Underappreciating appreciation as a manager
‘Our employees are the key to our success’ and ‘Employees are our greatest asset’ – slogans such as these are often seen on company websites or in mission statements. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different: Employees feel they are treated much worse than their superiors imagine – resulting in frustration, demotivation or mental resignation. One factor can make all the difference: Showing your employees appreciation and recognition.
Many managers believe that “not criticizing employees is praise enough” – which, in my opinion, is the biggest mistake a superior can make. As www.beoachter.ch says: “We all want to be respected and to have an impact through what we do” – and we want to be recognized for it.
And there is no such thing as silent appreciation. Everyone wants to know how he or she is viewed by others. And if you don’t receive any feedback (or just once a year in your annual appraisal…), you begin to read something into the behavior of your manager – generally seeing it in a negative light, since our mind is polarized in that way.
Why do so many managers fail to recognize the value of appreciation and recognition? This is because they don’t value themselves enough, according to experts. Logically, this means they are unable to treat other people favorably. In addition, many line managers believe that their leadership performance is much better than how it is perceived by employees, as various Gallup studies have shown – with high costs: Gallup estimates that the economic costs in Germany of mental resignation were between EUR 77 billion and EUR 103 billion in 2018.
A basic human need
Receiving recognition is a basic human need that has a very significant leverage effect. The Swiss coach and mindfulness trainer Madeleine Winkler-Duclos provides an excellent summary of how this works: “A person who is appreciated has greater self-confidence, is more satisfied and performs better. When a person receives recognition, various hormones are released that increase their sense of well-being (endorphins), strengthen relationships (oxytocin), improve concentration (dopamine) and enhance performance (adrenaline), as the very good website www.karrierebibel.de (in German) explains. Those who are happy and contented ultimately take on more responsibility and accomplish more.
If there is a culture of appreciation within a company or department and you show each other trust, it is also easier to voice criticisms if, for once, the ideal outcome is not achieved. And anyone who feels that he or she is generally viewed as a good employee can cope better with the occasional setback. In addition, appreciation strengthens corporate loyalty and reduces absenteeism. A lack of appreciation, on the other hand, leads to frustration, conflicts, demotivation, mental resignation and even illness. Gallup has proved that people who receive little recognition are twice as much at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Dos and don‘ts
There are also some line managers who honestly try to apply what they have learned about giving recognition during leadership courses but make mistakes that prove counterproductive. Here is what to avoid:
- Don’t use excessive praise based on the motto ‘Say something positive to every employee every day.’ It doesn’t come across as genuine.
- Don’t seem patronizing. Speak to employees like they are your equal.
- Do not add a ‘but’ when you give praise or link it to a request or a wish.
- Many line managers make the mistake of thinking that recognition comes at a high price – but only small things are needed (see below).
- Don’t say: “My door is always open” if you are hardly ever there…
Before moving on to the tips, there are two basic remarks I would like to make: 1) Many company compensation systems are geared towards rewarding performance. Of course, this is necessary – but it is not enough to motivate employees. Appreciation is about more than just showing recognition for something that has been achieved. Genuine appreciation is directed at the person as a whole, irrespective of whether or not he or she has just achieved something good. 2) Appreciation can be shown with words, deeds or via the relationship. Here is what you should do:
- Give praise or positive feedback – this is the easiest way to show real recognition. You can do this in different ways: Personally in a conversation, via e-mail or in a group session, where it has an even stronger effect.
- An appreciative look, a kind nod of the head, a smile, a handshake – body language can convey a strong message.
- Display your feelings once in a while, e.g. be enthusiastic or show some emotion. Feelings have a stronger impact than factual arguments.
- Recognize and celebrate successes, e.g. with a ‘wall of success’ where achievements are made visible with short reports, photos, certificates etc. (idea proposed by the German management coach Antje Heimsoeth)
- Another idea of hers: Every Monday, write an e-mail or card (more personal) to an employee in which you say something positive about the person.
- Listen actively and show an interest – possibly also ask a question: In other words, focus properly on conversations and set aside time for the other person; this is very valuable, since everyone is short of time.
- Arrive for meetings on time. As a line manager, you can show that their time is just as important as yours.
- Recognize effort, even if the result is not what was hoped for. Example: An employee has shown a great deal of perseverance and commitment to a project but – for reasons outside his control – was unable to achieve a successful outcome. In this case, the line manager should positively highlight aspects of the employee’s character (perseverance, commitment, identification).
- Show people trust and give them responsibility, e.g. by entrusting an employee with a challenging project or letting him or her make an important presentation.
- Ask for advice – thus demonstrating that you value the employee‘s opinion or that he or she might even know something you don’t.
- Include others in decision-making processes.
- Offer career chances and opportunities for personal development
- See the person as a whole, e.g. by asking about a sick spouse, congratulating the employee on his or her birthday, etc.
- Give small tokens of appreciation such as an invitation or gift.
- Tailor your appreciation to the individual. Think about what would best suit that person. Everyone is different.
The great thing about showing appreciation is that it is infectious and is often returned or may trigger a feedback effect. It has been proven that appreciation strengthens not only the self-esteem of the recipient but also that of the sender. So you can benefit from it yourself! Appreciation is priceless – and it is so easy to share.
© Claudia Kraaz