Recognizing staff at the end of the year

How to reward hard work and keep employees happy.
By Anslee Wolfe

The holiday season is an ideal time to recognize team members' contributions before the busy tax season gets underway.

Don't underestimate how much showing your appreciation means to staff, said Erin Daiber, CPA, an executive coach and leadership consultant and founder of the San Diego-based Well Balanced Accountants.

"Everyone likes to be recognized when they are doing a good job, especially if it's in an area that they have been focused on developing their skills," she said. "It lets them know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed, and it encourages them to keep going and to seek out other areas where they can improve."

It also helps retain top talent.

Recent research shows employee recognition is lagging, according to the 2017 Employee Engagement Report by TINYpulse, a company that helps managers track how content employees are through online surveys. It found lackluster recognition efforts left only one in four people feeling valued at work, a drop of 16 percent from the prior year.

Here are some tips on how to reward and recognize staff as the year comes to a close:

Go beyond cash and be creative. While extra money is always appreciated, Daiber suggested pairing it with something more thoughtful.

"People want to be recognized for who they are and the impact that they make on your organization," she said. "They want to feel known and understood."

Consider including a handwritten note with any gift or have a one-on-one conversation acknowledging the value the team member brings to the firm.

Recognition also doesn't have to be the usual year-end bonus or holiday event. It can be expressed in many different ways, said Leanne Wong, a leadership coach based in New York City.

Examples could be a nice dinner at the company's expense or extra paid time off. Larger gifts could include leadership retreats or professional coaching sessions, she said.

Throw a year-end bash. Start planning parties and celebratory dinners two to three months ahead of time, said Roy Saunderson, a recognition strategist and chief learning officer for Rideau Recognition Solutions, a Montreal-based company that provides employee recognition programs worldwide.

"Invite staff to give their input on the type of event they feel would be most meaningful to show appreciation to all," said Saunderson. "Don't guess."

He noted that some team members may not want to be singled out for recognition during an event. Consider gifts that can be given to everyone during the event, and follow up with a handwritten card or message to each team member.

Saunderson also suggested asking for feedback to improve future events.

Think about family-friendly options. Consider making staff events more of a family outing by including spouses and children, said Jason Ackerman, CPA, CGMA, with BNA, a CPA and advisory firm in Rock Hill, S.C.

Employees may not want to spend money for a babysitter to go to a work event.

"Think about making it a family environment, which is what we try to do," Ackerman said. "We always invite kids to our parties."

Make it personal. Not everyone accepts recognition in the same way, so Daiber suggested tailoring it to the individual.

"Some people will feel most appreciated with gifts or money," she said. "Others would rather have more time off, or even simple encouragement and recognition from their boss or someone they respect."

She stressed that recognition, like gift giving, is most effective when thought out and personalized. Knowing your team members helps you choose the appropriate recognition for them.

Practice year-round recognition. Acknowledging your employees' contributions on a regular basis is vital, Ackerman said. "You should always recognize your staff and treat them as a team, and if you're doing it just once a year, it doesn't help," he said. "It makes it worse."

Recognition efforts could include bonuses following busy seasons, gift cards given out when members go above and beyond, or buying specialized office equipment such as standing desks, a specific type of computer monitor, or stationery.

Consistent recognition, not just at the end of the year but throughout it, will help retain talented associates.

"Turnover is the worst thing for accounting firms," Ackerman said. "Talent's the hardest thing to find, so you have to try to prevent that at all costs."

However you express your recognition, saying thank you will show you're sincere in your appreciation, Saunderson said.

"Never neglect saying thank you, no matter what you give," he said.

Anslee Wolfe is a freelance writer based in Colorado. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director–content development, at

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