“Success can beget success, and celebrating at work helps to build momentum, improve morale, and make the hard times feel all the more worth it.”
— Andy Parker, Head of Marketing at Leapsome
- Why celebrating success is essential in 2019
- What professional celebration looks like
- How to know when to celebrate
- Celebrating in the right way for every occasion
- Examples of how to celebrate and show gratitude
- Ideas for tokens of gratitude
- What to avoid
- Over to you & further resources
Why should we celebrate success at work?
Traditionally, professionals have had a hard time celebrating success. While many of us align success with a hard-working career, we’re more likely to associate celebration with our personal lives or leisure time. And even if we’re able to congratulate each other on promotions and big sales, we’re less good at celebrating the smaller week-to-week wins that enable steady overall growth.
Some bosses worry that if they celebrate small wins it will invite complacency or distract people from upcoming goals. Others simply aren’t used to receiving praise themselves, and don’t associate celebration with ongoing success. VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk admits that it simply doesn’t feel important or productive to him – although it might to his employees.
“If you’re all about the hard parts of business then you’re probably not too concerned about what happens when you get to the top of the mountain. You just get to the next battle so you can win it. But this can be dangerous.”
— Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia
However, 79% of US employees who leave their job do so because of feeling under-appreciated. That’s not surprising when you consider that 65% of employees claim they’ve received no recognition within the last year. 35% explicitly note that this under-appreciation negatively impacts their productivity; and a whopping 78% say they would work harder if only they were given more recognition.
The benefits continue beyond retention. According to organizational anthropologist and CEO Judith Glaser, celebrating success stimulates feelings of “inclusion, innovation, appreciation, and collaboration” in the brain, which pave the way for creative thinking, calmer work environments, increased focus and resilience to stress – even during periods of high pressure.
Let’s not forget that human beings are inherently social: it’s no accident that we call our firms organizations and companies, where progress relies on the cooperation of many people. Celebration is a cornerstone of social bonding: it’s one way we identify belonging to a group or culture. If you like the sound of loyal employees and strong work culture, it’s time to up your celebration game.
“As you celebrate your wins, others look for ways to participate in what you have successfully built.”
— Bill Carmody, Trepoint Founder and CEO
According to Gallup, both meaningful public and private recognition are bigger motivational perks than being given a promotion, bonus or raise. However, you can’t shortcut your way to giving recognition – and having an official recognition program does not automatically guarantee your employees will feel authentically recognised.
Luckily there are many different ways to celebrate your employees in the workplace. Of course you can celebrate a job well done; but you can also celebrate a situation well handled, not just concrete tasks. You could give someone recognition for attempting something courageously, even if it didn’t lead to tangible outcomes – at Google’s company X, employees famously get praise whenever they “break” a project (i.e. make it fail), because it stimulates their culture of innovation and bold experimentation. And while you might not adopt this specific approach to failure, it still shows off the way X uses celebration to reiterate their company values.
If your company wants to redefine what success looks like, use celebration to show that
“The pursuit of mastery is an ever-onward Almost”
– Sarah Lewis, MOMA Curator and TED Speaker
Success is a process, not an end game
Success is not about getting from A to B. It’s about mastering a way of working that fosters creativity, fulfilment, and personal investment, enabling you to not only make progress continuously, but want to make progress continuously. Think of it as a well-designed wheel, rather than a simple straight line.
If this is the case and there is no mountain top or finish line, it’s up to leaders to find good moments to celebrate with employees “on the go,” rather than waiting to get to some final destination.
How do I know when something is cause for celebration?
Because celebration should feel special, it’s important to choose the right moments to celebrate. Avoid going into overdrive and celebrating every day, or prescribing praise activities to people. Recognition should be natural and authentic, and come from a genuine place of appreciation.
Here are some scenarios in which you might want to celebrate an employee.
When it’s a first win
This is particularly relevant for new hires, but also for anyone testing new responsibilities or challenges. Praising someone when they get it right for the first time (then easing off the praise as it becomes second nature) is a great way to give someone confidence.
