Retention & Engagement

Employee Appreciation Day: How CEOs show gratitude for their staff

A business plan is important to have on paper, but CEOs can’t drive their businesses forward without the talents and skillsets that employees contribute. That’s why employees across industries worldwide are celebrated on the first Friday in March each year, which is designated as Employee Appreciation Day.

Studies show that peer encouragement, the intrinsic desire to do a good job, and feeling recognized are primary motivators for employees. An office culture that reflects positive leadership and appreciation for work well-done goes a long way in cultivating employees who feel connected to their colleagues, their job responsibilities, and to the missions of their organizations.

Employers show appreciation to their staff members in a variety of ways. Below, CEOs in the Vistage community share ways they show gratitude for their invaluable team members.


Celebrate accomplishments often

From Patty Crabtree | President, Crabtree Group LLC

We celebrate accomplishments, both large and small, at the beginning of each meeting, even in our monthly 1-2-1s. Focusing on the successes before jumping into what’s going on helps with maintaining positive energy in the company.

Basic human acknowledgment goes a long way. Asking someone how their day is going, if they had a nice weekend or remembering a specific family situation can help people feel they are valued as human beings, not just workers.

In a peer recognition program tied into our core values, staff share how someone exemplified a core value. The person’s name is put into a drawing at the monthly staff meeting. At the end of the staff meeting, five names are drawn and those individuals get to spin the prize wheel (think of Wheel of Fortune) which has items from branded gear to $200 gift cards. The employee with the most nominations during the year is named the Ninja of the Year and is given a trophy and a bonus.

The prize wheel makes it so much fun for everyone, even if they aren’t the ones spinning the wheel.


Really listen to your employees

From Greg Schenk | President, The Schenk Company, Inc.

Listen to what is important to each employee. Some employees appreciate working from home one day a week, to others it’s getting out early on Fridays, more vacation time, or a salary raise.


Give awards for great work

From Rick Wilkins | Vice President, Thermal Tech, Inc.

We do a monthly award for one employee in each office for “being caught doing good things” that have a positive outcome on the business or was the result of praise from a customer. Personnel from the entire office votes on who that employee is.

The employee is recognized in a group presentation, and the award is given by management in front of the employee’s peers. The award consists of a $50 AMEX gift card so it can be used by the employee where they prefer, plus a Tervis tumbler that features the award and company logos.

The award is meant to recognize employees for “mundane” day-to-day interactions and simply spotlight the good things our employees do.


Say hello often and acknowledge your employees’ ideas

From Michael Reddington | President, InQuasive, Inc.

Many companies do a great job of intentionally building in employee recognition programs and events. If there is an area where organizations are more likely to overlook employee recognition, it’s within the mundane, day-to-day interactions. Here are two thoughts to keep in mind:

  • People view how we communicate with them as evidence of how much we respect them.
  • People often equate their perception of how much time we spend with them to how much we care about them.

Beyond all of an organization’s formal and informal recognition efforts, there are two things leaders and managers often do without realizing the potential negative impact on their employees’ perceptions of being valued:

  • Please don’t ever walk by an employee without saying hello – and if you know their name, or if they are wearing a name tag, please use their name. This is especially important for executives and organizational leaders. Every time we walk by someone without saying hello we are allowing them to create the perception that we don’t care about them.
  • When leaders/managers ask employees what the correct course of action to take is, and employees share good ideas, please don’t ever respond with “great idea, that’s what I was thinking.” As soon as we say “that’s what I was thinking” we steal ownership of the ideas from our employees. Please leave it at “Yes, that’s a great idea.”

While formal and larger recognition and appreciation efforts are important, please realize that forgetting to communicate seemingly insignificant actions and statements like these can cause employee/leadership relationships to suffer deaths by a thousand cuts.


Host “Thank you” breakfasts and share holiday gifts

From John Neill | Owner, John Neill Painting

We run a residential painting company with 35 field employees. Our employee recognition includes:

  • Incentive program that’s paid out in June and December (based on production)
  • A thank-you breakfast on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year. We have brought in a magician and a comedian to make events even more fun and laid-back.
  • Company-branded holiday gift
  • Birthday card every year (mailed) with a gift card for a pair of painters pants on us
  • We share the good customer survey feedback in our monthly foreman meetings


Point out all good news

From Robert Isherwood | CEO, AMBAC International

It’s a BIG mistake to point out problems and issues. That is a quick way to make people feel very discouraged and unappreciated. No one will bring their best into a project with an annoying critic.

I make a conscious effort to deliberately seek out, and point out, good news. Here are three small things I have adopted:

  • We start all management staff meetings, and our all-hands meetings, with the first topic: GOOD NEWS.
  • I acknowledge people when I see good things. I’ll say things like “Wow, that is SO COOL!” or “I’m proud of you, great job handling that tough situation.” Or “Your contribution on this project really pushed it to the top.” Or even shake someone’s hand and sincerely say “Thank you.” I’d guesstimate that I see and say something a dozen or more times a day.
  • A sincere hand-written acknowledgement note is powerful, powerful, powerful. I’ve come to realize that most people are starving for recognition and appreciation. If you want to encourage someone’s development into their best selves, write a note. By the way, I learned that from my Vistage Chair, Shaun Bradley.

In my experience, simple, sincere, grateful and timely recognition is the key. The fun part is that when I look for reasons to express appreciation for team mates, everyone’s performance improves. There are a lot of good things happening every day.


Hold one-to-ones with the owner and practice a variety of ways to show appreciation

From Richard S. Butwin | President & CEO, Butwin Insurance Group

We have a variety of ways we recognize members of the firm. Here are just a few:

  • One-to-One’s with the owner. 45-60 minutes, 2-3 times a year. Their opportunity to speak their mind. OUTSTANDING!
  • People are referred to as “Members of the Firm” as opposed to employees. Our manual is even titled “Manual for Members of the Firm”
  • Generous commissions (50% year as long as they stay here) to salaried employees who bring in new business
  • $500 referral fee for bringing us a new hire
  • Breakfast surprise party for new employees on their first day. Everyone introduces themselves.
  • Close at 1 p.m. the day before all 3-day holidays
  • Flex hours and work from home accepted
  • Suspended Christmas week and Super Bowl Monday
  • I give excessive gifts for babies and weddings (maybe that’s why I keep getting invited?)


How do you show employee appreciation at your business? Do you have plans to celebrate Employee Appreciation Day? Post your comments below.

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

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