Over the past few years, business leaders have been told: “You need to recognize your employees for the work they do. You can’t expect them to feel important just because you pay them.” This has been repeated to the degree that now 90% of all companies in the U.S. have some form of employee recognition program in place.
Unfortunately, both research and individual reports show that most employee recognition programs aren’t effective in helping employees feel valued. During the same time frame that these programs have been implemented, the levels of job satisfaction and “employee engagement” (the degree to which employees are emotionally engaged with their work) have actually declined at the same time!
If you take the time to actually talk to front line workers and their supervisors, their primary reaction to their employers’ employee recognition program is, at best, apathy and more frequently, cynicism.
Realization: Recognition Isn’t the Same as Appreciation
"The key lesson is to understand that recognition isn’t the same as appreciation. Recognition, as it is practiced in most organizations, focuses primarily on external behavior, and specifically, employee performance."Dr. Paul White
Team members receive a verbal compliment, or possibly some tangible reward, when they are observed to be doing well in the behaviors desired by the company.
By itself, rewarding desired behavior is not bad (in fact, it usually is good to do). However, if employees only feel recognized or appreciated when they perform well, or “above and beyond,” then resentment can build. Why? Because employees don’t just want to be viewed as a “machine” or valued for what they can produce. They also desire to be appreciated for who they are.
This is where Christian leaders can shine and stand out from their peers – we know that people have value because they are created in God’s image. (We also know that it is normative to make mistakes.) Performance-based recognition is an okay starting point, but you can really communicate value to a colleagues when you encourage them even when they’ve made a mistake. Calling attention to who they are, their character. can be incredibly impactful.
Key Components for Employees to Truly Feel Valued:
We have been able to identify four key components for employees to actually feel valued by their supervisors and colleagues. Appreciation must be:
- Communicated regularly
Once or twice a year at the employee’s performance review, or at the “team member of the month” ceremony doesn’t get it done. People need frequent feedback that they are valued.
- Individualized and personal
A blast email to the team saying, “Good job, team. Way to get the project done.” doesn’t mean much to the shipping clerk who worked late to get the order out. Or having a group ice cream social to show appreciation for meeting the annual production goal can feel like a cheap, convenient way to say “thanks” to a big group all at once.
- In the language and specific actions meaningful to the recipient
Do you realize that 20-25% of people don’t want to go up front to receive a reward? Or that going to an unstructured, social gathering with a large group of people is more like torture for many introverts? Appreciation needs to be communicated through the actions valued by the recipient.
- Perceived as authentic
The biggest complaint about employee recognition programs is that they feel contrived: “They don’t really mean it – they are just doing this because they are supposed to.” If the message sent isn’t believed to be genuine, it’s just a waste of time.
Bad Things Happen When People Don’t Feel Appreciated
For business leaders, one key point to understand is that, from a business perspective, this isn’t about making people “feel good”. A core issue is that when employees don’t feel appreciated, bad things happen, including:
- Higher rates of tardiness.
- More absenteeism.
- Increased internal theft by employees.
- Higher staff turnover rate, and accompanying higher training costs.
- More internal conflict and stress among team members.
- Decreased productivity and quality of work.
- Lower customer satisfaction ratings.
All of these results contribute to higher costs for companies. Finding and training new employees has been found to be one of the most expensive, non-productive costs to organizations. Absenteeism can be up to 30% of a company’s payroll expense, when including direct and indirect costs.
Foundational Fact: Not Everyone Feels Appreciated in the Same Way
Leaders must understand that not everyone feels appreciated in the same way as they are. Team members have different “languages” of appreciation. Believe it or not: not everyone likes verbal praise. (Some people believe, “Words are cheap.”) For one type of employee, spending time with them is the most effective way to communicate they are valued. For others, helping them on a project encourages them. Each person is different.
Leaders can make their companies more likely to survive these difficult times by learning how to communicate authentic appreciation (versus “going through the motions” recognition.) Effectively communicating appreciation makes good business sense and will make work more enjoyable for your staff and for you.
By: Dr. Paul White
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and consultant who makes work relationships work. Co-author of the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (with Dr. Gary Chapman), Dr. White provides practical advice in improving workplace relationships and successfully transferring family businesses across generations.Read More Articles by Dr. Paul White