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Naughty or nice?

What will happen when Santa checks his list and rates your organization on employee recognition?

By Elaine Varelas, 12/03/2007

The holidays are upon us – snowflakes are falling, schedules are packed with parties and family gatherings, and irritating music is blaring in overcrowded malls everywhere.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Muharram, or Kwanzaa, the holidays provide an opportunity to show your gratitude. This time of year, many of us reflect on our lives, take stock of the past year, give thanks for our good fortune, and make goals and resolutions for the year to come.

Many organizations also mark the end of the year with holiday celebrations as a way to say thank you to employees. Companies may host gift exchanges, holiday parties, or distribute end-of-the-year bonuses. While it is important to acknowledge employees' hard work during the holidays, it shouldn't be the only time of year your organization shows appreciation. If Santa was checking his list and rating your organization on how often you show gratitude, would your leadership team and managers be on his "nice" list, or would you all be getting lumps of coal in your stockings?

Sometimes, as managers, we underestimate the power of a thank you. It makes employees feel good, recognizes them for a job well done, and lets them know they and their hard work are valued. How many thank you's a day, week, or year does a typical employee at your organization receive? If "thanks" are only handed out as often as end-of-the-year bonuses, your organization may be likened to Scrooge – and you as an HR manager should take charge of creating a grateful organization.

Like snowflakes falling from the sky, it helps if giving thanks starts at the top. If there is buy-in from the CEO and the leadership team that showing gratitude is important, it is more readily accepted and can proliferate throughout the organization. Have a conversation with leadership about how the organization wants to recognize employees. Some leadership teams are actually reluctant to show appreciation for fear that employees will feel they're too valuable and will start asking for too much. Others are concerned that every thank you needs to have a dollar sign attached. But appreciation can come in many forms – both formal and informal – acknowledgement, recognition, awards, applause, money, time off, or a simple cup of coffee. HR managers can help senior leadership recognize the value of a thank you and ways to incorporate gratitude into the culture of the company.

It doesn't always have to be about money, but it can greatly impact the bottom line. By showing appreciation, employees feel valued and recognize how they fit into the bigger picture to make the organization work. If people know they have a place and a purpose and are valued for the work they do, they are more productive.

It is also important to look at who is thanked at your company. Are all levels of employees held in the same regard, or do senior-level and management positions receive all the glory? Are the janitors, mailroom clerks, and help desk representatives valued as much as the VPs and CEO?

Assist managers and senior leaders in looking for opportunities to be grateful, and build into the culture an appreciation for everyday contributions. HR managers can start by creating formal recognition policies like longevity awards and formal acknowledgements for reaching certain milestones or financial goals. But it is also important for employees to be recognized for the small things with a quick head-in-the-office "thanks" or a thank you lunch.

If there are company managers who are unskilled in the thanks arena, give them pointers. For example, tell them to be specific – a global thanks is more of a throw-away statement. "Thanks for everything," doesn't mean as much as "Thanks for staying late last night to finish the presentation." The details bring more value to the acknowledgement and help the employee understand how they make an impact on the organization.

Giving thanks to hard-working employees is great to do at review time and during the holidays, but it shouldn't stop there. HR managers can help make employee recognition a part of the culture. As we round out this year and start a new one, let's all make a resolution to create grateful organizations by expressing our thanks. It can significantly improve morale, and it's the nice thing to do (and Santa is watching, you know!).

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