Every year on the first Friday in March, the world of work pauses to shout out their people and mark ‘Employee Appreciation Day’. Originally created to celebrate the publication of 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees by Dr. Bob Nelson, the day has been adopted by employers of all industries as an opportunity to thank employees for their hard work.

This recognition manifests in different ways, from gestures like an additional day of annual leave or monetary bonuses to more low-key displays of appreciation – sharing a sentimental message on social media, sending a mass email to employees, or perhaps marking the occasion with a gift voucher of some kind.

While there is not necessarily one ‘right’ way to mark Employee Appreciation Day, there is one element which needs addressing…  

It’s only once a year.

Saying ‘thank you’ should be frequent and in real-time

With 86% of HR professionals saying recognition programmes make their employees happier and 4-in-5 employees saying they’re motivated to work harder when recognised, the facts speak for themselves: recognition and appreciation works. So why are we only using it once a year?

Research shows that lesser, frequent appreciation is more powerful than overt but occasional displays of thanks. Psychology also backs this up – we know that consistent nudges are more effective than one big push, and ongoing encouragement is more successful than one-off rewards.

Consider the ways many organisations currently show appreciation…

In many workplaces, length-of-service awards come every few years, with a smattering of gift vouchers for achievements in-between. While these rewards have wonderful intentions, the positive impact behind them is getting lost. In the world of social media and instant gratification, employees want immediate and in-the-moment. And, with the average tenure being 4.5 years, most of your employees won’t even reach traditional milestone rewards.

When it comes to other ways of showing appreciation such as sending certificates or physical vouchers, employees receive an instant buzz of pride and motivation when recognised. However, by the time this reward arrives (often several days later, in the post) that initial feeling has worn off. Physical rewards like vouchers can be forgotten; left on the side to expire, unopened in the pile of post or passed along to someone else. When the employee eventually spends their voucher, any gratification is no longer linked to their employer.

The occasional large reward doesn’t produce the motivation and loyalty-inducing results that more frequent, smaller recognitions do. Countless organisations (and their engagement statistics!) concur that a ‘little and often’ mentality for reward results in higher engagement and lower turnover than more infrequent appraisals.

Read the full blog: Why current reward and recognition schemes are still falling short

It’s clear that ongoing recognition trumps occasional gestures of thanks, but putting this into play in the workplace in a way that allows easy-access to rewards and brings appreciation to the forefront can be a daunting task.

What’s the solution?

Technology. The beauty of tech-powered reward and recognition lies in its spontaneity and flexibility – if you want to recognise someone, you don’t need to wait for the next round of emails ahead of the company awards. You can do it there and then – whether that’s after a meeting, on a lunchbreak or while commuting.

In-the-moment recognition means employees receive immediate acknowledgement of their work and can carry that motivational boost with them, straight-away, rather than receiving a belated ‘thank you’ once a year when they can’t remember what they’re being thanked for.

For more substantial rewards, employees with a digital recognition platform can use instantly redeemable in-app rewards right away and spend it (in the currency they want) within a few minutes of the ‘well done’. This streamlined, instantaneous process ensures the gratification of the reward is intrinsically linked to the employer, resulting in positive associations towards their company. Not to mention, it can’t be forgotten or left at home, because it’s all housed inside one app.

Let’s take this effort and spread it across the year

Employee Appreciation Day is a great concept; it shows the best of the best when it comes to employees and employers… but it also shows the worst. In recent years, it has become a tick-box. Employers who don’t post something to their Facebook or Twitter on the day seem the odd ones out, and employees who deem their employer’s response to the day as substandard are more likely than ever to call it out.

Putting the emphasis for employee appreciation on a single day each year brings out the worst in us, it wrings dry the meaning of employee recognition and leads to social media timelines and email inboxes brimming with hollow messages that either fall on deaf ears, or infuriate employees who are calling out for help.

Instead, why don’t employers take this effort and spread it across the year, looking at how they can better thank and support their people 365 days a year. An intuitive, easy to set-up and user-friendly online recognition platform is the answer. Say ‘thanks’ in the moment, anywhere in the world, at any moment.

The ways we say thank you need to change with the new world of work

First launched in the late 90s, and growing to prominence pre-pandemic, EAD now feels somewhat outdated in our hybrid world of work.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, people took to their windows and balconies to thank healthcare workers with weekly clapping and cheers. Organisations of all kinds donated money and resources to those on the frontline. Businesses offered their goods and services free of charge. In short, the world banded together across state lines and ocean borders to work together in a community-led, digital-first world. As we emerge the other side of the pandemic, workplaces are staying this way. Hybrid is the new way of working, and online is the new way of communicating. Your recognition scheme should be the same: online, accessible anywhere, on any device, any time for genuine, in-the-moment gratitude.

A guide to recognition for hybrid teams

How to keep employees engaged and motivated, wherever they are