Originally published December 19, 2006.
Here’s stating the obvious: Most employee appreciation bonuses are lousy, exposing how cheap corporate America can be. Take for example my good friend Matt and his wife Susan. Both are honest working individuals that are extremely kind to those they come in contact with and extremely loyal to the companies they work for. Susan has worked close to 10 years for a local manufacturer. What did she get after working five years for the company? A small shelf clock. And Matt, having worked at a local credit union for five years, got a whopping $50 bonus for his tenure. Nothing says “we care” and “the biggest asset to our company is our employees” quite like skimping when it counts. That’s not to say Susan’s or Matt’s employers are shmoes, just that they suck when it comes to appreciation bonuses.
My first experience with definitive employee appreciation came from one of the most unlikely employers. As a sophomore in college, I worked at a Cingular cell phone store, not the fancy smancy official kind, just an authorized dealer run by a private company. This job would be the fifth in Blake’s Adventures in Livelihood. The store manager and my boss were one Jeremy Anderson, running the family store under the direction of his father. Jeremy, to my knowledge, had no formal training in managing a retail store or even how to motivate and show appreciation for his employees. But boy did he ever.
I worked for Jeremy for eight months until ultimately moving to Utah to finish school at Brigham Young and in that time received more appreciation bonuses than any other job I would later or ever hold. The first time I saw a bonus was shortly after being hired at the end of a busy and lucrative Saturday. When the clock struck 6pm and after counting loads of greenbacks as if smoking a cigar, Jeremy walked over to me and stuffed a wad of cash ($50 bucks to be exact) in my tired mitts. He said, “Blake, you did a real good job today. Thanks!” To say I was surprised would be an understatement. This would happen several times thereafter and not just with cash. Jeremy also knew I was into video games and on one occasion purchased and gave me a new $50 game the nerd in me fancied. He always gave at variable times according to my performance, and he gave generously from a private company that didn’t make a lot of money. The result made me feel more appreciated; wanting to work even harder for the man because I knew that man cared, respected me, and valued my work. It was as if my boss got his employee appreciation methodology from the Pavlovian Dog playbook of variable rewards, the kind that scientifically work better to encourage a desired result. It was something I’d never forget in rewarding honest, hard, and committed productivity.
How much does it cost to buy an employee an iPod with a perceived value of probably a $1,000 when considering the portability of an entire music library? $250. And said employees are usually worth a lot more than that. So if I were to summarize my post it would be this (read: the take-away): Be variable with your employee appreciation bonuses and be generous when giving. Just like tipping your waiter a few extra bucks does more for them than you could do with the same, more generosity at greater variable intervals will go a long way in showing your employees you put your money where you mouth is. Don’t just tell them you care. Show them with copious rewards when unexpected but deserved.