What Seinfeld Teaches Us About Employee Appreciation

Posted on April 24, 2012


Well informed managers, CEOs, HR Professionals and business owners know effective Employee Appreciation pays off in better customer service ratings, less turnover, higher productivity and increased profit.  The key, however, is knowing how to provide Effective Employee Appreciation.

An episode from Seinfeld illustrates how our appreciation must be personalized in order to be effective. In The Economics of Seinfeld we see a humorous 3-minute illustration of Kramer succeeding where Jerry Seinfeld fails in expressing friendship.

This clip provides the springboard for…

Four Simple Truths About Expressing Employee Appreciation:

1.   Employees desire more than recognition.

Jerry remembered Elaine’s birthday. While many would praise him for acknowledging the birthday, this scene shows he failed miserably. Purchasing a card, signing it and giving her a gift of “182 bucks” evidenced a level of care. Yet, simply remembering the birthday didn’t bring much satisfaction to Elaine. She didn’t want Jerry to simply remember her birthday; she wanted to know that Jerry cared enough to make the moment special to her.

Do your expressions of appreciation to your employees show you understand the difference between recognition and appreciation?


2.   Employees feel appreciated when the expression of appreciation is individualized and thoughtful.

Kramer scored with Elaine’s birthday by providing a gift that expressed thought and was tailored to her personality and needs. Not everyone would have appreciated “the bench,” but it was the perfect gift for Elaine.

When you show appreciation to an employee do you express it in a way that would be meaningful to you or in a way that is meaningful to them?

3.   Spending time with an employee is a prerequisite for effective expressions of appreciation.

Kramer gave the perfect gift to Elaine because he took the time to observe what mattered to her. He spent time with her and paid attention to her wants. He listened to her. As a result, he was confident in what gift would make her happy. Kramer never would have been able to express his friendship with Elaine if he had not taken time to get to know her.

Do you consider small talk with your employees a waste of time or as an opportunity to know and understand them?

4.   Effective appreciation takes effort.

It was his “mental note” about the bench that provided Kramer the opportunity to express his friendship.  He made the effort to understand what Elaine wanted. Furthermore, instead of walking to the corner CVS and buying the first birthday card he found, he traveled back to the store that sold “the bench.” He wrapped it and had it ready, waiting for the right moment to present it to her. It took a little extra time and effort; yet it was Kramer who got Elaine’s exorbitant smile of approval accompanied by a hug and kiss.

Do your expressions of appreciation to employees evidence a task completed or authentic love and concern?

For more on how to express appreciation to employees I recommend Gary Chapman’s and Paul White’s The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.


Jack Bruce  lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and four children.

You may follow Jack on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jackwbruce

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