Welcome to ‘Take 5 with Farmer,’ where I share 5 tips, tricks, or ideas on a given subject to hopefully encourage, inspire or assist you. Have a question?  Email Jonathan!

We have all heard the axiom, “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”

Science backs this up with studies showing when employees are recognized, they are roughly 15% more productive and trust leadership 90% more. Almost 70% of employees who are recognized are very unlikely to look for a new job.

Use these 5 tips to recognize staff and build loyalty at your utility.

1. Offer a Warm Welcome

New employees are a great chance to start fresh. Onboarding is when employees are at a particularly high point in their excitement about the utility, and we have a great opportunity to solidify their support of the utility’s mission, vision, and values. It would make a world of difference to send them a welcome gift pack before they start. Include utility swag, a notebook, and a welcome note from the team.

When a new employee joins the utility, there is a LOT of paperwork. I found it helpful to slip in a short questionnaire about favorite foods, hobbies, colors, cakes/pies, breakfast foods, and more during the onboarding process. This proves invaluable as you look to make their first day, year, or even decade a memorable one. I received a mouse pad with my name on it once. It was undoubtedly useful, but a mouse pad in my favorite color or with an image reflecting my interests could have made the gift more meaningful.

2. Spotlight Staff Voices, Faces

Every day is a good day to celebrate your employees. You do not always have to have a reason to put the spotlight on your employees. One thing I oversaw when I worked at Consumers Power, Oregon, was on-hold messages. To get other staff involved, I started asking employees to read messages I wrote. At the outset the messages were related to their area of expertise. To make it even more fun, and to get some folks involved who were a bit apprehensive, I told each employee if they read for me, they got to nominate the next person to be selected.

On-hold messages are the tip of the iceberg. We often produce ads, brochures, blog posts, and website banners that can easily feature employees. People make posts and pictures more interesting and engaging. Many utility employees would love to be featured in this way, even if they will not admit it to you.

3. Give Meaningful Experiences

Gifts are not always tangible. I think most people have at least heard of the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. I typically include it with a wedding gift to new couples, and it is a short, simple read that I highly recommend. Gary also has a book called “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.”

The general premise of his writings is that people express and receive love/appreciation in different ways.

If you try to express appreciation in ways that are not meaningful to your employees or co-workers, they may not end up feeling valued no matter how much time and effort you invest. 

To make sure you are speaking the right appreciation language, do not limit yourself to tangible gifts. One addition I recommend are personal experiences. There are all kinds of experiences you can offer, based on what an employee enjoys. Consider cooking classes with a professional chef, coffee master tasting classes, guided meditation with sleepy sheep, or — if you want to get cheesy — virtual cheeseboard making. There are hundreds of options that can be had for as little as $15 and can be given to individuals or enjoyed as a team building exercise.

4. Tap Technology

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. 😊

Whether it is for a retirement or a significant achievement/milestone, there are plenty of options to maintain the quality of the recognition without having to do all the leg work yourself.

Homer Electric Association, Alaska, had a longtime employee retiring and wanted to put together something special in lieu of a gathering. Multiple options were suggested during a cooperative communicator Listserv discussion, but my favorite was from Scott Peterson, senior vice president of communications at NRECA: VidHug.

The video platform allows you to easily, remotely, and independently create a collaborative surprise video gift with not just coworkers but friends and family as well. Create an event-specific link, and then people click on it to add their video. Each video clip is uploaded and stitched together via VidHug’s editing platform.

5. Escape Event Rooms

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box … and in this case the box is the room we normally gather in to say goodbye to those retiring. It is no secret that utility employees tend to stay with an employer for years and even decades. When I first joined the industry, I replaced someone who had worked there for 30+ years (longer than I had been alive). These folks deserve a memorable sendoff, but the recent health crisis created some substantial roadblocks to holding our normal festivities.

story connect logoIn StoryConnect: The Podcast episode 187, I talk about my first foray into an outside-the-box retirement party at Lane Electric Cooperative, Oregon. We hosted three different themed drive-thru retirement events. They were all catered with individual to-go boxes and drinks (because food makes the world go round).

One party featured a margarita/daiquiri machine (nonalcoholic, of course). Another featured ‘secret family recipes’ that we got by calling family members. Goodbye videos were shared at the opening ceremonies, and a Zoom call also allowed those not present to share an embarrassing story or two. In the end, everyone left feeling heard, seen and — most importantly — appreciated.

What success have you had celebrating staff?

Have a question for Jonathan? Email Jonathan