Employee engagement

Keep Employees Engaged by Personalizing Appreciation

Dr. Paul White
April 10, 2020
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When we talk about employee engagement, we’re talking about the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, their team’s goals, and their company’s mission.

Essentially, it is a term that tries to capture an employee’s dedication, enthusiasm, and ability to do what’s necessary to help the organization succeed.

One reason employee engagement has gained popularity over the last decade is because it: a) is measurable (which business and organizational leaders like!); and b) has been shown to be tied to a variety of employee characteristics, including their willingness to learn, their commitment to get a job done, and the likelihood that they will stay with their current employer.


The challenge leaders face is to answer, “What increases employee engagement?” and “How do you make that happen?”

Companies and organizations can chase employee engagement, when what they really want are the building blocks that result in employees being more engaged. And we clearly know (both from research and from observation) that a key way to get employees to be more committed to and excited about their job is for them to feel truly valued by those with whom they work.

While a number of factors contribute to employee engagement (e.g. feeling they are contributing to the mission of the organization, having appropriate input into decisions), how valued and appreciated employees feel by their supervisor and colleagues is a huge contributor to the level of commitment an employee has to the organization.

Unfortunately, many employee recognition programs don’t really “hit the mark” for most individual workers, since these programs are often group-based communications and don’t do the work to find out the individual ways that workers actually feel appreciated.

This is one of the reasons our Appreciation at Work resources have had such a positive impact—because we help supervisors identify the unique ways their colleagues experience encouragement and help them communicate appreciation regularly and authentically.


What is authentic appreciation?

A key concept to understand is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. That is, not everyone might value a verbal compliment.

From our work with over 240,000 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.

In fact, we’ve identified five languages of appreciation important in the workplace: Words of Appreciation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Gifts, and Appropriate Physical Touch.

Once you learn a person’s language you can communicate appreciation more effectively and efficiently: spend time with those who value time, send notes to those who are impacted by them, help someone who will be grateful for the assistance, and give a gift to someone who will appreciate the thought.


Core principles for effectively communicated appreciation

In working with employees from thousands of companies across the world, we’ve found five key factors necessary for employees to truly feel valued:

  • Make sure your praise is specific and personal.

The most common mistake organizations and supervisors make is that their communication is general and impersonal. They send blast emails: “Good job. Way to go team.” But this has no specific meaning to the individual who stayed late to get the project completed.

Use your colleague’s name and tell them specifically what they do that makes your job easier.

  • Realize that other types of actions can be more impactful than words for many people.

Some employees do not value verbal praise (the “words are cheap” mentality). For many people, they have grown to not believe compliments from others, expecting them primarily to be an act of manipulation. Other actions can be more impactful for these individuals, like spending time with them or helping them get a task done.

  • Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient.

Not everyone likes public recognition or social events. For many introverts or busy people, going to a staff appreciation dinner is more like torture than a reward for doing a good job. They may prefer getting a gift card for a bookstore and staying at home and reading. Find out what they value and communicate your appreciation in that language.

  • Separate affirmation from constructive criticism or instruction.

If you want the positive message to be heard loud and clear, don’t follow your affirmation with a “But, you could…”” message.

Don’t give them a compliment and then tell them how they could do the task better. They will only remember the constructive criticism, and may not even hear the positive.

  • Absolutely be genuine.

Don’t try to fake it, or overstate your appreciation. People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived. Good things happen when individuals feel truly valued and appreciated for their contributions: employee relationships are less tense, communication becomes more positive, policies and procedures are followed more, staff turnover decreases. When supervisors and colleagues build a foundation of authentic appreciation, employees are likely to be engaged and motivated to fulfill the mission and goals of the company.


Engagement isn’t the only benefit

Appreciation in the workplace is directly related to employee engagement. The level of employee engagement within a workplace is important to leaders because it has been shown to be highly predictive of numerous positive benefits that impact the functioning of a company.

Over several years, the Gallup organization conducted research and interviews with one million employees across the world, and found that employees feeling appreciation is one of the core factors that can improve employee engagement.

Additionally, numerous studies (over 50 are cited in our new, revised version of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace) have identified significant positive results when team members feel valued and appreciated.

For example, a Glassdoor survey found four out of five employees (81%) say they are “motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.”

Additional benefits to companies and organizations include:

  • Reduction in employee turnover
  • Improved attendance and productivity
  • Fewer on-the-job accidents
  • Less employee theft
  • Higher customer ratings
  • Greater productivity

A company with a large, highly engaged group of employees will generally function better as an organization and create an overall more positive corporate culture and work environment.


Employees who are appreciated are more likely to be engaged

Your employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. Increasingly, finding quality team members has become a limiting factor to growing businesses. 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 your employees. If you don’t, your employees may become disengaged, and you could eventually lose key team members. This is a business challenge you don’t need, and that you can avoid.

Start with a small step. We can all influence those around us—start somewhere, today, with someone. Commit to doing what you can to communicate appreciation to those around you and help create a more positive workplace.

Small changes over time can add up to significant differences.


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