Blue Beyond Consulting

Employee Appreciation: Small Acts Can Change Workplace Culture

One of our greatest needs as humans is to be seen, known, and valued. Take a moment and think of a time when you felt this way – truly appreciated. Not for a job well done, but for who you are and what you contribute just by being you.

Did something come to mind immediately? Or, did it take a bit of searching through your memory bank? If so, you’re not alone.For many of us, it takes a minute to come up with something because — believe it or not — most people shy away from telling others that they appreciate them, and discount appreciation when they receive it.

I recently had the chance to hear Mike Robbins speak on this topic of appreciation and a few things really stood out to me:

There’s a difference between employee recognition and employee appreciation.

Recognition is about performance — acknowledging someone for doing a great job. For example: “You did a great job in getting your team organized and delivering on that project. The results speak for themselves. Thank you.”

Appreciation is about the person —showing that you value him/her. For example: “You are a valuable member of this team and we’re better because you’re here with us.” Appreciation can also be given even when a project or task does not work out. For example: someone can fail miserably and they do not deserve recognition (they did a bad job), but they still deserve appreciation and may need it more than ever — “I know that didn’t go well, but I want you to know that you’re a really valuable member of our team. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

People hold back from giving appreciation.

Why? We might feel awkward or vulnerable, or we assume the other person already knows we appreciate them. We also tend to nit-pick all of the little things that drive us crazy about someone (“If he’d just stop doing that” or “if she’d just start doing this more”); by doing so, we miss so many opportunities to tell those people what we love and appreciate about them. Interestingly, Mike’s work shows that when teams focus on what is working and what they are doing well, they perform better and everyone thrives. What’s more, Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation Survey indicates that giving appreciation motivates employees to work hard — and the more appreciated an employee feels, the longer they are likely to stay with the company.

Most people are bad at receiving appreciation.

We typically either say something like “Oh that was no big deal” or we try to reciprocate the appreciation – often awkwardly. Mike gave a great example, equating appreciation to giving a birthday present. If someone gives you a birthday present, you wouldn’t give them a gift in return (that would be weird). And you also wouldn’t refuse the gift — it would ruin the gift, offend the giver, and make it less likely that they’d give again in the future.

So, what’s the best way to receive appreciation? Simply accept it. Be gracious. Say “thank you”. That’s it.

Imagine — if we each get better at receiving appreciation, we’ll all give more in return. Just that small change in how we receive appreciation can change the culture of a team, creating a better sense of community, openness and psychological safety.

Start making an impact today by creating a virtual cycle of appreciation — write a letter, pick up the phone, or tell someone in person.

Here are a few things we do at Blue Beyond to see, know, and value each other:

  • Start each big team meeting with a personal check in, giving each employee a moment to be seen and heard from.
  • In a team retreat, pass around papers with each person’s name and write what we appreciate about that person.
  • Text someone at the end of the week, thanking them for “showing up”.
  • Charter a culture club to come up with fun daily or weekly ways for team members to share appreciations.
  • Leverage tools that highlight each person’s strengths, and give opportunities to share that with one another (We use Insights Discovery).
  • Once a quarter, have a member of the team tell their career story – what have been their big learnings, how did they get here, what do they love doing, how do they want to learn and grow.
  • Distribute a set of “Thank you” notes to each team member with the ask that they write a note and mail it to other team members throughout the year