In the fast-paced world of modern business, one of the most overlooked aspects of organizational success is employee recognition and appreciation. Authentic appreciation can have transformative power in the workplace and has been shown to significantly boost employee morale, productivity, and loyalty.
Understanding the Importance of Appreciation
People crave recognition and appreciation. It is a human characteristic to feel validated by external influences that are genuinely saying, “I see you and I am grateful for you”. As in all areas of our lives, appreciation in the workplace is a fundamental human need. Psychologist William James famously stated, "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." We spend most of our time during the week working with our teams, so it is only natural that we want that work to be noticed and appreciated.
When employees feel valued, they are more likely to be engaged, productive, and loyal to their organization. When employees know that their work is being valued and celebrated for it, they will be more inclined to continue working hard towards success.
The first step towards creating a culture of recognition is understanding employees’ primary language of appreciation. Just as human learning styles differ, so do preferences for appreciation and recognition. Knowing those intricacies about individual employees is as important as the appreciation itself. If, for instance, you have an employee who is quite shy and prefers to work in the background and you pull them in front of the company and publicly praise them for a job well done, this is going to cause more harm than good. This person would have much appreciated a 1:1 moment of thanks rather than a company-wide one. Some folks love public praise, by management and by clients, because it makes them feel seen for their hard work. Some people don’t need praise at all, these people are internally motivated to do a good job all on their own. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, explains that a person’s language of appreciation is fundamental to who they are and the characteristics they possess.
Chapman explains that there are essentially five languages of appreciation that will meet the needs of 95% of employees. According to Chapman, the five ways of expressing appreciation are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch.
Words of Affirmation
For employees who feel recognized by words, Words of Affirmation are a testament to an employee for a job well done. These words should be descriptive and include specifics around the task or problem that they solved for the company. A simple “good job” or “well done” will not satisfy that desire to be seen by the employee because those phrases feel overplayed and generic. Making sure to pick out specifics around the performance makes the praise more meaningful for the employee and shows that you truly were paying attention. Try phrases like “I was so impressed with the way that you problem-solved that budget issue for our client, which was particularly complex and challenging and you crushed it!” Or “the onboarding training program that you put together for your new hire is so impressive! The rate at which they are acquiring knowledge and developing skills is remarkable”.
For some people, the time that you give them allows them to feel seen and valued. This could look like going out for a cup of coffee and giving them your undivided attention for a period, which can have a remarkable impact on that employee and the relationship. This could also involve sitting with the employee and letting them share their ideas and thoughts about their role or department or what they see as the next best thing for the company. For people who value relationship building, Quality Time is going to be the best way to show appreciation.
Acts Of Service
People who feel appreciated by Acts of Service will appreciate your willingness to take something off their plate if they are overloaded. They would appreciate it if you brought them a coffee in the morning or bought them lunch one day (consider DoorDash or another delivery service option for remote folks). Thinking about how you can recognize and support an employee through Acts of Service will allow these employees to feel seen and valued.
Giving Tangible Gifts
Tangible Gifts don’t have to be expensive for employees because, for them, it’s more “the thought that counts”. A small gift card to a local lunch spot, a bouquet of flowers, or 2 tickets to a movie theater will let the employee know that you are grateful for them and appreciate their hard work and dedication.
In Chapman’s original book, The Five Love Languages, he lists Physical Touch as one of the five drivers of connection and the way to make someone feel loved. Physical Touch in office settings and among co-workers would look more like a handshake, a high-5, a fist bump, or a pat on the back. To some people, physical contact is a measure of appreciation and gratitude and while this needs to be measured and professional in an office setting, it can still be achieved. It is also worth saying that you should not touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched – no exceptions.
The Role of Leadership in Employee Recognition
Effective employee recognition and appreciation starts with leadership. Leaders who prioritize appreciation and recognition set a tone of respect and value within the organization. This approach encourages a positive organizational culture, where employees feel supported and valued.
Employee recognition and appreciation doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Knowing your employees well and understanding what makes them feel valued will go a long way. Employee recognition is not just a nice-to-have; it's a crucial element of organizational success. By acknowledging and valuing employees, companies can foster a positive work environment, reduce turnover, and drive productivity. In today's competitive business landscape, the power of appreciation can be the key differentiator between a good company and a great one. Companies that master the art of appreciation will likely see not only happier employees but also improved business outcomes. The power of appreciation, therefore, is a tool that every organization should wield with skill and sincerity.