• The Subtle Art of Employee Appreciation_836.png

    The Subtle Art of Employee Appreciation

    Many companies run employee recognition programs, but employees still feel unappreciated. The problem is that the steps these programs take seem like a formality, something done just for the sake of it. Companies' actions to show appreciation don’t go far enough and often do the bare minimum.

    Imagine this situation; an employee receives a box on completing ten years in the company. There is a note from the employee’s manager wishing them a happy anniversary, but much to the employee’s dismay, there is no thank you note. The manager’s gesture doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t accomplish anything since the employee doesn’t feel appreciated. Instead of giving people a meaningful sense of appreciation, such programs become just another box for managers to check and are completely disconnected from employees’ accomplishments.

    Some companies try to make programs more relevant by giving specific awards to individuals who have created and led an important new initiative, “embodied” the organization’s values in their behaviour, or had a significant impact. Yet that approach has problems, too: Awards can be seen as an elite opportunity for a chosen few, leaving the majority of the workforce feeling left out and overlooked.

    Researchers Adam Grant and Francesca Gino found that people are more productive when their managers express gratitude towards them. Another research indicates that teams perform better when they feel their colleagues respect and appreciate them. Many managers struggle to make employees feel their talents and contributions are noticed and valued. Bosses feel it’s challenging to show their staff appreciation; the employees think it’s pretty simple.

    The Gap Between Managers and Employees

    There is a stark difference between how much managers appreciate their employees and how much they feel appreciated. One probable explanation for the gap could be people’s tendency to overestimate how visible their emotions are to others. Managers often assume that their employees know what they feel about them.

    Managers feel that communicating appreciation is complicated. They don’t want to send mixed messages to employees and find it difficult to balance appreciation with developmental feedback. The other concern was that the whole effort would become impersonalized and meaningless if they appreciated all employees. After all, if everyone is appreciated, then no one feels appreciated.

    On the other hand, employees do not see this as a complex task. Here’s how employees think managers should show appreciation:

    Touch base early and often: While regularly speaking to employees and checking in with them might seem like an unnecessary drain on your productivity, these interactions are valuable points of connection for your employees (and you). They prevent your staff from feeling invisible. Employees feel that doing these little things is just as effective as formal recognition. If managers create routines that allow employees to share stories about what they’re doing or working on, they will feel that their manager “knows” them — and stay in the loop on what’s happening within the organization.

    Give balanced feedback: Employees want to know what they’re doing well and where they can improve. Employees feel valued if they receive positive and developmental feedback. Receiving praise from the manager is meaningful, but if they never get improvement-oriented suggestions, they question the validity of the positive feedback. Meanwhile, employees who receive only critical feedback may give up if they feel they could never do anything right.

    The trick is to avoid giving both types of feedback at once. Employees get confused when managers try the common sandwich technique, stuffing negative feedback between two layers of positive feedback. Sometimes, the people who needed the developmental feedback tended only to hear their manager's positive words. The people who performed well left, remembering more of the negative comments. So be sure to separate the positive feedback from the developmental feedback.

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

    Offer flexibility: Whether managers allowed people to work remotely or even simply suggested someone come in late the day after working extra hours, employees quickly interpreted it as an important signal of trust and appreciation.

    Make it a habit: Simply telling employees what the manager values about their contributions can tremendously impact them. Managers can include appreciating employees in their routines. Perhaps, by spending the first 15 minutes of the week writing a personal thank-you note or starting team meetings with shout-outs briefly acknowledging the accomplishments of individual team members. The range of options is almost limitless.

    Some managers give food and gift cards as tangible expressions of appreciation; others make it a point to visit daily with each of their reports. The idea isn’t to create an automatic system for thanking employees; it’s more about permitting yourself to express your appreciation in a natural way.

    Mistakes to Avoid

    Employees are equally clear about how managers communicate a lack of appreciation for them. Here are some common things managers get wrong:

    Expressions of gratitude that are inauthentic or sweeping generalizations: 

    Appreciation needs to be specific and genuine. While employees are enthusiastic about the variety of ways managers can express gratitude, they are unmoved by empty or offhanded gestures. Managers could sit down with employees and describe how their contribution positively affects the organization. There is a big difference between a manager yelling a thank-you on their way out the door and a manager spending time to express what they value in an employee.

    Meaningful expressions of appreciation are timely, relevant, and sincere. Expressions that come off as hollow may be worse than not offering appreciation. Managers also need to tread carefully when recognizing everyone on a team. Sometimes a group’s performance is not a reflection of equal contributions from all its members, and you risk alienating high performers if everyone receives the same recognition.

    Neglecting standard company procedures: 

    Many busy managers feel that procedures like annual reviews, quarterly check-ins, and nominating employees for awards are a waste of time. But to employees, they’re essential 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. Suppose you’re going to deviate from the organization’s rulebook, at the very least. In that case, you need to be explicit with your employees about why, or they might conclude that your inaction is a statement about them.

    Letting employees feel isolated from coworkers or the larger organization: 

    For managers, it’s much easier to see how each person's contributions fit with others' work, but employees often lack that insight. When managers highlight how employees use one another’s work within their department or across others, it may spread appreciation throughout the organization.


    Sudden or unexplained shifts in your appreciation practices:

    Managers should not overcompensate if they haven’t shown appreciation to their employees; chances are, they’ll see your efforts as insincere. Instead, let them know that you’re working on developing your gratitude skills as a leader. Take time to ask how they’d like to be recognized. The key is to know your employees’ individual preferences.

    Making Appreciation Easy and Contagious

    The best part of appreciation is that it’s free and doesn’t consume much time. It can be directed toward an employee, a colleague, or a boss. But when leaders get involved in the effort, a culture of appreciation spreads quickly.

    One thing that helps is getting together with other managers to discuss gratitude strategies that have worked well (or haven’t). If you’re a manager, consider partnering with one or more peers to exchange ideas and create accountability for your efforts.

    Building a culture of appreciation comes down primarily to many small but prominent practices: Not taking employees for granted. Remembering to say thank you in a personal and sincere way. Make it clear that you’re interested in your employees’ growth and development.

    Start by expressing more gratitude to those around you and see what happens. You might be surprised at the big difference the little things can make.

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    About the Author

    Kamal Rastogi is a serial IT entrepreneur with 25 yrs plus experience. Currently his focus area is Data Science business, ERP Consulting, IT Staffing and Experttal.com (Fastest growing US based platform to hire verified / Risk Compliant Expert IT resources from talent rich countries like India, Romania, Philippines etc...directly). His firms service clients like KPMG, Deloitte, EnY, Samsung, Wipro, NCR Corporation etc in India and USA.

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