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Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Even back in the 1970’s, Daniel (Rudy) Ruettiger was an undersized football player. Standing 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 165 pounds, he was a long-shot at best to play on Notre Dame’s football team. Through courage and commitment, he made it as a “walk on” onto the scout squad which helped the varsity team prepare for games. On November 8, 1975, Coach Dan Devine allowed Rudy in his senior year to dress out with the team for the final game against Georgia Tech. He only played two plays that day. One was a kickoff and the other was the final play of the game where he sacked the quarterback. At the end of the game, Rudy’s teammates carried him off the field. Rudy was only one of two players in Notre Dame history to be carried off the field by his teammates. This dramatic story was captured in the movie Rudy, and the image of him being carried off the field is a moving example of showing deep appreciation.

The Challenge: Keeping Good People

While it is unlikely that we will ever parade a co-worker through the office on our shoulders, we do have the opportunity to show appreciation to our employees and co-workers in the workplace. This is not just a “feel good” exercise, but instead a solid best practice of successful companies.

A number of surveys suggest that the number one issue facing business is finding and keeping good employees. High employee turnover can have a direct impact on the bottom line. The costs of turnover include recruiting replacement costs, administrative costs, lost productivity, training, and supervisory time. In fact, experts estimate that the costs of employee turnover average twice an employee’s salary.

The mistake is to assume that if we just throw money at employees that it will ensure that we keep them. While monetary rewards are nice, the reality is that employees want to feel valued and appreciated in their jobs. In The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White noted that based on extensive research, 89% of managers believed that employees left jobs for more money; however in reality, only 12% of employees actually reported that they resigned over compensation. In a four year analysis of more than 100,000 employees worldwide, the Corporate Leadership Council discovered that while workers “join companies for rational motives (better compensation, benefits, and career opportunities), they stay and work hard for emotional ones.”

In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee retention expert Leigh Branham noted, “Everyone wants to feel important, yet many organizations make their people feel quite the opposite. It could be seen as a lack of simple appreciation, or a greater focus on making numbers, and not valuing employees.”

The Gallup organization has conducted extensive research based on interviews with more than 17 million people over more than 30 years. They identified 12 core elements that link directly to critical organizational outcomes. Interestingly, one of the core elements was that “employees receive regular recognition or praise for doing good work.” Gallup also found that almost 70% of the employees in the United States say they receive no praise in the workplace.

The Opportunity: Showing Appreciation at Work

Dr. Gary Chapman, best-selling author of The Five Love Languages and Dr. Paul White, a nationally recognized family and business coach, teamed up to write their book to help us understand how we are encouraged in the workplace as well as how to best show appreciation to others. Their book provides the tools, resources, and information to help apply these concepts in a practical way in the workplace.

One of the most compelling aspects of learning to show appreciation in the workplace is that it can be done for very little cost, yet it can accomplish significant results. For those that may think showing appreciation is too “touchy feel-y,” the reality is that there is a significant return on time and investment for creating a positive work environment where appreciation is shown. The key is simply being intentional about how we show appreciation so that we don’t take a “one size fits all” approach.

In fact, providing the wrong type of appreciation can actually do more harm than good. Chapman pioneered the idea that we all have different communication “languages.” He has described the five languages as words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, and physical touch. Chapman and White have applied and adapted these concepts to the workplace to show how we can better communicate appreciation to our co-workers and employees. They developed the Motivating by Appreciation (MBA) Inventory to identify your individual language of appreciation. Purchasers of their book are provided a code to take the test and determine their appreciation language.

We tend to show appreciation based on our own language and not that of those around us. By taking the time learn the languages of your team, you will be able to much better show them effective and meaningful appreciation. In today’s economy, it would be foolish to just think, “Well, my employees should just be thankful they have a job.” This view is short sighted and misses the point that by taking a little time to show appreciation in the workplace based on individual needs, leaders can create a positive work environment that is more pleasant and productive.

Build a Great Habit

I believe that great companies have great habits. Being intentional about communicating personalized appreciation is one of those habits. It is important to recognize the challenges that can exist to effectively create this great habit. One of the biggest challenges is the “tyranny of the urgent” that keeps everyone so busy that they don’t take time to communicate effectively. Don’t let showing appreciation fall into the “important but not urgent” bucket that never gets done. Take time and be purposeful on this important task.

Finally, some people may not feel comfortable showing appreciation. The more you educate yourself on this important area the more comfortable you will feel. Also, remember this is not about you, but what you can do for other people.

As the old saying goes, “nobody cares what you know, until they know that you care.” I hope that you will consider the value and benefits of making your workplace one in which appreciation is shown. Remember, even if your whole workplace is not on board with this concept, we each have the opportunity to create a positive impact by starting to show appreciation to those we work with today!

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