Unique Ways of Showing Your Employees You Care

Oct. 1, 2015
Two shop owners outline their strategies for creating recognition-rich cultures

The results are in: If you want highly productive, loyal employees, simply show them some appreciation.

Unfortunately, most employers have missed the memo. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 64 percent of working Americans leave their jobs because they feel underappreciated, and according to a Gallup poll, 70 percent of employees claim to receive no recognition or praise for their hard work.

Looking at a 2012 Bersin & Associates study—which surveyed over 800 different organizations of all sizes across the country—a discrepancy may reveal why these numbers are so startlingly high: While 80 percent of business leaders believe they recognize employees on a monthly basis, only 22 percent of their employees actually agree with them.

The main problem is that many companies focus on the long term, with 87 percent of the businesses in the Bersin study rewarding employees based on tenure instead of individual, everyday achievements. So, essentially, people are being rewarded for sticking around.

But is that what motivates people to do their best? To benefit the company? To make sure everyone around them benefits from their hard work?

Not according to Jeff Matt, owner of the six-store operation Victory Auto Service & Glass in Minnesota and Florida, and John Eppstein, owner of John’s Automotive Care in San Diego, who each have implemented systems that don’t just show employee appreciation on a mandatory monthly basis. Instead, these owners are looking for ways to keep their employees motivated each and every day, lending support to the Bersin study’s final key statistic to happy employees: Companies with “recognition-rich cultures” have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rates.

“Incentives can be as unique as your creativity,” Matt says. “We’ve created a lot of little different incentives along the way that motivate everyone to benefit the company and work together.”


With Eppstein handling 13 employees and Matt managing over 40 people, it’s important for them to recognize their teams as a whole first.

So when Matt’s six locations hit a combined record month for the company, he didn’t just pat them on the back—he challenged them to push further.

The morning after that record month, Matt sent out an email to all his employees: “If we have another record sales month in July, I’ll give everybody $100.”

“This is how I get 40-something employees to work together,” he says. “It costs over $4,000 for me to do this, but the payback is going to be huge in the long run. It will get everybody communicating better. I’ve already gotten several replies back saying, ‘It’s on.’”

For each of his technicians, Eppstein offers a “tool match.” For up to $25 a week, he’ll pitch in and help pay off tools his technicians buy for their toolboxes. He includes this as part of his pitch when hiring new techs.

“It pushes them to be consistent with their payments and actually buy tools,” he says. “I can’t tell you over the years how many technicians I’ve worked with that didn’t have any money and didn’t have enough tools. This gives them a sense of ownership over their station.”


At Eppstein’s shop, he plans company-wide activities that bring everybody together. He believes “work time is for work,” but he’s also benefitted from establishing a lively culture at work that encourages joking and laughter.

“There’s no better feeling in the day than when your boss offers to buy everybody lunch,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll just grill out and barbeque. I always try to make sure we have fun throughout the day. It’s not just always ‘hurry up and work faster.’ We take a little time to laugh and have a good time.”

The ability to have fun at work is actually no laughing matter: A Robert Half International study recorded that 91 percent of executives say a sense of humor is key for career advancement, and 84 percent claim that employees with a good sense of humor work harder. On top of that, the Bell Leadership Institute found that one of the two most desirable traits in leaders is a good sense of humor.

Matt encourages fun, creative team-building events each year. Last year, his technicians collaborated on a four-cylinder racecar that Victory Auto sponsored. Matt then provided an all-expenses-paid trip for all employees and their families to Wisconsin for a race the company participated in, renting out a special room equipped with a buffet for everyone.

“Our driver didn’t do well, but it didn’t matter—it was a great outing and everybody had fun,” he says. “It bonded everybody away from work. And that good mood carries right back into the workplace.”


It’s the simplest, most negligible step of Eppstein’s day—yet, when it comes to showing employee appreciation, a simple greeting goes a long way.

With 13 employees on staff, Eppstein spends the first 30 minutes to one hour of his morning speaking to each one them. Whether it’s saying hello or asking about the weekend, Eppstein says that personal connection puts the employee in a good mood for the coming day.

“You can definitely learn a lot about your employees,” he says. “You can learn what kind of mood they’re in. If they’re upset, you can spend a little time and get them through whatever it is that’s giving them a bad day. It goes a long way.”

Matt doesn’t make it out to every location each week. So, when he actually does visit a shop, he’s sure to make as many personal connections as he can.

