Appreciation in the workplace has the power to create an organization where feeling valued is the norm, one where it becomes reflexive to appreciate co-workers, employees and employers. When people feel that way in a workplace, they’re more likely to strive beyond what is expected of them and create an atmosphere of high performance. Often times, however, leaders trying to improve sales numbers, performance (their own and that of others), or general workplace function, can get caught in the cycle of “being better” and forget to stop for a moment and express appreciation. Not because they’re not appreciative, though! How do you ‘institutionalize’ appreciation so it becomes reflexive?
Tell people. Don’t assume that appreciating other people is such an obvious thing to do that it will just get done. Start at the beginning – in training – and make it a part of every job. Like any job expectation, the clearer it is, the more likely people are to understand it and to act on it. But saying it once isn’t enough if the rest of the training doesn’t back it up. Be outwardly appreciative during trainings – of the people in the room if they say or do something of note. And of the people and departments you are teaching them about. Be specific in your appreciation and keep it for those things that you can really note as being worth mentioning. Also tell people that outward appreciation isn’t just for the top staff to give to their employees. The same standard can be expected from everyone in the organization, from top to bottom.
Give Guidelines. Yes, employees are adults that are being paid. No, that’s not appreciation. In study after study of what people want from work, issues of money barely break the top 10. The top answers? To feel proud. To be treated fairly. To be recognized for good work. Zingerman’s, a Michigan based company, teaches everyone in their organization that their jobs, whether in accounting, baking or sales, are “to make positive experiences happen.” Give your employees specific ways to show appreciation. Some ideas: take a moment at the end of a meeting and thank a co-worker for something they’ve done; if someone is going to give constructive criticism, they should have 4 positive things to say first. Create guidelines that are easy to implement in your company culture. So if there’s a suggestion box, give people an appreciation box as well.
Live it. The gap between what we teach and what we practice can be big, so remember to model what you want people to emulate. Start with yourself. Stop for a minute every day and remind yourself of the good things you’re doing. Taking that moment will help you stop and look around and see the positive in you and the organization, not just what needs to be improved. This is the first step. If you want to see a big improvement in company culture, reward not just the people whose good work is being appreciated, but also those doing the appreciating itself. After all, if you want appreciation to be a part of someone’s job, rewarding it when it’s done well is not only reasonable but should be expected. When you’re thinking of ways to do that, remember that money is rarely the answer. Small tokens can be enough.
As Ari Weinzweig, successful entrepreneur and businessman, says, “There’s not much neutral ground in this area. The absence of appreciation is not neutral. Saying nothing leads most people to think that their work is NOT valued. Then, negative energy, silo mentality and self-serving approaches creep into people’s work.”