Employee Appreciation: It’s Personal and Powerful

Employee Appreciation: It is Personal and Powerful

During these exceptionally challenging and stressful times, a small show of appreciation in the workplace can go a long way.

Employee engagement, performance and morale soar when an employee feels their contribution to the workplace is recognised, but a one-size-fits-all approach to gratitude won’t cut it, it needs to be personal.

A recent Deloitte study of 16,000 employees highlighted the power of gratitude, revealing that 85 per cent of professionals prefer to hear “thank you” for their day-to-day accomplishments rather than a celebration or gifts (each rated at just 7 per cent).

Interestingly, 36 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men prefer managers make an extra effort and provide the “thank you” in writing.

Suzanne Vickberg, a social-personality psychologist with Deloitte, explained the company’s motivation for conducting this research.

“It’s important to understand there are differences between people and to get curious about what an individual prefers,” she said.

“If you want to validate someone’s contribution and encourage their continued engagement, you need to know what makes them feel appreciated, not what makes others feel appreciated.”

Even when an employee scored a significant accomplishment at work the study revealed cash isn’t always king. A new growth opportunity was identified as the most valued form of recognition across organisational levels, generations and genders.

Millennials particularly valuing new growth opportunities, with 51 per cent prioritising them, compared to 45 per cent of Gen Xers and 40 per cent of Baby Boomers.

Recognition helps employees feel the company values them and their contributions to the success of their team and the company overall. Additional research by Deloitte found employee engagement, productivity and performance were 14 per cent higher in organisations with recognition programs in place than those without, and a 15 per cent boost in engagement can result in a 2 per cent increase in margins.

Expressing praise and gratitude is particularly important for maintaining morale. Gratitude makes people feel valued, and positive feedback has been shown to mitigate the negative effects of stress and boost employee motivation.

Neuroscientists have even shown that the brain processes verbal affirmations similarly to financial rewards. Also, because the human brain views the workplace as a social system, feeling disrespected or not valued activates the pain regions of the brain.

Compound this with the pressure of the pandemic, daily stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, and employees can be caught in a downward spiral of negativity and pessimism with long-term, harmful impacts on health and wellbeing.

At some point, this type of mindset can lead to an increase in staff turnover, a loss of productivity, and a consequent drop in revenue.

A Harvard Business Review article on an investigation by Babson College in the US into employee perceptions of an organisation’s efforts to show appreciation discovered that management found it challenging to show their staff appreciation, while employees believe the approach was simple.

Here are five recommended approaches for appreciating employees:

  1. Touch base early and often.

Regularly taking time to say hello to employees and check in is a valuable point of connection and prevents staff from feeling invisible. One employee reported that simply hearing “Good morning” or “How are you?” from his manager would have been as meaningful as formal recognition.

Create routines, allowing employees to share stories with you about what they’re doing or working on and making them feel “known.”

  1. Give balanced feedback.

Employees want to know what they’re doing well and where they can improve. Receiving feedback — positive and developmental — was one of the key things that made them feel valued.

  1. Address growth opportunities.

Employees want to know what the future holds for their careers. When managers take time to explicitly discuss growth potential or provide opportunities and “stretch” assignments, employees interpret it as evidence that they’re valued. Conversely, when managers neglect to address people’s development, employees take it as a sign that they are not valued.

  1. Offer flexibility.

Whether managers gave people the option to work remotely or allowed greater flexibility, employees were quick to interpret it as an important signal of trust and appreciation.

  1. Make it a habit.

Taking a few minutes to tell your employee specifically what you value about their contributions can have a tremendous impact. Build it into your regular routines, use the first 15 minutes of your week writing a personal thank-you note or starting your team meetings with shout-outs acknowledging the accomplishments of individual team members.

The idea isn’t to create an automatic system for thanking employees, however; it’s more about giving yourself permission to express your appreciation in a way that feels natural to you.

The research also suggested guidance on where some managers make mistakes when expressing appreciation:

  1. Avoid inauthentic or sweeping generalisations.

Appreciation needs to be specific and genuine. Meaningful expressions of appreciation were often described as timely, relevant, and sincere, and expressions that come off as hollow may be worse than no thanks at all.

  1. Neglecting standard company procedures.

Don’t skip annual reviews or quarterly check-ins. For employees, they’re important milestones that provide clues about their progress and performance. When a manager skips them, employees often infer that they, not the procedure, are what the manager doesn’t value.

  1. Letting employees feel isolated from coworkers o the larger organisation.

For managers, it’s much easier to see how the contributions of each person fit with the work of others, but employees often lack that insight. When managers highlight how employees use one another’s work within their organisation, it sets the stage for appreciation to spread throughout the organisation.

Creating a culture of appreciation within the workplace is a low-cost and high-return strategy. Anyone at any level can offer appreciation. It can be directed toward an employee, a colleague, or a boss and as the research reveals, a little appreciation can go a long way

Thank you to the Harvard Business Review feature, The little things that make employees feel appreciated, which helped to write this article.


References and further resources:

Forbes: Knowing How Your Employees Want To Be Recognized (And For What) Is Key To Their Engagement

Forbes: Recognition is essential now more than ever

Harvard Business Review: A simple compliment can make a difference