How Do You Make Staffers Feel Appreciated—at Little or No Cost?

By Lisa Cericola November 16, 2009, 9:00 AM EST

Gallery 21, Leo Burnett's employee art gallery

Photo: Courtesy of Leo Burnett

In a year of cutbacks and salary freezes, perhaps now more than ever, hard-working employees need to feel valued, even in small ways. Jennifer Savica, TD Bank’s vice president of event management, rewards her staff with little perks throughout the year, like taking everyone out for ice cream in the summer, treating people to their favorite drinks at Starbucks on a cold day, and occasionally allowing casual Fridays. “I try to show appreciation for my team every day by creating a true democracy—asking their opinions, including them in many of the department decisions, and empowering them to do their job,” she says.

Boston Beer Company has a gift policy that prevents employees from keeping items valued over $10 given to them by clients and event sponsors. “If someone gets something over that amount, we raffle it off to the office as a thank you,” says Kristen Smith, the company’s travel and event planner. Past items have included tickets to charity events the company has sponsored, movie screenings, and Red Sox tickets. “It’s nice to raffle these things off and make them available to anyone—and at no cost to the company,” says Smith.

Twice a year, Hillary Harris, director of special events for Warner Brothers, holds “PJ Friday,” when staffers can come to work in sweats or flannel pajamas. She has lunch delivered to the office, and everyone gathers in the conference room at 3:00 p.m. to watch a classic Warner Brothers movie. “My staff loves it, but they always bring work clothes as a back-up in case we need to take a meeting,” says Harris. “Believe it or not, we get a lot of work accomplished on PJ Friday. Everyone is in a great mood, laughing throughout the day.”

Advertising agency Leo Burnett is big on employee perks. In addition to rooms with Ping-Pong tables and popcorn machines, chair massages, and many other freebies, the company has an employee-only art gallery on the 21st floor of its Chicago headquarters. During a three-day exhibit called Gallery 21, Leo Burnett employees get to exhibit their work, which ranges from photography to glass sculptures to video art. “We do an open call throughout the agency and employees submit what they would like to exhibit. There are typically 20 artists represented, and gallery pieces are chosen based on their medium. We try to create a balanced selection of art work,” says Michelle Mahoney, Leo Burnett’s director of worklife. “The wine and cheese closing reception is always a hit. They get to mingle with the artists, learn something new about their co-workers and, most importantly, become inspired.”

Employee appreciation doesn’t have to cost any money at all. To celebrate promotions, corporate anniversaries, or even customer praise, employees at Lakeland, Florida-based Publix Super Markets, get letters of appreciation from company heads, including the president. This practice also extends to important happenings beyond the workplace. Employees can post messages on the company intranet to congratulate new parents or announce that an associate or associate’s family member has passed away or is ill. Maria Brous, Publix’s director of media and community relations says, “Our company has a family feel even at 139,000 associates.”

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