Recognition or Appreciation: How Do You Increase Employee Engagement?

Leadership author John Maxwell teaches that followers ask three questions about their leaders before committing to being fully engaged in their work. Those three questions are:

1.       Can you HELP me?

2.       Do you CARE about me?

3.       Can I TRUST you?

Many leaders struggle with question #2 when it comes to showing care for their teammates. It’s not that they don’t care. Most leaders care very much about the people they lead; they struggle to find the best way to show it, and the time to show it.

Appreciation vs. Recognition

One way I have seen leaders compensate for not being completely sure how to show care for their followers is to provide recognition instead. While recognition is great, recognition by itself is not enough. Recognition is generally about someone’s job performance and not about the value of the person. It has been well documented in engagement research that the number one factor in job satisfaction is how valued someone feels for the work they do.

Another challenge for leaders when it comes to showing appreciation for the people on their team is that everyone receives care or appreciation differently. I recall a time when a colleague, Jim, and I were working on a project together, and our boss called to tell me that he appreciated my work and that I was adding great value to our company and our client. When I asked Jim if he liked it when the boss called and affirmed his good work, Jim said no, that he felt appreciated or cared for when he could work on an awesome project with others on the team, including the boss.

What’s a Leader to Do?

In their terrific book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People”, authors Gary Chapman and Paul White provide a heavily researched strategy for showing appreciation to those people in your circle of influence. That means not only the people who report to you, but also to your peers and to the people to whom you report. Appreciation has 360-degree implications.

The five languages of appreciation that Chapman and White present are the same as the 5 Love Languages work from years ago, but they are applied to the workplace with additional research to validate the application to work. The five languages are:

1.       Works of Affirmation – use words to communicate a positive message to another person.

2.       Quality Time – show you value the person by giving them your time.

3.       Acts of Service – showing care by helping someone in their work. Actions speak louder than words.

4.       Tangible Gifts – small items that show appreciation and says I was thinking of you.

5.       Physical Touch – appropriate physical touch in work-based relationships mostly come in the form of celebration and support: a firm handshake, fist-bump, or pat on the back.

In the example above, my colleague Jim’s appreciation language would be most closely linked to #3, Acts of Service, while I am definitely Words of Affirmation, #1. Knowing this would be good information for our boss and teammates. Unfortunately, most of us show appreciation to others in OUR appreciation language, not theirs. This means that I am most likely to use affirming words to show appreciation for my teammates or even my wife. This sets up an obvious disconnect that can lead to disengagement and a feeling of not being valued by my team or organization. This explains why my wife (acts of service) wishes I would stop with all the affirming words and actually help her around the house!

Since most people show appreciating to others in their primary language, leaders should be observant of how their teammates show appreciation. Chapman and White also reveal several strategies for how you can learn the appreciation language of those with whom you lead and work. Here are three ways they suggest trying to discover the primary appreciation language of your colleagues:

1.       Observe what they request of others.

2.       Listen to their complaints.

3.       Explore how they are “encouraged” or “discouraged.”

Leaders should also consider how generational difference affect someone’s need for and style of receiving appreciation. Also, whether someone is a remote or mobile employee can affect which appreciation language they prefer. I highly recommend the book,  “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People” By Gary Chapman and Paul White.

Become intentional in your approach to showing value to your circle of influence. You can raise your level of influence with others and increase your ability to fully engage your team when you make showing appreciation for others a part of your leadership style.