In this time of giving thanks, there are certain things many of us have come to expect – cranberry sauce that goes largely ignored, adorably imperfect handprint turkeys made by kids, perhaps a family squabble during the feast.
While gratitude is an advisable and noble pursuit all year long, never are we reminded more of its importance than during this Thanksgiving season. “Make sure people know you appreciate them,” we’re frequently encouraged.
According to Psychology Today, receiving expressions of gratitude can help people forge bonds and feel valued and known. And Forbes noted a “spillover effect” of gratitude, where individuals can become more trusting and develop a deeper sense of self-efficacy. These benefits can be reaped in the workplace as well as in our personal lives.
Many companies are doubling down on efforts to make employees feel valued as the country remains stuck in the quicksand of what news outlets have named The Great Resignation and economists call “the quits.”
Sure, higher pay and cooler perks can certainly go a long way to boosting employee morale and loyalty. But, experts say, so can a good old-fashioned dose of appreciation.
So, what are some effective ways to convey that, unlike that ignored dish of cranberry sauce, employees are very much wanted?
Make sure you say it
For starters, make sure you actually say the words. That could mean announcing during a meeting, “Jan, your contributions helped this project succeed!” or leaving a note on Marcus’ desk that says, “Thanks for the extra effort to attend online training. The skills you learn will be an asset to our clients.”
Whatever it is, don’t assume team members know they’re appreciated. In 2020, three human resources and management experts reported in Harvard Business Review on their deep dive into organizational efforts to show appreciation. They found a stark difference between how much managers appreciated employees and how much employees actually felt appreciated.
Indeed, they found that managers often assumed, incorrectly, that team members knew how they felt about them and their work. They also noted an “illusion of transparency” — people overestimate how visible their emotions are to others.
Bottom line? If Alicia’s been working extra hard, make sure you actually thank her for it — with a note, personal conversation or shout-out in the staff meeting. Don’t assume she knows that you’ve noticed.
Specific — not sweeping — wins the day
It seems like expressing appreciation should be pretty simple. But even when managers remember to do so, some miss the mark.
No one is likely to be particularly motivated by sweeping, overly broad statements of gratitude. There’s nothing wrong with a vague, “You guys rock” to the team sometimes. But those proclamations occasionally have to be supplemented with personal, specific input.
Time and again, employees report to management consultants and business reporters that they feel more appreciated and inspired to keep up their great work when it doesn’t go unnoticed. In particular, individualized feedback on their contributions goes a long way. “Go, team!” just won’t cut it like, “John, you really leveraged the complex relationships you’ve built over time to help us land this contract.”
Sweeping praise can have its place, such as when the whole team pulled together to hit a hard deadline. But there’s another caution: Team projects often don’t reflect equal contributions of effort, know-how or creativity. Focusing only on team appreciation without following up personally with those who went above and beyond can alienate top performers.
Don’t mean it? Then don’t say it
Is there anyone whose parents or teachers didn’t hit them with that old yarn “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? This couldn’t be more true when it comes to showing appreciation for employees.
If the best you can do is a distracted, “Nice work” while poking around on your phone, don’t bother.
Or, you really weren’t impressed with a team member’s quarterly numbers or performance on a project? Then delivering an emotionless bit of praise at a staff meeting or putting a tepid thank you card in their mailbox is highly unlikely to make them feel valued. In fact, you might have muddied the waters and created confusion by praising their lackluster performance rather than offering actionable, developmental feedback.
Most of us have fairly good BS detectors. If you don’t mean it, why would you think your employees won’t see through your thank you? As with most things in life, authenticity should be your guide.
Build good habits
We grow and gain traction in the areas where we direct our focus. When we work to make habits out of going to the gym or filing our expense reports on time or calling our parents, those things flourish.
If we set aside an hour or two a week to write notes to staffers or have quick recognition talks, we develop that gratitude muscle. When we look for reasons to express appreciation — heartfelt, specific, timely and relevant — it becomes second nature.
Like a second slice of pumpkin pie while enjoying the company of family or friends around the Thanksgiving table, being appreciated sure does hit the spot.