Looking Back and Looking On

Today marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the professional institution. It’s the 20th anniversary of National Employee Appreciation Day. 20 years ago today, Bob Nelson developed the concept of this unofficial national holiday to celebrate Modern Industry’s greatest asset: human talent.

It’s no small thing for employee recognition to have blossomed into the dynamic, personal, accessible institution it is today. And it’s a good time – as employers, employees and individuals – to reflect and to consider.

Growing Pains

Back in the early Industrial Era, employees were often regarded as nothing more than cogs in the machine. Growth in the Industry was an esoteric concept if it was anything at all. There was no cross-training. There were no value assessments or employee-centered initiatives.

In short, nobody really cared. If your employees were injured, sick, incapacitated or in need of any kind of growth or encouragement – they were replaced. That’s all there was to it.

Some Things Changed, Some Things Didn’t

Needless to say – it didn’t work. Eventually union representation was established, which helped to add some measure of recognition and reward for employees. Workers started to get noticed for their tenure and service-awards became a legitimate fixture in company policies.

But everything was still handled entirely at management levels. It was exclusive and selective, and it correlated directly with organizational opportunities and promotions. Still in its infancy, employee recognition was a power play – not a human effort.

A Wake-Up Call

Then we exploded into the digital age. There was a sudden, global interest in the individual, and the whole nature of business creation and development began to transform. Technology gave people almost limitless information and ambition, and things in the workplace started to change in a big way.

People could create themselves. They started to seek out opportunities and began to head ventures with new passion and determination. Employers and employees built relationships. New, personal, human systems and initiatives began to develop.

Where We Are Now

Employee Appreciation Day is two decades old, but the story of its inception is much older. We’ve come far – very far – but there are always new avenues to investigate and new innovations to embrace.

Recognition is a powerful tool – but it’s also a powerful gesture.

Make this one about them. Make it about your team – the heart of your organization. Make it about who they are, as well as the work they’ve done. Give them something to smile about and to be proud of. You owe it to them, and to your company.