Appreciation, appreciation, appreciation: 4 ways to ensure your people feel valued

A thank you button on a computer keyboard.

By now we know that regular appreciation produces far better results than frequent criticism that flags the faulty bits in the hope that this will make people do better. While there is a case for ensuring certain behaviours need to change, this post looks at how spreading appreciation in abundance helps people feel valued, boosts intrinsic motivation and keeps teams purposefully engaged.

Making feel people valued is, indeed, not difficult at all.

1. The positive reinforcement to negative criticism ratio is 5:1. You need plenty more.

How often? Studies show again and again that people perform better when reinforced by positive recognition. The rate of return is high. We need to feel appreciated for what we do. And, if we consider it for a moment, doesn’t this resonate with our own experience?

If the desired outcome is that people feel recognised and their spirits stay high, we need to remind ourselves how to do it. We need on average five positive reinforcements (‘that’s helpful’, ‘good suggestion’, ‘thank you!’, ‘great’, ‘very useful’) to offset one negative comment (‘that’s a bad idea’). The positive to negative ratio is 5:1. This is an important starting point, which broadly applies to workplace dynamics as well as most human interactions.

So, how we do we keep the balance right? Appreciation is, in fact, available for recognising most small things and practices, not just major achievements. Appreciation thrives when it’s small and frequent. In responding to most tasks, there is room to add a sincere ‘thank you’ or recognise ‘a good suggestion’ and build on that. Appreciation is one of the most available, immediate and powerful rewards to boost morale, especially when times are hard and financial compensation is not on the cards. We don’t need to skimp on these rewards.

2. How big is the gap between your perception and your team’s perception? Work it out.

Do we need it? To understand whether there is a disconnect between our perception of how much we appreciate our teams and how much they feel appreciated, we have to ask. Most managers assume their team knows they are valued. Most managers assume they have said it already: if they expressed it, say, a year or even few months ago, they assume their appreciation still resonates with their teams and that’s enough to keep them going. But this is rarely the case. The retention rate of appreciation is short. If the team heard it one year ago, most likely its power is gone by now.

Positive reinforcement requires frequent sprinkling. Asking whether a person or a team feels appreciated overall is already a big step in making that person or team feel seen and heard. It’s like knocking gently on their door. And that’s before even asking, ‘All well in there?’

3. Practise self-appreciation.

Where to start? Most managers find it hard to offer appreciation to their team members consistently. If that is the issue, a great place to start is practising more self-appreciation. In a way, self-appreciation is the hardest of all to deliver. This is because we tend to set high standards for ourselves and, especially when our workplace is flooded with criticism and negative narratives, we internalise part of these narratives until they become our own self talks.

Yet, appreciating our own efforts, progress, commitment and hard work is the catalyst for seeing the same in others. As we redesign our internal landscape with more appreciation, the external landscape reflects the shift. Remember, we don’t need big words (except when they are due) or idealistic self-celebration. Self-appreciation can be as simple as ‘I have been more patient than usual today’ or ‘I have finally remembered to do x and y!’ or ‘I’m doing this much better now than six months ago’.

To genuinely offer appreciation for positive contributions, efforts and outcomes to others, we need to be able to notice them, and, to be fluent in spotting them, we have to practise. There’s no greater place to start than with ourselves.

4. Keep appreciation genuine, keep it your way.

How do we do it? Keep alert to how much appreciation your team needs, so that you can ensure their appreciation batteries are not depleted. We all have big antennae. If the appreciation is fake, we feel it, we don’t believe in it – actually, we feel manipulated. Genuine appreciation, even a ‘thank you’, is a thing of value. We can all develop our unique way to express appreciation, as well as recognising when it’s the right time to express it.

Although of course monetary recognition is part of the wider picture, not all rewards need to be financial. For some people, expressing appreciation is writing individual thank-you notes. For others, it’s taking people out to lunch to recognise the effort made on, say, a significant transaction. At times, we can show appreciation by offering more flexibility or autonomy, for example, to a team member who has regularly gone the extra mile. Public recognition is meaningful for many.

All these methods can live in your own bespoke ‘reward system’, which, privately or publicly, signals what does not take many words or much training to deliver: appreciation, appreciation, appreciation.

Experiencing any of these issues? Find out how coaching can support your specific challenges.

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