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On This Employee Appreciation Day, Invest in Appreciation And Recognition

Written by: Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Performance Acceleration at Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company

Employee Appreciation Day

March 1st was Employee Appreciation Day, and business leaders everywhere were reminded to show their appreciation for the folks who are responsible for getting the work done every day. We all hope that this day and the actions it prompts are meaningful in a way that makes a difference. But, for humans at work, one day a year is never enough. Especially when we confuse appreciation with recognition. One is not better than the other, but they have different intents with different outcomes.

Appreciation is about the heart. Being appreciative sounds like “I appreciate the extra hours you worked on that project” or “I appreciate you being so thoughtful.” Appreciation feels like I see you, I know you, and you are a person I care about. Here are a three key things to consider about delivering appreciation:

  1. You can’t fake appreciation. Most of us can spot a fake a mile away. Often time coerced appreciation happens infrequently (like on Employee Appreciation Day). It sounds generalized, like it came from a greeting card. For appreciation to be real and more than a check-the-box sentiment, it has come from the heart.
  2. Everyone has something appreciation worthy. You don’t have to be best friends with someone to appreciate something about them. Sometimes we get stuck in the “this person drives me crazy” space and it overwhelms how we experience that person. Take a step back and push that lack of likeability to the side for a moment. Appreciation means a lot to anyone, but it’s extra special when you appreciate something about someone that isn’t quite your best buddy.
  3. Appreciation means a lot no matter where it comes from. Appreciation is honoring the innate humanness of someone. You can appreciate your direct reports, your co-workers or even your boss! Look beyond your team and appreciate someone and make them smile.

As great as appreciation is, and it is great, it’s not the same as recognition. The outcome from appreciation is to feel goodness. The outcome of recognition is engagement. Recognition sounds like “You delivered a great presentation today.” Recognition feels like a job well done. Although there is certainly an element of “heart” in recognition it’s more about “head.” Here are three key items when considering recognition:

  1. Recognition is specific. For recognition to me meaningful it must be specific. A general statement about work doesn’t cut it. As a recipient of recognition I need to know that you’re paying enough attention to me that you know what I’m working on.
  2. The most powerful recognition comes from my Team Leader. It’s not that recognition from people other than my team leader is bad, in fact it’s good. But the biggest impact of recognition comes from the person who is most important to me at work, my boss.
  3. Recognition is extreme. Recognizing mediocrity or work that is just ok feels like a forced activity. Meaningful recognition catches people not just doing things right, but doing things that are excellent.

How do we know those 3 things about engagement? We know from the research that the most meaningful driver of engagement when it comes to recognition is not “I am recognized for good work,” but “I know I will be recognized for excellent work”. When you pay attention to individual work frequently, people will feel confident that you’ll see them at their best when it happens.

The difference between appreciation and recognition continues to be confused by Organizations. Appreciation is nice and we should do more of it. Recognition is all about proving how actions speak louder than words. Recognition is about attention from the most important person to individuals at work, their leader. Our question should not be recognition OR appreciation? We need to create an environment of appreciation to each other AND recognition for our direct reports. Good companies invest in one or the other. The best companies invest in both.

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