By Paul White, Ph.D.
“People are burned out. We have to do more work with less people, and for no more money.” All around the world, in companies, schools, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, the same message is communicated over and over – both from leaders and from employees: “Workers are becoming more negative, cynical and discouraged. We need to do something to show them appreciation but funds are tight.”
The workplace environment can change for the better. Unfortunately, many recognition efforts by managers are misguided and wind up being a waste of time and effort. Why? Because they are not built upon the core principles needed for appreciation to be communicated effectively.
Core Principles for Effectively Communicated Appreciation
#1 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.
#2 Realize that 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.
#3 Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient
Not everyone likes public recognition or social events. One leader stated, “You can give me an award but you’ll have to shoot me first before I’ll go up and get it in front of a crowd.” And for many introverts, 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.
#4 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.
#5 Absolutely be genuine
Don’t try to fake it, or overstate your appreciation (“You are the best administrative assistant in the free world!”). People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived.
Negative and cynical workplace environments can be improved. 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 managers report enjoying their work more.
Clearly, when managers and colleagues begin to communicate authentic appreciation in the ways that are important to the recipients, positive results are not far away.
About the Author: 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
To know more about the 5 Languages of appreciation, read the previous article: Project Management Skills: Languages of Appreciation