Winter Blues? Appreciation Can Help

Now that we are fully into 2017 and facing long, dark winter days with few days off from work, leaders need to take a hard look at how to support and encourage team members.  This is the time of year (especially for those who like sunlight) that people often drag themselves through the day.

As a psychologist who trains leaders and colleagues on how to effectively communicate appreciation in the workplace, let me offer some suggestions.

Understand the nature of discouragement and burnout

Discouragement and burnout, over the long haul, come from a combination of weariness and lack of hope.  We have emerged from the holiday season and now we face the daily grind of doing our normal work.  A lot of people are emotionally tired.  Add to this a potential lack of vision (“Remind me again, why are we doing this?”) and a lack of hope (“My contribution really isn’t going to make a difference…”) and you have the perfect recipe for team members either going through the motions or giving up completely.

Give your team what they need:  vision, hope, appreciation and encouragement

This is where leaders can make a tremendous difference with their team members – by providing vision (where you are going and how doing x, y, and z fits into the overall plan), communicating hope (helping others see how what they are doing does matter), and communicating appreciation and encouragement along the way.

Communicate your appreciation in ways that work

One challenge in effectively encouraging your team members is that not everyone’s “language of appreciation” is the same.  In our book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, we identify five languages of appreciation, and believe that everyone has a primary and secondary language that they prefer. Most of us tend to communicate appreciation to others through the actions that we value – like giving a verbal compliment. But not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. Some people appreciate words of affirmation, while others are encouraged when someone helps them with a task (acts of service).  Giving someone quality time is another way to demonstrate support, like stopping by a colleague’s office and giving him or her undivided attention. Bringing a colleague a special cup of coffee when you know they’ve had a long day can be a “pick me up” (gifts).  Even a “high five” or a “fist bump” can be a form of celebration when a difficult project has been completed (appropriate physical touch).

For people to truly feel valued, four conditions need to be present.  Appreciation needs to be communicated:

  1. a) individually (rather than a blanket thank-you to all involved),
  2. b) in the language and actions that the individual values, (not everyone values the same things),
  3. c) regularly (not just at their annual review or at the end of a big project); and
  4. d) in a manner that the individual perceives as being genuine (versus forced or contrived).

It takes some time and effort to communicate appreciation effectively. But it is worth it when you “hit the mark” with a team member, and you watch as they start to glow (or become teary-eyed) and their commitment to you and the mission of the organization deepens dramatically. And you will be able to help them endure the long, dark days of winter – they may even smile occasionally and report enjoying their work!

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Lacey Scully

Thanks for this great blog, Paul! I didn’t realize that there was a book called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace – I’m a big fan of The 5 Love Languages, and this new book sounds like a great way to use those principles in the workplace. Thanks for sharing your expertise!