This article was based on episode 009 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Expressing appreciation - a “thankful recognition” of the contribution of those around you - is part of the wave of positive psychology that has become mainstream in recent years. Although it may appear new, the importance of appreciation has roots in philosophy, religion, and spirituality. What is appreciation and why is it important in the workplace? How can you show meaningful appreciation as a manager? Is there a way to do it without it feeling forced or inauthentic?
WHY SAY THANKS AT ALL... AT WORK?
Various studies found that employees who feel valued at work are more likely to stay with that organization, are more productive, and accomplish more goals. On an individual level, when we feel valued, we feel seen and more connected to the person who offered the appreciation. It makes us feel important and that what we do and how we act matters.
The beautiful thing about gratitude is that it benefits both the receiver and the giver. Studies show that when we feel grateful, our overall well-being increases. We become more open and less stressed, two important factors in the workplace. Even if you don’t practice gratitude regularly, one experiment revealed that when you do even a single meaningful act, the effects can yield positive benefits for the giver even weeks after the act.
Establishing a regular practice of gratitude has become more popular in recent years. There are a variety of approaches to incorporating gratitude into your daily or weekly routine. One common action is to keep a gratitude journal to record things you appreciate each day. Keep a notebook by your bedside table and write down at least one thing you are thankful for each night before bed. Another approach is to link gratitude to a behavior you already do each day. For example, every time you pour a cup of coffee, say one thing you’re thankful for. Whatever you chose to do, be intentional. As you become more comfortable and in tune with gratitude, the more you’ll recognize opportunities to show thanks and the easier it will become to express it.
Everyone wins with meaningful appreciation: both givers and receivers.
MANY NUANCES OF APPRECIATION
Appreciation has taken on a wide variety of expressions in the workplace. Many companies have formal employee appreciation or recognition programs - those celebratory events in which the organization highlights employees or teams for their work. Some managers buy lunch for their team after meeting a big deadline. Of course there is also the public acknowledgement of a colleague for the great work she did. All of these and more fall under the umbrella of expressing appreciation at work.
It is helpful to consider three frames for appreciation when trying to improve how you express it:
Gratitude: How to Say “Thank You”
Gratitude may be the most deceptively simple form of appreciation at work. Saying “thank you” is a rote response many of us have been trained to do, and it can come across as inauthentic in person or via a screen. When we say or shoot off a “Thanks” or “Thx,” the receiver may not feel the impact of what we’re saying. These quick thank yous are still important for common courtesy, but don’t expect them to make someone feel warm or valued.
Meaning and authenticity come from making gratitude specific to the person and the act. For example, I often send a “thanks!” response after receiving information I’ve requested, but it’s not special. On the other hand, if I have a colleague who is really responsive, a more thoughtful and specific response might go like this: “I want to say thank you for always responding to my requests in such a timely manner. I appreciate that you always get back to me so that I never have to follow up and ask twice.” Now I’ve said thanks for who the person is, not just what they delivered to me. I’ve let them know I admire and appreciate them, not just the work they do. (Take it a step further and write a handwritten note instead of an email; we so rarely receive handwritten notes that they may delight the receiver.)
What about expressing gratitude to people at work for things that are not work-related? Is that even appropriate? Dr. Paul White, psychologist and author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, reminds us that we should be looking at our colleagues as whole people and not just as employees. He says, “People are more than production units. Employees have more value than just what is measured in how much they ‘get done.’” While it’s important to appreciate a person’s skills, we should also value who they are:
“Some [employees] add a brightness to the office because of their cheerful demeanor and positive outlook. Others are appreciated because of their calm demeanor and ability to think through the issues in the midst of a crisis. And some are respected for what they do outside of work—a single mother committed to her family, an individual who gives a lot to the community through volunteerism, or someone who demonstrates self-discipline by training for a marathon.”
