Show Appreciation to Motivate Employees

I once had a boss who believed that employees should not expect praise for their work. He thought that an employee’s reward was their paycheck. So, he never showed appreciation for an employee who did an outstanding job.

As a result, it was a discouraging place to work. What my former boss failed to recognize was the positive impact supervisor appreciation could have on employee performance.

Types of Appreciation

As I said previously, I have found that a ‘thank you’ goes a long way. But, according to some researchers, there is more to it than that. According to Bob Nelson, PhD in his book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, there are many levels of appreciation. And, the types of praise used are distinct. So, a ‘thank you’ is only one distinct form of appreciation on one of the levels.

Nelson has extensively researched employee recognition. He identifies two levels of appreciation: informal and formal. Recognition refers to intangible actions while rewards refer to tangible things. Recognition encompasses the type of day-to-day expressions of appreciation from a supervisor to an employee. Things like personal praise, thank you notes, e-mails and public praise are forms of recognition. Rewards encompass tangible items such as achievement awards, plaques or gift certificates. And, to be most effective, a supervisor should frequently use a variety of both recognition and reward.

Recognition and Employee Performance

Nelson says there is a direct connection between the use of recognition by supervisors and increased employee performance. He calls it the ‘recognition-performance link’. He refers to Dr. Gerald Graham of Wichita State University who has also researched employee recognition. Graham found that day-to-day recognition is practiced the least by supervisors. Yet, employees he surveyed reported that is the type of appreciation that means the most to them. Ironically, it is the easiest to use and costs little. So, limited government budgets are not a barrier to using this type of recognition.

But, a supervisor has to be tuned into opportunities to show consistent and timely appreciation. With practice, it should become an automatic reflex. Nelson’s research with employees shows “99.4% reported it was somewhat, very or extremely important for them to be recognized by their [supervisors] when they did good work. And, 73% expected recognition to occur either immediately or soon thereafter.” Nelson also mentions a survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In that survey, “63% of respondents agreed that most people would like more recognition for their work.”

Key Points

So, some things to remember about showing appreciation to employees:

  • Day-to-day recognition means the most to employees
  • Be tuned in to opportunities to show appreciation
  • A variety of informal and formal types of recognition and rewards are the most effective
  • Be consistent in showing appreciation
  • Express appreciation in a timely fashion
  • Match the form of appreciation with the level of performance

Mark Twain said: ’I can live for two weeks on a good compliment.’ The same can be said for an employee who receives appropriate appreciation from their supervisor. When supervisors use this approach, it creates a positive work environment and increases employee performance. So, show your appreciation to motivate your employees.

Mary Roche Cronin is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is the Director of Human Services for the Town of Manchester, Connecticut and has held that position since January 2005. She is responsible for management of four divisions, provides contract oversight for community agencies receiving town funding, and represents the town on community, regional and statewide human services planning and advisory groups. She also provides oversight of the department budget and state and federal grant funding. She has a Master’s degree in Child Welfare from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut and a Juris Doctorate from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can read her posts here.

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