Employee appreciation is key to combat today’s ‘anti-work’ movement, local HR experts say

Employee Appreciation Day, observed on the first Friday of March, should be a “friendly reminder” to employers that thanking their teams goes a long way, especially as anti-work ideologies are on the rise, Ottawa’s human resources experts say.

As employees’ roles shifted during the pandemic, so did their needs and expectations, making it more important than ever for leaders to appreciate their teams, says Heidi Hauver, chief people officer at Ottawa’s TrackTik.

“It’s no longer just a ‘nice to have’… People have an expectation, from a growth perspective, to be receiving appreciation and feedback. It’s just been promoted and encouraged and there’s an emphasis on the importance of that,” said Hauver. “It’s part of our role as leaders. It’s about being intentional about reaching out to acknowledge their efforts and to thank them.

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“When you know your team values your contribution, everybody wins.”

This level of engagement and appreciation for employees shouldn’t be reserved for one day a year, Hauver says. Appreciation must be authentic, meaningful and intentional, not just an annual task, she adds.

“Today is a good reminder for what you’re going to do for the rest of 2023,” Hauver said. “Be persistent about making time … it can’t be one-and-done. That’s what makes it meaningful, that’s how they feel valued.”

The “anti-work” movement is gaining momentum online among people who feel unfulfilled, unappreciated and unseen in the traditional workplace and who view voluntary, meaningful work alternatives as the only solution. The community hub on Reddit at r/antiwork has more than 2.2 million members, where followers share workplace horror stories and strive for the abolishment of modern work structures.

Priya Bhaloo, chief operating officer at TAG HR, said, while the movement isn’t new, the concerns have been amplified by the pandemic.

“The sentiments (behind the anti-work movement) have always been there, but are now accentuated by remote and hybrid work,” she told OBJ. “If you can’t see the impact of your work, it’s a lot harder to justify the sacrifices. 

“People don’t want to feel like disposable commodities; it all comes back to engagement and motivation.” 

A Robert Half poll conducted last month of nearly 540 LinkedIn users showed that 48 per cent of respondents felt undervalued at work. Only 27 per cent said they felt “recognized” and 25 per cent felt “a bit” appreciated, but “not enough.”

Traditional or familiar ways of appreciating employees don’t cut it anymore, says Bhaloo, with an increase in employee frustration with “one size fits all” appreciation models that don’t speak to individual contributions or personal motivations.

“Employers should approach this changing landscape as an opportunity to reframe how teams are appreciated, re-centring the individual and making active efforts to tailor recognition and rewards,” Bhaloo said.

Employee appreciation has to go beyond “checklist items” like a pizza lunch or management thank you, she adds. 

“Instead, you can show appreciation consistently by providing positive feedback as well as by building personal incentive programs that tie to business goals and provide rewards according to each team member’s personal goals,” she said, citing RRSP contributions, cash bonuses, additional paid time off or learning investments as examples.

Hauver stresses the value of volunteering and expanding personal fulfilment beyond the workplace. Through Volunteer Ottawa’s resources and connections, Hauver says she found volunteer opportunities outside of work that are fulfilling. 

Leaders must be deliberate in showing appreciation for employees, on Employee Appreciation Day or any other day, Hauver says. “If you’re investing in them, they’ll invest in you.”

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