How to Fight Employee Turnover by Showing Appreciation

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

It’s great when the bottom line and golden rule line up. For example, keeping good employees happy is cost-effective, and churn is costly. In fact, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) estimates that on average, losing a salaried employee costs a company the equivalent of up to nine months of that worker’s salary. One do-unto-others tactic that is golden for your bottom line is fighting employee turnover by showing appreciation.

coworkers showing appreciation and smiling

Recognition Versus Appreciation

In an article titled “Top 10 Reasons Why Employees Quit Their Jobs,” the last thing The Balance Careers writer addresses is employee recognition. In fact, the article notes that employees did not rank recognition among the top 14 concerns cited in a SHRM survey done in 2017.


Being the last issue referenced in the Balance article definitely does not make the recognition issue the least important, even by SHRM’s lights. Consider this bullet point from the SHRM-Globoforce survey on “engaging employees through employee recognition and other workplace efforts,” done in 2017:


“Retention/turnover was the top workforce management challenge cited by 47% of HR professionals, followed by recruitment (36%). Most respondents agreed recognition can help create a positive workplace culture and employee experience, and more than one-half said their program positively affects retention (68%) and recruitment (56%).”


In terms of employment/employees, “recognition” and “appreciation” often are used synonymously, but there are important differences.


Recognition Is …

Harvard Business Review notes that “recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance.” It takes the form of bonuses, raises, promotions, or kudos. The article also notes that recognition is conditional:


  • It is performance-based.
  • It is recognition of deeds.
  • It is scarce because it’s limited by resources.
  • It typically comes from the top down.


The article also says recognition can backfire. It cites a London School of Economics finding that “these incentives may reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so.”


Appreciation Is …

Per the same Review article, appreciation is about a person’s inherent value, “their worth as a colleague and a human being.”


Appreciation isn’t expressed through pay increases or bonuses, though fair compensation is a policy that can positively affect turnover. Appreciation can be expressed effectively, per the article, by:


  • Listening. It doesn’t get much simpler than this or more effective.
  • Noticing. This is about positive recognition of deeds and traits.
  • Checking in. This is as simple as “Hey! How are you doing?”


The author of the Review article is Mike Robbins, an author, speaker, and consultant. Here’s his closing thought: “Recognition is appropriate and necessary when it’s earned and deserved. Appreciation, however, is important all the time.”

manager showing appreciation to employee

Tools and Strategies for Keeping Employees

There are distinct differences between employee appreciation and recognition, but there is a lot of shared space, too. These ideas, strategies, and tools for motivating and keeping employees live in that shared space:



The software company eFront Financial Solutions touts:


  • Employee appreciation days and events.
  • Bonuses and treats. The cash is a sweetener, and goodies such as T-shirts and grub bring smiles, too.
  • Employee recognition wall. Post kudos from management, and leave space for co-workers to weigh in.


Be sure, eFront says, to make recognition programs all-inclusive, and reward positive deeds and behavior in a timely fashion.



SHRM says, “Employee recognition programs were rated higher by HR when they were aligned with organizational values and talent strategy. Monetary investment is also important, but it had a more positive impact on employee recognition program ratings when recognition was core to the organization’s talent strategy.”


HR Technologist praises four companies “that have nailed their employee recognition strategy.”



The essence of the e-commerce chain’s strategy is a peer-to-peer approach wherein recognition comes from co-workers and team members. The aim is to boost engagement and build a positive culture of teamwork. Elements include Zappos Dollars earned for training participation; personalized and location-centric rewards; peer-to-peer bonuses; and HERO awards, including a HERO Cape.


GE Healthcare

The provider of medical goods and technologies embraced continual communication in its recognition strategy, exemplified by its Employee Forum and weekly meetings, and made employee recognition a formalized part of monthly team briefs and six-word employee success stories presented as posters.



The German utility company created a Buzz recognition program that encourages personalized recognition via digital and physical thank-you notes. The flow of the plaudits is vertical and horizontal, designed to “cut across organizational hierarchies.” Results include:


  • An increase in the staff motivation score from 61 percent to 69 percent
  • Employees “feeling valued” rising from 39 percent to 52 percent
  • Employees’ clarity on E.On’s business vision going from 57 percent to 75 percent



Elements of the digital giant’s recognition/appreciation program have included a week off during the winter holiday season and three days for Thanksgiving. The perks are personalized, too, adapted regionally, culturally, and according to duties:


  • Employees in retail or other holiday-sensitive positions are given equal time off at other times.
  • Cultural differences are recognized by giving equal time off to employees who celebrate in other ways at different times.



It’s time to think beyond manager-driven and peer-to-peer recognition/appreciation. Consider:


  • Stay interviews and exit interviews can shape strategies based on why employees are still with you and why they are leaving.
  • Digital tools include employee recognition software, from Blueboard and Preciate to Motivosity. (See system reviews on the Capterra website.)
  • Personal touches that exceed expectations, such as a handwritten thank-you note.


Here Are Some Ways to Make Every Day an Employee Appreciation Day

Officially, Employee Appreciation Day is the first Friday in March, but don’t make your only nod to an employee’s value a “world’s greatest employee” coffee mug given on March 6 (that’s when it fell in 2020 – the day, not the mug).


Crunch these numbers from SHRM: About 41 million people quit their jobs in 2018, representing an 8 percent year-to-year increase. The Work Institute, a Tennessee-based company, projects the number will be 47 million in 2020.


The cost? estimates the average cost of turnover per employee is $15,000.

Here are a dozen ideas from random sources for showing employees they’re appreciated:


From The Balance Careers

  • Learn their interests.
  • Offer flexible schedules.
  • Create a fun tradition.


From TINYpulse

  • Use your company’s social media sites to recognize employees.
  • Let employees use a floating holiday for their birthday.
  • Have an in-office trophy that’s awarded for, say, embodying organizational values.


From SnackNation

  • Test recognition ideas by surveying your employees.
  • Recognize your team members by recognizing their passions.
  • Commission custom oil paintings of employees.


From Business News Daily

  • Initiate a gamification system.
  • Offer fitness opportunities.
  • Feed them.


At day’s end, treating employees well is good business – and there’s that golden rule thing. It’s also a facet of good leadership.


USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education can give you an edge if your goal is to improve your leadership skills. CTPE’s new Corporate Leadership Program is tailored to the needs of aspiring, first-time, and director-level managers.


Learn More