Can’t we turn that employee frown upside down? The answer may be no if you’re in the 43 percent of workers who cite a lack of recognition as one of their primary sources of unhappiness in the workplace.

We’ve recently written about how managers can take a more proactive role in mentoring their employees to enhance employee engagement and retention. But at the end day, most managers supervise around 10 employees, and as any parent with multiple children—or even any parent with a few unruly pets—can tell you, things get tricky when they start outnumbering you. There’s simply not enough time in the day for you to complete all your work while constantly monitoring your staff to note behaviors worth recognizing. That kind of surveillance borders on micromanagement, a practice that diminishes employees’ sense of autonomy and happiness at work, and nobody’s got time for that. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why a recent study by Discovery Surveys found less than half of employees receive frequent feedback from their bosses.

The value of recognition, though, remains crucial to growing and retaining employees.

There must be another way to provide your staff with the vital constructive criticism and praise they need to thrive on the job.

Luckily, you aren’t alone in this: while your employees undoubtedly have you for guidance, they also have each other.

A study by the folks at WorldatWork found that peer-to-peer recognition is the third most popular way people show appreciation at work. Roughly 42 percent of employers surveyed said that they make it easier for their employees to share a few virtual pats on the back. That’s promising, given the financial and cultural benefits recognition brings to the workplace. But the flipside ain’t so pretty:

The majority of businesses are missing out on the positive impact peer-to-peer recognition has on retention and overall performance compared to manager-only recognition. Boosts in company morale? Improved inter-office relationships? And that key satisfaction 43 percent of workers are deprived of because no one demonstrably appreciates their job well done? These all fall by the wayside when your company’s peer recognition system isn’t itself worthy of recognition.

But wait—that’s not all you’re missing out on—when your workers are recognizing good behaviors in others, they’re learning to model those actions themselves. At the same time, they’re developing an active stake in your company’s culture by remembering and rewarding those who are exemplars of your all-important core company values.

If you don’t already have a peer-to-peer system in place, there’s no reason to fret, though, because a good peer-to-peer recognition system is easy to set up and can be as low-tech as a public forum featuring post-its of praise for coworkers. That said, Millennials are increasingly favoring social-network-style recognition systems that allow peers to provide real-time responses to their work.

To think about it practically, your workers are surrounded by each other for 40+ hours a week—that’s sometimes more time than they see their family members!—and by providing them with a reason to talk to one another in the guise of a peer-to-peer recognition system, friendships and mutually beneficial professional relationships will form. And according to E Group, those employees with friends at work love their companies more and rate themselves as more engaged at work. When you encourage peer recognition, you really just can’t lose.

Check out the Recognition and Reward Buyer’s Guide for more details on Recognition 101 and the ROI behind having an employee recognition program in place.


After his Doogie days, actor Neil Patrick Harris brought to life How I Met Your Mother’s womanizing Barney Stinson. And if there’s one thing Barney Stinson proved over nine seasons other than his love of women, it’s that he recognizes the power of a well-timed high-five. This momentary mano-a-mano recognizes in one swift movement pleasure with a job well done.

It’s these types of personal connections, research shows, that make all the difference for your employees. Remember it’s not the reward value that matters but the act of recognition itself that engages employees in the workplace and exponentially improves retention.

To jumpstart your journey to World’s Greatest Boss mug-level management status, Kazoo tackled two hands’ worth of high-five-quality employee recognition gifts. And you know what that adds up to? A high-fifty.

1. The high-five that belongs outside the box: Reward your top performers with innovation. Within given parameters, let them decide where their next journey lies. Whether it’s a fresh white paper or developing a new product feature, their self-crafted assignments increase their sense of autonomy, which researchers at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business have linked to greater employee happiness and productivity.

2. The high-five that’s from your hand to theirs: It may seem outdated, but writing a thoughtful hand-written thank you card to your employees recognizing good work may be one of the most powerful means of recognition out there. A letter written by hand is much more personal than email and shows you took the time to sit down and think about their contributions to the team. Mail it to them at home for an added turn-of-the-century touch that reminds them you know they have a life outside of work.

