Mar 09

Appreciation in the Workplace – It Really Does Make A Difference

You may have heard about appreciation in the workplace, its contribution to employee engagement and the role it can play in a business’s success. It’s that smart-sounding thing that, like cleaning the attic, you know would be good to do but haven’t gotten around to doing.

A lot of employers and employees think that they already do a great job of showing and communicating appreciation. Yet, here are some current and striking statistics*:

  • Only 29% of employees are engaged with their work
  • 54% of employees are not engaged with their work
  • 17% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they’re regularly sabotaging productive work
  • 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as one of the main reasons for their choice to leave

Bottom line: you may not be doing as good a job as you think.

Maybe you’re wondering: why is my staff turnover higher than it should be? What about attitudes I experience from co-workers or employees (irritability, cynicism, sarcasm, or apathy)? Maybe someone has even said: “I never know if I’m doing a good job or if you’re about to fire me.”

When it comes to management styles, people have a tendency to mimic the style they learned from previous jobs or employers. After all, we tend to do what is familiar to us. And if that style didn’t proactively embrace appreciation in the workplace, then odds are you wouldn’t naturally do it either. The good news is: you’re not stuck with that model–you can learn a different style. There are libraries full of books on management styles, and there is data on the most effective management styles.

For this article, we will focus on one component: motivating by appreciation, i.e. more carrot and less stick. Ways of expressing appreciation can vary widely. We’ve all heard about Google’s free food and flexible work time benefits. Appreciation is at once both simpler and more complex than gimmicks like ping pong games on Fridays.

Here are 10 easy ways to express appreciation to almost anyone:

  1. Give a verbal compliment
  2. Write an email
  3. Stop by and see how someone is doing
  4. Do something together
  5. Do a small task for someone
  6. See if you can help
  7. Buy coffee/tea/snack
  8. Give a magazine related to an area of interest
  9. High five when task is completed
  10. Greet each other warmly

While some claim that appreciation (or the need for it) is a generational trend—that “baby-boomers” work all day with no whining while those “millennials” can’t answer the phone without needing a compliment from their manager—the reality is everyone wants to be appreciated.

Study after study has shown that every employee wants to know what is expected of them, how they’re doing, what they could/should do better, and that they are making a difference. The fact is that everyone needs appreciation in order to do their best work. The more the appreciation aligns with the individual the greater the impact.

It is also a myth that appreciation takes too much time. Developing a habit of and spending a few dedicated minutes on appreciation with employees and co-workers on an ongoing basis takes very little time. Investing in workplace appreciation in this way can yield significant results.

Thankfully, some smart people have studied this concept and found that people’s appreciation needs are not entirely the same. Those smart people are Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White. They have studied and authored The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Dr. Chapman is also the author of The 5 Love Languages, which, along with The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, is a New York Timesbestseller. Both books are quick, excellent reads and are highly recommended for both personal and professional growth.

One concept behind the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace is that we all have a primary and secondary language in which we like to receiveappreciation. Those languages are: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Touch. Obviously touch in the workplace can raise red flags, but an occasional high five or fist bump may, at times, be acceptable for certain people.

The Languages

1) Quality Time. Like it sounds, this is quality time and focused attention given to your employees, usually one-on-one. The important thing is quality, not quantity. Don’t fit this in when you have distractions. Block out 5-10 minutes, put your cell phone away, tell the other staff members not to disturb you, and get ready to listen. A focus on work is important; avoid just talking about trivial personal events. You may need to ask some probing questions like:

  1. How are things going?
  2. How’s your workload?
  3. What do you think of the schedule?
  4. What’s working and not working?

Getting quality answers may take time. If this is a new experience for the staff, don’t expect them to open up the first time. Trust will build with persistence and genuine connection.

Other examples of Quality Time:

  • Focused attention when an employee has a question
  • Genuine companionship
  • Shared experiences
  • Affirming feelings even if you disagree
  • Personal connection through listening and sharing

2) Words of Affirmation. Saying “good job” is a good start, but take it further. Avoid blanket statements to all employees like “great work everyone, keep it up.” Find something in particular the person did, even if it’s as simple as the way s/he answered the phone, and compliment that person for thataction. While the old adage is “critique in private, praise in public,” keep in mind that some staff will prefer individual praise over group praise.

Other examples of Words of Affirmation:

  • Written appreciation; email is fine, handwritten is better
  • Compliment an employee for an attitude or behavior that you enjoy, such as being optimistic, organized, or self-directed
  • Mention at a staff meeting the solid work someone did on a difficult project

3. Gifts. Keep it unique. Buying everyone the same present won’t get you the “Boss of the Year” award, nor will be giving basketball tickets to the person who hates sports. Gifts should be personal and unique to the individual. This requires listening and learning. There are certain gifts, like food for example, that everyone enjoys. Take your staff out for lunch, or schedule a company dinner where significant others are invited. Gifts do not have to be expensive; a small, personal gift will go much further than an expensive impersonal one.

Other gift examples (if the person enjoys these things):

  • Tickets to a music show or sporting event
  • A gift certificate to their favorite store or restaurant
  • Spa treatments
  • A small vacation or retreat to a place they want to visit
  • Giving someone the afternoon off (paid) to enjoy time for themselves
  • Tickets to a comedy club

4. Acts of Service. Everyone can use a helping hand. Take note of your team and their workloads. If someone is on vacation, where is the extra pressure? Can you assist someone with a particular project? What if you stayed late to help the final push of a big task? Could you supply food or complete menial tasks to allow the team to focus on their project?

Keep in mind:

  • Ask first, don’t assume the person needs help
  • Be cheerful
  • Do it their way, follow their lead
  • Finish the task, don’t leave them hanging halfway through

Most people are not aware that these subtle language preferences exist, for themselves or others. This can create confusion, tension, and resentment. A manager may give a material gift to an employee only to find the employee marginally excited because his/her primary language is not Gifts. The manager thinks, “I would have been thrilled to receive this and s/he doesn’t seem to care at all, what is wrong with her/him?”

How do you learn and understand yours and others individual languages? Drs. Chapman and White developed a simple quiz that identifies a person’s primary and secondary languages. The assessment, coupled with an appreciation workshop, can lead to greater understandings and enhancements in the types and kinds of interactions that take place.

While it can be challenging to address everyone, you can mix it up to increase your odds of hitting on something that works. For example, you may consider a once or twice-a-year event that combines multiple languages. For example:

  1. Take the staff on a weekend retreat where you discuss challenges and solutions for the office
  2. Close the office early and have a catered lunch
  3. Do a company trip to a city with entertainment that everyone enjoys, mixing group and individual time
  4. Have the next local company event somewhere fun like a bowling alley

Conclusion

Many business owners like to say “our business doesn’t exist without our #1 priority: our customers.” Where would your business be without your employees? Where would your employees be without you? You have your goals, they have theirs. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Yet, those employers and employees do not have a habit of showing appreciation.

To get started with appreciation in your workplace, use the top 10 list provided. Also, use the examples listed with each language. Try them out. See what works. The benefits of an engaged, appreciated workforce are numerous:

  • Increased productivity and attendance
  • Better employee interactions
  • Improved relationships
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Lower turnover and human resources costs
  • Stronger loyalty
  • Higher employee morale
  • Enjoying coming to work!

It has been said that it is better to give than to receive. The science now backs that up. By giving to your employees and your co-workers, you become happier and more fulfilled. You start a positive feedback loop that yields tangible financial results and reduced stress. Give it a try today!

*Source: 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

Written by: Alan Twigg and Fran Pangakis