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Dilemma of the Month: Easy Ways to Thank Employees in a Hard Year

Back Article Nov 18, 2020 By Suzanne Lucas

This has been a terrible year. Unfortunately, as a business, we’re just scraping by — and that’s despite the Paycheck Protection Program loan from the Small Business Administration. There’s no money for a lavish holiday party, year-end bonuses or even anything more than a $5 gift. What can we do to show our employees how much we appreciate their hard work at year-end?

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You’re not the only business in this situation. Unless you’re Amazon or a Plexiglas manufacturer, your company may not be running deep in the black this year. But there are many ways to show employees how much you care about them, even if you can’t shower them with gifts and bonuses.

1. Write each employee a letter explaining why you appreciate them. This is, of course, not feasible if you have 2,000 employees, but if you have 25, this can be an excellent morale booster for your employees. Don’t unload this onto your administrative assistant or use a form letter. Write unique things about each employee and how you appreciate their help. Keep a copy in their personnel file. Don’t say anything that isn’t true. If someone is on a performance improvement plan, don’t praise them for their skills. Instead, for example, talk about how their enthusiasm helps cheer others up.

2. Have a small party, if your employees have returned to the workplace. You can, realistically, have a pizza party during business hours for $5 a person. It may not be the big to-do that you usually have, but it lets people know you care about them. If they are still working remotely, a socially distanced gathering is a possibility.

3. Give everyone a day off in December. Yes, people are getting an extra vacation day, but it’s easier than an additional expenditure because no extra money is being spent. Call it a shopping day or something similar. They can use it for whatever they want. Not only will your employees appreciate it, but they’ll also be more relaxed and more focused at work if they get an additional break, especially during the stressful holiday period.

4. If parking is an issue, give the employees the managers’ spots for a month. Of course, if you have more employees than managers, it can’t be an even swap, but let the employees cycle through the prime parking spots.

5. Many businesses still have employees working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t always mean great flexibility. Give them real flexibility, because that makes employees happier, and happier employees are an asset for any business.

6. Ask your employees what will make their lives better. It could be a mentoring program. It could be they prefer four 10-hour days (but beware, this could lead to overtime pay in California if the employees aren’t exempt). It could be simply providing coffee in the break room. Give them parameters, and get ideas.

7. Get rid of an arduous task. Every business has unnecessary tasks that people do because it’s always been done. Ask your employees to identify tasks that are no longer necessary. Evaluate what you can truly eliminate, and let everyone know that this is a big year-end reward. No more test procedure specification reports!

8. Have managers take on an onerous task. For December, every manager has to do the most-hated task of their employees. Sure, your management team will hate you, but the rest of your employees will love you. (This may or may not be practical depending on the task, but it can mean the world to your employees.)

9. Give your employees the opportunity to learn new skills. This may be seen as a burden to some workers, so make sure it’s on a volunteer basis. But whether it’s through a large online course (free or low cost) or cross-training, it can be an inexpensive way to reward employees — and help your business.

10. Just say thank you. A sincere thanks to your employees can go a long way. They know this year was difficult financially. It probably won’t be a surprise to any of them that there are no year-end bonuses or fancy parties. A sincere thank you may be enough.

There are many other ideas out there, and your best source is your employees. If you ask what reward they want, they will tell you, so take it seriously.

If you are going to focus on thanking them for their hard work, please be sincere and treat them like you are truly grateful. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they should be grateful to still have jobs. They probably are, but, remember, if they all left, you wouldn’t have a business. So be grateful they work for you.

Good riddance to 2020, and may 2021 be better for everyone.

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starc (not verified)November 23, 2020 - 10:12pm

What a wonderful list! And you didn’t include a raise in the list. People say all that matters is money, but when you’re in a miserable, thankless job, get a raise and a handshake once a year and then go right back to being bullied for another year, you start to think you’d trade your raise for just a little everyday appreciation.

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