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How to build an appreciation culture at work

Last updated on 
October 16, 2020

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As human beings, we all want to feel recognized and appreciated. We want to know that our efforts are noticed, that we matter, that we’re valued. And things are no different in the workplace – according to Gallup, regular praise is a main factor in boosting employee engagement. When employees feel appreciated they perform better, feel more positive about their work and have better retention rates. So how do you go about building appreciation and recognition into your culture? It starts with realizing they aren’t quite the same thing.

Appreciation vs recognition

The words ‘recognition’ and ‘appreciation’ may be used interchangeably but there are key differences between them that leadership needs to recognize.

Recognition relates to things you’ve done. It’s about being credited for the work you’ve completed, whether that was a strong performance or excellent results. This recognition can take many forms – an informal thank you, a kind email, a promotion, an award, a raise. Recognition is super important, and a Gallup survey found that it motivates 82% of employees to work harder. But as with most things, it also has its restrictions.

Because it’s based on performance, recognition is conditional; you might work really hard on a task but not get the anticipated results. Does that mean you’re not worthy of praise? Or that effort and intention don’t matter – only outcome? Recognition is also about what you’ve done – not what you will do, or are capable of doing. And importantly, some forms of recognition, like incentive programs, are often seen as hollow. Research by Deloitte found they drive little value – and for the companies that actually have incentive programs, only 58% of workers are even aware of them.

Appreciation is about recognizing someone’s value as a person – about showing that someone’s inherent worth lies in who they are, as well as what they do. According to Glassdoor, 53% of people said more appreciation from management would lead to better retention. By demonstrating both appreciation and recognition, companies are able to show they understand employee needs, and are better equipped to improve workplace happiness and staff retention. So how do you do it?

Ways to build appreciation & recognition

There are many ways companies can build and share appreciation and recognition for employees. Some tried and tested methods include:

1. Celebrating wins

Big and small wins should be celebrated. At Memory, we’ve started a ‘FridayWin’ Slack channel, where we post achievements from each week to everyone in the company. It breaks down the silos created by specialist teams and brings people together to ensure achievements are globally visible. It doesn’t matter how small the win might be – we still want to appreciate it! Maybe you fixed an annoying bug or had a cool customer interaction. Maybe you improved an arduous process, or nailed a hard task. The point isn’t what the achievement actually is – it’s about showing gratitude to the person who accomplished something, ending the week on a positive note and having the opportunity as a team to reflect on individual effort.


2. Creating opportunities for feedback

One of the best ways you can show appreciation for your employees is also one of the easiest: give them your attention and a chance to have their say. Listening to people shows you care, that you believe the other person’s opinion matters. Aside from checking in with your employees regularly, there are a ton of avenues for asking for feedback – like focus groups, staff forums, surveys, performance reviews, workshops, Slack channels and away days. Use project retrospectives to talk through your team’s experiences; ask employees how they think you can improve – and always act on their feedback.

3. Making it easy to review employee performance

Obviously, in order to offer recognition whenever it’s due, you need an easy way to stay on top of all employee performance. Technology is your best friend here, and the smartest use automation to do most of the work for you. Take tools like Timely, for example – it can automatically track and distill you whole team’s activity into beautifully simple dashboards. You can instantly see how long people are working on tasks, if anyone’s putting extra hours in, and who’s dangerously close to maxing their capacity. Aside from helping you track employee KPIs, it’s invaluable for highlighting people who might need extra support – an equally important function of recognition.


4. Encouraging honesty

If you want your employees to feel appreciated, they need to feel they can speak honestly. At heart, appreciation cultures require psychological safety; where employees feel it’s safe to fail, and mistakes are a natural, healthy part of learning and improving. This safety can make the difference between somebody owning or concealing errors; whether they feel confident or stressed about how it will affect their team’s perception of them. Ultimately, everyone should feel that they are appreciated as people as well as professionals – that their intention, approach and efforts count just as much as their results.

5. Using recognition tools

Better yet, invest in a bespoke tool to help make staying on top of employee recognition even easier. AI can lend an enormous helping hand in understanding your staff, particularly in the form of digital assistants. The tool Kangogift, for example, alerts managers to employee achievement, nudging them to provide personalized congratulations and feedback. While no substitute for your own emotional intelligence and active interest in employee performance, tools like this make sure no achievements slip through the net – especially during busy periods, where the motivational power of recognition is so important.


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