In today’s economic climate it is enormously frustrating for the management team of a company to invest heavily in employee appreciation programs only to hear disparaging comments and complaints. And yet, despite promises of increased performance and job satisfaction made by program vendors, more often than not, appreciation programs are met with lukewarm receptions. Then, why bother? Do any of these programs add value to the work environment? Of course they do! Everyone likes to feel appreciated. But it is important to remember that there is no such thing as “one size fits all”.
In order for any program to be successful, you need to consider a few basic issues:
- Interest levels – The larger the number of employees, the less likely you are to find a single activity that makes everyone happy.
- Comfort levels – Situations that will embarrass staff members should be avoided, whether they are physical or social. Some people are as uncomfortable in a comedy club as others are at a bowling alley or a baseball diamond.
- Limitations – Second jobs, child care concerns, and exclusion of spouses are all typical concerns for employees expected to participate in off-the-clock activities.
David W. Ballard, of the American Psychological Association, says “When planning team-building activities, employers should also be sure to offer a variety of options at different times, including some that are during work hours, so that employees with different physical abilities and those with care giving demands aren’t marginalized or excluded.” Successful employee appreciation programs will offer choices whenever possible to keep these three issues from undermining management’s best efforts. With that in mind, here are some outings that have worked well for many employers:
Company picnic – Depending upon the size of the operation and the available budget, picnics can be as simple or extravagant as desired. Food can be catered or pot luck. This may be the most easily adaptable activity to include family members of all ages.
Winter holiday meal – This can be a luncheon for employees only or a dinner to include significant others. Door prizes and annual bonuses are especially welcome at this time of year. Voluntary gift exchanges may also be included.
Sporting events – While some sports are very expensive to attend, there are often opportunities for spring training, pre-season scrimmage or fan appreciation days that can bring such an outing into the realm of financial feasibility.
Sports leagues - Providing sponsorship for employee leagues is a great way to show support for activities the employees have chosen for themselves. To include non-players, an organized trip to watch them play including snacks and drinks can turn a simple game into a larger celebration.
Community service – Coordinating events that support the cause’s employees are passionate about helps them bond together for the benefit of the community. Providing matching t-shirts or supplies and even time off the clock can tell your employees that you care, too.
Sometimes the best ideas come from the employees themselves. If you provide them, or a committee representing them, with time to meet and a budget to spend, they will devise their own plans that will be supported by most of the staff. Allowing staff to vote on committee members rather than appointing them will eliminate perceptions of favoritism and promote buy-in to the employee appreciation programs they create. Smaller budgets for multiple events per year will allow committee members to rotate in and out and outings that represent multiple interests.
Grandiose or simple, employee appreciation programs should always send one message above all: the company cares about its employees.