ask them what they want. So why not do the same thing with your employees? There’s no reason to take a shot in the dark and risk wasting money on unwanted gifts.

“If you asked most staff if they would rather have a company party or $50, most would take the money,” says Martin. “Then if you asked them if they wanted $100 or a day off, most would choose the day off. Ask your staff to name a goal for themselves and then to give you ideas about non-monetary rewards that would hold value to them personally.”

And if you’re worried about getting over-the-top requests from employees, don’t be. You’ve built a great team that has the best interests of your organization at heart. They’re fully aware of what’s realistic and what’s not – if anything, you may find yourself encouraging employees to think a little bigger.

[Tweet “If you ask your employees whether they want $100 or a day off, most will choose the day off.”]

Get Out of the Office

Remember how awesome field trips were back in school? It was so nice to ditch the desk for a day and go somewhere interesting and fun. Adults need to break routine, too. Ashley Galina Dudarenok, owner of Alarice International, a Hong Kong-based marketing consultancy, plans an outing with her team every year. In the past, they’ve gone hiking, taken a painting class, gone to the movies and played board games. The activity is followed by a group dinner. The maximum cost is $200.

They make sure to photograph their excursions and share the photos on social media, which helps to further bolster employee morale as well as boost employer brand. “The third-party endorsements gets employees even prouder to work for us,” she says. “All of their friends start commenting: ‘What a cool company you work for,’ and ‘Did you really do this during work hours?’” By broadcasting how you demonstrate appreciation to employees, you’ll help to build a pipeline of future candidates.

The Power of Peers

It’s amazing to feel appreciated by your boss. But it might be even better to feel appreciated by your peers. According to TINYpulse’s study, The Effects of Employee Recognition and Appreciation, 70 percent of workers credit their peers for creating an engaging work environment.

The report notes: “There’s a surprising link between recognition and people’s perception of their work environment. The more recognition they receive, the more fun they believe their workplace to be.” So it stands to reason that if recognition and peers both contribute to employees’ perception of workplace fun, then peer recognition will lead to an especially jolly work environment.

TINYpulse study

And a fun workplace won’t just help you retain employees – it’ll help with your recruitment efforts, too. “Leaving fun driver out of the employee engagement strategy is a critical mistake because it’s one of the most impactful means of creating world-class engagement and attracting top talent,” says Kevin Sheridan, a human capital management consultant and author of the book Building a Magnetic Culture. “Nearly every high-engagement organization makes a proactive effort to leverage fun. I saw this success time and time and time again over 30 years of offering management consulting advice to hundreds of best-in-class organizations.”

One Click, an e-commerce company specializing in eyewear, has a unique approach to acknowledging employees that’s a hybrid of peer and management recognition. “Once per month, we hand out an award to a team member that has gone Above & Beyond, and an award to a team member that showcases our core value of the month,” says Angie Stocklin, co-founder and COO. “Team members are nominated by their peers, and the winners are chosen by the senior team. Winners are gifted with a certificate during our all-company meeting and both the nominee and the nominator receive a $25 gift card to a local shop or restaurant.”

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Back to Basics

If even $25 feels like a stretch, no problem. Few things pack a punch like a good old fashioned thank-you note. “One of the most meaningful ways to thank an employee is to write a personalized, handwritten note,” says Katie Schwartz, owner of Business Speech Improvement, a corporate communications consultancy. “People work for recognition, and very few get it from their managers in writing.”

Lisa Chu, the owner of BlackNBianco, a children’s formal wear company, is a fan of both taking pen to paper as well as publicly acknowledging employees’ efforts. “As a small business owner I operate on a very tight budget, however during the holiday seasons I still want to reward my employees for their contribution. I like giving my employees a handwritten letter highlighting their accomplishments throughout the year. It’s a genuine way for me to show appreciation to employees for all of their hard, dedicated work.

“Along with the handwritten letter I also like creating a wall of fame. The wall includes a photo of my employees and showcases their accomplishments and contributions to the business for the year. Running a business is a team effort, I always want to ensure my employees know they play a vital part to the success of my business.”

[Tweet “People work for recognition, and very few get it from their managers in writing.”]

Ultimately, your employees really want to know you value and appreciate them – and it’s okay if you can’t demonstrate this in extravagant fashion. A thoughtful gesture doesn’t have to cost anything. “At the end of the day, when it comes to showing gratitude and appreciation, what really matters is that you truly care,” says Galina Dudarenok. “It’s not about the price of the gift.”

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