Rethinking Appreciation in the Workplace

This year has brought some unprecedented changes to the average workplace. Many organizations shifted to work from home and essential businesses have had to alter operations and scale back expenses.

It’s underscored the need to re-evaluate how we think about appreciation and how we show it. After all, most leaders haven’t been able to rely on the old standbys, like holding a company picnic or supplying the break room with bagels to show appreciation. And awards and rewards can lose their impact when they are shared over email or video chat.

Eventually employees will head back into the workplace, and everyone will resume their “normal” routines. Leaders will once again be able to treat their employees to lunch to recognize their hard work on a project. They’ll be able to offer accolades at the holiday party. But is there a lesson we should take away from all this?

I say absolutely, and here it is: Perks aren’t enough to truly recognize the value your employees bring to your organization. We know that now because we haven’t been able to offer them, for the most part, over the past several months.

What does work? Replace “appreciation” with “respect”

First of all, I am not suggesting that you stop rewarding your employees or giving them special distinction. It’s a nice thing to do, and it brightens employees’ day. However, if you want those actions to be received well, you must have first laid a foundation of respect; otherwise your appreciation tactics will seem hollow.

What’s the difference between showing appreciation and respect? Respect has more to do with your everyday interactions with employees versus a one-time gift. How do you show respect? Start here:

  • Be crystal clear about your expectations. That’s the only way employees are going to succeed. Ensure they fully understand the role they play on the team and how they support the organization’s business objectives. Set clear goals, and offer plenty of feedback on their performance. Tell them when they are falling short of expectations. Criticism may seem antithetical to showing respect, but it’s not. It’s worse to let employees flounder and only alert them after they’ve lost a raise, coveted assignment or promotion.
  • Provide them what they need to succeed. Whether that is knowledge, training, resources, equipment or other tools, make sure they have everything they need to meet your expectations and the requirements of the job. Remove the obstacles that could cause them to fail.
  • Trust them. This may be the most critical one of all. Employees need to know that you think they are capable and trustworthy. Grant them autonomy when you can, empower them to make decisions, and show them that you trust their judgement. Ask them for their ideas and feedback, and collaborate with them when you need to make a decision.
  • Listen. Everyone wants to be heard. So, whether they are sharing a new idea with you, venting about a challenge or sharing concerns, listen carefully. But don’t just wait for them to come to you. Show an interest in their well-being. Ask them how they are doing, and find out what obstacles are holding them back from doing their best work. When they mess up, miss a deadline or fall short of expectations, ask what happened. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and figure out how you can help them get back on track.
  • Encourage recognition at all levels. Your words matter, but positive feedback and praise from peers is often much more meaningful. Make it easy for employees, regardless of level, to recognize one another. It can have a tremendous impact on workplace morale and culture.
  • Be their advocate. Show employees that you are looking out for their best interest. Step in when they are being unfairly treated. Praise them publicly and always give them credit for their work. Criticize them in private and be willing to take the blame for the failures of your team. This is how great leaders build loyalty.

If you do all that, you’ll receive a greater return on the monetary and time investment you put into the rewards, awards and celebrations. Employees will actually feel respected and valued, and those special shows of appreciation will feel genuine.

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