I want to start off this blog with something to ponder: Where is the best place you’ve ever worked?

And can you pick out what it was about that workplace that made it so ideal?

Was it the salary, the benefits, the view from the office, or the quality of the in-house coffee service?

Or perhaps you felt that you were doing something valuable and that your efforts were recognized regularly by your supervisor or manager, or even your colleagues?

Well, I’m going to take a chance and guess that the coffee and pay were secondary reasons to that feeling of appreciation. Because the workplaces where we tend to have our best experiences are those where other people, particularly our supervisors and managers, demonstrate their appreciation of what we do, how we do it, and the impact or importance that our work has.

When we feel appreciated and valued it tends to add meaning to the work that we do, and when we feel that our work is important (and recognized as such), our entire experience improves, often dramatically, as does the quality of the work we produce.

Recognizing employees for work they do should be something that is common practice within organizations everywhere, and there are many ways that this can be done.

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Perhaps your organization has an Employee Award Program in which gifts are presented.

Or maybe your company has an annual event to recognize the length of time that employees have spent working in that organization.

Regardless of what your workplace has in place, it isn’t something to pay simple lip-service to.

I was in a restaurant recently where I spotted a board of staff photographs showing the recent Employee of the Month. ‘How nice,’ I thought at first, until I noticed that there was a 5-month gap between the date that I was in the restaurant and the last month that an employee had received the award! If an organization is going to implement such a program, making sure that it’s done effectively is key. After all, how would you feel if you received a “Thank You For Your Hard Work” card addressed to “To Whom It May Concern”?

We also have to think about the fact that not every employee wants to be recognized in the same way. There is a very definite difference between demonstrating recognition and showing appreciation.

If you’re a bit confused on this subject, there are some wonderful resources available for those looking to provide meaningful ways of showing genuine appreciation. I recommend The Five Languages Of Appreciation In The Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

They seek to demonstrate the tangible and intangible benefits of getting employee recognition right. These benefits include:

  • Increasing loyalty and decreasing turnover
  • Reducing cynicism and creating a more positive working environment
  • Elevating employee engagement as a result of your staff feeling truly valued
  • The benefits of replacing ineffective employee recognition programs with truly authentic appreciation experiences

But what are the differences between recognition and appreciation?

Recognition is largely about behaviour, whereas appreciation focuses on performance plus someone’s value as a person.

Furthermore, while recognition is about improving performance and focusing on what is good for the organization, appreciation tends to have its focus on what is good for both the organization and the individual.

Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, felt so strongly about people’s need for appreciation that he stated: “Next to physical survival the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated to be appreciated.”

In our SONAR Leadership program, we discuss the various ways that appreciation can be demonstrated, while also recognizing that each person may have a preferred way of receiving it.

Does the employee simply want a financial reward or perhaps a gift certificate to their favourite restaurant (which would entail having a conversation with the employee to find out what their favourite restaurant is)? Remember, as with any relationship building conversation, the more you focus on what is important to the other person, the stronger the relationship will be.

If the employee prefers to have appreciation received through words, there may still be a preference as to how it occurs.

Does the person prefer a one-on-one meeting during which you, as the manager, speak specifically about how their hard work and commitment is significant?

Perhaps the employee prefers to receive verbal appreciation in front of their peers during a team meeting or a larger more formal gathering within the organization. Appreciation shown this way also sends a message to everyone else that hears it— which can be a good thing, provided it’s not done in a way that appears to smack favouritism towards one particular person.

Or maybe they prefer to receive written affirmation of their value in an email, text message, or handwritten note. The personal touch will always be seen favourably by the recipient.

During my career as a police officer, I remember receiving a typed memo from my superintendent (one of the most senior officers and someone I highly respected). The note was short. In it he said that he had received a phone call that day from a judge who had presided over a case in which I had presented evidence as a police officer. The superintendent stated that he rarely received phone calls from judges. In this call, the judge wanted to complement me on the professional manner in which I had delivered the evidence in front of him earlier that day.

I will never forget the fact that first of all, the judge took time out of his busy day to make a phone to my superintendent, and I will also never forget the fact that my superintendent took the time out of his busy day to write the memo and hand deliver it to me in the police station in front of my direct supervisor. Nice touches all round.

So now I ask you, what does your workplace do to show its appreciation? Does your organization have an Employee Recognition or Appreciation Day? How much effort does the organization put into the planning of such an event?

I recently heard of an organization that had planned an Employee Appreciation Day at a bowling alley. The bowling alley was selected by the chairperson of the Employee Appreciation Day committee because he was a member of a league that played there and received a heck of a deal on renting the facility. However, the committee completely missed the step of finding out whether bowling was even an activity that would be enjoyed by the majority of the employees. This ‘gap’ was discovered on the day of the event when only seven people showed up. The organization has over 200 employees. Yikes!

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The lesson here is that there are many ways of demonstrating appreciation, and although you are never going to be able to please everyone all of the time, it’s still critical to make a genuine and authentic effort to demonstrate the importance of the people in your organization.

When you get this right, you unlock the secret of a cultural evolution within your organization.

People want their work to have meaning and you, in order to be an effective manager, must know this and use tactical recognition and appreciation to coach and bond with your employees on a day-to-day basis.

Today, recognition and appreciation must be a full-featured management practice. It can range from simple and spontaneous moments, all the way through to organization-wide initiatives and long-term strategic practices.

Remember, the fundamental idea behind recognition and appreciation is simple: to show those who work there how important they are as people and that the work they do is important.

Also keep in mind that employees produce their best results when they are motivated to be fully engaged with their work.

Are you appreciating and recognizing your employees?

If the answer is no, let’s change that.