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Employee Appreciation Day often escapes notice. Can you—or your boss—name when it is?

Many organizations don’t do anything official to mark the holiday, if indeed it can be considered one. Those that do typically celebrate with a team lunch and a few social media posts—and then it’s back to work.

Created in 1995, Employee Appreciation Day, which falls on the first Friday of March, often comes and goes with little notice. After all, with Labor Day, Secretary’s Day, and the numerous other days set aside to celebrate workers, it’s hard for human resources and other leaders to mark every occasion. The health and safety of essential workers or the difficulty of balancing job responsibilities with elder- and childcare weren’t exactly top-of-mind concerns for leaders during last year’s Employee Appreciation Day on March 6, for instance. But they certainly were a week later, when the United States declared a national state of emergency and went into lockdown, forcing organizations to scramble their workforces and operations.

Now, a year later, amid the pandemic and the purpose movement, “it’s particularly important that employees feel valued,” says Mark Royal, a senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory who specializes in employee engagement. And with a semblance of normalcy in sight, experts say it’s also important for leaders not to become complacent about direct outreach to workers. Jennifer Zamora, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach with a background in human resources, says employees are still fatigued from remote work and the constant state of change they are experiencing. “Leaders can lean into Employee Appreciation Day to try to help each individual on their team identify ways to move from tired to inspired,” she says.

That may mean going beyond the usual lunch (for workers who have returned to the office), generic gift card, or Friday afternoon off. In surveys conducted by Korn Ferry, employees expressed concern about a lack of access to managers because of remote work and time constraints. That’s why personalized forms of appreciation are likely to hold more meaning, says Ron Porter, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise. A personalized note of praise from a direct manager goes a lot further than an internal email from the CEO, for instance. Managers can also express appreciation by putting an employee in charge of a project that is important to them or helps them build new skills they want to develop.

Porter says it’s important for leaders to distinguish personalized appreciation from individual or team recognition. The latter, he says, is a method of singling out high performance in an attempt to spur the rest of the group. Appreciation, by contrast, is a way to show gratitude for what employees do day in and day out. “Since the pandemic, there’s been a decided movement towards inclusive appreciation and value for the part every person plays rather than recognizing a few people for outstanding performance,” Porter says.

While notes and other shows of gratitude are certainly appreciated—pun intended—Kate Shattuck, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and coleader of the firm’s Impact Investing practice, reminds leaders that they also have a social responsibility to their people. Pointing to the millions of employees who had pay or benefits cut, she says raising the minimum wage or providing enhanced mental health benefits or more flexible work schedules would be among some of the more tangible ways to show appreciation. “There are a lot of employees who are looking,” she says. “They need more than platitudes, flowers, or a water bottle.”