Wednesday, November 23, 2011

5 Keys to Effectively Communicating Appreciation in the Workplace

Guest post by Paul White:

As I travel around the country to consult for businesses and organizations, I hear the same message over and over—both from leaders and from their employees: “People are getting burned out. We have to do more work with less people, making do with the budget that we have,” or, “We need to do something to show our workers appreciation but funds are tight.” Burn-out is the common theme, as people in the workplace express that they are becoming more negative, cynical, and discouraged.

Research confirms that there are serious problems developing in the workplace today:

• 65% of workers say they have received no recognition or appreciation in the past 12 months.

• While 80% of large corporations have employee recognition programs, only 31% of their employees say they feel valued for doing good quality work.

• The #1 reason for recognition in most workplaces is longevity (how motivating is that?).

• Only 8% of employees feel their top management cares about them personally.

• 70% of employees are either disengaged or under engaged in their work.

• Yet only 21% of these workers are looking for work elsewhere, meaning approximately 50 % of the workforce are just passively enduring work they don’t enjoy.

The workplace environment needs to change for the better, and leaders can change the course. Unfortunately, many managers’ efforts to appreciate their staff are misguided and wind up being a waste of time and effort. Why? Because they are not built upon the core principles necessary for appreciation to be communicated effectively.

Make your praise specific and personal. The most common mistake organizations and supervisors make is communicating appreciation that is general and impersonal. Sending blast emails with the message, “Good job. Way to go, team!” has no specific significance for the individual who stayed late to get the project completed. Use your colleague’s name and state specifically what he or she does that makes your job easier.

Realize that action can be more impactful than words for some employees. Some people (seemingly, often men) do not value verbal praise, holding to the mentality that words are cheap. For these people, compliments are viewed with disbelief and skepticism, and sometimes verbal praise is understood as an act of manipulation. Actions are more effective to show appreciation for these individuals, such as spending time with them at the office or helping to get a task done.

Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient. Not everyone likes public recognition or social events. One leader told me, “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, an invitation to attend 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 your co-workers or employees 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 offer a compliment followed by a criticism of how the individual could do better. They will only remember the constructive criticism, and may not even hear the positive.

Be genuine. Don’t try to fake it or overstate your appreciation (“You are the best administrative assistant in the free world!”). People can sense when appreciation is obligatory or contrived.

In my business consulting practice, I have seen these simple principles of appreciation successfully improve workplace environments previously suffering from a bad case of burn-out. Appreciation has the ability to transform any team—whether in public schools, medical facilities, manufacturing firms, universities, restaurants or financial firms. Give it a go – it is worth it!

Author Bio:
Dr. Paul White is a business consultant and psychologist, and is the coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman. For more information, go to

About the Book: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace applies the “love language” concept of New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages, to the workplace. This book helps supervisors and managers effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships between managers and employees, and decreased cases of burnout. Ideal for both the profit and non-profit sectors, the principles presented in this book have a proven history of success in businesses, schools, medical offices, churches, and industry.


Natalie Cooper said...

Leaders need to foster a coaching & mentoring culture where managers are trained up to have honest, open conversations about what kind of personal development, training and support each member of their team needs from the business. If the mandate of senior management was to empower line managers to identify the passions of each team member outside of work, then map or link these passions to their day-to-day responsibilities and the wider business objectives – wouldn’t this lead to increased productivity, team morale, engagement, creativity and innovation?

Office Chairs said...

If the mandate of senior management was to empower line managers to identify the passions of each team member outside of work, then map or link these passions to their day-to-day responsibilities and the wider business objectives – wouldn’t this lead to increased productivity, team morale, engagement, creativity and innovation..

Dr. Paul White said...

Natalie, I think you are right on target. When a manager gets to know their team members at a more personal level -- what their interests & passions are -- they clearly communicate a sense of interest and value to the individual. This can create a greater connection and sense of engagement between the two -- leading to perseverance & creativity.

Jason said...

I would also add that the link should be approached as a joint venture. In the post there was a mention as to the perception of words and gestures as manipulation in some cases, and my question would revolve around the trust that must be created to make that mapping effective and well received. The engagement with the individual that validates the gesture of appreciation is more important than the gesture itself. Otherwise, the gesture could be misinterpreted or rebuked.

Dr. Paul White said...

Jason, absolutely. Authentic appreciation is critical -- one of the most common questions raised when I work with teams is the concern about genuineness (and conversely, manipulation). We actually address this in a chapter in the book on authentic appreciation. In actuality, regularly communicated appreciation can build trust -- versus having to wait for trust to exist.

Mike said...

The concept of making "praise specific and persona" is very important and I am glad you covered it in this post. Many managers do not get specific enough as to exactly what was done well. If you want a behavior repeated, be specific in recognizing it.

Aaron Drake said...

Great article Paul!

Unfortunately in expressing appreciation, it's not always the thought that counts. We really need to be in tune with our staff enough to know what will communicate value to them. While one person thrives on public praise, the next guy might be completely embarrassed and do whatever he can to prevent that from happening again. Now showing appreciation in the wrong way can actually have a reverse affect.

Thanks for the insights!

Dr. Paul White said...

Mike, you are correct. Just saying, "Good job" doesn't get it done. If you really want to grab someone's heart, comment on their character: dependability, integrity, cheerfulness, etc.

Dr. Paul White said...

I'm glad you found the article helpful. There is a huge gap in the workplace today between managers communicating appreciation (often verbally) and team members actually feeling appreciated. Using the right language of appreciation -- and the specific action important to the recipient makes all the difference in the world!