THE BLOG

Appreciation: One Small Action with a Big Effect

03/04/2014 01:36 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2014

A 2013 Gallop poll found that a stunning 70 percent of Americans hate their job, often because of a "boss from hell." At the same time, 52 percent of workers say they are disengaged from their jobs, costing US companies upwards of $550 billion per year in lost productivity. The less engaged employees are with their work and their organization, the more likely they are to leave to the organization. Turnover can be costly.

Things don't seem to have changed much since 2000 when a Gallup poll of 2 million people and 700 companies showed that a majority would prefer to have a caring boss than more money or perks; and those that do are more productive and stay longer with their organizations, important measures of business success.

When leaders are preoccupied and have a myopic focus on boosting the financial bottom line and meeting those quarterly numbers to the exclusion of everything else, an all too common condition in business, there is a price to be paid. In the wake of a moral crisis of greed, we see a morale crisis. This is a terrible indictment of business practices--practices that do not recognize people as people--human beings, not just human doings.

It's no wonder we see those shocking statistics. When you dehumanize organizations, people suffer and organizations suffer.

How long can a company keep revving up that engine without ever addressing whether they're providing enough gas?

Leaders have an opportunity to turn this trend around, to find an alignment between cultural morals and workplace morale. Most people want to love their work and love who they work with, given the chance to do so. "It's what I call "the soul at work." When the soul is engaged in the workplace, a powerful force is unleashed, and people achieve amazing feats.

So how do we engage the soul at work, something that apparently a great majority of people are leaving outside the office door?

It is to pay as much attention to how we treat people--co-workers, subordinates, customers-as we now typically pay attention to structures, strategies, and statistics. It's about treating people as people, not just job titles.

It means caring about the people you work with.

What's care got to do with business? In the current climate of cynicism, rapidly deteriorating loyalty and commitment to organizations, care seems to have little to do with business. But if you care about a sustainable business with low turnover, it's worth noting what people are looking for in the workplace.

In a recent poll focused on employee productivity, TJinsite, a division of TimeJobs.com, found that "more than 35 percent of the employees consider lack of recognition of work as the biggest hindrance to their productivity. According to them, rewards and recognition for achievements at workplace act as morale booster, which in turn increase their productivity."

In addition, that same Gallup poll that discovered employees aren't engaged also 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."

A principle of complex adaptive systems, which all organizations are, is that small actions can lead to big effects. It's counter-intuitive; usually we think that small changes lead to small effects. One of those small changes that can have a big effect on morale and motivation is the power of appreciation.

Companies spend a lot of money motivating people; appreciation doesn't cost a dime. But it does require care. Care enough to notice people's efforts as well as their accomplishments; care enough to take the time out to let them know what you appreciate, and care enough to do this on a regular basis. A day of appreciation once a year doesn't really do it, although it's better than nothing.

I know a recent college graduate who works at a big accounting company. She has had one day off in the past fifty days and then worked forty hours in two days to finish an audit. Forget having a life. Personally, I think there is something wrong with a system that requires that much out of their workers and exploits youthful energy. But the amazing thing is, that although this young woman hates the hours, she likes working there. What keeps her motivated? She gets lots of appreciation and positive feedback.

Expressing appreciation is one small change that each one of us can make. One small change that can make a big difference in the workplace.

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