Most companies run some kind of employee-recognition programs, but often they fall flat, wasting resources. Many become just another box for managers to check or are seen as elite opportunities for a favored few, leaving the rest of the workforce feeling left out. Meanwhile, a lot of individual managers also fail to adequately express appreciation, mistakenly assuming that reports know how they feel or struggling to balance gratitude with developmental feedback. In focus groups and interviews, however, employees reveal that making them feel valued and recognized isn’t all that complicated: It mostly comes down to a lot of small, commonsense practices.
The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated
Imagine this scenario: An employee named Rowen arrives at work on his 10-year anniversary and finds escort reviews Columbia a gift card with a sticky note on his desk. The note is from his manager, acknowledging his anniversary. Realizing it didn’t even include a thank-you or a congratulations, Rowen rolls his eyes.
While most companies run employee-recognition programs of some sort, all too often they produce reactions like Rowen’s. Instead of giving people a meaningful sense of appreciation, they become just another box for managers to check and are completely disconnected from employees’ accomplishments. Some companies try to make programs more relevant by giving specific awards to individuals who’ve, say, created and led an important new initiative, “embodied” the organization’s values in their behavior, or had a significant impact. Yet that approach has problems too: Awards can be seen as an elite opportunity for a chosen few – and leave the majority of the workforce feeling left out and overlooked.
If managers could make a far broader group of employees feel appreciated, the benefits would be considerable. Adam Grant and Francesca Gino have found that when people experience gratitude from their manager, they’re more productive. Another researcher recently found that teams perform tasks better when their members believe that their colleagues respect and appreciate them.
But in our combined 50-plus years of working to improve organizations, we’ve observed that many managers struggle to make employees feel that their talents and contributions are noticed and valued. To explore this problem, we recently took a deep dive within an organization to see how organizational efforts to show appreciation and gratitude were perceived. In that project we engaged with both employees and managers through focus groups, survey questions, and learning sessions. And what we discovered was that even though bosses feel it’s challenging to show their staff appreciation, the employees think it’s actually pretty simple.
The Gap Between Managers and Employees
Our discussions surfaced notable gaps between managers’ and employees’ perceptions. First, there was a stark difference between how much managers appreciated employees and how appreciated employees felt. We speculate that the illusion of transparency, or people’s tendency to overestimate how visible their emotions are to others, explains this: Managers incorrectly assumed employees knew how they felt about them.
Second, many managers reported that communicating appreciation seemed really complicated. Some had trouble balancing it with developmental feedback and feared sending mixed messages to employees. Some were concerned that their efforts to offer appreciation to all employees would be routinized and seen as impersonal and meaningless. Employees, on the other hand, did not see this as a complex task and quickly and clearly articulated the precise ways managers could effectively express appreciation. Here’s what they told us managers needed to do:
1. Touch base early and often. While regularly taking time to say hello to employees and check in with them might seem like an unnecessary drain on your productivity, these interactions are actually valuable points of connection for your employees (and for you). They prevent your staff from feeling invisible. One of the employees in our focus groups told us that simply hearing “Good morning” or “How are you?” from his department manager would have been as meaningful as formal recognition. If you create routines that allow your employees to share stories with you about what they’re doing or working on, you can make them feel “known” by you – and stay in the loop on what’s happening within your organization.