Why appreciation in the workplace matters

(Courtesy photo) Doug Claffey, founder of Energage.

When it comes to feeling appreciated at work, what matters most to employees? If you answered “pay,” think again. Research shows pay is low on the list.

Energage surveyed more than 22 million employees across 66,000 organizations over the past 14 years. We’ve learned that what matters to employees — what truly motivates them — is feeling appreciated. Across all U.S. sectors and populations, appreciation ranks as one of the most important workplace culture drivers.

Our 2020 survey of Utah employees found that appreciation rates fourth in importance, topped by these factors, in order: whether they feel their job is part of something meaningful; whether employees feel their organization is headed in the right direction; and whether they feel they are working at their full potential.

It’s important to note there is no definition for appreciation in our survey. We don’t tell employees how — or in what ways — they should gauge their feelings about it. They use their own definition, and, even more, employees know it when they feel it. And they can also readily distinguish between what’s authentic and what’s simply lip service.

Just as there is no single definition of how employees should feel appreciated, there is no single way for organizations to express it. Some use reward and recognition systems. This form of appreciation tends to focus on outcomes, and it’s often linked to financial awards. Other recognition systems are tied to organizational events, such as service anniversaries.

The simplest and sometimes the most effective form of appreciation is giving positive feedback or praise. “Thank you for your effort” or “You’re doing a really good job” goes a long way, whether delivered in person, electronically or in a handwritten note.

Within an organization are various types of appreciation, because each has a unique message and meaning:

Peer to peer — Co-workers thank others either within or outside their own team. This is especially important when teams are geographically dispersed or don’t see one another regularly.

Manager to employee — Managers are most familiar with their employees' roles. Workers like to know their manager understands and values their contributions.

Senior leadership — This level is typically more general, relating to group efforts. But senior leaders can also highlight extraordinary effort. Above all, it demonstrates they see and recognize individual and team contributions.

Appreciation matters because it goes a long way with employees toward improving motivation, job satisfaction, self-esteem and retention. Cultivating a culture of appreciation helps employees feel good about the work they do, and it’s the glue that holds teams together.

Doug Claffey is founder and chief strategy officer of Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in the past year. Energage is The Salt Lake Tribune’s survey partner for Top Workplaces.