Employee Appreciation Day is upon us and has taken on newfound importance over the past year due to the struggles workers have gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic. The holiday, celebrated on the first Friday in March, was created in 1995 as a way to thank employees for tireless work throughout the year and foster deeper ties between workers and their organizations.
Millions of employees have spent the last year wearing masks and weathering the pandemic in person or spending hours hunched in front of their computers at home. Regardless of how some spent the year, employees have reported widespread fatigue and other problems related to the mental toll the pandemic has taken on them.
According to Forrester, 33% of U.S. employees reported feelings of fatigue and other strains on mental health. Companies need to remain focused on supporting employees and recognizing hard work and effort during this long-term change in the traditional working environment.
SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team’s mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Analysts and experts spoke to TechRepublic about eight ways enterprises can celebrate Employee Appreciation Day.
1. Celebrate all employees and their contributions to the organization
Multiple analysts said that after a year like 2020, organizations had to do everything they could to celebrate their employees for making it through such an extraordinary situation.
“As National Employee Appreciation Day approaches, it’s important for leaders to take the time to show employees recognition for their hard work. It is even more imperative now, as most companies’ employees are working remotely, often in challenging home offices,” said Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle.
“Leadership should also acknowledge the extra efforts of everyone in the last year by giving them something valuable: Time. This is an opportunity to give employees a break from virtual meetings and working from their home. Whether a company has the resources to grant a full ‘mental health day’ for all, or even a short day on Friday, giving employees time to themselves as a show of appreciation will go further than a virtual event.”
Paunet added that it was important to give employees the gift of time to recharge, catch up, and relax, not only as a way to show how much they are appreciated, but also to help with productivity when they return.
2. Highlight achievements
Paunet also noted that all corporate leaders should be routinely showing their employees appreciation and love.
Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester, said it was important to celebrate contributions to an organization because there is still a negative perception of remote work. “While the overall experience with remote work has been positive, there still persist many stigmas and challenges related to remote work,” Hewitt said.
3. Drive greater employee engagement
Forrester analyst Dan Bieler said higher employee engagement drives better customer experiences but, in a post-pandemic world, hybrid workforces will emerge as the norm.
“This shift will undermine traditional top-down management and the presence-based office culture. The degree of employee engagement, meanwhile, is affected by the quality and type of corporate culture. Better employee experiences translate into higher employee engagement. And culture is a determining factor for employee experiences,” Bieler said.
“Moreover, corporate culture matters for business success because it defines how your organization thinks about itself and how it tackles the challenges of permanent change.”
SEE: Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
4. Nurture the positives of adaptiveness and resilience in employees from the past year
Katy Tynan, principal analyst with Forrester, explained that the resilience millions of employees showed this year was important to highlight and laud.
Millions of employees had to make integral changes to how they performed on a daily basis, and this was not an easy switch for many to make.
“There is a need for leaders to create a culture of change resilience that helps their organizations respond more adaptively to this continuously fluid state of change,” Tynan said.
5. Continue to value and invest in mental wellbeing
Mental health struggles were widely prevalent throughout 2020, according to multiple surveys done across the world. Many were personally affected by the virus or dealt with financial and familial issues related to COVID-19.
Hewitt said it was imperative that organizations be forward about helping employees who express the need for mental health help.
“While 33% of U.S. employees at home say their mental health suffered because of the pandemic and related challenges, many companies have gotten much more comfortable addressing mental health needs in the workplace, offering support services for working parents, and improving access to health services like counselors, all for free,” Hewitt said.
6. Foster interpersonal connections
One of the most difficult aspects of remote work revolved around the inability to connect with co-workers. Many people had become used to the daily water-cooler talk and now had to supplement that with family members or pets who often could not provide the kind of solace and connection needed.
Robyn Singh, vice president of People at Qumulo, suggested organizations create a Slack channel where employees can share recognition and appreciation with each other.
“You can have a company-wide channel, and also team-specific channels–we created both a company channel, and one for Engineering and Customer Success. Every day should feel like Employee Appreciation Day, and it helps to keep the kudos coming year-round,” Singh said.
“Taking a moment to share appreciation should be our default way of working with each other.”
7. Hold company events
In an effort to keep employees engaged and connected, Singh also said companies should hold more events that kept everyone involved and added diversity to the typical workday that is now filled with Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting.
“In a remote setting, it’s tough to come up with employee appreciation events that are engaging enough to get past the Zoom fatigue that tech workers deal with every day. We had a Food Network chef host a virtual ‘Chopped,’ and every employee received a cutting board, apron and spatula,” Singh said.
“Then we did the recipes together with the chef! Do some creative thinking to break through the screen and do a team-building event that gets everyone involved.”
8. Empathize with employees who may be struggling
Many of those who spoke to TechRepublic said senior executives had to empathize with workers who may be struggling with the pandemic or remote work. Even as thousands of people begin to return to work with the vaccine being rolled out more widely, it is important to remember that it may be difficult for some to reintegrate back into formal workplaces after such a long time away.
“All corporate leaders should be showing appreciation and recognition for hard work and milestones throughout the year, not just March 5th,” Paunet said.
“Now would also behoove them to be thinking of special employee appreciation for all when we’re together in the office again.”