3. The high-five that doesn’t leave them hanging: When you hear positive comments about people on your team, don’t hide them under a bushel. Convey these precious motivating mood enhancers as soon as possible and then watch your employees shine.

4. The high-five that ain’t shy: Whether it’s a banner of praise with your employee’s name on it or a company-wide memo of praise, everyone appreciates a little widespread nod of the head from the boss that shows she’s proud enough to shout your good graces from the rooftop—or at least the second floor conference room.

5. The high-five with its eyes on the prize: Reward stellar employees with a subscription to a magazine or journal relevant to your work, showing that you care about them and their continued improvement in your field. As a bonus, invite them to share with you and your team any particularly meaningful or significant articles they encounter.

6. The high-five sponsored by the breakfast (or lunch or dinner) club: Their hard work has earned them an off-site meal—on you! The catch? They need to invite a lunch buddy from another department they don’t know well. Sounds like the basis for a latter day John Hughes movie! B-U-E-L-L-E-R!

7. The high-five of celebrate good (work) times, come on!: Pizza, ice cream, cappuccino, Kinder Egg—the treat itself doesn’t matter. What does is you putting in the effort to recognize your all-stars. Give them the chance to pick their poison at the party you throw in appreciation of their A-plus work.

8. The high-five of smell-less team spirit: They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but why not give your star employees both? Pass around a framed staff or team picture and have coworkers write messages of appreciation to their honored peer, allowing an avenue for your entire team to mull over the positive traits they value in your group.

9. The high-five of an HR-approved hug—or kiss: No good act is too small. Start a policy of recognizing those great behaviors with a Hershey’s Kiss or Hug alongside a brief note of sweet celebration. Noticing those fleeting moments of exemplary everyday behavior shows your employees that you care—that you’re paying attention.

10. The high-five from up high: You might come to work in a monkey suit already, but why not try a real one on for size? Recognize a quarter of great team productivity with a performance worthy of going viral on YouTube. Schedule a company-wide workday break and then have management don wacky costumes and dance to the latest top 40 hit in appreciation of three months well done. Perennial hits include “We Are the Champions” and “U Can’t Touch This.”

Like what you see? Give us an internet high-five with your mouse to see our guide of 40 Out-of-the-Box Employee Reward Ideas.

And remember, Kazoo allows you to create a custom catalog of these and hundreds of other gifts to recognize your employees and the wonderful work they do. Contact us today for a free demo of how the gifts you give your employees may be the best gift you’ve ever gotten for your company and yourself.

It’s no surprise that onboarding is an important topic for many Kazoo customers. A great onboarding experience sets the stage for a great employee experience. Having a process for welcoming new employees ensures a unified culture and speedy employee ramp-up.

Beyond that, including a personal letter as part of the onboarding process creates a strong entry point into a positive employee experience. It sets up a new employee to build connections with their team, company, and core values from day one. And, more importantly, it is the starting line for their relationship with their manager. According to Gallup, managers account for 70% of the variation in employee engagement. A manager’s role in welcoming new employees is critical.

Elements of a Successful Letter for Welcoming New Employees

So what should go into this personal letter? A few elements:

  • Show appreciation that they’re joining.
  • Offer connections with their manager and team.
  • Communicate the company’s core values.
  • Set expectations for success.
  • Define first steps.

With these five elements, new employees arrive on their first day with an action plan for getting up to speed and will start off with a great employee experience.

Example of a Great Welcome Letter

What should a great welcome letter look like? Here’s an example:

Dear [Employee Name],

Welcome to Kazoo. I can tell that you’re going to be a great addition to our team. We’re all looking forward to having your energy and expertise on our projects.

There’s a lot to learn as you get started in these first weeks. The volume of training and new processes we’re throwing at you may feel overwhelming. So, please take a minute right now and review our company core values: open book, create happiness, adapt or die, eyes on the prize, and leave it better. You can find descriptions of these in your onboarding packet. By living these values every day, you will be successful in this company and in your career. They should guide everything that you do here.

