Humans love to celebrate. Whether it’s with parties, gatherings, or rituals, when something good happens, we like to mark the occasion. And that’s just as true at work as it is in life: In the workplace, celebrating goals and acknowledging milestones is critical to boosting morale and keeping staff engaged. And as the past 12 months have shown, it’s just as important — maybe even more important — to salute the wins when times are hard.
It’s true that the coronavirus pandemic has meant that some of the ways we’ve traditionally celebrated accomplishments have had to be put on hold. But that doesn’t mean that firms should press pause on recognizing the hard work of their teams. If anything, most employees (and their managers!) could use the boost.
And while bonuses, gifts, trips, and other monetary awards are go-tos for a reason, there are plenty of other ways to toast your star performers and celebrate their victories, big and small. Here, we asked workplace experts to share the creative ways they commemorate goals and honor achievements — now and in the future.
1. Get together (even when you can’t be together).
When we think of celebrating, the first thing that usually comes to mind is throwing a party. And while most forms of in-person celebration — dinner parties, bar crawls, awards banquets, and more — are largely off the table for now, there are more ways than ever to share a virtual celebration. (And no, it doesn’t have to feel like another endless Zoom meeting.)
Lunch or dinner meetings are still viable options, whether it’s with pre-ordered catering delivery to staff member’s homes, or gift cards that allow employees to get their favorite takeout and meet up for the video call. But it doesn’t stop there.
“We survey our teams to understand how they enjoy being rewarded, how they like to celebrate, and how they like to relax. It's important to align your tactics with the team’s preferences,” said Douglas Ferguson, president and CEO of Austin-based workshop facilitation and coaching agency Voltage Control. A virtual cooking class was a hit for the Voltage Control group, he said; a flower-arranging class, virtual cocktail making and tasting groups, or even a shared VR (virtual reality) game are all memorable, communal ways to mark a milestone.
2. Put it in writing.
Hearing praise is great, but there’s something special and lasting about reading it. So when an employee has done an exceptional job or hit a critical target, celebrate their win in writing — both privately and publicly.
“Ask the top-level managers or CEO of the company to write an email or share their message for [the] achievement and why it is great for the organization. Personally thank all the employees for making the company a great workplace,” suggested Caroline Lee, founder and Marketing Director of cloud-based digital signature firm CocoSign. “It’s important to share these moments of euphoria with your employees and boost their morale so they give their best selves to work each day.”
And don’t think the appreciation can only flow from the top down — peer feedback for goals can be a major motivator as well. Kim Maynard, Senior Manager for Media and Analyst Relations at recruiting platform Greenhouse Software, said the firm’s “#employee-warm-fuzzies” Slack channel offers staff “consistent, visible shout-outs.”
3. Give a social media shout-out.
Another option: Go public. Amplify those internal celebrations and sing the praises of your star performers on the company’s social channels.
“Shouting out your team on social media and showing the world how great they are can mean a lot to individual team members,” said Miles Beckler, content marketing expert and consultant. Employee praise on social media is a win-win, he said. "Not only will this make [employees] feel motivated and valued, but those outside of your company can see the healthy work culture you've cultivated.”
The benefits can be far-reaching: “Your customers will see you as a ‘human’ brand, one that appreciates each and every worker for all that they do,” continued Beckler. “This pays off twofold — both in generating business and in the satisfaction of your employees.”
4. Stand on ceremony.
There’s something to be said for ceremony, and giving your employees their own “Oscars moment” in front of their colleagues can be surprisingly moving, as well as a strong way to bolster the company, too.
Maynard said Greenhouse hosts an annual employee awards ceremony, dubbed the “Gnomies” (“less known than the Grammys, but more meaningful than The Office’s Dundies,” she said), that recognizes great performances and reinforces the company culture. “[It’s] a chance to recognize employees who best embody Greenhouse’s values of belonging, entrepreneurship and purpose,” she said.
“A formal awards ceremony with all the glitz and glamour is a powerful way to boost team engagement, encourage a spirit of teamwork, and provide a laidback platform for networking and socializing,” noted Paul French, Managing Director of executive b2b headhunting search firm Intrinsic Search.
Hosting it remotely? Consider importing some of the same elements that make the real thing special: Designate an MC (well, meeting host), prepare speeches, and set the stage (a great backdrop in real life or a custom Zoom background goes a long way). Consider suggesting a festive dress code, and creating a hashtag to easily consolidate posts if people will be posting on social. Awards can be “presented” on-screen and sent to winners post-show. After all, whether it’s a big to-do in a ballroom or a scaled-down — but meaningful — version being hosted on Zoom, there’s no substitute for being honored by your peers.
5. Relax the rules.
Sometimes, the best reward is something you don’t have to do. Mika Kujapelto, CEO and founder of affiliate marketing tech review site, LaptopUnboxed, said gestures like a spontaneous company half-day, casual Fridays for the office-bound, or a special late start time can be deeply appreciated. “Even small and thoughtful actions can help generate inspiration and motivation in employees in remote and in-office settings,” he said.
Business can be tough, and that’s especially true this past year. So when there’s a chance to celebrate, whether it’s an accomplishment years in the making or just making it through a rough quarter, there’s a lot to be said for marking the occasion. And sending some appreciation to the people who made it happen is the kind of investment that pays dividends for employees and companies alike.