To get started on the topic, we need to understand why feeling appreciated is so important for human beings. In neuroscience research, Hebb’s Law says that “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you practice gratitude, the more you strengthen the brain’s neural circuits for gratitude, making it easier to focus on feelings of gratitude. When you start to focus on the things you already have in your life that are good, your brain becomes better at discovering similar things.
For example, if you consciously notice how engaged and curious your team members are behaving, you will be more likely to notice engagement and curiosity—feeling gratitude again. Even though the employees might always be there, the gratitude focus is like a signal to your brain to notice them.
To be crystal clear let’s start with some key definitions and implications.
We tend to use “appreciation” and “recognition” interchangeably, yet they are quite different in nature. When people managers and leaders want their teams and organizations to thrive and grow—and they want to create cultures of engagement, loyalty, and high performance—it’s important to understand the distinction. Recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance against goals or objectives, yet sometimes recognition is given more informally: a verbal thanks, a handwritten note. All these methods can be meaningful, especially if they’re done in a timely and genuine way. They’re also motivating and exciting—everyone wants their good work to be applauded.
And while recognition that includes monetary compensation can be great, researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) found that financial incentives can backfire when it comes to motivating employees. “These incentives may reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so” (LSE).
On the other hand, appreciation is about acknowledging a person’s inherent value. The point isn’t their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a colleague and human beings.
In simple terms, recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are. Here are our top nine recommendations to ensure your employees feel appreciated.
1. Get To Know Them (More Than Just Their Name)
One of the simplest and most basic ways to show your employees that you appreciate them is by knowing and using their names. A person’s name is one of the most important things to them, and when you take the time to learn and use it, they feel appreciated. In addition to this, learn about their career aspirations, challenges, and professional stories, amongst others.
2. Listen To Them
You know that two-way communication is key in any relationship, so you make sure to actively listen to your employees as much as you expect them to. This shows that you value their opinions and are interested in hearing what they have to say. Plan periodic 1:1 conversations with all your direct reports, where you can deepen your understanding of both their work and their career aspirations.
3. Give Them Honest Feedback
Feedback is essential for growth, so make sure to give your employees honest feedback that they can use to improve their performance, productivity, and career. This shows that you are committed to helping them grow and develop in their roles.
4. Show Them Respect
One of the fundamentals of trust-building is respect, and it is a basic need for all human beings, so make sure to always show your employees, peers, colleagues, clients, etc. the respect they deserve. This sends the clear and consistent message that you value them as individuals and appreciate their contributions to the company and interest in it too.
5. Show Appreciation For Their Work
Everyone likes and needs to feel appreciated, therefore make sure to thank your employees for their hard work and let them know when they do a great job as well as for everything that they bring to the table. This helps them feel motivated and appreciated, which leads to higher job satisfaction and engagement.
6. Invest In Their Development
One of the most important investments that we can make as people leaders is investing in our employees' development; it is an investment in the future of your company, providing opportunities for them to learn and grow in their roles. This demonstrates that you are committed to their long-term success at the team, function, and company levels.
7. Recognize Their Achievements
Recognizing your employees’ achievements is a great way to show them that you appreciate their hard work. Whether it’s a formal recognition program or simply saying “good job” when you see them doing something well, letting them know that you notice and appreciate their efforts goes a long way.
8. Give Them Meaningful Work
Giving your employees interesting and meaningful work shows that you value their skills and abilities. It’s also a great way to keep them engaged in their work, which can lead to improved performance.
9. Show Concern For Their Well-Being
When you show concern for your employees’ well-being, it demonstrates that you care about them as people, not just as employees. This can include things like providing safe working conditions, flexibility, autonomy, offering mental health benefits, or giving them time off when they need it, amongst others.