San Francisco, March 06, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- When publisher Bob Nelson created Employee Appreciation Day in the mid-nineties, his goal was to promote the benefits of staff engagement and build the profile of the then-nascent field of employee recognition. And while the recognition profession has taken off and grown in sophistication, many companies see the annual event as a quick cure-all for the issue Nelson was trying to highlight.


As with all annual days of celebration, the intention is to raise awareness and encourage action. As a Work Culture Evangelist, I’m less interested in how companies are celebrating this year’s Employee Appreciation Day then I am in what they’re doing about employee advocacy year-round.


The big difference between employee appreciation and advocacy is moving from words to action. How does this relate to company culture? Appreciation is having employees’ voices heard; advocacy is taking action and improving their experience based on what you hear. 


Advocacy = Asking the right questions and acting on the feedback


Global data from Culture Amp’s platform offers an insight into the drivers of engagement. By analyzing the feedback of some 855,000 employees from nearly 1,200 companies around the world we are able to see benchmarks for internal rewards, recognition and connection.


Not surprisingly, we learned the most commonly cited attribute signifying engaged employees is when leaders demonstrate that people are important to their company's success. This was true across all regions and sectors. The good news is that just over two-thirds of employees globally felt their leaders exhibited this trait. 


Leaders set the culture of a workplace and their actions send a powerful signal to the organization about which behaviors and results are and aren’t valued. What leaders do is built into the systems, processes and decision making of the entire organization. If they show regular appreciation for their employees, this will become ingrained in their culture over time. One of my favorite examples of this is from Garry Ridge, CEO of WD40. He’s created a culture without fear, where learning moments are celebrated as critical to the company’s growth. As a result he helms a company with a mission that’s far more purposeful than merely selling oil in a spraycan. You can hear more from Garry on the Culture First podcast in an episode with Simon Sinek, self-proclaimed optimist and author of The Infinite Game. 


What the data tells us


Looking at the Culture Amp data by organization type, the leaders of new tech companies are demonstrating the importance of their people 4% more than those in other sectors. This could be due to these businesses emerging in an era of enlightened human capital management, rather than being burdened by a history of outdated sector norms. Consider the contrast between the current discourse around the importance of soft skills like applied empathy and traditional notions of workers as machines punching out uniform processes day in and day out. It’s no wonder leveraging the human element leads to higher engagement.


In terms of leaders demonstrating the importance of their people, the US leads the way globally, with 71% of employees believing their leaders value their contributions, just edging out Canada (70%), the UK and Australia (both 69%). Interestingly, much of the US’s position is driven by the Midwest, which outperforms the other areas of the country by up to eight basis points. While it’s tempting to credit this spike to wholesome Midwestern charm and good nature (it was Will Rogers, after all, who said ‘I never met a man I didn’t like’), there are likely other forces at play and it’s important to understand how these impact the data gap. For one, financial stress is greatly reduced by the generally lower costs of living in the middle of the country compared to the major coastal cities, and the job market is far less competitive. Plus, smaller cities often foster closer community ties than in sprawling, impersonal metropolises. 


Another critical factor highlighted by the data is whether or not employees feel like they belong. Globally, employees stating they have a sense of belonging clocks in at 78%, but is higher in the US. In fact the US Northeast tips the scales at 80% and the US West is just a basis point behind at 79%. This sense of belonging is often driven by the connections and relationships employees have with their immediate teams.


The lowest scoring question in our data pull was “Generally, the right people are rewarded and recognized at Company.” This question best represents the heart of Employee Appreciation Day. The Culture Amp data shows that out of 855,000 employees from around the world, only slightly more than half were positive about the way their employers recognised and rewarded their staff. That’s a lot of people who believe worthy employees are being overlooked or undeserving staff recognized. 


Moving from intentions and words to actions and advocacy


One of the key things companies can do to ward off the resentment depicted here is to build equitable systems for recognition. Having a concrete program for rewarding staff is one way to make the transition from the rhetoric of appreciation to the reality of advocacy. However, this programming requires a lot of commitment and listening on the part of company leadership. But getting it right will have a profound impact on your business and the lives of employees.


This Employee Appreciation Day, instead of buying pizza and balloons, take the time to ask the right questions and listen to all of your employees. They’ll be sure to tell you how they want to be recognized, rewarded and appreciated for years to come. That’s true employee advocacy.


About the Author: Damon Klotz has spent his career working at the intersection of people and technology. He’s held roles as HR Consultant, Digital Strategist and co-founder of a charity. He joined Culture Amp as one of the first employees where he scaled their community to one of the largest work-culture communities in the world during a time of exponential growth. As Culture Amp’s Work Culture Evangelist, Damon represents what’s possible within the People & Culture sphere through storytelling, consulting, coaching, strategy execution and thought leadership.

Michele Gallagher
Culture Amp