Let me hit you with two statistics right out of the gate here:
A 10-year study of more than 200,000 employees shows that 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason, and according to Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, only 21% agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
Neither of these should be surprising to anyone who has worked in a conventional white-collar office. Any attempts at employee recognition are usually pretty hollow, and the incentive structure of so-called “recognition programs” is usually also somewhat flawed.
I think we could all identify the big culprits of why appreciation from managers is so low:
- They don’t feel they have the time.
- It’s not part of their own bonus/incentive structure.
- They view work in one way and that doesn’t involve recognition.
- They’ve convinced themselves that they rose up on “hard work” or “work ethic” and got some “tough love” along the way, so they’re not quick to praise either.
- They are a man who cannot connect emotionally.
- It’s more natural for a lot of people to yell (i.e. “demand accountability”) than praise.
Now let’s move on to two other concepts.
Should you even expect appreciation at work?
In an ideal, well-structured work environment? Yes, for sure. And those do exist. They are probably increasingly rare — or rarer than we want to admit — but they do exist.
In most places? Absolutely not. Work is not set up around concepts like “reciprocity.” In most cases, it’s “We have this amount of work that needs to be done, we will pay you less than you probably deserve for that work, we might give you health insurance, and we can terminate you basically whenever we want without reason.” If you’re OK with that deal, you can make some decent change for a few years. That’s why loyalty is dead, though — employee side and corporate side — in addition to the fact that a major form of appreciation, i.e. getting a raise, is also less and less normative. And raises usually happen at 1–3% unless you’re already an executive, whereas job-hopping can often get you 5% or more. Where’s the incentive to be loyal, especially in a place where no one appreciates you but everyone seems to pile on more work?
But the real thing here is, I don’t even think we’re supposed to expect appreciation at work. It’s part of the reason that constant discussions about “purpose” at work get tedious — doesn’t “purpose” come from your spouse, your kids, your community, your church, your hobbies, your parents, your grandparents, your pets, etc? Who really is trying to get purpose from some “customer segmentation meeting?” Isn’t that just a means to an end?
If you want to see how I wrote about this stuff in early 2015, there’s this: “Your Job Isn’t Supposed To Be Fun.”
Could managers get better at showing appreciation?
Is the Pope Catholic?
In other words: yes. Big time. It’s maybe the №1 issue with most management.
The biggest issue will always lie at the intersection of “time” (as in “I don’t have enough”) and “what is my performance being viewed/advanced on?” That’s the intersection where appreciation dies out in most jobs. If a manager feels they are insanely busy — and many do, even though most of their day is meetings and emails — then they just assume showing appreciation is some “extra thing” they have to do. If their boss wants to see that customer segmentation slide deck, well, better get on that. Too bad Tommy just slayed a presentation a week after his divorce went final. No time to acknowledge that. GOTTA GET THAT DECK DONE.
I once made this chart in Google as a simple way managers could get better at appreciation:
Seems easy enough, right? Of course, we’re back to the time issue. “THERE IS NONE! HOW CAN I MANAGE THIS DOCUMENT? CAN I GET EMPLOYEE C TO DO IT INSTEAD AND THEN NOT APPRECIATE HER FOR IT?”
But yes, managers can get better at this — and it’s not even that hard.
Briefly: the issue of “authentic” appreciation
“Authentic,” which is supposed to mean “real,” has paradoxically become a buzzword in most corporate settings, so I don’t love the concept. But “authentic appreciation” is important because see, most managers love the drive-by/pop-in — “Good work on that prez, Robinson! Running to my next meeting!” That’s cool once or twice, but when that’s all it becomes, that’s essentially pathetic. Imagine if one of your friends just kept dropping by your house, saying something nice once, and then leaving. I know your manager isn’t necessarily supposed to be your friend (believe me, I get that), but the foundation of building human relationships isn’t that different across different contextual interactions.
Be authentic. Be present. Try. Care. It’s doable.