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Showing Appreciation | Pizza Today

December 1, 2021 |

Showing Appreciation

By Daniel P. Smith

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How – and why – pizzerias might use the close of the year to recognize employees 

Back in 2013, Justin Klavon wanted to do something unique to acknowledge the employees at his namesake pizzeria in Jackson, Michigan. 

While long accustomed to handing staff sweatshirts or gift cards as a year-end thank you, Klavon wanted to “take it up a notch” and really energize his employees. The veteran restaurateur concocted the idea of an Employee Appreciation Day in which staff would receive all profits from one December Tuesday. 

“You realize pretty quickly in this business that you can’t do it alone, and I wanted to find a special way to give back to my staff,” says Klavon, a seasoned restaurateur who opened his first Klavon’s Pizzeria & Pub in 2007. 

As staff marketed the day in their own corners, Klavon’s promoted the day on its marketing channels and customers increasingly embraced the idea, the annual Employee Appreciation Day grew to be one of Klavon’s busiest days of the year with the company eventually distributing upwards of $30,000 amongst its employees. 

“It’s really something that has built camaraderie and recognizes the people who have built Klavon’s into what it is,” Klavon says of his pizzeria’s Employee Appreciation Day. 

The case for appreciation

While many human resources (HR) pros encourage businesses to show employees consistent and regular appreciation throughout the year, the calendar’s impending close and the spirited energy the holiday season generates provides pizzerias a natural opportunity to celebrate their employees. In 2021, this show of gratitude might be even more important given all that employees have endured of late – from picking up added hours or responsibilities to counter staffing shortages to dealing with rising incivility among customers to adapting to shifting policies, new technology and altered work environments in the era of COVID-19.

“There’s a lot to say thank you for this year … and the close of the year, in particular, offers additional reasons to say thank you,” says Katie Brennan, a human resources knowledge advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management.

Showing employees appreciation is not only a noble, fair-minded thing to do, but there’s a business case for it as well. Matthew Samel, a professor in the College of Hospitality Management at Johnson & Wales University who specializes in HR matters, says employee recognition presents numerous bottom-line driving benefits. It cultivates employee morale and confidence, propels the pursuit of business goals, demonstrates the company’s values and boosts staff retention rates while helping the restaurant become an employer of choice in a field clamoring for talent.

“It’s money well spent,” Samel says.

In fact, when employee recognition software company O.C. Tanner asked individuals what the most important thing their employer could do to spur great work, “recognize me” earned the top spot above all other incentives, including higher pay and more autonomy. 

Appreciation do’s and don’ts

Year-end appreciation can come in many forms and can certainly be modified to fit different budgets and workplace environments. There are, however, some general ideas pizzerias can employ to craft a year-end employee appreciation initiative that is relevant and worthwhile.

Do recognize what employees want

Money or gift cards are a popular choice and something employees generally value, largely because they can put the money or gift card – provided it’s to a business they actually frequent – to immediate use. On the downside, a monetary gift carries tax implications as the IRS views cash and gift cards, even those distributed as an end-of-year perk, as additional compensation and, thus, taxable income.

“Some employers will often soften this blow by ‘grossing up’ the value of the gift [to absorb the tax burden],” Brennan says.

As for what employees generally do not want: skip the generic items like water bottles or mugs emblazoned with the pizzeria’s logo as well as the trophies or certificates that are trite and dull.

Don’t assume money is the best option

Yes, cash and gift cards are desired rewards, but even the practical can feel impersonal. Savvy business owners might look for more creative, distinctive ways to show appreciation for their team members.

“This shouldn’t be another training program. Innovation and creativity always sell,” Samel reminds.

Pizzeria owners, for instance, might create a dinner event or outing for their staff members and invite them to bring a guest to heighten meaning and foster community. Such experiential events might include a group bowling trip, indoor skydiving or a boat cruise. Brennan has even seen some business owners facilitate charitable events or gift giving, which taps into employees’ rising interest in working for a company that demonstrates philanthropic values.

“The bottom line is that it should be meaningful to the employee, not the employer,” Samel says, suggesting that pizzerias might even create an internal survey to discover what gifts staff would most like to receive. 

Do assign a point person

Samel recommends pizzeria owners appoint an internal person to take ownership of year-end appreciation and any other employee recognition programs. Having a specific individual charged to guide this effort and accountable to see it through helps ensure that employee appreciation receives the requisite attention and doesn’t fade into the background.

“Make it part of this individual’s job description and their compensation package,” Samel says. 

Don’t exclude

Some employees might have 10 years’ tenure; others might have just started last month. When doing year-end
appreciation, though, everybody should get something, Samel says, even if ownership might segment employees and distribute applicable rewards accordingly. Klavon, for instance, created a tiered program in which senior employees at Klavon’s received a bit more of the Employee Appreciation Day pot than the newest restaurant staff.

Do make it a big deal 

Samel encourages operators to make a point of recognizing employees both internally and externally. Pair the year-end gift with a handwritten note. Spotlight your employees’ good deeds on social media channels. Create a bulletin board where employees can give a shout-out to their co-workers. In fact, pizzerias can leverage the year’s close to stir new employee recognition practices management can integrate throughout the year to drive motivation, retention and performance. 

Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.


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