Thank You: Powerful Words That Show Appreciation

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 1, 2016
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Have you thanked a co-worker lately? Now’s your chance: National Employee Appreciation Day, launched in 1995, is March 4.

“We all like to be valued. It’s a basic need,” said Amy Taylor-Bianco, Ph.D., associate professor of management and executive academic director for the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership at Ohio University in Athens.

While she said that one day isn’t nearly enough to show workers their efforts are appreciated, it’s a start toward creating a culture of appreciation that can have positive consequences throughout an organization.

Showing appreciation happens frequently at Rawal Devices Inc., a manufacturer in the Greater Boston area, according to Rachel Obremski, accounting and HR manager, in a SHRM LinkedIn discussion.

“This may be done in an e-mail or simply having the manager praise their success; it may also be shared with the team," she said. "Hearing from the owner of the company telling you how what you did helped the company is always a rewarding thing.”

Acknowledging employees’ work and behavior is an important retention strategy, according to Zach Lahey, research analyst, human capital management, for the Aberdeen Group, a provider of online recognition platforms.

“However, it doesn’t have to be continuous or from a single source,” he wrote in his 2015 report, The Art of Appreciation: Top-Tier Employee Recognition. “Social recognition comes from managers, colleagues and customers alike” and 41 percent of best-in-class employers are more likely “to empower employees to recognize each other for great work,” he wrote.

A 2012 employee recognition survey from the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce, a global employee recognition firm, found that peer-to-peer recognition is nearly 36 percent more likely to have a positive impact on an organization’s financial results than manager-only recognition.

And given today’s mobile workforce, it’s possible for co-workers to extend a virtual pat on the back. An organization in Calgary in Alberta, Canada, used a Facebook-like application to allow employees to recognize peers by posting messages to a public team wall, SHRM Online reported in 2013.

“Sometimes it’s really helpful to hear it from peers,” Taylor-Bianco told SHRM Online. One way to foster this, she said, is by making it a part of performance management, telling employees, “We’re expecting you to come up with some positive things to say” to let others know they are appreciated.

In that way, people can build it into their everyday work lives, she said.

Findings from a new survey that Globoforce plans to release in March found that 40 percent of employees were not recognized in any way the previous year. However, among those who were shown they are valued, 85 percent said they were more satisfied in their jobs than those who did not receive any kind of recognition. The findings were based on a national survey conducted in November 2015 with 828 full-time workers.

Taylor-Bianco also noted that managers need to understand their employees well enough to tailor their gestures of appreciation to individual personalities.

While some people are uncomfortable with public acknowledgements, such as being singled out at an all-staff meeting, an introvert might appreciate a small gesture such as a personal note or a flower on his or her desk or a mention in the company newsletter. Showing appreciation also could be demonstrated by decorating the employee’s work space, she suggested.

Such gestures are “a more personalized way to recognize everybody," she said.

Some ways to create a culture of appreciation:

  • Recognize an employee’s action soon after it has taken place, rather than delaying recognition until the performance review, for example.
  • Be specific about what the employee did to warrant recognition, such as noting the long hours the individual spent in completing a particular task on a tight deadline.
  • Recognize that different personalities prefer different ways of having appreciation shown.
  • Encourage employees to show appreciation for their colleagues.
  • Encourage a widespread atmosphere of appreciation in the organization. For example, a supervisor who worked on a project with an employee from another department might express appreciation to the employee’s direct manager as well as to the employee.
  • Don’t forget to show appreciation toward work teams when warranted.

Join the Society for Human Resource Management’s LinkedIn discussion to share your thoughts on the topic.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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