Employee Appreciation Day feels a little like Valentine’s Day: There are so many ways employers can mess up the relationship with their employees on this day–sometimes by trying too hard, and sometimes by not trying enough (or at all).  When it comes to celebrating Employee Appreciation Day, the good news is that you don’t have to be awesome but you do have to appreciate your employees.  Appreciated employees tend to work smarter and stick around longer.

Because it can be challenging to navigate this holiday that has only been celebrated for the past 21 years, here are some Don’ts:

  • Don’t ignore the holiday. Celebrating it can be pretty simple; ignoring it sends the message that you don’t care.  Of course, no one will leave just because you didn’t do anything on this fairly new holiday; however, ignoring the holiday can be indicative of a company culture that doesn’t appreciate employees.  Your employees have friends who have great employers, and in the social world where everything is shared, you can be pretty sure that your employees will hear about how amazing your competitors are to their employees.  You don’t have to be a hero, but try not to be a zero.
  • Don’t send out a mass email or generic thank you cards.  Generic, canned messages are about the level of doing nothing for your employees.
  • Don’t be fake.  Most of your employees are not stupid and can spot a fraud a mile away.  Your words of appreciation should not sound hollow.  It helps if they measure up with how you normally treat your employees.
  • Don’t act like any celebration that day is a burden or obligatory.  Only doing something because you have to or advertising your efforts to your employees will diminish anything you do that day.  The point is to celebrate your employees – not you.
  • Don’t make the day about employee results.  Rather, make it about them as people.  It’s not hard to do employee recognition awards throughout the year. The holiday is not about their key accomplishments and what they can do for you. It’s simply about appreciating them for their day in and day out work.

So, now that the negatives are out of the way. What are some Dos?

  • Do be sincere. Yes, the opposite of fake is sincerity, so I may be repeating myself a little bit, but this one is worth repeating. Sincerity and honesty is so important.  Insincerity makes employees feel unappreciated.  The beauty of this reality is that you really don’t have to do a lot to celebrate this holiday – you just have to be sincere in whatever you do.  You will always have a few complainers, but the employees that really matter will see your sincere actions and hear your sincere words and feel appreciated.  And maybe you will convert one of your Negative Nellies in the process.
  • Do something to acknowledge all of your employees.  What you do just depends on your company culture and size, so as long as you approach the holiday with sincere appreciation for your employees, you can’t really go wrong.  Here are a few ideas to help you out:
    • Throw a party.  Make sure you communicate why you’re throwing a party, and make sure your employees are paid for their time at the party. Bring in some food and let your employees relax and spend some time with one another. But don’t forget about your off-site employees if this is your celebration method.
    • Write notes (by hand or email) for each of your employees and include gift cards for them.  If you include a check or a gift card, you could get away with a somewhat canned message, but consider adding at least one original line with your signature.
    • Have your managers take their teams out to lunch.  Free food at a good restaurant can be a simple and kind gesture.  Or go one step farther – give your employees an extended lunch hour and some cash to go out with friends or family members that day.
    • Give away some vacation days or give your employees the afternoon off.  Employee Appreciation Day is a Friday, so an early start to the weekend is a welcome gift.
    • Provide breakfast or a post lunch dessert to everyone.  If your overhead budget makes it hard to allow employees to charge for a long lunch, simply providing free food throughout the day to your employees can boost their spirits.  Send gift cards to your off site employees who may be on the client site all day.

Employee Appreciation Day is really a reminder to make your employees feel appreciated every day.  The holiday is just a way for employers to take a couple minutes to make sure their employees feel cared for and respected.  So, don’t overthink it, but definitely commit some funds and time to making it easy for your employees to understand that you appreciate them.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.