How to Show Authentic Appreciation in the Workplace

by Dr. Paul White on Apr 15, 2015 8:00:00 AM

iStock_000019862794_SmallFrom my research in working with employee groups across the country, four core conditions have been identified which need to be present in order for employees to truly feel appreciated (which differs from recognition just being communicated through a program). Team members will feel valued when appreciation is communicated:

1. Regularly

What is "regularly?" It varies depending on the work setting, the frequency of interaction between coworkers, and the nature of the relationship. However, "regularly" clearly implies more than once a year at an employee’s performance review, or when someone receives the “Staff Member of the Month” award.

2. Through the language and actions important to the recipient

The key word is “recipient.” Most of us tend to communicate appreciation to others through the actions which we value – like giving a verbal compliment or sending an email. But not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. Some people appreciate words of affirmation, while others are encouraged when someone helps them with a task. Spending time is another way to demonstrate support, like stopping by a colleague’s office to see how they are doing. Bringing a colleague a special cup of coffee when you know they’ve had a long day can be a “pick me up.” Even a high five or a fist bump can be a form of celebration when a difficult project has been completed.

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3. In a way that is personal and individualized 

While group-based recognition is a good start (“Way to go, team. Our patient satisfaction ratings improved significantly last quarter.”), if the appreciation doesn’t relate to what the individual team member did to help achieve the goal, the communication can fall flat. Team members want to know what they have done that is valued – that you appreciate their specific actions.

4. In a manner that is perceived as genuine and authentic 

If the communication of appreciation is not perceived as being genuine, nothing else really matters.  Actions of recognition can appear inauthentic when: 

  • The actions suddenly appear after implementation of a program on appreciation

  • A person’s tone of voice, posture, or facial expressions don’t seem to match what they are saying

  • How a person relates to you in front of others differs from how they interact with you privately

  • The individual has a history of “saying one thing and doing another”

  • There is an overall question of the motivation of the deliverer – do they have an ulterior motive?
  • There are other potential factors that undermine perceived authenticity, but these are some of the most common mentioned

Practical Steps for Communicating Authentic Appreciation

Helping individuals change their actions is difficult. No one is looking for more work to do. As a result, the focus needs to be on making actions of encouragement more efficient — to spend time with those who value time, to send notes to those who are impacted by them, to help someone out who will be grateful for the assistance, and to give a gift to someone who will appreciate the thought.

Two important points should be emphasized: 

  • Appreciation can be communicated by anyone to anyone

  • Any team member, regardless of position, can positively impact their workplace culture
  • Employees report they want to know how to encourage one another – they do not just want to be recognized by their supervisor

Getting Started  

Focus on yourself first. Commit to do what you can to communicate appreciation to others. Don’t look to your supervisor or administrators to take the lead. Start by doing what you can, where you are.

Team up with others. Any behavior change is more likely to occur (and to continue over time) when others are involved. Ask a colleague, your supervisor, or the team you lead to discuss how this could apply to your setting. Commit to work on a plan of action together.

See what works, and what needs to be changed, but don’t give up. By learning how to communicate authentic appreciation (employee recognition) to one another, staff morale can improve significantly and a more positive workplace can result.



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This post was written by Dr. Paul White

Dr Paul White is a psychologist, consultant and speaker who is coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace and Rising Above a Toxic Workplace.