When it’s made a difference to someone else
Sometimes small things that count for a lot. Acknowledging those moments when employees support one another – taking on someone’s workload so they can go on holiday, for instance – reminds people that their actions make a difference.
When their actions align with company values
As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to celebrate clear demonstrations of your company values. Jot down some guidelines to clarify exactly what does and doesn’t get celebrated so that people know what to expect.
When their work is truly exceptional
When it comes to more senior employees, you might want to save your praise for occasions of superb performance: too much “confidence boosting” recognition can seem patronizing or unnecessary to experts, while a novice might find continuous praise highly encouraging. That doesn’t mean you should never praise more experienced employees: just be mindful of getting the balance right!
When their work has been consistently good
Every company is upheld by ongoing, repetitive, or unglamorous tasks running in the background. Once in a while, take the time to notice people whose work is always well done, but rarely celebrated. Show them their reliability and perseverance isn’t taken for granted.
“When good performance comes with appropriate, honest, and well-deserved praise, employees feel they are trusted and supported by their boss.”
– Judith E. Glaser, CEO & Organizational Anthropologist
How to celebrate employees in the right way
So now you’ve decided to celebrate someone or something, consider how you want to express your gratitude. What kind of praise would that particular person benefit from? It’s no good thanking someone in a way that leaves them feeling uncomfortable; or which overlooks the work of their collaborators!
Based on their seniority level you might celebrate their wins more frequently (new hires) or less frequently (experts). Brainstorm ways to celebrate that suit different circumstances and people: for example, thinking about both private and public gestures of gratitude. Make sure the praise stays proportional: you don’t need to send your newest team member a bouquet of flowers and chocolates just because they got to the end of the week! Remember, the praise is for them and their morale – even if you prefer to celebrate your own wins differently.
Finally, think about what you want to say beforehand. Remember the AIR acronym, which stands for:
Start by outlining the person (or team’s!) ACTION: it could be something finite and specific, like getting a report done; or it could be an ongoing behaviour that makes a difference in the long run. Give details to really show their work has been noticed!
Next, describe the IMPACT of the action. This makes the person feel empowered (because it means they had a real effect on the company) and deserving (because it contextualizes the need for celebration).
Finally, end on a REWARD note. Even a thank you and a card signed by everyone on the team can be a reward, but for bigger occasions, you could give other gestures of thanks, such as flexibility on an upcoming project or an extra day of holiday.
Read on to see the examples of praise we’ve compiled below!
Did you know? Memorable recognition tends to come from managers (28%), while praise from an executive came in second at 24% – with peers only being memorable 7% of the time (Gallup)
Things to say to celebrate different people’s wins
If they’re an introvert
Type: a hand-written note or card
Words: “I’m writing to recognize the quality of the report you just handed in. It was clear, thorough and well-presented, and you should be really proud of it! Thank you for all your hard work! In our next 1-on-1 let’s decide on something new and interesting for you to work on.”
If they’re a senior manager
Type: a conversation that doesn’t eat into their time
Words: (If you’re a superior) “Your quality of work is always so high, I don’t always feel the need to congratulate you on your wins because they come so consistently. However, on this occasion I wanted to celebrate the way you executed our company event: it was a truly inspiring feat which resulted in many more qualified leads than we anticipated!”
(If you’re a direct report) “I was really inspired by the company event you organized! Not only did I learn a lot from the talks, but I feel like I’ve also seen how great events can be when they’re done at the highest level!”
If they’ve been doing the same task for some time
Type: a department-wide email
Words: “I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the work that you’ve done over (x) period of time. I know it hasn’t been the most stimulating aspect of your role, which makes your ongoing hard work and attention to detail even more impressive. But it makes such a difference that we can always depend on this task to be done on time.”
If they’re a particularly social person
Type: announcement in the break room or group meeting
Words: “Hi everyone, let’s all use this time to acknowledge (X)’s hard work this month! As well as doing the sales presentation she had two new hires to train, three out-of-town conferences and non-stop sales calls with big clients. Well done for keeping up the good energy even when things didn’t go to plan – let’s all go out to her favorite restaurant for a well-earned meal!