I’m committed to your professional growth, and want that to be part of our ongoing conversations. We also have a company goal of providing connection, appreciation, meaning, and impact as part of your daily employee experience. If you feel like any of these aren’t happening (or if you just want to celebrate because they are!) my door is always open.

The rest of your onboarding plan is attached. It includes some basic office policies and identifies teammates who will get you up to speed. We’ll review it in a one-on-one later today. But in the meantime, let me (or other team members) know if there’s anything we can do to help you navigate your first few days.

Can’t wait to get started!

[Your Manager]

A Great Approach for Welcoming New Employees

Welcoming new employees with a letter that clarifies core values, sets expectations for success, gives an introduction to the culture, and creates connections sets a new employee up to be engaged from day one. It connects them to the manager, shows them how they can make an impact, helps them understand how they can get meaning, and offers appreciation for joining the team. And that’s an important part of a great employee experience.

About Kazoo
Kazoo is the employee experience platform powered by the science of motivation and the mission of improving the lives of employees everywhere, one company at a time. Founded in 2013, Kazoo grows company culture and improves bottom-line performance metrics through its robust engagement platform that delivers recognition, rewards, incentives, and team insights. Named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of Best Company Cultures in 2017, the Austin-based SaaS company and its technology platform are built on the four pillars of employee experience: connection, meaning, impact and appreciation. To request a demo, visit

The annual performance review. It has been around since the beginning of time—or at least that’s how it seems. Kazoo examines the history of the performance review, how it has evolved, and ideas to help improve your company’s internal employee evaluation process.

A Brief History of Everything (or at least everything about performance reviews).

It’s a time-honored tradition. Your mother did it, your mother’s father did it, your mother’s father’s father did it ad infinitum, until a certain crafty manager in the third century A.D. decided to evaluate members of China’s ruling family, gained the title of Imperial Rater, and was summarily criticized in a move forever cited by management textbooks on employee performance appraisal: “The Imperial Rater of Nine Grades,” philosopher Sin Yu writes, “seldom rates men according to their merits but always according to his liking.”1 And since this time, employees the world over have been silently cowering at their desks waiting for the knell of their annual performance review.

The story’s not quite that simple, though. And information is pretty spotty. There are, however, accounts of an early 19th century Scottish cotton mill owner who probably first industrialized the employee evaluation process, assigning each worker a degree of merit denoted by differently colored cubes that hung over their workstations like Industrial Revolution-era Sims Plumbobs2. Toward the end of that century, the United States Federal Government began institutionalizing the practice with the Pendleton Act as a way to end favoritism and create a meritocracy. Within thirty years, the First Law on Appraisal would put in place a uniform employee rating system across all agencies in the U. S. Civil Service.

But the process wouldn’t necessarily gain wide-spread notoriety until the 1980s when General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch popularized an employee evaluation method some call “rank-and-yank,” wherein managers evaluate all their employees yearly, assign the top 20 percent the coveted ranking of 1, the middle 70 percent the value of 2, and the bottom 10 percent the rank of 3. The 3s, according to the Wall Street Journal, are the first to go in layoffs.

Over the years, the stack ranking performance evaluation style has been criticized for everything from inspiring a cutthroat corporate culture, to fostering rampant favoritism, to depleting companies of potentially stellar employees who arbitrarily fell into the bottom 10 percent simply because the company had so many great workers already. Despite the criticism, 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies still use the practice.

Stack ranking has other drawbacks. One challenge to running this type of annual review is the amount of time it requires from both employees and managers. At the high end, it can cost a company as much as $35 million in lost employee productivity a year. Then there’s the impact on innovation and creativity. “People’s fields of view actually constrict, they can take in a narrower stream of data, and there’s a restriction in creativity,” David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, a group dedicated to evaluating leadership issues through neuroscience, said in an interview with the Washington Post. In addition, some argue that two-thirds of these types of performance evaluations misidentify a company’s highest performers3. What’s a company to do?

Enter performance management.

