While authenticity has become an important concept in our culture recently, we have long emphasized that authentic appreciation is critical for healthy workplace relationships. However, employee recognition, which often does not seem genuine, can cause employees to react with cynicism and increased distrust.
Employee Recognition vs. Authentic Appreciation
While 85% to 90% of all companies have some form of employee recognition program, employee engagement has actually decreased. Why? Because employee recognition is effective at rewarding performance, but it does a lousy job of helping employees feel valued as individuals. Most employee recognition programs are designed in a way that they are generic (everyone gets the same certificate and gift card), group-based (a lot of introverts hate going up in front a group), focus solely on high performers (leaving out the majority of employees), and are viewed an inauthentic – (“It’s accounting’s turn to get the award this month”).
A key concept to understand is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same way. That is, not everyone values a verbal compliment. From our work with over 200,000 employees who have taken our Motivating By Appreciation Inventory, less than 50% choose words of affirmation as their primary appreciation language. Some people feel valued when you spend individual time with them. Others appreciate working together on tasks or getting some practical help.
You may think, however, that you are doing okay in encouraging and supporting your team – that your employees know you appreciate them. Sorry, probably not. A national employee recognition survey found that 51% of managers think they do a good job of recognizing employees for work well done. But the problem is that only 17% of their employees felt the manager did an adequate job of recognizing them for doing a good job. Obviously, there is a disconnect somewhere.
What we have found is that:
- Employees want to feel valued and appreciated at work.
- Most employees don’t feel appreciated.
- A majority of leaders either: a) Don’t care how their employees feel, b) Think they are doing an adequate job of communicating appreciation, or c) Don’t know what else to do (beyond what they’ve been doing).
Keys for Communicating Authentic Appreciation
In working with employees from thousands of businesses and nonprofits across the world, we’ve found four key factors necessary for employees to truly feel valued. Employees feel valued when appreciation is:
- Communicated regularly (not just once a year at a performance review)
- Shared in the language most important to the recipient (not what makes you feel appreciated)
- Delivered individually and personally (not as a group “blast email”)
- Perceived as authentic (not just “going through the motions”)
Your employees are your organization’s most valuable asset.
Your employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. Try accomplishing the tasks at hand without them! Increasingly, finding quality team members has become a limiting factor to growing organizations. To be a successful leader, you need to make sure you know how to communicate appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to each of them. If you don’t, they won’t perform as well, and you will eventually lose key team members. That is a business challenge you don’t need, and that you can avoid.
How Appreciation Impacts the Functioning of an Organization
Ultimately, running an organization is about serving your clientele well while remaining financially viable. As a result, many leaders think, “Yes, I want people to enjoy their work, but I’m not a cheerleader. We’ve got work to get done and have to keep the finances in the black.” True. But consider this. We know that when team members truly feel valued and appreciated, good things happen. Conversely, when staff don't feel valued:
- Tardiness increases
- People call in “sick” more often
- Productivity decreases
- Policies and procedures are not regularly followed
- More conflict occurs over petty issues
- People become more irritable
- Customer complaints increase
- Persevering to solve problem situations declines
- Internal theft rises
- Turnover increases (which is the top non-productive cost to companies)
Now, do you see how your staff feeling appreciated affects the health of your organization?
Not for Supervisors Only: The Importance of Peer Recognition
When we first started applying The 5 Languages of Appreciation to work-based relationships, our initial focus of communicating appreciation within the workplace was on managers and supervisors. In the past, an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor was found to be one of the most influential factors determining whether or not the employee enjoyed their job. So, our early focus was on training supervisors and managers in how to communicate appreciation effectively to their team members.
While this was a good starting point, we quickly learned that to focus solely on managers and supervisors was too narrow, and was not all that was needed. Although most employees like to receive positive messages from their supervisor, hearing encouragement and support from their coworkers has become increasingly important.
Moreover, colleagues are the individuals who often seem to be most excited to learn how to support their peers. In fact, we are finding that the work groups that are most successful in creating a positive work environment are the ones where the manager understands and works to implement the principle of mutual appreciation and encouragement among team members.
How the Workplace Has Changed
The biggest change to the workplace in the last decade has been the influx of millions of younger employees and the exodus of older generations. This shift has had a dynamic effect on the look, feel, and structure of workplace culture. Recent employee engagement surveys have found that employee satisfaction for younger workers is more closely correlated to the connections they share with their coworkers rather than those they share with their direct supervisor.
Our recent experiences make it clear that expanding the focus from expecting supervisors to be the sole “appreciators,” to include peer appreciation creates numerous positive results for teams.
- Lightens the load (and perceived load) on managers and supervisors to provide all of the relational support within a team.
- Supports the focus of younger employees on peer relationships in the workplace.
- Allows for appreciation to be applied and communicated even if a manager/ supervisor isn’t interested or involved.
- Keeps team members engaged and empowers them to make a difference in their work culture.
Just to clarify, we’re not proposing that managers give up their efforts to show recognition and communicate appreciation to team members. But when employees and supervisors consistently and effectively communicate appreciation to their colleagues, positive results occur more quickly, and are more dramatic in their intensity. Plus, the “staying power” of their effect is longer lasting.
Quality employees are not easy to find, develop or keep. It has become increasingly difficult to find individuals with the training and experience needed to do the job and who have the character qualities desired. Authentic appreciation communicated from both leaders and coworkers leads to a positive, supportive work environment that helps retain your employees.
Numerous additional benefits accrue when team members feel truly valued. Positive communication, increased productivity, improved morale, and customer satisfaction rise to a level we never imagined! All result from learning how to communicate authentic appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to each person on your team.
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and consultant who “makes work relationships work.” For the past 20 years, he’s helped organizations create positive workplace relationships and improve staff morale. Dr. White has coauthored several popular books on this topic including The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and Sync or Swim. His most recent book is The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation. Learn more at (drpaulwhite.com).