Get Rid of Employee Appreciation Day

Most of the time, I didn’t see eye to eye with my late step-mother. However, on one occasion, I did. It was during the peak of the pandemic in late 2020. My step-mother was in the hospital and my dad was home alone. He was lamenting to her how it seemed everyone had forgotten his birthday. No card. No dinner. No cake. No gift. My step-mother replied,

Your birthday isn’t just one day – it’s every day!

It seemed to make him feel better. And, it’s one thing I can agree with.

I feel the same way about “Employee Appreciation Day”. My last client celebrated their version of Employee Appreciation Day last Thursday. The majority of celebrations were observed with zoom calls going awkwardly round the screen, with each person offering kudos about one or more of their peers. There were other ideas as well. One manager encouraged their employees to take a break from work that day and get outside for some “me” time.

It’s a much used trope, but shouldn’t employees be appreciated every day? Shouldn’t an employee’s well-being be top of mind every day? And for that matter, why limit appreciations to just employees? Why not appreciate everyone – employees, managers, partners and customers every day? What if we were to shorten “Employee Appreciation Day” to just “Appreciation”?

Appreciating others makes me feel good. It releases the happy hormones in our brains – dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. All contribute to building happy relationships with each other. Oxytocin is especially noted for its effect on trusting behaviours and relationships. According to the neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak,

Trust acts as an economic lubricant”.

Paul J. Zak

Trust reduces the frictions inherent in economic activity. In other words, it’s good for business. So, if trust is good for business, why not build it every day? According to Zak’s research, recognizing and appreciating others accounts for 67% of organizational trust. Especially powerful when it’s unexpected, tangible and personable. Mass marketed, Hallmark greeting carded Employee Appreciation Days may be tangible but certainly not unexpected nor personable.

Personally, I feel material tangibility is overrated. Sometimes a simple, heartfelt, and in-the-moment “thank-you” is all it takes. Some companies use “on-the-spot awards” and “kudo cards”. There may even be an app for that 😂! In my experience, those too, can become trite and stale. Agile ways of working depend on and amplify trusting relationships. Regular recurring Vegas Rules team retrospectives often set the stage with a warm-up activity known as Appreciations. It invites participants to recognize and appreciate each other for their demonstrated actions and behaviours that were uniquely meaningful and memorable to them. Often unexpected and definitely personable, I can feel the oxytocin oozing out during the activity.

As I finish up with one client and prepare to start with another client, I have mixed feelings. Simultaneously, sad and happy. As I reflect back on my time with my last client, I can’t help but appreciate all the trusting relationships and opportunities I was blessed with. Everyday, everlasting and part of defining who I am.

To everyone I’ve spent time with at my last client…


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