I looked at the gift card in my hand and let out a chuckle. It was ridiculous, really. The amount was so small it wouldn't even buy a large mocha. This was what passed for employee appreciation at Christmas. Once a year everyone got a $5 gift card.
Sadly, the effect of the gesture was the opposite of what was intended. Rather than feeling appreciated, employees resented the gift. "Five dollars? This is what you think I'm worth?" they thought.
So what should top management have done instead?
Honestly, doing nothing would have been better and saved money. See, here's the thing about employee appreciation: it has to seem genuine. And to seem genuine you need to navigate three factors.
The best way to appreciate your employees is to do so regularly throughout the year. Honest words of thanks, praise, and encouragement given on a regular basis help your team know you really care about them.
You would never wait until your anniversary to say, "I love you" to your partner. Why would you wait for the end of the year to let your team know how important they are?
The best person to appreciate your employees is the leader closest to them. A word from the president of the company is nice. (Indeed, it should be a regular part of their routine to seek out opportunities to encourage employees at all levels of the organization.) But a few heartfelt words of thanks from your team leader accompanied by a smile and a handshake will likely mean more.
If you regularly demonstrate how much you appreciate your team, then the weight of each gesture can be relatively small since they'll add up over time. Order in dinner for the team when everyone has to work late to get a vital project out the door. Send a personal, handwritten get well card when one of your team members is sick. Give the team a Friday off to celebrate the big client they just landed.
On the other hand, if you only show appreciation once a year, it has to be extravagant. A small gift card with a form letter from the company president won't make up for a whole year of feeling overlooked and unacknowledged.
So what does your team really want this Christmas? They want to know they matter. They want to know their work is seen and valued. Whatever you do for them this Christmas, the best gift you can give them is a year of encouragement and appreciation in 2024.