Employee Appreciation – How a Big Supermarket Chain Misses the Mark

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Employee AppreciationAnybody will tell you that the most important asset of any company is its people. This is true whether it’s a tiny startup or a corporation that employs tens of thousands. So it’s hardly surprising then that most companies deem it important enough to make their employees feel special and valued. But what they do to show their appreciation is another story.

Some companies really get it. Some try to cut corners with meaningless gestures that are supposed to boost morale, like “dress-down Fridays” – something that I’ve never really understood. Others make a lousy attempt at it – which I think can be even more insulting to the employee. I’m not even talking about those that give everyone in sight a “Vice President” title. I’m referring to certain acts that single out the employee – and while it was well-meaning to begin with, it completely embarrasses the person in question.

I saw something pretty awful the other day as I was checking out of my neighborhood supermarket. This particular company has a rich history, and employs tens of thousands of people – and while they visibly do an excellent job at employing a very diverse group of people, including the elderly and those differently-abled, their recent effort to reward their “associate of the month” fails miserably.

Rewarding a top performer is a no brainer. But the manner in which you do it is critical. At Recruiter.com, we believe that the simple things matter. We are a very goal-driven and deadline-driven company – we work very long hours at a furious pace. We get a lot done – and after every milestone, we take a few minutes to pat ourselves on the back, and we’re on to the next project. We appreciate this hard work by giving everyone the flexibility they need to balance their home/work life. Since we’re all about individual goals, anyone can start and end their work day at anytime – and take any break that they need during the day to do whatever they choose. We have no dress code, unless we meet with clients or business partners. We’re firm believers in the virtual workplace, so our employees get to work wherever they want. But more importantly, we have no hierarchy within the company – ideas come from everyone, we have an open-door policy, and are brutally frank to each other about our feelings. Even though we have key areas of responsibilities, we let everyone carve their own path within the team – people are free to pursue their interests, free to experiment. To me, empowerment is the greatest thing one can do to say to an employee “we value you, and you matter to us”. We’re not into gimmicks. Everyone ends up being a top performer as a result.

I don’t know what else this big supermarket chain does to reward their employees – I’m sure (and I hope) that they do more behind the scenes. But if you’re going to dedicate a small corner of your store to publicly point out your associates of the month, then put some effort into it. Stuffing the photos of these hard-working individuals between the glowing Coinstar machine and the toxic Duraflame logs and TNT Sparklers is hardly glamorous. Cutting out some stars and gluing them to a wrinkly golden sheet of paper like my seven year old would is not the kind of backdrop that says “thanks!”. Color printers are under $50 these days – so why are the photos of the employees in low resolution black and white? I know you wanted a square aspect ratio for aesthetics, but this was done by stretching those people’s faces horizontally – making them look 40 pounds heavier. I can only speak for myself, but if this were me, I’d be mortified. Who comes up with these ideas? I keep seeing this kind of thing around me – and often times, the bigger the company, the less they understand.

Here’s my tip about figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Either mean it, or just don’t do it. If you mean it, then put some effort into it. And finally, put yourself in the employee’s shoes – if it feels right, then do it. Otherwise, go back to square one.

Read more in Employee Recognition

Ashley the Co-Founder and CTO of Recruiter.com.