Thank You

Employee recognition gets noticed, says Caroline Cooper.

Greeting card with snapdragons, daisies and text: Thank you
Photo: Getty Images

I believe it’s all too easy, while businesses and their teams are working so hard to get back to any kind of normality (particularly when they are struggling to recruit staff) that some of the softer elements of leadership get forgotten.

I remember reading a statistic from UK research pre-pandemic that stated that 78% of employees didn’t feel recognised! That to me is a pretty shocking – and sad – statistic.
I doubt it’s much better now.

Yet employee recognition can have a massive impact on productivity, on customers’ experience and on staff retention. As employee retention is so important right now, you surely want to do everything you can to help team members feel appreciated and valued.

There’s a perception that everyone is motivated by money. There’s no doubt cash is a contributing factor. Pay them late, mess up their overtime or deny them the pay rise they were promised and you’re probably going to have an unhappy person. And unhappy team members invariably lead to unhappy customers.

But how would you feel if on your birthday your nearest and dearest just gave you money? Unless it was a ton of cash or you’re saving up for something really special, it’s not very exciting. It feels as if no care or thought has gone into it. It’s impersonal. But if someone’s taken the trouble to find that something special and buy it for you, that’s going to have far more impact, right?

Money is a very short-term motivator. And let’s face it, unless your team members are on performance related bonuses, few businesses can be doling out monetary rewards every five minutes. So, what can you do to show your team they’re appreciated?

1. Say thank you
The most obvious and easiest thing you can do to show your team you appreciate them is to make a point of thanking them, especially if that’s a heartfelt thank you at the end of a busy shift or hectic day, when they’ve made an extra effort, used their initiative or gone out of their way to help a colleague or customer.

A thank you will have more impact if it’s spontaneous and in the moment, not just as a routine passing comment. Go out of your way to thank individuals when you spot them doing something in support of a colleague or that will delight your customers. Bring the team together at the end of that busy event when everybody has pulled their weight to make sure everything went smoothly.

Saying thank you will have far more meaning if you’re specific; what are you thanking them for? What impact that has had on the team, for your customers, for the business, etc? A follow up thank you card can really reinforce this for when they’ve gone the extra mile – a physical note or card will have 10 times more impact than an email.

If you are genuine in your appreciation, and choose it for the right moment, it can work wonders. A simple but honest appreciative remark can go a very long way.

2. Involve everyone
Ensure your thanks extends to those beavering away behind the scenes. Your grounds and building maintenance teams, your housekeepers or cleaners, your finance team. All these people have an impact on your customers’ experience, either directly or indirectly, and ultimately on your business success.

Recognition doesn’t just come from the top. Make it easy for team members to show recognition for one another – when a colleague has stepped in to help someone who is struggling, when another department has mucked-in to support on a big event, when someone’s made a personal sacrifice to cover sickness.

Encourage your supervisors and line managers to show recognition. Recognition doesn’t have to be rationed, so encourage them to give this freely. Help them identify how powerful recognition can be. This, of course, starts with you and how you recognise them; be their role model! And if you are going to praise an individual, don’t just leave it until you are on your own with them. Find an opportunity when they are with their colleagues, and your praise will create a buzz!

Make sure it’s genuine and specific for the task carried out, or the person might be seen by their colleagues as ‘teacher’s pet’.

3. Token gestures
Is it really just tangible rewards people love? Well, I know I’d rather be given a bunch of flowers any day over a tenner to go and buy my own!

When you’re aware of your team members’ hobbies and interests, when you are out and about and see something that has to do with that particular interest, pick it up for them. Coming into the business and saying: “I really appreciate what you do, and I got this for you as a small token of my appreciation”, will make them feel they are recognised for a great job.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth, just a token. But the thought it evokes will make a real difference.

4. A treat
Give your team the occasional treat. No need to be a lavish; look at ways to reward that create a win-win – maybe a visit to a sister business or somewhere where they will be on the receiving end of outstanding service and are motivated to bring back more ideas that can be implemented in your business.

When your team has worked long or unsociable hours that had an impact on members’ personal lives, extending the treat to be shared with their loved ones not only makes your team member feel good but shows your appreciation of the support given by their friends and family. This paves the way for future good deeds too.

5. Time Off
For some people a little free time could be the most valuable gift you can give them.
Allowing flexibility to go home early to attend their children’s sports’ day or on the day before their holiday, have a lie in, take the evening off on their birthday, or take an hour out to attend to a personal matter.

Allow the freedom for having fun too. This doesn’t mean being unprofessional, but looking for opportunities that create a relaxed and enjoyable place to work. Simply a rest or just having a bit of fun can work wonders for someone’s state of mind.

6. Celebrate and share successes
Celebrate what’s gone well so far since re-opening, so everyone gets the recognition they deserve for the effort that’s gone into it.

Update your team on your business successes; new business won, milestones you’ve achieved, the highlights of the past six months, and the team’s contribution to these.

External awards are a great way to give recognition for the whole team. Keep your eye out for awards which are relevant to your business or your market. Just being nominated is a great booster – it demonstrates to your team you feel they are worthy of it.

7. Know what’s important
Make your thank yous personal and appropriate for the individuals. The golden rule is to treat others how you would wish to be treated. And that’s certainly a good start. But the platinum rule is to treat others how they wish to be treated. What would they appreciate most?

Understand each of your team members and what’s important to them. Not everyone values or is interested in the same things. Recognise there are things which may seem insignificant to you, but can mean a lot to others.

What are the things they enjoy? What are the things they’re proud of, be that in or out of work? Express an interest in what they do away from work. Whilst some love the sense of achievement or recognition, others get a buzz from supporting others. Some love to have their say and see their ideas put into practice, whilst others are happiest when they’re learning or being stretched.

Once you understand what’s important, and with a little bit of creativity, there are plenty of ways you can say “I appreciate you”. And your customers will feel that appreciation too!

Take action
If you only do one thing, make a point of saying a sincere and personal thank you to everyone in your team at some point today, or if you don’t see them every day, then at least once this week.



Caroline Cooper is the founder of Naturally Loyal and has over 30 years’ training and development experience in hospitality.

Recognising that managers in hospitality often get promoted into positions without much training, her key focus is on developing newly promoted and junior managers to lead and engage their teams effectively.

Caroline has a number of free resources and guides you can access at

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