Employee appreciation is vital. It fosters trust between employees and management, inspires teams to increase productivity, and reduces turnover by ensuring employees feel valued. But inauthentic appreciation accomplishes none of this.
Think about it. If your boss came up to you the day after implementing a new appreciation program and said kind words with behavior and body language that conveyed anything but gratitude, how would you feel? Without authenticity, appreciation can have the opposite effect.
Showing authentic gratitude doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. In this post, we’re covering 5 simple ways to show your employees authentic appreciation (and why you should).
Why authentic employee appreciation matters
A 2022 Gallup report shows that recognition has the most impact when it’s:
- Fulfilling employees’ expectations and needs
- Embedded in the culture
Despite their demonstrated importance, data shows recognition is lacking in these five areas. Only 23% of employees strongly feel they receive the right amount of recognition for the work they do. One-third of employees strongly feel the recognition they receive is authentic. One quarter feel it is given equitably. 19% feel it is embedded in their company culture, and just 10% report being asked about their preferences for receiving recognition.
Reports show that employees who receive effective recognition are:
- 73% less likely to experience burnout “always” or “very often”
- 56% less likely to keep an eye on job boards
- 5 times more likely to feel connected to their company culture
- 4 times as likely to be engaged at work
- 5 times as likely to see a path to growth within the organization
- 4 times as likely to recommend the organization to friends and family
And, most shockingly, these employees are 44% more likely to report “thriving” in their life overall.
1. Edible empathy
Food brings people together. Giving employees the go-ahead to group order whatever they want for lunch one day might check that box on paper, but it lacks the empathy component that makes sharing a meal together so powerful.
Instead, spend time getting to know your employees while scheduling the lunch. Find out what they like. Be considerate of dietary restrictions, whether they’re religious, medical, or simply a choice.
Pick a location that makes for easy conversation. That could be in a restaurant or in the workspace. In an ideal world, find a round table in a spot quiet enough so that everyone can hear each other, but not so quiet that people will be hesitant to speak freely.
Once everyone is comfortable, strike up a genuine conversation. It doesn’t have to be wholly centered around work. While this is a good time to discuss what is and isn’t working within the team, chatting with your team about their unique interests and sharing your own nurtures the empathetic connection that affirms the genuineness of the gesture.
2. Let feedback go both ways
Your employees need your support just as much as you need theirs. When you sit down to review performance, prompt them to do the same. When you tell them what to improve, ask them what you can do to help them get there. This turns what could be perceived as a scolding session into a productive, two-way conversation.
Not all employees will feel comfortable sharing honest feedback face-to-face. This could be due to sensitive subject matter or a byproduct of their personality. Create a system for employees to submit anonymous feedback, both on a macro and micro level. Ensuring the system is actually anonymous builds trust between you and your team.
Giving employees a vehicle to share their thoughts and ideas about the organization’s leadership, opportunities, direction, etc. shows not only that you want their voices to be heard, but also that you value the opinions they share.
3. Create a culture of appreciation through peer recognition
Peer recognition is almost as important as recognition from leadership. Employees recognized by peers just a few times a year (or less) are 3 times as likely to be actively disengaged, 39% more likely to plan on leaving the organization within one year, and 24% more likely to be struggling. For those recognized just a few times by leadership, the numbers increase to 5 times, 74%, and 27%, respectively.
When you don’t cultivate a culture of appreciation, the occasional reward or review sticks out like a sore thumb. This is part of the reason why stock appreciation messages don’t land. If words of appreciation and encouragement aren’t heard in the office on a regular basis, they will seem forced. To the ones being recognized, it could feel like you just pressed 5 a bunch of times on a customer service survey. Inauthentic and meaningless. That’s the opposite of what you want.
Create a culture where recognition from both leadership and peers is the norm, and the words of appreciation will feel natural. If recognition isn’t filling an annual requirement, employees will open their ears and actually absorb what you have to say as truth.
4. Stay consistent
Fairness is another crucial component of authentic appreciation. When you focus your recognition on one employee and short another with the same performance level, the employee experience takes a big hit. After all, fairness is a basic human need.
Only 26% of employees report receiving similar amounts of recognition as peers with similar performance levels. This number drops significantly for Black (19%) and Hispanic (21%) employees. The percentage of employees who report receiving the right amount of recognition and authentic recognition follow the same racial pattern.
Unless you want unconscious bias to derail your DE&I efforts, repel talent, and hurt BIPOC team members, equity needs to become a serious priority.
If the tips were ranked, this one would be near the top. Personalization is vital to showing authentic appreciation. Genuine recognition requires empathy. Managers have to consider what makes their employees feel appreciated as individuals. This won’t be the same for everyone. Some people prefer public recognition, while others prefer to be recognized in private.
Recognition feels more authentic when it is tied to a clear reason. Some people prefer action-based rewards or spontaneous appreciation in the moment. Spontaneous words of appreciation are easy to personalize– when you observe an employee performing well in the moment, thank them for that specific action either via email or out loud, depending on their privacy preferences.
Only 10% of employees report being asked how they’d like to be recognized. Asking your employees what will make them feel the most appreciated is the simplest and most effective way to ensure your recognition meets the needs of every individual employee. In doing so, you prioritize equity, combat bias, and improve the effectiveness of your employee appreciation program as a whole.
29% of surveyed employees report a preference for private recognition, with 7% preferring to be appreciated in public. Then, there’s the middle ground. Many employees are comfortable with receiving technology-mediated recognition visible by all team members, even if they dislike public displays of recognition.
Some employees place more value on monetary rewards than verbal appreciation. However, monetary rewards alone often miss the mark and appear ingenuine. Rewards should always be paired with a personalized message that resonates with the awardee.
The impact of authentic employee appreciation
Effective recognition doesn’t just improve outcomes within the organization– it has the power to improve your employees’ quality of life outside the office. What’s more authentic than creating a recognition program that helps employees live happier, more fulfilled lives?
Authentic recognition is even more impactful for Black and Hispanic employees facing racial bias. Black employees who receive authentic recognition are 79% more likely to be thriving, and Hispanic employees fall close behind at 69%. Black employees are also more likely to recommend the organization and see an internal path to growth.
Authentic employee appreciation improves business outcomes, helps employees thrive in and out of work, and promotes equity within the organization.