As the quintessential professional hallmark holiday, Employee Appreciation Day is easy to dismiss.
Just as Valentine’s Day is, for many, simply a trigger to buy your partner flowers and chocolate, doing something for Employee Appreciation Day can also become a thoughtless task on your unending to-do list.
You may get some brownie points for making an effort, but the gesture won’t pierce the heart — where true appreciation is both created and received.
There are many self-serving reasons why people-leaders should pay special attention to the power of appreciation. Numerous surveys and studies have shown it to be an effective driver of employee engagement, motivation and retention. A study conducted by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania tells the simple story: University fund-raisers were randomly divided into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had, while the second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude had a 50% better success rate than those who had not.
But why is gratitude such a powerful motivator?
Two primary fears we carry in our subconscious are that we aren’t enough, and that we won’t be loved and accepted. On some level, every day at work we are questioning if we are valued and if we belong. Appreciation sends a signal to that scared part of us that we are safe.
We also are hardwired with negativity bias (also known as the negativity effect) which refers to the notion that even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, social interactions or harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.
In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional, but negative. Because of this way of thinking, we have to work harder to develop a habit of noticing “what went right.” Receiving acknowledgment and appreciation from a credible, external source can help rebalance our psychological state.
While an average “thank you” will have a positive effect, we are really missing the boat if we don’t take this day as a golden opportunity for creating an authentic connection. We are taught not to get emotional at work, but we are emotional beings who are fueled by feeling.
Here is a practical process to bring some heart, soul — and yes, a little emotion — into your Employee Appreciation Day gift:
1 | Find stillness —
Carve out some time and space to disconnect from your devices and create an environment for reflection. Put the phone down, close your office door, turn away from the computer and grab a pen and paper.
2 | Start with heart —
Drop your attention from the center of your mind to the center of your heart. From this awareness, think about your experience with a particular employee (or consultant, team member, etc.). Notice what makes them special. Think about what would happen if they weren’t who they were, doing the job they do, in the particular way that they do it. Allow your appreciation for them to grow as you connect more deeply and concretely to their presence in your organization and the impact they have made.
3 | Make it personal —
Get clear on what you want to recognize and appreciate them for. The more specific you can be, the better. Maybe they have a particular way of bringing humor into a tense room. Perhaps they have a unique ability to energize a team to tackle a mundane task. You might appreciate how they always remember to ask how your weekend was. Or that they just happen to be the best note-taker on the face of the earth who always keeps your team of forgetful creatives on task.
4 | Get creative —
Now that you know what you want to acknowledge them for, brainstorm how you might express your gratitude in a memorable way. Your ideas can be over-the-top, highly personalized, obscure, humorous, etc. Think about what would make them laugh, what would give them a break, make them feel understood, or give them more visibility and recognition within the organization.
5 | Gift well —
The way you deliver your appreciation matters. Find an opportunity to connect face-to-face without distractions. Make eye contact. Tap into your feeling of gratitude as you express your appreciation. If the recipient attempts to downplay or deflect the compliment, encourage them to really receive it and assure them it is coming from an honest place. Notice how giving this gift of appreciation feels. How is it also nourishing to you?
Even the most simplistic display of genuine appreciation holds the potential to affirm worthiness, create connection and spark joy for both the giver and receiver. Take a moment to think about how you might honor and uplift those around you today. We can all (always) use a little more love.
Sarah Anassori is a Holistic Executive Coach on a mission to guide the next generation of heart-centered leaders to step into the work [and way of working] they were made for. Sarah seamlessly unites her years of traditional business experience with her passion for mindful living, personal innovation and authentic leadership to bring a strategic and spiritual approach to career transitions. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook and at sarahanassori.com.