Employee appreciation on a budget: HR leader shares strategy

By spending only $100 per worker, you can still recognize and reward your group

Employee appreciation on a budget: HR leader shares strategy

Interactions LLC needs more than a day to show employee appreciation.

That’s why the Franklin, MA-based technology firm dedicates a full week to celebrating its 371 employees in August, when its business cycle slows down and most staffers can participate.

While a full week of rewards and recognition may sound expensive, especially as companies are trimming budgets ahead of an anticipated recession, you might be surprised to learn that the firm spends only about $100 per employee, according to Mary Clermont, chief people officer at Interactions.

“You can really manage the cost by leveraging people who want to be part of putting the whole event together,” says Clermont, a nearly 25-year HR veteran who has worked for Fidelity Investments, Putnam Investments and Pizza Hut.

Innovative ideas for employee appreciation events

Employee Appreciation Week spawned out of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the company tried to engage its remote employees with monthly virtual events.

“A lot of people were doing happy hours, but we didn’t feel that fit our culture,” Clermont told HRD. “We were trying to avoid forced fun.”

The first outside-the-box idea was a virtual dog show based on the company’s most popular Slack channel, which consists of employees sharing pictures of their pooches. Clermont says it brought out the creativity in everyone, including the event organizer, who had the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show backdrop as her Zoom background and used her hairbrush as a microphone.

“As one man was talking about his dog and petting him, the dog starts biting his hand,” Clermont says. “He’s unphased and says, ‘She has no teeth, but really bad breath.’ It was hilarious. You get to see people’s personalities and they have a lot of fun with it.”

In another event – inspired by MTV Cribs – employees were encouraged to show off projects they did around their house during the pandemic. Clermont says it was so popular that the company followed up with a “house plant show,” in which employees received house plants and a horticulturist taught them how to repot and take care of it.

There’s also been a wine tasting, in which more than a third of the workforce received a shipment of mini wine bottles, and then a sommelier explained what they were drinking. Meanwhile, those abstaining could build charcuterie boards.

This year, the company will be hosting a Jeopardy! game, which an employee has built an electronic version of using a free app. “We’ve hired vendors in the past, but we’ve found that some of these things aren’t hard to do, so we do it ourselves,” Clermont says.

Employees give input throughout the year through surveys and during diversity events, where they’re asked if there’s anything they’d like to see repeated during Employee Appreciation Week. Although events come and go depending on feedback, the annual week is anchored by the dog show, a tasting (could be bourbon or beer this year) and a company-wide day-off on that Friday.

Memorable employee appreciation requires time, effort and teamwork

To pull off such an elaborate series of events, Clermont’s group must begin preparation in May (they used to start in early July, but the seven-week window wasn’t enough time). The planning committee consists of a couple people from her team, one person from marketing and four others from across the company who are highly engaged and love pulling together these events.

“You just need one really good project manager, good communication and to make sure the leadership team participates,” Clermont says. “It’s always a challenge to make sure we’re one-upping ourselves, but I love it.”

Employees can also receive cash awards and gift certificates for lunch through an internal website. Additionally, managers are asked to send virtual cards of appreciation, and employees are encouraged to send to their peers, too. “You do it naturally throughout the day, week or month, but making a point in time for people to come together and appreciate each other really helps our culture,” Clermont says.

“By making it a week instead of just one day, it gives more substance and meaning, becoming something employees look forward to. After all, these are the people you rely on, and you want them to go to the extra mile for you.”

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