Labor shortage? Maybe it’s an appreciation shortage

Richard Hadden, CSP, Author

It’s hard to beat the ROI of a simple, sincere “Thank you,” however you might express it.

While almost every employer in the developed world is grappling with a labor shortage, one of the underlying causes is, in fact, an appreciation shortage.

As with any other relationship, the moment one party begins to feel taken for granted by the other, the grass starts to brown, sparking a hunt for something greener—double entendre intended.

This helps explains the massive reshuffling of the workforce in recent months. Most of the 4 million U.S. workers who quit their jobs on average each month in 2022 didn’t go sit at home, unemployed. They left one job for another, where perhaps they’d be better appreciated. And for many, that means more money.

Those of us who study employee retention have long said, “It’s not just the money.” But let’s be honest. Today, it’s probably more about the money than it has been in a long time. If that’s the problem in your case, and you have the means, you already know what you have to do. And, by the way, your employees are convinced that you do have the means.

Paying people less than they deserve is rarely a success strategy. But if you’re pretty well maxed out on monetary compensation, other ways to express appreciation can take you a long way.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Over the last two years, I’ve polled more than 2,400 audience members in presentations I’ve delivered across the country, asking “How would you most like to be thanked?” In my unscientific results, verbal thanks from a manager beat time off with pay, and a handwritten thank you beat a monetary award or gift card. We may have overcomplicated this.

If you are appreciative of those on your team, but wondering how to express it, here are some ideas my clients have shared with me that have worked for them.

  • First, scrap Employee of the Month. Or at least don’t expect it to carry the load for employee appreciation. We can all do better than this.
  • Commit yourself to establishing a culture of thanks. Simply saying the words, “Thank you,” along with what you appreciate and why, will do more than another bank-branded water bottle, or expensive crystal trinket picked out of a catalog.
  • Send handwritten thank you notes. Easy. Cheap. Huge value. People will save these forever and toss the corporate chotchkies during their next de-cluttering.
  • Remember, one size fits one. Get to know the people you’re thanking, and do something special, just for them.
    • They come into the bank most days with something from Starbucks? Thank them with a Starbucks gift card.
    • You know they’re a fan of your local sports team? Find a way to get them to a game.
    • If someone has a link to a particular nonprofit or arts organization, make a donation in their name.
  • Celebrate big deals. Failure to do so qualifies as taking for granted. Things like:
    • Wooing the business of a big local company away from a competitor
    • Successful completion of a big project
    • Overcoming a major challenge
  • Include families in recognition and appreciation when you can:
    • A woman had been working unusually long hours and traveling a lot. Her manager treated the family to dinner at their favorite dining spot. Mom came out the hero in that one.
    • A loan officer’s daughter won the state spelling bee. The bank president sent a congratulatory letter to the young woman, along with an Amazon gift card.
  • Bring in a food truck, and tell your employees to put their money away.

If you ever wonder how you can show your genuine appreciation to the people you work with, surely something on this list will provide some inspiration. Just remember:

  • While saying thanks is no substitute for monetary compensation, it is a valuable supplement.
  • Personalized thanks almost always beats generic.
  • Saying thanks doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it might cost nothing at all.

Hear more at TBA’s Community Banking Conference

Richard Hadden will speak at TBA’s Community Banking Conference, held Oct. 26 & 27 at The Westin in Nashville. Register now at

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