The first Friday of March is Employee Appreciation Day, and the past few months have had us rethinking what the act of appreciation looks like. How can you show up for your employees this week, and everyday, in a way that feels authentic and makes your teams feel seen and heard, even as everyone works from home? In the latest Thriver Podcast episode we were joined by Strategic Operational Management Consultant MaryAnn Dunlop, who said that a bedrock of employee appreciation is showing gratitude in a way that has employees appreciating going to work. In this post, we’ll look at three ways to build a healthy virtual environment of gratitude that will boost employee morale, reignite a thriving company culture, and ultimately make everyone feel proud of the work they’re doing.     

Keep check-ins consistent

Your employees are with you year round, so while Employee Appreciation Day is certainly a wonderful opportunity to celebrate landmark achievements, it’s also worthwhile to show them they’re valued through small gestures everyday. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be showering employees with gifts daily, but it does mean that you tap into your emotional intelligence and take intentional steps toward letting employees know that they are seen and heard. When you see a job well done, for example, simply let your people know that you’ve noticed their hard work and determination. These acts of overt appreciation are arguably most crucial on slower days not punctuated by big projects but instead full of back-to-back meetings. “Even simple things like taking the time to say ‘thank you’ after a day’s work,” says MaryAnn, can go a long way toward lifting morale. Make a habit of virtually and casually checking in with employees at the end of the day to let them know what they excelled at that day, or talk about the previous day’s successes in a morning check-in. Before you know it, your teams will feel not only proud of the work they’re doing, but also brighter and encouraged.  

Understand the whole person

Employees’ personal lives in WFH-situations are, de facto, a part of their work lives, so consider how you can show gratitude in a way that responds to needs that are becoming increasingly informed by employees’ daily holistic experiences. In many cases, this looks like taking the time to listen to your people and acknowledging when someone is having a bad day. 

While it is the case that productivity is going up as people work from home (a study of 16,000 workers was conducted by Stanford and it found that over the course of a nine-month period, productivity increased by 19% and people took fewer sick days), it’s still important to take steps toward preventing burnout. Because there are fewer opportunities to physically interact with teams, burnout can occur without you being able to spot its hallmark signs in your employees. As the professional and personal increasingly take place for those working from home within the same walls, lives can get muddied and people can begin to feel overwhelmed even if this doesn’t show up in their work. This is why it’s important to be mindful of each individual’s situation on your team. 

“When we want to start showing appreciation and recognition, we have to start looking at what people are experiencing in their home lives, which have now become their professional lives,” MaryAnn says. Similar to the check-ins mentioned above, hold wellbeing discussions with employees individually to touch base on what’s on everyone’s plates, or to give them space to talk about any major changes in their lives. This is incredibly important nowadays, as the weight of COVID and other forces in our lives begins to seem unyielding. Regular mental-health check-ins like this will show employees that they’re cared for, ultimately reminding them that you know that they’re more than the work they’re doing. 

Schedule some team bonding

Once you have introduced and made a habit of holding gratitude-based check-ins and those that care for your employees’ mental wellbeing, it’s time to begin the fun. Make time to hang out with your teammates after working hours and ensure consistent scheduling. A 30-minute virtual happy hour every other Friday gives your team the space and time to bond over casual talk unrelated to work. Additionally, you can make Wednesdays fun in a way that they never normally are by organizing exciting Virtual Experiences, such as a Murder Mystery, which has employees working together to solve a grisly murder, or a virtual Magic Show with a world-renowned magician. This kind of team bonding is something that you need to invest in and protect because of its multi-layered approach to showing employees they’re appreciated. Not only will these activities allow them to blow off steam and prevent burnout, but they will also rejuvenate your unique company culture, reinfusing it with the breeziness of those beloved happy hours from the pre-COVID days.    

Employee Appreciation Day has perhaps never been more important than it is in 2021, because it comes after a year of learning and growing in face of universal and unanimous challenges. So remember to check-in with your people, show them that you see them for their whole selves, and invite them to let loose in the ways described above, because this will let your teams know that “appreciation” to you isn’t just a hollow word, but that you’re listening to their needs and that they matter. While little perks are nice tokens, a simple “thanks” and open gateways to communication go a long way.

Listen to the latest Thriver Podcast episode on “Authentic Employee Appreciation in 2021 & Beyond” to learn more from MaryAnn Dunlop on how to show up for your teammates this year.