It's Valentine's Day. Please don't forget your people—especially your employees. According to Dr. Paul White, coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, appreciation will go a long way with your workforce on any day of the year. Dr. White is a psychologist, speaker, author, and consultant who makes work relationships work. Listen in, read below, and learn why appreciation is crucial for company success. Improve employee happiness, and spread some cheer this Valentine's Day!
We hear from a lot of Staffbase customers who are looking to make change at work. Their common questions are, "What can we do for employees? What can we do to make them stay? How can we make work better?"
Dr. White: It’s unfortunate, but most people don’t feel valued and appreciated at work, and as adults and leaders, we’re not constantly looking for appreciation, but most people don’t hear it at all. Almost 65 percent of workers in the US and Canada say they haven’t received recognition at work in the past 12 months. Yet, 85 percent of companies have some sort of recognition program. The key in that statistic is that employees haven’t received it. The people are sending messages, but people aren’t receiving them. And where they are missing the point is that the way that they are communicating that appreciation has to be meaningful to the recipient to be felt.
Staffbase was founded on the premise that more internal communications are needed in the workplace. What are some ways that employers can communicate appreciation to their employees?
Dr. White: Well, I’ll tell you what doesn’t work well, employee recognition programs. They were designed to reward high level performers and performance, but they don’t help employees feel valued as a person or individual. Only about 50 percent of employees get top level performance recognition, and the other half are working hard, don’t become a star, and don’t hear anything. The misconception is that employee recognition programs get the job done. And some of them are just focused on praise and rewards. Almost 130,000 people have taken our online inventory to find out the languages of appreciation that people like to hear, and only 50 percent of those that responded like words and gifts of appreciation. The other half want appreciation in other ways, so not relying on standard employee recognition programs is a good place to start.
Why is appreciation so important in the workplace? What is the return on that investment?
Dr. White: It’s huge. When people don’t feel valued or appreciated, bad things start to happen:
- Tardiness increases, coming back from lunch and breaks on time
- Absenteeism increases, calling in sick for work when people don’t feel valued and don’t want to be there
- Creative problem solving decreases, and people are really going through the motions and not getting stuff done
- Negativity increases and includes peers, gossiping, and grumbling over stupid little things like a parking spot or where their desk is or being able to leave work a little early or uniforms
- People don’t follow policies and procedures, so a new form comes in, and they’re not doing it, because they don’t feel that leaders give a rip anyway
We know that 75 percent of people who leave a job cite lack of appreciation as the top reason. Most business leaders think they leave for more money, but more money doesn’t get it done, it’s usually lack of appreciation. And staff turnover is the biggest non-productive cost for business.
That is an alarming statistic. What can companies do differently? How do they start at square one to appreciate employees?
Dr. White: They can buy my book, and they can think about how the concepts might apply to their work. Our online assessment tool at www.appreciationatwork.com has training tools and train the trainer materials to implement internally. There are really four things that companies can do:
- Communicate appreciation regularly. Once a year is not enough.
- The Language of appreciation needs to reflect what is important to the employee, not everyone likes praise or to be called up in front of a big group to be recognized.
- Personalized appreciation gets to the person individually, instead of a team approach.
- Authentic appreciation matters, many standard recognition programs are too mechanical where everyone gets the same thing, and that undermines authenticity.
Understanding the concepts of individual appreciation matter and understanding the love languages.
- Words - Hearing words of praise is important for some people.
- Time - Quality time is important to people, and that might not even mean time with you as a leader. It might mean time with colleagues, going out to lunch or going out after work or going for a walk before work. But it’s building the sense that they are valued when people spend time with them.
- Acts of Service - Acts of service don’t include rescuing a colleague who’s behind, but it’s doing something to help meet a deadline, for example taking a coworker’s calls or bringing their favorite coffee to work to get through it.
- Gifts - Tangible items are good too, a worker’s favorite Starbuck’s drink, chocolates if someone likes chocolate, or sports memorabilia for their wall.
- Touch - Physical touch in a workplace works sometimes, and it might be vary regionally. In the south, there are side hugs, but in New York City, a nod of the head from a distance might be okay. Touch is largely a spontaneous celebration like a high five after a project, a fist bump or congratulatory handshake, and a simple pat on the back is accepted by most cultures.
Many of these languages or signs of appreciation are communicated in person. How can our Staffbase customers show appreciation to their employees working off site or working remotely?
Dr. White: There are many ways to communicate appreciation to remote employees in different offices, states, countries and office settings. We have a long distance version of our online inventory too. First, how do you deal with an act of service for someone not physically there? You have to be more intentional. You might set up a call that’s not just about business. You ask about their weekend, their kids playing soccer, their sports teams, etc. Video conferencing and face-to-face are top ways of communicating remotely in our e-newsletter poll of 120,000 subscribers. The bottom line is that employee recognition is largely about performance. Most of us are people, we’re not just producers and workers. It’s about knowing your workers as people and not just the tasks or projects. It’s asking, what else is going on in your life?
Internal communications is our priority at Staffbase. What can employers do to use a platform like Staffbase to show appreciation, and how would you recommend that they do that?
Dr. White: I wish we had known about you sooner! It is helpful to have visual reminders of appreciation. My most recent book, A Vibrant Workplace, talks about overcoming obstacles to create a culture of appreciation. Culture is the result of individuals reacting to their environment, and visual cues, either on a mobile app or in person, help to remind people to communicate appreciation. I think one of the common obstacles to showing appreciation is busyness. One of the things we worked hard at is not creating another to-do list for people. People don’t need a recognition to-do list. We want to help them do actions that they are already or almost doing and tweak those actions a little bit to be effective. For example, you don’t want to check in or bring coffee to everybody, you just want to use actions where people feel valued and appreciated the most without wasting time and energy. Use the tools that you have, whether it’s your mobile app or intranet.
You speak around the world to many different audiences. What are some best practices from leaders that are showing appreciation well and effectively?
Dr. White: This stuff is not intellectually difficult. It’s pretty straightforward, but you have to do it. Effective leaders see the need to support their teams. They know their teams are made of people with lives outside of work and lives at work. Their people are not just production units. They understand the full person and are able to communicate appreciation to them in ways that are important to them. They model that behavior and provide resources for staff to learn how to do the same. Appreciation is not the sole responsibility of leaders, managers, and supervisors. Colleagues and peers want to show appreciation to one another as well. And it works well when all employees are involved. The task is too cumbersome for one person.
Leaders often inspire a culture of appreciation, but do peers inspire their leaders as well?
Dr. White: Yes, appreciation is not always top down. In fact, it’s driven by someone in the middle, someone who finds out about our book perhaps. You don’t have to be at the top to have influence.
And appreciation can even come into play at work on Valentine’s Day?
Dr. White: Yes, it might feel a little weird, but you don’t have to say I love you. Just say I appreciate you. If you’re going to share appreciation verbally, here’s what you might do instead of saying “good job” which is kind of blah.
- Use an employee's name when speaking. Spell it correctly if written.
- Be specific about what you value and the impact they have on the workplace. For example, you might say, “Jody, we appreciate you. You are here early every day, and we appreciate that. That way, if a customer shows up early, you’re there to greet them.”
For more insights from Dr. White, please visit www.appreciationatwork.com.