There is a well-known saying that suggests employees who leave an organization do so because of their managers.

What these managers are doing to drive employees away is often not well defined. However, my experience suggests that many employees leave because they do not feel appreciated and do not receive sufficient recognition from their manager. This feeling of not being appreciated eats away at one’s morale and if not dealt with, the sense of despair and dissatisfaction will eventually act as a major factor in the decision to leave.

Discovering the importance of employee appreciation is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the Gallup poll organization indicates its research studies have found that praise is “painfully absent” from most companies. In fact, between one-fifth and one-third of its study participants reported they had not received any recent praise from their manager and also felt their best efforts were routinely ignored.

The result from an employee perspective is that the lack of recognition and appreciation creates a sad bunch of disgruntled and depressed individuals who simply want to quit. From an employer perspective, there is a tremendous loss of productivity, creativity and performance that in turn affects revenue and the bottom line. As can be expected, poor performance will also affect customers. All in all, a spiraling downward cycle toward an unhealthy and dysfunctional organization is created.

This downward spiral toward poor morale and a dysfunctional organization must be stopped. Accept it: Employees invest a good portion of their life in your organization and yes, while they also want to be paid a fair wage, they also want to feel appreciated. They want to feel their efforts to make a contribution every day are recognized. Yet, why is helping employees feel appreciated so difficult?

First of all, there is still that residual old-fashioned philosophy that says people should be “lucky” they even have a job and therefore no additional praise is necessary. Thankfully, this philosophy is fading away. However, there are still many supervisors and managers who are uncomfortable with complimenting their employees and making them feel appreciated.

Part of the discomfort and the challenge of giving praise to employees is related to the fact that employee motivation is so individualistic. Each person is attracted to different motivators and this requires extra effort to really get to understand each employee’s perspective. However, the health of your organization depends on having a stable workforce, employee job satisfaction and employee productivity. So if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to start paying attention to this issue. Here are some guidelines to help you more successfully apply the strategy of employee recognition and appreciation.

Conduct an employee satisfaction survey — These are valuable tools that can help assess and gauge employee satisfaction with elements such as management and leadership, alignment with your mission and vision, their sense of empowerment and teamwork, their level of appreciation and overall satisfaction with their job, development opportunities and their desired career path. The results will provide you with a benchmark on the specific areas of strengths and challenge that need to be addressed.

Research and develop a reward and recognition program – Form a committee of staff and managers and examine various alternatives for a reward and recognition program. Examine your organizational demographics and be sure to review the needs of the multiple generations in your workplace. Combine elements of financial reward and incentives with non-monetary, easy to apply strategies that will help to create a workplace that is a fun and healthy environment.

Step up your communication – People like to be “in the know.” They want to know where the company is going; they want to know what other employees are working on, what accomplishments have been achieved and what new projects are in the pipeline. They just want to be “in the know!” This helps employees feel they are part of the organization and to share in the pride of others’ accomplishments. Use your intranet or if you are a larger organization, consider publishing a monthly newsletter. Use employee photos and showcase employee activity.

Develop broader relationships – While an employee meets and works with their manager every day, there is little opportunity to meet and/or develop a relationship with senior leaders and/or the president or executive director, for that matter. Yet employees are thrilled to have an opportunity for a breakfast with the president, a chance to learn more about leaders, their goals and their vision. The great thing about this is that it costs little but has a lot of meaning.

Learn about employee lives – Have you ever thought about just sitting down and talking to an employee about everything other than work? This will come as a surprise to many managers, but employees will indeed be flattered that you truly care. Talk about families, talk about sports, talk about your industry — just talk. Believe me, it can be a real morale booster.

Reshape your leadership training – Transforming and ensuring employees remain motivated, respected, appreciated and recognized at work requires a new leadership style. Gone are the days when a manager can simply say, “get it done.” Assigning work requires strategy; it requires understanding employee skills, what motivates and challenges them and how they need to be appreciated. It requires aligning employee characteristics with organizational goals and always juggling and balancing this need.

Feeling appreciated and recognized for contributing is nothing less than a basic human need. People need to feel a sense of belonging, they need to have the ability to gain self-esteem and they need to feel a sense of security. As well, employees need to feel they belong, and have an opportunity to be the best that they can be.

An employee’s family can satisfy many of these basic needs, but since employees spend so much time with their work family, management and organizations need to pay far more attention to the issue of basic needs in the workplace. Feeling appreciated, one of the most important needs related to employee satisfaction can cause a good deal of damage to organizations, yet it also can easily be addressed. Think about it.

Source: Gallop 09 August 2007; The Fourth Element of Great Managing; Employees may be motivated by many different things, but they all strive for a surge of dopamine

Barbara Bowes

Barbara Bowes is an accomplished speaker, trainer, coach, writer and professional strategist/consultant. Barbara is also the President of Legacy Bowes Group, Winnipeg’s premier HR Solutions provider. She can be reached at [email protected].