How the superpowers of appreciation drive performance and wellbeing


If I told you that there was a tool that could turn your people into superheroes, would you be interested? How about if I added that it costs little to nothing to do? Have I piqued your interest?

The tool is appreciation, something so simple and straightforward and yet so misunderstood and underutilized. In fact, according to a survey we conducted for our book (Bad Bosses Ruin Lives: The Building Blocks for Being a Great Boss), 81% of people have had a boss who shows them no appreciation. We call them the Unappreciater, as they don’t show their people appreciation and gratitude, making them feel unvalued, invisible, and unappreciated for their actions and contributions.

Now I’m not saying that your people will be able to leap tall buildings or lift a bus like superheroes we see in comic books and movies. Still, the superpowers derived from appreciation have been proven time and time again to help your employees feel and be at their best, which is good for them and for your company.

But what do these feelings actually do? How do they turn your people into superheroes? This happens when the feelings are translated into actions, or using the superhero analogy; they translate into superpowers driving performance and wellbeing.

The performance superpowers come from higher employee productivity, with one study finding that productivity can increase by 30% when an employee receives just one piece of praise a day. This productivity increase is a superpower delivering higher profits, with one study finding that companies with a strong culture of appreciation are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results.

Appreciation can also create feelings that can improve the wellbeing of your people. 

One way is by lowering stress levels by reducing the cortisol stress hormone (one study found that there was a 23% reduction in cortisol after appreciation was given). Another way is by reducing burnout, something that is increasingly on the rise due to symptoms of the more fast-paced, complex, and demanding modern workplace. It does this by addressing some of the factors that can lead to burnout, such as feelings of unfair treatment at work, unclear communication from managers, and lack of manager support (one study found that when appreciation is done effectively, 73% of employees are less likely to always or very often feel burned out).

So what do you think? Are you curious how to use this tool in the most effective way? Well let us share with you what we call the “Four Golden Rules of Appreciation,” These are the four things you MUST do to get it right, with each letter standing for a key point. Together, they create a call to action – what we ‘must’ do to achieve our appreciation objectives. Here is a high-level overview of each of them:

Rule #1  – Make appreciation meaningful

Let’s start with the letter ‘M,’ which stands for making employee appreciation meaningful. This is critical so that the recipient truly feels appreciated, and it happens when you deliver meaning in both what you say and what you do, showing the person that you have seen, value and appreciate their specific contributions.

Rule # 2 – Make appreciation unified

The next golden rule focuses on showing appreciation in a unified and inclusive way. It’s important that appreciation does not create a divide or wedge between your workforce, with the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ based on location, department, manager or function, to name a few.

Instead, appreciation needs to be universal, making it available for all to give and all to receive, thus increasing your chances of creating an appreciation culture and achieving your appreciation objectives.

Rule #3 – Shine a spotlight on appreciation

Let’s move on to the letter ‘S,’ which stands for shining a spotlight on appreciation. In the past, appreciation was done in a very private way, between the sender and the receiver, but over the years we’ve come to see the importance of changing this to put it under the spotlight and watch the magic happen. The benefit is that it showcases what good and great look like to your workforce, it multiplies the impact as others see and get involved with the appreciation, and it connects your people in a positive, meaningful and uplifting way.

Rule #4 – Make appreciation timely

The last letter of the acronym is ‘T,’ which stands for making appreciation timely and focuses on the ‘when’. The word ‘timely’ means to do something in an appropriate time frame, which is a bit wishy-washy,  as what does ‘appropriate time frame’ really mean? We believe that this is part of the problem as we all interpret it differently. Does it mean giving appreciation once a week, once a month? What, exactly, is the ‘appropriate time frame’ to give appreciation?

We propose that instead, we focus the definition and our efforts on the gap: the time frame between the moment the behavior or action happens and the moment the appreciation occurs. If we remove the hurdles and make giving appreciation easy, there is no excuse for waiting. We can all move to what is commonly called “in the moment” appreciation.

Let us end by encouraging you to use the tool of appreciation over and over again with your people, turning them into superheroes and reaping the benefits of their powers. And don’t forget to deliver it using the four golden rules, delivering what we call the ‘appreciation feeling.’ For as poet Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Written by Debra Corey.

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