The earliest precursor to the modern day performance management movement finds itself in 1940s Connecticut, during a moment of interracial friction. In an effort to alleviate some of the tension, the researchers attempting to evaluate race relations stumbled their way into the discovery that individuals can evaluate themselves in the context of a group through other members’ live feedback and their own self-assessments. This process, which became known as T-group education, steadily moved its way through academic and organizational development/human resources circles. In 1959 the Esso Research and Engineering Company, now Exxon Mobile, began a managerial development program that, for the first time, allowed subordinates to evaluate their superiors to provide them with a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Esso and 360 Degree Feedback
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, this ideal of multi-person rating became popularly known as the 360 Degree method, as it positioned employees to be evaluated from every angle. Not only their bosses but also their peers, subordinates, and any clients they may interact can evaluate them. And through self-evaluation, they can, too. This holistic view improved employee growth and performance while also dissipating any one individual’s favoritism toward a worker4.

The 360 Degree method may have been comprehensive, but it wasn’t necessarily the most efficient system, requiring a huge participant count, reams of paper for surveys, and more time and money than most HR departments thought they could afford5. In 1996, only 21 percent of attending organizations at the New York Chapter of the Society of Human Resources Managers reported employing any kind of 360 Degree evaluation6.

In recent years, the 360 Degree method has become incorporated into the hot developing field of performance management, a process allowing managers and employees to work together to set objectives and assess progress through ongoing feedback. Today, almost every Fortune 100 company utilizes some degree of the old standard of 360 Degree feedback7, and even once-stalwart advocates of stack ranking systems—from Accenture to GE itself—are phasing out the traditional annual review. In addition, a recent Bersin by Deloitte study found 67 percent of companies planning to purchase management programs aimed to buy into the emerging field of performance management programs8.

What changed?

The internet, for one. Suddenly surveys that took hours—if not days—to compile and score and interpret and present could be concluded with the click of a mouse. The second change—and perhaps the most crucial for the development of the performance management industry—was the arrival of Millennials in the workplace.

There have been countless articles written about the entitlement complexes of Millennials. (In fact, we debunked some of them here.) But their we-want-it-now-along-with-the-new-iPhone reputation does have some merit. They’re used to the frequent feedback provided by school testing, coupled with the ability to post a photo on Facebook and watch in real time as friends across the world like, comment, and share it.

It’s no wonder, then, that eight out of 10 Millennials yearn for regular feedback from their boss. That, combined with the fact that the average internet user spends 1.72 hours a day on social media platforms and that 41 percent of Millennials prefer to communicate electronically over face-to-face methods or the telephone, puts the future of performance management systems in the anytime, anywhere, social-network-style feedback systems.

That’s where products that both socialize and enable more frequent feedback thrive. In the case of Kazoo’s interface, coworkers and managers can easily recognize and reward good work in real time. This in turn reinforces behaviors aligned with core values and work objectives. Unlike a formal evaluation one-to-two times per year, the feedback is ongoing and supportive throughout the year. Three out of four Millennials want a mentor in their company, and this allows one mentor (often several) to reinforce them every step of the way, guiding their professional journey. Research shows both mentees and their mentors are more likely to stay with a company which, after all, is one of the core reasons we try so hard to boost employee engagement.

Employee Recognition Programs
The 360 Degree model is adapting and evolving to the 365 Day model. And there is evidence to support the effectiveness of frequent feedback when it comes to retention and overall company performance.

It’s an exciting space that, like so many other traditional ways of doing business, benefits from innovative advances in technology.

Struggling to decide which behaviors warrant real time feedback? Here’s 50 to get you started!


Additional sources:
1, 2Murphy, Kevin R. and Jeanette Cleveland. Understanding Performance Appraisal: Social, Organizational, and Goal-Based Perspectives. Sage Publications, 1995.

If you’re the Liz Lemon of your workplace, you want it all—increased employee engagement, happy coworkers, delicious bento boxes served fresh daily, invigorating team outings from coast to coast, and a solvent company that won’t go broke subsidizing these things. Oftentimes, it seems like it’s like that old work adage: good, fast, and cheap. Pick any two.

But here’s the good news. You don’t have to compromise. You don’t have to pick any two. You really can have it all, corporate Liz Lemon.


