Appreciation at the workplace — how to do it right
Are you an employee and have you ever felt that after your manager has appreciated you it didn’t feel right, you didn’t feel like they meant it or it seemed like they didn’t care?
And maybe you are a manager, and you are aware that you need to show appreciation to your team, recognize good work, and give positive feedback. But did you ever feel like no matter what you do it doesn’t work — employees complain, seem not to respond, or are even sarcastic in response? Did you feel like giving up?
Yes, people desperately want to feel appreciated and valued in their jobs, according to marriage therapist Gary Chapman and organizational consultant Paul White. They teamed up on a book entitled, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” that turned into a New York Times bestseller: 79% of those who quit a job said that job satisfaction is a key reason for their leaving. 53% of respondents in the same research said that “feeling more appreciation from their boss would help them stay longer at their company” and 87% of job seekers maintain that the #1 characteristic they want in the workplace is to feel valued.
Another research study of theirs showed that 56% of senior managers feel like their company is doing a good job in communicating appreciation. And only 12 % of employees of that same company said they feel appreciated. And only 7% of that company actually felt that the company is doing a good job.
Looking at the numbers, where does all that appreciation go?
It sounds easy. Just say something nice to someone and that’s it, right? Everybody can do it, it’s that easy, that simple… So why don’t employees, colleagues, and managers feel valued or appreciated?
According to Chapman and White, most people in the workplace do not feel highly regarded for the following reasons: (1) they do not get much positive feedback; (2) if they do receive praise, it does not feel meaningful and (3) their supervisors focus solely on work performance and not on getting to know them as a person.
During my career, when preaching about appreciation languages at the workplace, I have heard all kinds of management mindset:
- … it’s simple, I know how to appreciate … I don’t need advice…
- … how much does it cost? …
- … I don’t really care about people’s feelings …
- … why should I thank them for doing their job … they are paid for it …
- … another responsibility …
So why should you be open-minded and care about appreciation in the workplace?
A recent study by the Wharton School of Business found that people are 40% more productive when they like their job and work environment. And who doesn’t want to be happier and more productive? There’s nothing wrong with being aware of the factors that make our jobs satisfying, so we can maximize our happiness at work while also (hopefully) maximizing our productivity. And that is not the only benefit of motivating by appreciation: It reduces employee turnover, it improves relationships at the workplace, it increases customer satisfaction, and it is cost-beneficial (appreciating somebody costs nothing and is one of the cheapest ways of increasing employee satisfaction and retention you can implement)
So now I believe we can all agree that in a company, managers need to provide proper feedback and recognition to their employees. No discussion here.
Different clients often ask me, “How do you know that appreciation is needed?”
You need to understand that not everybody has on their foreheads sign:” I’m not valued” or “approaching burnout: encouragement needed” Cues you can watch can be following:
- lack of courage, apathy, and passivity: “why try? it doesn’t matter anyway”
- resistance: to instruction and new procedure or resistance to change
- increased absenteeism
- cynicism and sarcasm
- social withdrawal: co-workers who become less communicative don’t “hang out” as much
Appreciation at the workplace and the same clients ask me after, “How should you appreciate correctly, where do you start?”
I tell them I would start with a conversation and the first thing I would ask my team members are, “What is your personality and temperament, what are your strengths and weaknesses and how do you like to be appreciated? Plus try to identify the most efficient channel of delivering these values to their employees:
- Directly communicate with employees: verbally or written? or both?
- Directly communicate with employees: privately or publicly? or both?
I can recommend several great assessment tools which can help you identify those in advance and make all this conversation easier and more fruitful as they give you a great starting point to discuss.
Secondly, stop giving compliments, and start with acknowledgment!
Saying “Good job” is not recognition! It’s a meaningless compliment. And often you just piss off the person you are saying it to. Because a compliment is about the giver (“I can judge you”) and acknowledgment is about the receiver (“I see you”). This trick and most helpful I must say, I learned from the performance startup coach Anneke Dekker.
Be specific! you can acknowledge by saying “Good job IN/FOR/AT/ON …
- … concrete result
- … quality of the effort
- … character … “
that will turn into proper acknowledgment. So every time you say “good job”, you don’t stop there, keep going and add the reasons why you think they did a good job!
Question: Which expression is correct?
- “Treat others the way you want to be treated”
- “Treat others the way they want to be treated”
I hope you answered “2” because that is the correct answer. So thirdly, and most importantly, remember: what makes one person feel appreciated doesn’t necessarily make other people feel appreciated. You have to communicate appreciation that is meaningful to your recipient not to you! You have to connect with the person through their language and only in that way you can be a true hero of appreciation.
Here are the universal languages of appreciation:
Words of affirmation: this is the most preferred language. People TALK this language, to the words of praise and acknowledgments matter. Whether to make these privately or publicly is something you need to find out… But avoid criticism, high-level praise like “Keep up the good work or Great job team” and avoid the word BUT.
Quality time: is about focused attention, eye contact, no disruptions, face to face conversations. It is all about shared experience. Having lunch but not talking about work, schedule a call occasionally just to chat and see how life outside of work is going.
Acts of Service: People who prefer this language prefer actions before words. Help them, BUT if you offer your help, be cheerful about it, don’t nag about you helping, finish the task and DO IT THEIR WAY. Another way is to protect their schedule from interruptions when working on a time-sensitive project. Helping them catch up on tasks that they may have fallen behind on during a busy part of my day. Or agree to schedule a meeting or call when it is convenient for their time zone, not according to your time zone.
Tangible Gifts: Giving somebody gifts doesn’t need to be done with expensive gifts. These people prefer to experience. You can send gifts to your employees e.g. registering them for a conference or special event, send sporting event tickets, restaurant gift cards, and cultural event coupons, gym membership cards, flower vouchers, which can really hit the sweet spot by showing employees that plenty of thought and energy was expended thinking about the gift. Allowing your employee to come in early and leave early on a certain day is as well a gift.
Physical Touch: here, be appropriate. There are boundaries and personal space limits that depend on the person. Myself, I’m a touchy person, handshakes, hugs, pats, high fives. I’m used to it from basketball. Physical touch works well during a spontaneous celebration.
Remember, the language we speak most often is the language we desire. Only 25% speak one language but wish to receive another. And we do not necessarily only use one language. We have a backup (secondary) language and we have a least favorite language.
Chapman and White warn that just knowing how everyone in the workplace wants to be appreciated is only the first step in creating work environments that value employees.
According to Terryberry, there are 4 things necessary for people to feel valued. Appreciation must be:
- Communicated consistently.
- Expressed in language and actions that the recipient understands.
- Individualized and delivered personally.
- Viewed as authentic.
I’m convinced that if you apply these principles at the workplace you will change the whole future of your team and you will make some people smile on the way. And I mean, who is showing more potential, more commitment, than an appreciated employee?
…the honeymoon ended. so now… What is stopping you from becoming a hero of appreciation today?