19 JAN, 2017

Appreciation Can Enhance Employee Engagement

businessman thumbs up appreciation

This is a guest post. Paul White, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant who makes work relationships work. He is co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. For more information, go to www.appreciationatwork.com.

Engaged employees—those who feel connected to the mission of the organization and understand their role in its success—are a result of a combination of factors. These include involvement in decision-making, considering employee input, opportunity for job development, and sensing that supervisors are concerned about workers’ well being. This continues to be a challenge—50.7% of employees surveyed by Gallup in June were “not engaged” in their workplaces, and 16.7% were “actively disengaged.”

Many companies have a recognition program in place, but the challenge is to know what actions hit the mark and effectively communicate appreciation to a team member. I co-wrote The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman (best selling author of The Five Love Languages) in part to solve this dilemma. In the book, we identify five languages, and then give action steps for each one. The languages of appreciation are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch.

We have found that each person has a primary and secondary language of appreciation. Our primary language communicates more deeply to us than the others. Although we will accept appreciation in all five languages, we will not feel truly encouraged unless the message is given through our primary language. When messages are sent repeatedly in ways outside of that language, the intent of the message misses the mark and loses the impact the sender had hoped for.

A foundation of appreciation can enhance employee engagement. These core principles are needed for appreciation to be communicated effectively.

Core Principles for Effectively Communicated Appreciation

  • 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 they have no specific meaning to the individual who stayed late to get the project completed. Use your colleague’s name and tell 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 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 “Now, if you would only…” 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, and businesses report being safer. 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.

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