Last week was Thanksgiving in the United States and I love the reminder the holiday gives to reflect and practice gratitude. I also moderated a panel last week on the labor shortage and the combination had me thinking about the criticality of showing our employees we’re thankful for them. We know that retention is an imperative aspect of the labor shortage and I am not confident we’re doing all we can to show appreciation for our employees in non-monetary ways. 

Of course, your employees expect fair and equitable pay and let’s hope you’re all providing that. But today’s employees expect far more, and many companies haven’t taken the time to gain a solid understanding of what’s important to the new generation of workforce and how elements beyond pay make a huge difference when it comes to the employee experience, employee engagement and, ultimately, employee retention. 

On last week’s podcast, I spoke with Dr. Jack Wiley, who is recognized internationally for pioneering research linking employee work attitudes to measures of organizational success. Most recently, Dr. Wiley was professor of psychology for Manchester University, where he founded the undergraduate program in industrial organizational psychology. He currently serves as the chief scientific officer at Engage2Excel, and as the president and CEO of both Jack Wiley Consulting and Employee Centricity. He was on to discuss his most recent book, Employee Centricity, for which he conducted vast research on what it is employees want from their managers. 

“I think we’re all aware of the fact that over the last 18 months, the workplace dynamic has changed in some ways that will be more or less forever going forward. I think some of these changes are simply going to be changes that we’re going to be dealing with in our careers as we move forward. So, that represents an unprecedented challenge for managers. They have a lot of additional issues that they need to be attending with, especially today in the United States, we saw the August numbers show that 4.4 million workers quit. A recent survey that I saw indicated about 65 percent of employees are actually considering leaving their current job,” he shares.

I’ve seen some of these statistics, so they didn’t shock me as much as what Dr. Wiley shared next. “Over 70 percent of managers in the United States, and I’m talking about all industries, all different levels of management, smaller organizations, larger organizations, over 70 percent of managers either had no training in people management or the training they had received was limited to no more than four hours,” he says. “And so, when we consider the centrality of people management responsibilities in the context of the overall role of the manager, and over 70 percent had no more than four hours at best, also I think is part of the problem.”

Effective, engaged managers and overall company culture are critical to employee retention – so we must do a better job of understanding what our workforce wants and needs and ensuring our leadership is both committed to and able to provide that. There are many layers to this, but employees that feel more appreciated and valued is an important piece of the puzzle. With that in mind, here are 10 ways you can show your employees you are thankful for them that have nothing to do with compensation:

  1. Recognition. We all want to feel that what we do matters, and we all want to feel valued for our contributions. This doesn’t have to be complex, but it is often overlooked. When is the last time you genuinely thanked an employee? We can start by doing more of that and we can build upon that by ensuring others within the organization see the hard work of employees, creating programs that showcase efforts, and even giving awards for those going above and beyond. “Providing recognition is about psychological appreciation,” says Dr. Wiley. “’Thank you for a job well done. I’m not going to take credit for your good work, I’m going to make sure you’re in the spotlight up the chain of command.’”
  2. Listen. Again, this sounds simple but happens far less than it should. Employees want to feel their voice matters and they want to know their ideas are valued. They want to feel comfortable coming to managers with thoughts, concerns, personal needs, and so on. Moreover, the input of frontline employees is double the gift, because not only does listening help employees feel more important and engaged – but their ideas are often different and very valuable when it comes to setting strategy and making investments. Creating a culture where employees across the organization feel comfortable speaking up is a must today, and this includes a willingness to be open minded and a preparedness to have hard conversations. A great way to show an employee appreciation is to ask in earnest, “What do you think?”
  3. Offer mentorships. Mentorships are a great way to help employees stay engaged, motivated, and keep personal connections that build longevity and loyalty. New employees can “learn the ropes” and mentors can get to know employees in a deeper way, which can help with building on strengths and developing their careers. A mentee who feels a mentor is investing time in them will appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow and will feel valued by the company providing such an opportunity. 
  4. Provide career mapping. It’s very important for today’s employees to have options for growth and career progression. Employees feel appreciated when they have an opportunity to grow their skills, their experiences, and themselves within an organization. Career mapping provides this to your employees, but it also helps for you to map talent within your organization to retain as much as possible and to put stars in optimal roles.  
  5. Value outcomes over output. The traditional working world rewarded hours clocked in or pieces of parts made – output. The new working world needs to shift to ensuring employees feel valued for the outcomes they can achieve, not the output alone. Setting success criteria based on desired outcomes, and then measuring employees based on that, enables you to give employees more latitude on how they accomplish what you need them to accomplish which helps them feel like a larger contributor. “Employees want more flexibility in how they go about their work. So, they’re looking for their managers to provide them with more autonomy. Help me understand what the work is you want accomplished but give me more room to decide how I’m going to go about doing that myself,” explains Dr. Wiley. 
  6. Look for opportunities to reskill or upskill. A great way to thank employees for their hard work and dedication is to give them the opportunity to learn a new skill or to advance their training. Whether something as simple as a “we’ll buy you a book a month” program – which I love – to more formal training, an investment in your employees’ education and future is a great way to show you appreciate them. 
  7. Give time back. What’s more precious than money? Time. Another great way to show gratitude is to give the gift of time back. In 2020, IFS decided to give every employee their birthday off. We also have an annual CSR day that we can use to volunteer however we’d like. These small gestures have a big impact. 
  8. Show your trust. Being micromanaged is a fast path to employee frustration and disconnect. We must learn how better to empower our employees, and this requires trust. Feeling trusted is another way for employees to feel appreciated and my guess is that most of the time, employee outcomes improve when trust is increased. 
  9. Prioritize mental health. Showing your employees you care about them as human beings, not just for their performance at work, is a great way to show your gratitude. The last two years have been challenging and many people need more connection than they did pre-Covid. Offering support and resources around mental health is a way to say thank you and a way to ensure your employees maintain their wellbeing. 
  10. Promote fun. We don’t all need to have ping pong tables in our offices, but there’s nothing wrong with having fun at work. Nurturing an environment where employees are encouraged to have fun – or perhaps even coordinating a fun-only activity or outing every so often – keeps morale high and helps employees know you appreciate them. 

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear!

Sarah Nicastro
Author

Creator, Future of Field Service