Contributing Author: Mary Ashley, NDAA Well-being Task Force Vice Chair
Many years ago, and for many years, I was in charge of organizing Administrative Professionals Day activities for my office. Come to think of it, I was unofficially in charge of many celebration plans. This would involve arranging food, gifts, flowers, cards and many other items. It would also involve going around and asking each non-clerical/support person to contribute (otherwise known as “hitting people up for $20”). Most did so happily, or at least, willingly, until I came across this one gentleman, who was an attorney. When I smiled and said what we were all doing for the support staff and asked whether he would like to show his appreciation, he said, “They get a paycheck, don’t they?” He was not smiling. It was not a joke. Of course, this was the same gentlemen that demanded his water glass be filled constantly when out to lunch and left no tip.
I think about this moment when considering the whole concept of “appreciation” and what it really means. The first Friday in March is Employee Appreciation Day, which was established in 1995 by Bob Nelson and Workman Publishing. And yes, every day, is national “something,” whether it be “national hot dog day” or “love your pet day” . . . we get the idea. But this is about appreciating people. As someone who has been both a line employee and a “boss” so- to- speak, I have some perspective on what, perhaps, each side thinks it means. . . and ultimately, what it should mean.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, giving tips and offering gratuity for good service was commonplace. Cash was king and no one in any kind of service industry would be insulted by receiving a tip for their efforts. I learned from both my parents, who worked blue-collar jobs and often relied upon tips and bonuses, just how appreciated it is to be recognized for a job well done. Today, things have changed a bit. Showing gratuity in the workplace, especially public service, isn’t as simple as a cash bonus or winning a trip somewhere. When you work for the government, almost anything outside your paycheck could be perceived as a “gift of public funds” and a definite no-no. Thus, paying out of pocket for co-workers, employees and acknowledgments was one of the only ways to fund the extras. But is it the material things that truly motivate us or make us feel special? Not necessarily.
Of course, who wouldn’t enjoy someone bringing them a Starbucks coffee or treating them to lunch? Certainly, those are nice things. We also know simply from how often we check our phones and social media how the “ding” makes us look for a response or feedback. A “thumbs up” or “like” provides some kind of validation that we look good, sound good or are being appreciated in some way. The truth is, for the most part, we crave some kind of attention or recognition from others in some fashion. It doesn’t always equate to a tangible. So, when you take the time to make a phone call, send a personal note or visit someone in person (pandemic protocols, of course) it tells someone that you actually. . . care. A simple “thank you” can go a long way. The absence of one can go a long way too, and not a good direction. Most government employees aren’t expecting big gifts of “appreciation” and most government employers are limited in what they can and can’t do.
So, if you’re looking for some ideas on how to celebrate National Employee Appreciation Day, here you go:
Be Flexible — Flexibility goes a long way in this virtual world. If possible in your industry, allowing a little flexibility with work schedules can reap huge benefits
Send a Thank You Note — When a job has been done well, a heartfelt, handwritten thank you can mean more than an email
Plan a Team Effort Celebration — If the team pulled together and made it happen, reward them with some pizza, a casual dress day or even some time off if your office allows — something to recognize the effort
Get Caught — Make sure the employee hears you telling someone else they thought you did a great job
Create a Culture of Encouragement — Employees who expand their horizons bring new skills to your workforce and will encourage others to do so. Praise their achievements and encourage others to pursue their goals.
Now, was the gentleman I mentioned at the beginning of this story wrong when he said “they get a paycheck, don’t they?” Technically, no, he was not wrong. We agree to come to work, perform a job and get paid for it. That’s true. As employees, we expect a safe and professional environment and to be treated fairly. As an employer, you expect people to show up on time, do their work competently, abide by the rules and not cause others any trouble. Seems simple enough. What’s the need for “extra’s”? It’s pretty basic. As human beings, we have a need for connection, acceptance and inclusion. We have a need to feel wanted and seen for who we are and what we do. Showing appreciation to someone is an act of decency and recognition that we all need help sometimes. Receiving appreciation sure does feel good and encourages the good work to continue. Giving and receiving appreciation is a critical part of reciprocity.
Not a believer? Sounds too mushy? Take professional sports for example. It’s a profession that elicits immediate positive (and negative) feedback. The cheering, clapping, hollering, fist-pumping excitement that is given when a team member makes a great play or perhaps an individual lands a phenomenal putt is a staple in sports. The teammates’ recognition of the accomplishments of others improves the team overall. That could certainly be true in many professions. But what about the fans? They applaud and cheer and are not on the team nor do they actually personally know the players. Either way, simply appreciating the accomplishments of others can certainly improve our own spirit and drive. Now most of us won’t be getting a trophy or academy award any time soon, but we really don’t need one to recognize each other.
Let’s not worry so much about the expensive bouquet or big gift card and focus more on the frequent and heartfelt acts of kindness and meaningful gestures to show appreciation for one another. Even the simple courtesies make a difference. Be sure to give the “wave” when someone lets your car go in front of them. Hold the door open for the next person. Say please and thank you. Tell someone they did a great job and you really appreciate the hard work. This isn’t just for employers to employees. We can do this peer-to-peer as well. We can see beyond “the paycheck” and can value human connection, which often costs nothing more than a few words and a smile.
Well-being Task Force Vice Chair, Mary Ashley, is a Deputy District Attorney with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Along with being a Board member of NDAA, Mary is also a member of the California District Attorneys Association and NDAA’s Vice Chair Women Prosecutors Section.