Applying Appreciation Language in the Workplace

Many employers don’t know how to show appreciation for their staff in a meaningful way.

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Keeping your staff happy and motivated is a crucial aspect of running a business, small or large. Ignoring this leads to trouble in the form of unmotivated members, cynicism, poor productivity, strained work relationships and an overall negative environment. Given the fast and busy nature of running a small business, you might forget what individual attention and appreciation means to your staff and other team members.

To mitigate this, many employers initiate reward and recognition programs. The intention is to reward employees for their good work and offer some kind of tangible benefit (like gift cards) to show appreciation and to motivate. Well-meaning as these programs are, they often fail to capture the essence of appreciation, which isn't confined to a single event and shouldn't always take the form of tangible gifts and public recognition. In fact, many employees would rather rake rocks than be recognized publicly.

It turns out appreciation is a big factor behind great work environments and overall productivity. When people feel valued and appreciated, they strive to become better and give their all to the tasks at hand. In the book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” authors Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton reference a Gallup survey that found more than 60 percent of survey respondents pointed to lack of appreciation as a key reason for quitting their jobs. Almost 65 percent of workers in North America said they were barely recognized by their employers in the past 12 months, and those who were thought their supervisors did a bang up job at it.

Many employers don’t really understand the importance of conveying appreciation individually to their staff, or how best to do it. As a small-business owner, you're in a unique position to analyze and investigate the kind of appreciation your staff members’ value. The nature of your small operation makes it easier to focus on each individual, and thus genuinely come up with ways to convey gratitude.

In the book, "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace," authors Gary Chapman and Paul White identify five ways to show your appreciation for individuals.

  1. Words of affirmation. Reassuring words (“thank you for your input,” or “great job on the presentation”) that serve to motivate and show gratitude to team members.
  2. Quality time. Going out of your way to spend a little more time with team members, discussing the topics that are relevant and important to them.
  3. Acts of service. Your words of gratitude could land on the deaf ears of team members who would rather receive help finishing a project or assignment. Going out of your way to lend a hand means more to such people than mere praise.
  4. Tangible gifts. Lots of people appreciate tangible gifts. The important thing here is to make sure the tangible gift is something the person values in their life outside of work, like a jersey of their favorite college football team or a coffee mug with their favorite cartoon character on it.
  5. Appropriate physical touch. Some members respond well to appropriate physical touch, like high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps and pats on the back. You’ll see this in sports, but it also translates well to the work environment.

Chapman and White also report that to be effective, these five languages have to be communicated regularly, genuinely and based on the language the receiver responds to positively. It’s not enough to wait until performance evaluation week to convey gratitude; neither does it work if there’s a catch every time you praise someone’s efforts. Lastly, a one-prize-fits-all approach to appreciation isn’t as effective as many think, and only motivates for a short time before disgruntlement and other negative feelings rise to the surface.

Where you are able to right the appreciation focus and make it a culture in your work environment, it will translate to how customers are treated. A happier staff is more open and friendly to customers, who will definitely enjoy and appreciate the genuine culture of your business. Developing relationships with your customers becomes easier, and they’ll want to spread the good word about your positive environment with their friends. This is all possible, as chances are you know of organizations (or businesses) that are renowned for excellent and cheerful customer service. If you dig deeper, you will find a positive and appreciative work environment that spurs employees of these businesses to treat customers in the same way they are treated.

If your employees don't understand what makes your culture unique, genuine and great, how can they help your brand achieve greatness?

Don’t forget – each of your staff/team members is unique, and thus requires individualized attention and appreciation. Investigate how he or she values appreciation, and make it a regular and genuine habit. Strive to make it part of the business culture, and you (plus your customers) will witness workplace values that deliver on the corporate brand promise in a strong, authentic way.