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How to show real appreciation in the workplace

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With the latest Gallup report showing the UK as having only 10% of workers as being ‘highly engaged’, it raises the question of just how do we show employees how much they’re appreciated?

We know how important managers are to people’s experiences of work, but Gallup also shares how managers reported as being even less engaged than non-managers in its latest poll. This might seem unsurprising, when 64% of them identified as being burdened with even more responsibilities than the previous year, with 41% who shared they’d experienced budget cuts.

This might explain how according to Mental Health UK, 20% of workers needed to take time off last year caused by ‘pressure and stress’. And with 35% of adults experiencing extreme levels of this, it’s understandable that employees might be cynical about employee appreciation initiatives.

So, what can businesses and organisations do to turn the tide to genuinely show employees how much they matter?

Appreciating the appreciators

It’s hard to appreciate others when you’re suffering from overload, stress, or burnout. When managers themselves are more disengaged than non-managers, we need to consider how we offer support and help them adapt to the changing demands of work.

Every year, organisations tend to reduce costs but increase targets. Rarely are managers suitably equipped to enable them to adapt to these challenges, which can result in many of them trying to protect their teams from the additional work caused by the cuts or taking on the additional work themselves. This might even result in work being taken home, impacting upon their personal lives.

With managers being so crucial to the experience of employees, they are often overlooked when considering employee appreciation initiatives. Whilst the workload and demands can change, we can be creatures of habit in the way we continue to get work done. Supporting managers on how they can adapt their work, providing time to work out new ways of doing things can help, and by doing so will allow them to be more receptive to appreciating their colleagues around them. And when managers have the scope to appreciate others, we need to consider what more we can do.

Being heard

Employees can often be left questioning whether the senior leaders in the organisation know what’s really going on, specifically with regards to the stress and workloads people are under. Annual engagement surveys can be the cause of further irritation, as often seen as a sterile way to learn about how people are feeling, with a lack of understanding, as employees are limited to only being able to answer the specific questions being asked.

There are several better ways to show employees your appreciation, by taking time out to listen to them – face to face and engaging with them on a personal level with no hidden agenda. For this to happen effectively, it’s important to create an environment of psychological safety, allowing employees to feel comfortable in sharing how they feel and to share their experiences of work.

A natural reaction can be one of defensiveness when hearing how people might be suffering, which can lead to trying to solve this for them, but it’s important to allow them to be heard without judgment. The fact that they are willing to tell you how they feel, means they are passionate to make work better for all.

Personal development

Time is our most valuable commodity in work, and to take time out for meaningful conversations with employees can really help to show how much they are appreciated. It can be hard to understand how people are feeling and how well their needs are being met during their time at work. Holding reviews forces both managers and employees to step away from the running wheel and focus on a thoughtful and reflective discussion.

Personal growth is a key example of showing how much we appreciate employees. Work can often focus heavily on how employees are adding value to the organisation, but it’s just as important for employers to show how much value ‘they’ are adding to their employees.

Understanding the career and development aspirations of individuals, will allow managers to put together plans to develop people to be their very best. It’s hard for individuals to see their own potential, and these moments of reflection can help them see their value, through the eyes of their managers.

Feeling valued

It has been a long-standing view that employees are focused on intrinsic motivation, yet the stagnant growth across the UK, combined with high inflation and lower living standards, means financial rewards are now more important. If we want to show employees how much we appreciate them, it requires us to consider whether what they are paid does this. It’s important to differentiate recognition from appreciation at this point. Recognition often refers to the rewards that are given following the achievement of reaching a target with focus being on recognising a persons’ achievements.

Appreciation on the other hand is focused on appreciating the individual for who they are and the efforts they make, rather than purely on what they achieve. To show how much we appreciate employees, especially when so many are struggling to make ends meet, we need to review the total pay packages we provide.

It’s not just on paying more in salary. Having good pension contributions, providing private healthcare plans, or offering wellbeing payments can help employees better deal with the challenges of life.

A total package might also include flexible working, remote working or offering compressed hours – by really considering what employees would find most valuable.

In summary, it’s easy to focus on wellbeing initiatives – some might even say, that’s quite lazy. To appreciate people – for who they are and the efforts they make to support the workplace, means we should consider meaningful ways to truly demonstrate this. Managers are key, and it’s important we make time to look after them, who in turn, can be better supported to look after employees.

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