While good things happen when employees feel appreciated, communicating appreciation to staff is not a miracle salve that cures all wounds. Sometimes well-meaning supervisors (and sometimes lazy managers who don’t want to do the hard work of dealing with problems) try to use appreciation as a “quick fix” for deeper issues that need to be addressed.
Here are five sets of circumstances when appreciation should not be the first action taken:
When employees are not getting paid regularly. Without honoring your agreement to pay your employees for their work, no amount of appreciation will matter.
When there has been a recent layoff. When an organization has just gone through the process of staff reduction, multiple issues still remain. The “surviving” employees are processing a lot of emotions:
- Relief that they did not lose their job.
- Guilt that they still have a job while some of their friends do not.
- Lingering anxiety wondering if there will be more layoffs or if the organization will continue to exist.
- Anger at how the layoff was handled (who was laid off and who wasn’t).
- Frustrated because they believe other issues should have been dealt with (or still need to be) for the company to function well.
When employees are seriously underpaid (or cost-of-living adjustments, raises or bonuses are on hold). For most employees, receiving appropriate financial payment for their work is foundational to their sense of being treated fairly. While it is true many employees tend to overvalue their contribution and believe they should be paid more, there are clearly circumstances where it is obvious that staff is truly underpaid compared to their peers in the marketplace. Until this is rectified, appreciation will feel more like a cheap substitute since the organization is not communicating value to the employees by paying them appropriately.
When there is significant insecurity about employees maintaining their jobs. While employees may be grateful they currently have a job, if circumstances are unsettled in the overall economy, industry sector or company, there are realistic concerns about whether they will continue to be employed in the future. Communicating appreciation to them will fall on deaf ears. Trying to say, “You are valued,” while there are deliberations of letting people go is a blatant example of insincerity.
When employees have serious, reality-based questions about the trustworthiness of management. There are times when management has handled situations or communication poorly, which has resulted in distrust. If management has been caught (or perceived to have been) in actions reflecting a lack of integrity (for example, handling toxic waste issues), any form of appreciation would bring skepticism and cynicism before any positive reaction will occur.
What to do?
If an organization is in the midst of these situations (or about to be), it is best to put any plan to implement appreciation to employees on hold. Alternatively, work with the organization’s leadership and encourage them to deal with the more prominent, underlying issues first.
- Paying your staff regularly.
- Allowing employees to heal after layoffs occur.
- Taking action to create more job stability (and communicate with employees about it).
- Tell the truth. Act with integrity.
- Take action to rebuild trust with your employees.
Re-examine whether it is time to schedule a training on how the company can value and appreciate those who are still part of their team. If you don’t, they will be leaving on their own volition soon.