The most affordable employee benefit is the one most craved—it’s appreciation. It comes in the form of simple messages like “I appreciate what you do for me/the company/the team” or “I appreciate that you work under tight timelines and with limited resources” or “I appreciate these qualities you have . . .”
Talk is cheap of course. Words are just one way to convey appreciation. Actions speak louder and when words such as “I appreciate how hard you work” are combined with a demand to work a fifth weekend in a row, the incongruity will backfire and breed distrust.
I recently heard Derek Irvine interviewed on NPR. Derek co-authored Winning with a Culture of Recognition (click here for web site), which was released in early October. Derek did a nice job arguing that recognition (a variation of appreciation and being seen and heard) is key to engaging a workforce as dissatisfied with their work life as any since we started measuring these kinds of things. More than 60 percent of employees dread coming to work and 80 percent have not heard any form of thank you from their bosses in the last six months.
So why do leaders miss or fumble the delivery of appreciation? I think most leaders have lost touch with how much they are starving for appreciation. As a leader, you have worked your butt off to get to a position of leadership and to be seen, valued and appreciated. Yet the top is the place where no one gives you words of appreciation. I call this the High Achiever’s Paradox.
Your bosses and reports assume you’re glowing from the inside due to a magical self-actualized state and that, as a result, you don’t need to hear you’re appreciated. At home, unexpressed resentment for your long hours and travel often get in the way of words or acts that convey appreciation. On top of all this—and this might be the biggest factor of all—if you are like the typical high-achiever you don’t appreciate yourself very much.
So it’s no wonder leaders have blind spots when it comes to appreciation. We are so numb to our own unmet need for appreciation we forget to express it to others.
Words and many actions are free. Tell your employees and your loved ones that you appreciate them. And tell yourself that you appreciate you. Just pick one to start with.
This deceptively simple act could shift an entire culture.