The Importance of Expressing Appreciation

Some time ago, I was out for a coffee with a friend of mine. At the coffee shop (Starbucks, if you must know), we witnessed a man hand in a wallet that he had found on the floor. My friend and I expressed to each other how good it was of that man to return the wallet instead of stealing it when he had such an easy opportunity. This is when we had a moment of realization: we were congratulating the man for not being a horrible person. It was a moment of self-awakening that we both still remember, and from that instant a game was born. We call it “well done for not being a d***”.
Since that day I play the game daily, and it still baffles me how much of it I see around. I’ll catch myself internally congratulating someone for not littering, for not doing a bad thing I could foresee them doing. My partner was recently praised by his friend for not cheating while away in Amsterdam, how terrible is that?
It feels like our societal cynicism is so bad that we automatically expect the worst of people, and we’re pleasantly surprised when we encounter the opposite.
And that is what it feels like when I am at work. I feel lucky to work in a positive environment, a place where the management team actively acknowledges and rewards the staff for their good practice. But I don’t want to feel like I’ve lucked out; I want to know that with any future job I undertake, I will be guaranteed to be treated with respect. But is it idealistic to expect workplace leaders to express gratitude and appreciation to their employees? In our current society, it honestly feels like it is.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned about employee happiness it’s this: The solution to unhappy employees is not always money. Once employees are paid in line with competitive market rates, the return on further pay increases tends to diminish.
In fact, our research shows that when employees are surveyed regularly, the biggest single factor they cite for being unhappy is a lack of recognition and appreciation for the work they do.” —
Taro Fukuyama

There is this prevailing idea today that our paycheck is reward enough for our time and effort at work. Yes, a salary may be an incentive for us to come to work every day, but it does not motivate us to be happy about it, or even necessarily to do our jobs well. We are not being appreciated by money, we are being compensated by money. We have to remember that we are all human, and it takes more than money to keep us satisfied. At the most basic level, feeling appreciated makes us feel safe. With that feeling of security we are more free to do our best work without being dragged down with worry and stress that can often impact our lives outside of work. Too many leaders have neglected to build that muscle that can express these positive feelings in the workplace, so much so that two-thirds of workers do not feel appreciated.

“By turning all transactions that something that can be quantified with money, […] we have lost the ability to feel as if there is value that can be transferred that isn’t measured.” — Hank Green

Employers need to realize that keeping their employees happy is paramount to the success of their business. An undervalued employee will not be performing at their best, and will likely end up leaving. A 2016 estimate by the risk management firm Willis Towers Watson estimated the financial cost of losing and replacing an employee is typically at least half of the position’s annual compensation and nearly 80 percent in the case of senior positions. Not only that, but think of the time that is wasted during the hiring and training process each time an employee is replaced. Wouldn’t it be much more time-efficient to invest in the employees you have now?

To top it all off, expressing appreciation in the work place not only makes sense to business, but it’s also incredibly beneficial to mental health. “Numerous studies show that expressing and experiencing gratitude increases life satisfaction, vitality, hope, and optimism. Moreover, it contributes to decreased levels of depression, anxiety, envy, and job-related stress and burnout. Perhaps most intriguing is that people who experience and express gratitude have reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, more exercise, and better quality of sleep.”

What are we waiting for? We need to take action today to make sure we value our staff. Don’t be the fast food diner who leaves their waste on the table because “the staff get paid to clean it up”. Don’t be the person whose sole understanding of gratitude is through numbers on a payslip. Be the person who values people and their contribution, and they will all congratulate you for not being a d***.