Words of Affirmation is just one of the five ways employees like to be shown appreciation. But in honor of January’s designation as National Thank You Month, I wanted to take a look at why sometimes even a simple thank you isn’t said often enough.
Business and organizational leaders are constantly reminded of how important it is to communicate appreciation to their staff — and it is.
When employees truly feel valued and appreciated, good things follow. Team members are less likely to leave for another job, complain and grumble, steal from the organization, or get hurt on the job.
Conversely, they are more likely to show up for work (and on time), follow established policies and procedures, and get more work done. Their job satisfaction ratings go up and their employee engagement increases. Also, when staff feel appreciated, customer ratings tend to rise and managers report enjoying their work more.
So if all these positive results occur, why isn’t appreciation communicated more?
There are a number of reasons, and the reasons can differ across individuals. But these are the top factors:
1. EVERYONE IS TOO BUSY
Supervisors, managers and employees report that they skip appreciation efforts because they are too busy. Virtually everyone states they already have too much to do and don’t have any time (or mental space) to think about another set of tasks.
Busyness is far and above the primary reason people cite for not communicating appreciation.
2. A FOCUS ON TASKS
Another frequently cited reason for not communicating appreciation has to do with the nature of work and work relationships. By definition, work is focused on getting tasks done. Companies either sell goods or provide services, and that is the focus of every employee’s day. But accomplishing tasks requires working with other people in order to accomplish the organization’s larger goals.
There has to be a balance of working together with others as people (employees are not just “production units” or machines) and getting the work done.
3. CONCERNS ABOUT EXPRESSING APPRECIATION
Managers often say: “I don’t want people to begin to expect praise all of the time.” Others voice concerns that their appreciation will be discounted and viewed as inauthentic, like much employee recognition activities that occur organizationally. And finally, communicating appreciation can feel like a bit of a risk — the message may be at a deeper, personal level than some people feel comfortable communicating in an employment setting.
4. UNCERTAINTY ABOUT WHAT TO SAY, OR BAD REACTION IN THE PAST
Some supervisors report they really don’t know what to do or say when they are encouraged to communicate appreciation to their team members. Is “thanks” enough? Others report that they have tried to praise those with whom they work and it didn’t go well. They either got no response, a grunt, or a sarcastic comment in return. As a result, they have low motivation to try it again.
5. NOT RECEIVING APPRECIATION THEMSELVES
A few individuals will report they don’t recognize their colleagues for work well done because “I never got any praise through my career and I made it fine.” A final aspect of this set of reasons is that many supervisors and managers don’t feel appreciated or valued themselves, so it is challenging for them to communicate positive messages to those who work for them — because their own “emotional well” is dry.
6. BELIEF THAT APPRECIATION ISN’T NEEDED
Finally, some people honestly state that either they don’t think appreciation should be communicated or that they really don’t value those with whom they work. When leaders don’t really value recognizing or encouraging their employees (the “I-show-them-I-appreciate-them-by-paying-them” approach), there is not much to do except to let them experience the results of their choices.
Typically, these leaders have the highest turnover rate and lowest job satisfaction ratings by their staff. There are times when some colleagues are difficult to work with or people just don’t get along very well. But it is best not to try to “fake” communicating appreciation when it isn’t really there. Even so, usually some characteristic (possibly not work-related, like training for a 10k) can be mentioned as a positive.
WHAT TO DO?
First, it is important to understand the importance of your staff feeling appreciated. If you don’t accept this as a reality of managing others, a negative work environment will develop and you’ll have a revolving door of team members.
Don’t create another “to-do” list — you and your supervisors don’t need more to do. Rather, make sure that the efforts and actions you take hit the mark. A global, generic “way to go, team!” isn’t going to work. In fact, it has become evident that most employee recognition programs aren’t working to help employees feel valued.
Realize that not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways; find out what is meaningful to your team members and communicate appreciation through these actions.
Most often, actually, it is not that appreciation isn’t communicated but that it isn’t communicated in the ways important to the recipient — which is practically the same as not being communicated at all.