Managers should acknowledge the work put in by their employees on a daily basis, says RedBalloon for Corporate account director James Wright.
It's not about presents five days a week, but about showing "wide recognition" for the work that people put in. "And that means that it has to happen daily," he says.
According to the most recent Hewitt Best Employer study (which involved 37,000 employees) only 52 per cent of employees agree that their managers inspire them to achieve higher levels of performance.
At a time when many employees are "sniffing around for a job elsewhere" it is particularly important to make employees feel appreciated, Wright says. Aside from the performance benefits, simple recognition can cause workers to "reconsider whether a move is really the right thing".
"We're not talking about a gift card or a standing ovation and a certificate, but a daily thank you of some description," he says. "You want to make them to feel like a hero every time they leave the office, and make them feel as though today was worthwhile.
"Now, whether that is acknowledging them at the morning tea meeting, whether that's just a little email at some point during the day to acknowledge a job well done, or just a 'thanks for playing today' as they're walking out the door - right up to the other end where we'll put them in a jet fighter or on a hot air balloon trip for delivering on a project - you need to do something along the spectrum every day to make people feel valued."
The gesture must be authentic and appropriate. "It's about getting to know your team and understanding what buttons you need to push for them," says Wright. "There are some people who need the recognition to be very public to make them feel valued and others who are uncomfortable with being made a hero of in front of the whole office or the whole floor - but they still need to be acknowledged for what they've contributed in a way that's appropriate for them.
"[My] best advice to a manager is: in the back of your notebook, when you hear someone say that that's their favourite way to take coffee or their favourite cake or something like that, just write it down so that when they do something good in a couple of weeks time you can surprise them by leaving something small on their desk."
Even when they've had a bad day
Even when there is no obvious achievement to thank someone for, "you certainly need to acknowledge their effort", Wright says. "And that's very different to performance management and that's not what we're talking about here. But even if somebody screws up, provided that they have behaved in a way that's aligned to the organisation's values, they've still made an effort and that needs to be acknowledged."
Speaking from his own experience, Wright says that it is the days he doesn't get something "over the line" when words of encouragement and acknowledgement from his manager count the most.
"Recognition is not rocket science, it's really about making sure that it's one of the top three things to do today - every day," he says.
To encourage managers to think creatively about different ways they can acknowledge effort and reward performance, RedBalloon has compiled a list of "52 (not) just rewards". The list includes:
Remember the date: Always remember and acknowledge key dates like birthdays or employment anniversaries. Mark these occasions with a card, an early mark, something sweet or a public mention.
Sports fanatics: If you have a budding sports star in your team, give them golf lessons, tickets to the football, sessions with a personal trainer or yoga classes.
Fuel the fire: Help fuel your team's performance with a brekky surprise like a caffeine hit, smoothies, fruit platters or egg and bacon rolls. Or, if the day is turning into night, shout them pizza and soft drinks to keep them going.
Send a message: Simply send a text message to an employee at the end of the day to let them know you appreciate what they have done for you. Or, leave a voice message on their phone so it's the first thing they hear when they get into the office the next morning.
VIP treatment: Reward employees who travel frequently with a free upgrade to business or first class, five-star accommodation, or fly in their partner to join them over the weekend.
Read-a-thon: Find out what employees read and get them an annual magazine subscription so each month they will be reminded of their accomplishment and your gift.
Cooking up a storm: Give your team members an opportunity to celebrate and get to know each other better by giving them a gourmet cooking class.
Holiday treats: Next time you go away on holiday, bring back some treats to let your team know you were thinking about them.
Shared rewards: Give your team the opportunity to take their family on a cruise or some other special outing.
The gift of time: Next time someone does something spectacular acknowledge it with a longer lunch break, sleep-in or early mark - and the choice of when to use it.
The list cautions against giving random, inappropriate or useless gifts, which might imply a lack of care or thought. RedBalloon offers three words of advice to avoid this: "Know your people".
RedBalloon also warns against cash-based gifts that might be confused with compensation and become an expectation.
Wright is speaking on employee engagement at an 'HR Club Sydney' event on Thursday 8 April. Click here for details.