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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

Massages, Leggings and Potlucks

"It's employee appreciation day! Doctors, you will be having a catered lunch with some nice swag bags, because we appreciate you! Nurses, we also appreciate you! We'll be throwing a potluck in your honor (bring your favorite dish!) and we'll even have a really cheap coffee mug for you to take home!"

Many companies appreciate different groups of employees in different ways that often appear to be less favorable to the lower-paid staff and more favorable to the higher-paid staff. But this isn't just about "appreciation days." Often times, how you value an employee comes across in the way policies are enforced or the way benefits are applied.

I heard recently about an coordinator who wore leggings to work. Leggings were technically against the dress code, but were worn frequently by other staff. The coordinator, the newest and most junior employee of the department, was written up for the violation. The day after the write-up, a senior-level manager wore the same type of leggings to work.

A couple of weeks later, the coordinator signed up for an in-office chair massage, a benefit that is marketed to all employees on a first-come, first-serve basis. She was asked to remove her name from the list because, she was told, the massages are meant to be for the hard working staff in the field. If there are any spots left over on the same day, then she could sign up. She later saw the name of a senior manager that worked in that office on the list.

Why was this coordinator treated differently from others? Why do the nurses get potlucks and the doctors get catered lunches? If you think about it, the people who coordinate appointments, schedules, paperwork, events - they make the lives of everyone else in the company interact smoothly. Nurses are the most valuable part of any hospital stay or doctor visit - they are the face of the clinic, the hospital.

Are you sure those are the people that you want to show that you don't really care about? Because disciplining staff with inconsistent policies, telling them they aren't worthy of a basic benefit provided to everyone else, and having them express appreciation for themselves with a potluck - that's the message that comes across: YOU ARE NOT VALUED. Not only will they be unhappy, but they will tell everyone else about how you don't value them.

Want to reduce turnover and improve employee retention? Treat ALL employees with respect, dignity and care. There's no correlation between the amount of a paycheck and the cost of an appreciation gift. Don't enforce policies with only the people you don't like or enforce policies to reinforce your position as a powerful person. Don't tell people they aren't worthy of a benefit. And please note: A potluck is not a reward!

Be kind. Remember that people spend the majority of their days at work. And they are each an integral part of your organization, no matter their role. Don't trivialize their contributions.

Go forth and appreciate appropriately!


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