And as you show your employees exactly how much they mean to you, productivity increases, overall turnover decreases, and corporate culture becomes more salient. Because most employees don’t care about expensive things so much as fulfilling experiences, you can achieve everything without selling the farm—or chic downtown office space, in this case. All of this combines to yield immense savings for you and huge benefits for them.

So the question is why haven’t you started an employee reward program yet? And if you already have, why haven’t you done more to “have it all” on the job?

To get you well on your way to high-fiving a million angel employees in your office, Kazoo compiled 40 rocking low-to-no-cost employee reward ideas from our customers’ top rewards, spanning from personal health and wellness incentives to professional development and mentorship—and everything in between. Download the entire list here. Here’s a sampling you can offer up right away:

  • Do you even lift, bro?: Rack up bonus reward points as you collect personal bests. Participate in an individual wellness activity with 10 or more minutes of strenuous activity and reap the physical, mental, emotional, and Kazoo-induced behavioral bonus reward points.
  • Freaky Friday: Always wanted to know what goes on behind closed office doors? Shadow anyone for a day with this reward! Crunch some numbers! Count some beans! Sell high! Sell low! Be the CEO! Tag along with the employee of your choosing. No Lindsay Lohan required.
  • Love Your Mother: Go green with a free month of curbside recycling, and keep your house and your environment a little cleaner.


And if you still want to offer pre-selected rewards, we’ve got you covered, too. Kazoo offers thousands of products, gift cards, and donation rewards. Because we offer them at or below MSRP, your employees can get meaningful recognition and an enviable reward point exchange rate. Learn more by requesting a demo!

And now to the chocolatey good stuff at the center of the recognition tootsie pop:

Download Now

One key to developing strong and effective teams is the ability to appreciate the benefits of the differences each team member presents. Those differences can confuse, frustrate and cause misunderstandings – OR – they can be illuminate, broaden our horizons, provide growth, and help us to gain new insights.

Achieving our organizational goals can often be best achieved when diversity of opinion, background, and skill are engaged.

We’ve all likely had the experience of being on a team where one or more members presented special challenges. They were negative and critical. They lacked skills or didn’t contribute. These, certainly, are all legitimate complaints, but they don’t have to lead to a negative outcome for the team.

Sometimes we can achieve a positive outcome by delving a bit deeper, gaining an understanding, and appreciating another’s point of view.

Tom Champoux of The Effectiveness Institute has shown how personal behavioral styles contributes to how we see the world, process information, and interact with others. Behavior styles are defined by how we make decisions, solve problems, and meet challenges. Each individual’s behavior tends to be consistent with their style. Unless we understand each others’ styles, we may get annoyed by how others act, or what they say.

Achieving our organizational goals can often be best achieved when diversity of opinion, background, and skill are engaged.

Some of us move fast, talk quickly, and make spontaneous decisions. Others are more deliberate and prefer to process information before making a decision. Still others are people-oriented, or perhaps more task-oriented. Some are more analytical and detail-oriented while others tend to be big-picture thinkers.

Teams that include a range of behavior styles tend to excel.

Conflicts can occur when individuals with different styles interact. A quiet person may be intimidated by someone who comes on strong. Someone who tends to hold back can frustrate a person with a more direct style. It sometimes helps to realize that the behavior is not aimed specially at the person on the receiving end; rather it is the way the other person relates to the world.

When we work through style conflicts, and value the advantages diversity brings, we maximize the quality of our team.

Kevin is decisive and takes quick action. He assesses information quickly and decides best courses of action. However, he has grown to respect a fellow teammate, Anne, who is much more methodical in her thinking. When faced with a big decision, he often seeks out Anne’s opinion because he knows she will consider factors that may not have occurred to him.

Ron used to annoy his teammates. When working on a project, he was quick to find problems. However, his teammates have developed tremendous respect for Ron because he sees things they often miss. His constant questioning is now regarded as a positive attribute. Utilizing each team members’ strengths can make for a highly effective team.

Teams that include a range of behavior styles tend to excel.

Overtly acknowledging and appreciating other teammates’ attributes will contribute to your teams’ success. When you appreciate characteristics that you admire in a teammate, you not only recognize the attribute as a benefit to the team, you also help that member see their value-add. Your acknowledgment may also serve to strengthen the quality in the person acknowledged.

