Appreciation: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Most organizations put a lot of time, energy and thought into recognition programs. Leaders know that they need to acknowledge the hard work of their staff to motivate, reward and retain them. So why do so many employees – 51% according to Mercer – feel that their companies don’t recognize and reward them well? It may have to do with the way we show our appreciation.

Early in my career, I worked for a leader who rewarded a group of us for sacrificing a weekend to resolve a service crisis. At the next quarterly town hall, she told everyone about our heroics and presented each of us with an envelope filled with a cash bonus. In a private conversation with her later, she expressed how important the gesture was to her, as she strongly believed that great performance needed to be recognized publicly. That conversation was eye-opening for me: as much as I enjoyed receiving the money (and the chance to show off in front of my peers), I knew that a heartfelt thank you and a written card of appreciation would probably have had just as big an impact on me – and maybe even more – than public recognition. But a thank you card might have been disappointing to my boss, had she been the one receiving the appreciation.

So how can you know how your team members prefer to be appreciated? Take a tip from how they appreciate others. You have a team member who brings in treats for the whole team? Acknowledge him publicly. Another team member who sends encouraging emails? Give her a hand-written card. The key, as in most things leadership related, is to get to know your team members. The more you know what makes them tick, the more you’ll know how to customize your appreciation so that they truly feel valued and appreciated. The most effective appreciation is truly personal.

Research backs this up. Gallup has been surveying employees for decades, and when it comes to appreciation, they have found that most employees consider an award and private recognition, especially from their manager, to be the most meaningful.

So if you’re looking for a competitive edge in retaining and motivating your team, try getting to know them and what makes them feel appreciated.