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Have You Been Appreciated Lately? Six steps to make yourself & others feel better at work.

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

We all want to be associated with a winner, whether a winning personality, a winning team, a worthwhile cause or a successful organization. We all have sports people, groups, actors, or artists that we consider ours. When they do well, we bask in their reflected glory. It is the same at work - we want to be associated with a worthwhile winning organization. Our greatest reward is receiving an acknowledgment that we have contributed to making something meaningful happen. 

More than anything else, people want those they admire to see value in a job well done.

A famous study by Lawrence Lindahl in the 1940s produced surprising results. When were supervisors and their employees asked to list what motivates the employees?

- Employees listed appreciation of a job well done as number one and feeling in on things as number two.

- Supervisors, on the other hand, expected the employees would rank these two items as eighth and tenth, respectively (supervisors thought employees would put wages as number one and promotion number two!).

These results were replicated in similar studies in the 1980s and the 1990s. In another recent study, employees were asked to rank job-based incentives. Personal thank-you came first, and a note of appreciation from my manager came second. The money came in on the 16th!

Praise, the thing that motivates us the most, takes so little time and costs nothing! Famous management writer Rosa Beth Moss Kantor once said compensation is a right. Recognition is a gift.

Have you appreciated the work of others lately? Has the value of your work been appreciated? Here is a quick test - over the last week, have you:

- Told someone they have done an excellent job?

- Looked explicitly to find someone doing something well?

- Made someone else look good rather than taking the credit yourself?

- Thanked others for your success?

- Passed on positive comments you have heard about others?

These are simple examples of the things we need to do regularly to acknowledge the excellent work of others.

If it is that easy, why don’t more people do it? There are reasons, but they all fall into two categories personal and organizational.

On a personal level, we are not comfortable giving praise. We may be awkward about it or believe that people are paid to do a job, so why do we have to praise them?

From an organizational perspective, it may be the culture telling us back or technology preventing us from valuing the work of others. For example, technology has changed the way we run. Email may have replaced personal interaction, so we no longer see what others do well out of sight is out of mind, so how can we praise decent work if we do not see it?

Here are six ways we can promise a job well done back into our working lives.

1. Look for things people do well and acknowledge them for their excellent work.

2. Being an acknowledgment model shows others it is OK to give praise.

3. Have a conversation with a colleague about how to give praise for work well done.

4. When people have performed above the norm, write them a small thank you note.

5. Encourage others to thank one another and pass on stories of decent work to your manager.

6. Work to create a culture of appreciation and make acknowledgment part of your daily routine.

The essential point is that praise is not frequent and given locally (by colleagues and managers). It should not be seen as a corporate initiative or program but merely the way we do things around here.

What has not been said so far is that praise must be genuine. People, in general, are particularly good at spotting insincerity. The message? When you praise someone, ensure it is for the excellent work and not just for its sake.

A final word of warning. Organizations turn acknowledgment into an event. They distort it with extrinsic motivators (such as money) and taint it with internal competition. Simple, praising a job well done is just pure and straightforward.

So, find someone doing something good today and tell them what an excellent job they have done!

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