As with our behavior styles, age, gender, race, cultural background, and ethnicity all affect who we are and how we interact with others. When someone behaves or speaks in a manner differently than what we’re used to, we may feel awkward or uncomfortable, or embrace the difference and gain an understanding for what we are unfamiliar with. Differences often broaden our perspectives and enrich our teams.

How do we make sense of people who behave differently from us? It helps to develop an attitude of curiosity. When we don’t take things personally, we are in a better position to gain understanding and learn from each other. If we are aware of having a negative reaction to how someone interacted with us, it’s helpful to pause and examine what just happened.

Gather the facts; eliminate the assumptions about the other person’s intent. Seek clarification. Stay engaged. It’s often the case that the person simply has a way of interacting and viewing the world different from yours.

What does your team do to benefit from differences? What can you do today to acknowledge the strengths and the value added by the diverse styles that your teammates present?

This article is by Margy Bresslour.

Motivators for employees today need to reflect the changing nature of work and the relationship between manager-employee. This isn’t to say that shaping behaviors by use of money, for example, doesn’t have its place in today’s workplace. We know, however, that money is a short-term motivator. It’s not a reliable long-term solution given today’s dynamically changing, complex work environment. Plus the number of disengaged, unhappy employees points the way to finding more longer-term motivators to inspire employees to do great works.



Taking a deeper look at motivating employees, we know now that employees’ overall wellbeing is vital to performance. So it stands to reason that improving employee wellbeing is a useful motivator. While money is important to our wellbeing, most employees adjust their lifestyles over time to the increase in pay or bonus, reducing the benefit to financial wellbeing.

The number of disengaged, unhappy employees points the way to finding more longer-term motivators

So, if wellbeing is important and the overuse of money to motivate peak performance is limited in its influence, then managers must use longer-term motivators. Let’s look at a few useful to motivate employees today.

Meaningful Work

Managers can turn to the work employees do or want to do to motivate peak performance. Individualize work assignments to coincide with employees’ strengths, interests, career aspirations, or development goals.

Spend time having the Me/Mission conversation: helping employees see how what they do supports the company’s mission.

Spend time having the Me/Mission conversation

What makes work meaningful is learning the impact the work has on customers. Managers need to help employees see this to deepen work’s meaning.

Challenging Work

Employees want work that stretches them. In fact Millennials expect it. It is no longer acceptable to save the challenging work only for the usual suspects – a manager’s go-to person. Workloads and shrinking teams demand managers to increase their willingness to assign challenging work to all members of the team, no matter age or experience.

It is no longer acceptable to save the challenging work only for the usual suspects

Mutually Beneficial Work Relationship

Managers need to show employees that they have their best interest in mind. In short, managers need to let employees know they matter. Why? Businesses need maximum contribution from all employees. A mutually beneficial work relationship builds trust and helps teams adapt with agility to changing priorities.

Employees who believe their manager is on their side will be motivated to do their best work.

Optimistic Work Environment

When employees believe that their work has the possibility of improving customers’ lives or that their work is inspiring, optimism can permeate the team culture. Furthermore, an optimistic work environment gives employees hope that they can achieve their own goals, that their work-investment will be rewarded.

An optimistic work environment gives employees hope that they can achieve their own goals

Improve Employees’ Lives

Finally, how motivating it is to do work that improves your own life? I mentioned earlier the importance of wellbeing to motivation. When employees’ wellbeing is positively affected by their work and the workplace, imagine how motivated employees would be to keep a good thing going.

Managers who purposefully lead to positively affect wellbeing signal to employees that they care about them first as a human being and not a resource that can be depleted and replaced.

Managers need to adjust how they motivate employees by using traditional motivators and a combination of items from the above list. Inspiring employees to perform at their best levels is always a manager’s top priority. How managers go about it needs to change to match the nature of work today and the state of today’s workplace.

For a pictorial look at motivating employees today, here’s an infographic from Salesforce and Rypple by Nick Stein.



Image credit: samarttiw / 123RF Stock Photo

This article is by Shawn Murphy from