How quick are people at your workplace to point out problems? Are they as quick at naming what goes well? Have you ever been unexpectedly flooded with compliments on your last day at work? Whilst this feels great, many people are left wondering why they weren’t told sooner; it may have made a difference to whether they stayed in the job longer.

What place does appreciation and recognition have in your team and organisation? This article is a reminder of the value of appreciation and recognition at work. The topic of how to deliver constructive feedback is the focus of another article. Here, I invite us to remember to give appreciation and recognition more abundantly at work, and to practice receiving it with an open heart.

Are we uplifting or knocking our employees down?

Many jobs are hard in their nature. Individuals are often required to work efficiently against a ticking clock, to fire-fight and prevent problems, to be hypervigilant to mistakes, and progress towards desired outcomes. Have we stopped to check whether as leaders and employees, we are creating work environments that are encouraging, supporting and uplifting? Or are we metaphorically ‘bludgeoning’ each other with an incessant focus on what is not good enough?

Imagine a scenario where a child or teenager is learning a new skill such as how to ride a bike or trying to get through a challenge on their video game. Imagine they have a parent, teacher or friend who repeatedly points out what they are doing wrong, pushes them to do more and do better, and jumps from one problem to the next without acknowledging any effort or progress. You can imagine how anxiety provoking and demotivating this may be. I would be concerned that this may instil beliefs in the child or teenager that they are failing, are bad at what they do, and letting others down.

Similarly, what impact are we having on ourselves, colleagues and teams if our attention and communication only highlights what is wrong? This can instil doubt, anxiety, frustration and disappointment in employees and drive competition and criticism. It can gradually have further consequences, such as withdrawal, procrastination, drops in work satisfaction, productivity, and staff retention as individuals feel undervalued. Our brain already has a negativity bias in how it is designed because bad experiences stick to it like Velcro and good experiences slip away like Teflon. Letting our bias run wild can become problematic, especially when many jobs are already risk averse and problem oriented.

Let’s take the scenario with the child or teenager again. This time imagine them being encouraged as they try something hard, praised for their efforts, recognised for what they are doing well, and simultaneously guided to see what they need to change or improve. We can imagine how this can create a better learning environment where they see both their strengths and areas of improvements, where they get through challenges without giving up, and where their self-worth isn’t based on their achievements alone. What benefits can we reap if we purposely express more recognition and appreciation to eachother at work?

How can we cultivate recognition and appreciation?

This is not about creating positive thinking cultures that disregard or conceal problems. This can have a detrimental impact, and having the courage to name problems and to challenge compassionately are fundamental qualities that we want to encourage. This is about strength building. When individuals are seen, heard and valued, they can feel more secure in their job and develop internal resources to face work challenges with resilience. Work can remain enjoyable, where the tough periods are easier to get through with a sense of togetherness.

Offer it

Attention is often given to financial recognition, however here I want to advocate for recognition through words. Formal systems such as reviews and appraisals already exist and are great opportunities to offer this. Outside of formal settings, both leaders and employees can foster an intention to look out for the good and to be more explicit in naming it and sharing it. This is a powerful means of modelling that can encourage others to express recognition and appreciation too. It can be helpful to be specific with feedback and to acknowledge effort as well as outcome. We can communicate this verbally, through a gesture or a quick email. 

Offering ourselves appreciation and recognition is an important daily practice too. This can enable us to develop an internal sense of security where we know our worth even when we do not receive feedback from others. Being able to see the good in ourselves can also expand our attention to seeing the good in others too.

Ask for it

Whilst we may not ask to find ourselves in challenging work settings, it is still our responsibility to ask for what we need. If we do not let our managers and colleagues know about the impact of incessant negative feedback and the absence of positive feedback, we are not giving them an opportunity to improve the situation, and this may fester our resentment. Even when efforts at balanced feedback are made, people are only human and can easily get swept up by pressures. When this happens, it is OK to remind the other person of what was helpful. After all, when we are clear on what we are doing well, we can be motivated to do more of that.

Make it a team activity

I have seen many organisations that integrate weekly, fortnightly, or monthly team activities that celebrate recognition and appreciation. Here are some ideas you can try out with your teams:

  • ‘Highlight of the Week’ where at the end of the week, each team member writes down or verbally shares a highlight in their personal and professional life.
  • ‘Team Wins Board’ or ‘Appreciation Wall’ where team members have protected time to reflect together on what they achieved or to express something they appreciate about themselves or others. This is captured on a board that is left on display for everyone to see.
  • Having regular agenda items for meetings that ask ‘What has gone well today/this week?’
  • Having a ‘Shout-Out’ or ‘Thank You’ section in the company newsletter or blog.
  • Unexpected gestures of gratitude where the team lead gives employees a gift for who they are and what they have offered. I have unexpectedly received cookies, cards, and a candle from different teams which have always made my day.

Savour It

Once we receive gestures of appreciation and recognition, an equally important step is to practice letting the good feeling sink in. To savour it. We are often so quick to dismiss compliments because we are embarrassed, don’t want to seem big-headed, we think we do not deserve it, or we have already jumped to the next task. This is a pity because we are depriving ourselves of moments of satisfaction and happiness.

Next time someone gives you a positive remark, let it sink in. Breathe it in, even just for a few seconds. Notice how it feels in your body and what it feels like to be around people who appreciate you. We can learn to give ourselves permission to bask in the good feeling like we bask in the sun. Enjoying the reward can give us the momentum we need to keep working effectively with a full tank.

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