“Sometimes, it’s just a 60-second conversation, but I always make myself available whenever I’m at the shop,” he says. “I would never go to a location and then leave, and then have them find out I was there and didn’t give them an opportunity. It’s a small thing, but really it’s a big thing.”

Eppstein is sure to do it in a way that focuses on the employee, making it more natural than a mandatory conversation with the boss. In fact, because Eppstein has instilled a fun, collaborative culture at his shop, his employees look forward to the conversations, and will josh their boss if he misses a daily meetup.

“Sometimes I’ll miss and a guy will come into my office and say, ‘Hey, you didn’t stop and talk to me this morning!’” he says.


During those daily rounds, Eppstein is picking up on some key details about his employees that shape unique, individual benefits offered to them.

For instance, during one particular morning talk, Eppstein noticed one of his employees had some bald tires on his truck.

“How can you drive around on bald tires?” he asked the technician. “Well, he simply couldn’t afford to buy tires right then. So I bought him a set of tires.”

Various other employees receive unique incentives that apply to their personal situations: One of his employees with a particularly large family gets a free turkey feast each Thanksgiving; another negotiated an on-site parking spot; and another employee got his hours adjusted so he could drop his son off at school each morning.

Both Eppstein and Matt offer up free tickets to local events that pertain to each employee’s personal interests, whether it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves, a local NASCAR event or a trip to the theater. Matt buys season tickets he circulates throughout whoever wants them.

“Anything that’s tangible like that is really motivating for an employee,” Matt says. “It can be as simple as sending a technician and his wife out to dinner for a night away from the kids.”

One of Eppstein’s most unique offerings is for his employees with children: If they’ve got a college fund set up, the boss will pitch in $25 per month.

“You’re not only connecting with the employee, but now the whole family,” he says. “It’s not a lot, but it’s $25 a month more than they had. Some of them actually set up a college fund because of it.”


With six locations to manage between two states, Matt knows he can’t be at each shop’s monthly in-house meeting. But what he can do is create a template that requires allotting time for employee appreciation at those meetings.

A sheet of paper is passed out to everyone, and each employee highlights a co-worker that has gone above and beyond in the “Employee Spotlight” section. At the end of the meeting, the manager collects all the comments and sends them to Matt.

“The whole idea behind it is something I think employees really appreciate, and that’s the empowerment of hearing what they have to say,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to speak with me directly, whether I’m in their shop or not.”

At the monthly meetings Matt holds with each of his managers, he has implemented what he considers to be the crowning achievement of his employee appreciation tactics: having the managers designate an employee of the month.

While that’s certainly no groundbreaking idea, the amount of recognition an employee gets for the award doesn’t just boost his or her self-esteem—that good vibe also infiltrates the entire company.

Each manager comes ready with an employee to highlight, along with a rundown of that employee’s accomplishments. Not only does it highlight the individual employees, but it also gives Matt’s managers a sense of accomplishment.

“What happens is we go around the table and, just like the in-shop meeting, everybody is praising and voting for each other,” he says. “You see somebody sit up a little bit taller with a smile on their face when somebody praises one of your employees.”

On the first of every month, Victory posts the “Employee of the Month” to the company’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, and offers him or her a half-day off that month. The post is coupled with fun questions for the employee, such as, “What was your first car?” and “What would your superpower be?”

Matt is sure to never reward the same employee twice in a 12-month period in order to spread around the praise. And starting soon, every employee will have a say in who wins “Employee of the Month” and “Employee of the Year.”

Matt also utilizes Facebook to highlight another special day in an employee’s life: birthdays.

Victory Auto Service celebrates employee birthdays with a Costco cake and a photo posted to the company’s Facebook page, going out to its 1,500 followers.

“From the business sides of things, when they’re tagged in the photo, everybody they know gets to see them on Facebook and it spreads our reach,” Matt says. “Their family sees that we’re acknowledging their birthday. It takes time and energy to do that.” 

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Resources for Shops Like Yours

View insights, research and solutions curated specifically for shops like yours.

Restore & Protect: The Powerful Revenue and Profit Accelerator for Your Business

Restore & Protect is a major business opportunity for Valvoline installers with positive impact on profit growth as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Deliver a First-Class Guest Experience

Our dedicated Valvoline Trusted Advisor Sales and Support Team provides hands-on classroom and targeted in-store coaching to help your employees become more skilled at selling...

Promote Growth on Two Fronts: Existing and New Customers

Increase Sales and Customer Traffic To Your Store(s).