Fifty-one percent of managers reported they felt they were doing a good job in recognizing work well done, but only 17% of their team members stated they felt recognized by the manager for doing good quality work.
For some leaders, the topic of showing appreciation to their employees is often viewed as a distraction or an “HR issue” with unnecessary associated costs of leaders’ time and energy, and the company’s money. A growing mountain of research tells differently.
The Current Challenge
Business owners and managers are becoming acutely aware that they are in a highly competitive environment for finding and keeping good employees. Having even one or two key positions open can affect the functioning of the company, and whether the business is profitable or struggling to be so.
The first response of many business leaders (and directors of nonprofits) is to try to pay employees more--either through base compensation or additional bonuses and commissions. The problem is: research clearly indicates that most employees don’t leave their current position (or go to a new one) solely for more pay. Numerous studies show that non-monetary factors are more important,and that when team members feel appreciated,they are more likely to stay long-term.
Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued and appreciated. In one study, 65% of employees reported they had received no recognition for doing good work in the past year.Interestingly, in a study of numerous corporations, 51% of managers reported they felt they were doing a good job in recognizing work well done, but only 17% of their team members stated they felt recognized by the manager for doing good quality work. Obviously, there is a disconnect between what leaders think they are doing and how it is impacting those they lead.
Employee Recognition Isn’t the Answer
Over the past two decades, leaders have looked to one “magic bullet” they hoped would resolve declining employee engagement and job satisfaction ratings: employee recognition programs (ERPs).
The problem is that most ERPs don’t work in helping employees feel valued. Statistics (and numerous personal stories) show that employee engagement (the degree to which employees are emotional committed to their jobs) and job satisfaction have not increased, while cynicism, lack of trust and resentment are growing in organizations.
This is highly frustrating to business owners, managers, and supervisors. When speaking with managers, I often hear: “I don’t know what they want. I tell them they are doing a good job. I try to compliment them and support them. And we give out awards and some gift—but nothing seems to help.” And the irritation seems to be growing, with a perception that millennials are even more difficult to satisfy.
Recognition Isn’t Appreciation
It is vital for leaders to understand that recognition isn’t the same as appreciation.
Recognition, as practiced in most organizations, focuses primarily on external behavior, specifically employee performance. Team members report, “They don’t care about me personally; they just want to get more out of us.” Over time, resentment and anger increases while feeling truly valued declines.
Conversely, authentic appreciation communicates value about the person, not simply focusing on performance and what is good for the company. Appreciation for workers and colleagues involves a genuine heart attitude and cannot be faked.
Key Components for Employees to Truly Feel Appreciated
Fortunately, we’ve been able to identify four key components that enable supervisors and colleagues to convey true appreciation for team members, regardless of their position.
Appreciation must be:
- Communicated regularly. Once or twice a year at an employee’s performance review or rewards at the “Team Member of the Month” ceremony doesn’t get it done. People need consistency in the fact that they are valued. The frequency will differ according to the individual and the setting.
- Individualized and personal. A blast email to the team saying, “Good job, team! Way to get the job done,” doesn’t say anything to the shipping clerk who worked late to get the order out or having a group ice cream social to show appreciation to supervisors often feels like a cheap, convenient way to say “Thanks” to a big group all at once. What does the individual bring to the workplace that you value?
- Are the language and specific actions meaningful to the recipients? Do you realize that between 30 to 40% of all employees don’t now want to go up front to receive their reward or that going to an unstructured, social gathering is more like torture for many introverts? We found that even if you get the language of appreciation correct for a person there are still many actions within the language that can “hit” or “miss” the target of an individual.
- Perceived as Authentic. The biggest compliant about employee recognition programs is that they feel contrived and impersonal. “They don’t really mean it. They are just doing it because they are supposed to.” If the message isn’t perceived as genuine, it is a waste of time.
Not Everyone Feels Appreciated in the Same Way
It is difficult, however, to determine the preferred language of appreciation or the specific actions that team members desire because the topic doesn’t come up in daily conversation. As a result, we have created an online instrument (the Motivation By Appreciation Inventory) that identifies team members’ primary and secondary language of appreciation and allows them to specify the unique actions important to them. Over 175,000 employees have taken this inventory; for more information go to www.appreciationatwork.com.
Good Things Happen When Employees Feel Appreciated
Leaders can help their companies and organizations become healthier and develop a more positive workplace culture by paying attention and investing in ways to value their team members. Over time the return on investment will be significant:
- Reduced absenteeism
- Lower staff replacement costs
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Increase productivity and profitability
- More positive work environment and less conflict
- Employees and managers enjoy their work more
The key is to communicate authentic appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to your team members. Clearly, effectively communicating appreciation to your staff makes good business sense.
Paul White, Ph.D. is coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the New York Times bestseller The 5 Love Languages. Dr. White speaks to organizations, associations, and conferences, helping them learn how to effectively build positive workplace cultures. Learn more at Dr. White's website: www.drpaulwhite.com