4 Tips To Help Create A Culture Of Authentic Appreciation At Work

Contributing writer By Tia Graham
Contributing writer
Tia Graham is a happiness expert and founder of Arrive At Happy. She graduated from The University of Hawaii and has a certificate in Happiness Studies and a Certificate in Teaching Happiness from Harvard’s Tal Ben-Shahar and The Happiness Studies Academy. She works with companies such as Goldman Sachs, Hilton Hotels and Kashi.
Create a culture of authentic appreciation
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One of our shared human desires is to feel truly appreciated—an expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude (according to Merriam-Webster). To create the most positive and productive work setting, leaders of organizations and teams must create a culture where every single employee feels appreciated in specific and personal ways. 

According to Harvard Business School researchers Theresa Amiable, Ph.D., and Steven Kramer, Ph.D., the No. 1 motivation strategy for employees is consistent progress in meaningful work (coined the "progress principle"). Meaning, leaders are noticing their progress, showing gratitude for said progress, and celebrating them along the way—in other words, showing appreciation. Another study by researchers Adam Grant, Ph.D., and Francesca Gino, Ph.D., also found that when people experience gratitude from their manager, they're more productive

Many organizations have formal processes and procedures in place to ensure that employees feel recognized (like a note from a manager on an employee's work anniversary, monthly awards for team members, and the like). These formal practices can certainly help, but sometimes they can be interpreted as forced or fabricated, and they do not create a culture of personalized gratitude. Rather, authentic appreciation includes consistent, timely, and personalized feedback—between leaders and their direct reports and among employees themselves.

Of course, maintaining culture can be more challenging in a work-from-home setting with remote team members. In this case, leaders must utilize consistent tactics to ensure each employee and team as a whole feels sincerely and authentically appreciated. Here are my top tactics to help every person on the team feel appreciated consistently:

1. Schedule it. 

You're likely extremely busy with a never-ending to-do list, an overflowing email inbox, meetings, calls, distractions, and personal responsibilities. Providing specific and immediate feedback to team members, on the other hand, is not necessarily an urgent task—but that doesn't make it any less important. Create a tangible reminder so it won't slip your mind: Perhaps set a block on your calendar at least two times per week to ensure you dedicate time to notice and appreciate each person on your team. 

You can show appreciation in meetings, in person, on the phone or during a video conference, over email, with handwritten notes, and more. The goal is to create a rhythm and make this become routine and habitual for you. Of course, make sure the appreciation is fair and spread out across your team.

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2. Have public shoutouts.

This tactic can increase the appreciation between team members, as well as increase team connection and belonging. I used this tactic in my monthly sales meetings when I worked in the hospitality industry, and my teams always felt like family. 

For example, if there is time for public shoutouts at the beginning of a meeting, you can dedicate that time for employees to share a specific "thank you" and show appreciation for someone else on the team. Not everyone has to say something, so it is not forced. The goal here is for team members to reflect on, say, the previous month and think about how their fellow colleagues supported them, the organization, or clients. It is a small gesture that goes a long way, and it typically fosters deeper relationships among team members.

3. Personalize the gratitude.

Ask each person on the team how they like to be appreciated, and keep a log for each employee to help you remember. Ask them questions about their favorite foods, colors, activities, experiences, and so on. Keep track of their special dates, including birthdays, anniversaries, work anniversaries, their children's special days, etc. 

Not everyone likes public acknowledgment, so make sure to ask if they appreciate public or private recognition. Perhaps ask them to tell you a story about the best way they have ever been recognized. To treat your whole team, keep it consistent and mix it up: You might bring in breakfast one day, send them a virtual card with a note the next time, or give them all a half-day on Friday as a "thank you." It is the little gestures that truly matter, and everyone loves a fun surprise! 

4. Translate feedback to action.

People feel appreciated when their ideas and suggestions are taken seriously and especially when they see positive changes. Create a culture where everyone on the team can speak their mind and be their authentic selves. According to workplace data analysis conducted by Google, teams that had "psychological safety" were the ones that performed the best. The initiative, called "Project Aristotle," studied hundreds of Google's teams and found that successful groups had leaders who ensured every person on the team had an equal voice and contributed without feeling insecure. 

That said, ask for regular and authentic feedback, but it's also important to commit to taking action on the feedback and communicate updates. 

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The takeaway. 

Many managers struggle to make employees feel that their talents and contributions are noticed and valued. With intention and consistent habits, you can make everyone on your team feel appreciated—and by doing so, they'll likely feel happier and more engaged, productive, and creative! 

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