Praise: How to Show Admiration
Appreciation as praise moves beyond “thank you” into specific words of approval. Phrases like “good job” or “nice work” are common, but just like their “thanks” counterpart, lack the full impact of meaningful praise. What exactly was noteworthy about that presentation? Why were you so excited about completing the project on time? When you provide specific praise, you’re doing two things: first, you’re showing that you pay attention to the person; second, you’re naming behaviors and attitudes that you want to reinforce in the receiver.
When I say to a colleague, “Nice job in that meeting with Tony,” it’s unclear which aspect of her participation I’m admiring. This is clearer: “Nice job in that meeting with Tony. I was really impressed by how you kept the conversation on track even though Tony kept going off on tangents. It made the meeting so much more productive.” Now there’s no question what I’m appreciative of and why, and since I’ve clearly expressed that I value this behavior, I’ve planted that seed as something the employee should continue doing.
Recognition: Public Versus Private
Both gratitude and praise should often be given in private. Recognition is a more public act. Here’s the twist: people have different responses to public recognition. For some people, this is the absolute highest form of appreciation. They love being recognized in front of colleagues and customers. For others, public recognition feels embarrassing and awkward. Find out each person’s preferences and try to right-size your recognition so it’s more aligned with what they prefer.
Recognition allows for creativity, so make it fun. I’ve seen teams recognize people at the end of meetings with an award for “Best Out-of-the-Box Question.” You can create your own categories based on what fits with your team culture and what you want to emphasize in meetings such as: “most critical watchout,” “wildest idea,” or “facilitator extraordinaire” (for the person who took some action to engage others or keep the meeting on track.) Another team I work with added a standing item to their weekly team meeting in which anyone can share how they’ve seen a colleague embody their team values that week. I particularly applaud this approach because it engages the whole team in offering recognition and it reinforces the importance of acting in line with team values.
Recognition can also be connected to your organization’s culture. I witnessed a board member of a Jewish non-profit offer a blessing to the CEO to mark her thirteenth year of service, an important milestone in the Jewish faith. (Everyone cried.)
MAKING MEANINGFUL APPRECIATION A HABIT
At the end of the day, showing meaningful appreciation is not just about making someone feel good. It’s about communicating to your team members that you value them for what they bring to the organization and who they are as people.
In general, most of us don’t often enough say thanks and offer praise in meaningful ways. We spend a lot of time thinking about and giving critical feedback to help people improve. Positive feedback is just as, if not more, important.
How can you remember to show more gratitude, praise, and recognition? Here are a few approaches to get you started. For the full guide, join The Modern Manager community on Patreon.
Add a recurring fifteen minute “Express Appreciation” item to your calendar or weekly task list. Until you get more in the habit of showing appreciation, it’s helpful to schedule time each week to do so. Use this time to write a meaningful email or note, prepare remarks for an upcoming meeting, or take an action that demonstrates your appreciation for a colleague. You can also show appreciation for people who aren’t on your team. If you acknowledge someone from another department, be sure to cc their supervisor.
Create a standing agenda item for sharing appreciation in your on-on-ones. Be prepared to give meaningful positive feedback, say thanks, and offer praise, so at minimum, your colleague is hearing your appreciation once a month.
Make it a team effort. Appreciation is something the whole team can and should embrace. Encourage your team members to show appreciation to one another and celebrate when they do. Include time in your weekly team meetings - usually just a few minutes is enough. Add a standing agenda item called “Thank Yous” or “Acknowledgements” or whatever feels right for your team. Ask everyone to consider ahead of time who they want to thank and for what. Then, in the meeting, offer the floor to the group. Not everyone needs to share each time. Jump in on the fun and share your thanks, too.
Make gratitude a daily habit. The more you practice gratitude, the easier and more intuitive it will become. Start a gratitude journal and write down one thing you’re grateful for each day. Keep a piece of paper on your desk or by your nightstand to be a visual reminder to write down your daily item.
For more ideas, tips and approaches to help you incorporate more appreciation into your team, download the free mini-guide at mamieks.com/podcast-009. Get the full guide to meaningful appreciation by joining The Modern Manager community on Patreon.
This article was based on episode 009 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher.
You can also listen to every episode here.
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