If they’ve just joined the company
Type: private conversation scheduled specifically to give thanks
Words: “I just wanted to meet to talk about the research you’ve been doing lately. I’m really pleased to see you taking ownership of these new responsibilities. It’s encouraging to see you getting better so quickly at [x] and I was particularly impressed by [y]. I was wondering if there’s a particular side of the project you’d like to specialize in next?”
If they’re a team
Type: company-wide email or morning announcement
Words: “Congratulations and thank you to our product team for the complete makeover of our UI – our customer success team has reported lots of great feedback since the project, and it’s exciting to see what you’ll do next. To celebrate we’ve decided to finish the day early and go to an outdoor event for the rest of the day!”
“Just telling someone ‘thank you' – that’s not actually enough. It’s 'thank you,' AND, 'this thing you did: this is how it changed the team and without you and your presence on this team, we couldn’t have done it.'”
– Dr. Cindy Pace, TED & Brightline
How other companies celebrate their employees
When it comes to celebrating bigger wins, it might be an idea to consolidate your praise with a token of gratitude: that doesn’t necessarily mean giving someone a financial bonus!
Beyond traditional financial incentives, other popular ways to thank individual employees include, from small to large:
- A hand-written note or card
- A meeting arranged solely to express gratitude
- A company-wide email congratulating the person
- A small gift, such as chocolates or baked treats
- A shout out on social media
- An extra day of paid holiday
- A ticket to a seminar, event or workshop of their choice
- An external skill certification
- A small, immediate – not end of year – bonus
- The chance to represent the company in some way
- A new responsibility
- Opportunity to work on a special project
And here are some ways companies choose to celebrate as a community, getting appreciation circulating around the office and encouraging everyone – not just executives – to celebrate wins:
- Giving back to a local community (team event)
- Hold recognition workshops to give employees a chance to share their work
- Display recognition and praise around the office (Leapsome’s Praise Wall is a great way of doing this)
- Let people go home early
- Have an office party
- Go on a retreat (if everyone on your team can make it)
“We find it important to celebrate immediately because that special moment doesn’t last. It’s still exciting to see the company be successful, but a few days later it seems to lose some of its shiny excitement.”
– Katherine Oyer, Director of PR at Aisle Planner
How not to celebrate
- Only ever giving the spotlight to one individual or team
- Splashing out on a flamboyant event when the company has been financially pressured
- Sharing champagne in the office to celebrate the work of someone who doesn’t drink
- Congratulating a team lead without acknowledging the work of their team
- Organising a Saturday outing to thank a colleague with caregiving commitments
- Never expressing specific thanks to individuals: instead only celebrating big team wins
- Making a grandiose show of gratitude once a year, but otherwise showing disinterest
Celebrate your success to create a culture based on motivation and camaraderie
Celebrating your successes – and encouraging managers and employees to celebrate each other’s – is a key part of creating a motivating work environment. A strong culture of praise increases engagement, productivity, team feeling and resilience to challenges that arise in every organisation. Of course, these factors positively impact retention and employee ambassadorship, because employees are more likely to spread the word with pride when their company celebrates their work.
Over to you
We’re personally big fans of celebration, and we like to keep up the habit by writing to each other with Leapsome’s Instant Praise feature. Now improved by a newly available Praise Wall, the Praise feature helps keep the positivity circulating in our office, meaning that everyone – from CEO to intern – gets the regular recognition they deserve.
So how do you feel about celebrating at work? Is it something you yourself desire, or is it your employees and managers expressing a need for celebration so they can continue to go for gold? If there’s something we missed in this blog post, let us know by tweeting us at @Leapsome with the hashtag #CelebratingWins – tell us about your own experience of celebrating at work, whether positive or negative.
- Instant Feedback & Praise (Feedback Tool)
- “The Ultimate Guide to Building Feedback Into Your Company Culture” (eBook)
- “Manager and Employee Feedback Examples: How To Give Feedback at Work” (blog post)
- “In Praise of Praising Your Employees” (Gallup study)