The impact of appreciation, inside and outside work

We all like to feel appreciated. And whether or not we’re willing to admit it, almost all of us feel warm when somebody tells us “thanks, you did a really great job.”

Appreciation is one of the most powerful drivers of action, and therefore one of the most powerful forms of motivation within the workplace. When you show somebody you’re grateful for their hard work, they want to work harder in future. Of course, if an employee doesn’t feel appreciated, they’re likely to start looking for a job elsewhere – a lack of appreciation is a huge driver of employee turnover!

But the importance of appreciation extends way beyond the workplace. It spills into all elements of life. From recognizing a random act of kindness, to being grateful when a friend does you a massive favor – appreciation is what makes people feel good, and is what gives people the motivation to keep doing nice things for other people. It’s a positive spiral.

What’s more, appreciation isn’t just about the impact we have on others – it can have a positive impact on ourselves.

So we’d like to take a look at this in a little more detail, and not just from a workplace perspective, either. We’re going to explore the impact we can have, on ourselves and others, when we aim to live our lives with a little more appreciation.

The psychology of appreciation

So why does appreciation make a person feel so good? We can break this down into five individual components, according to John Amodeo, PhD, writing for Psych Central:

  1. We’re being valued
  2. We’re being seen
  3. We’re being liked
  4. We’re feeling a sense of meaning
  5. We’re feeling connected

As humans, we crave validation, and we love to be loved. What better way to create that feeling, than by telling somebody that they’re doing a good thing, and that we like them for it?

Appreciation is such a powerful tool for making other people feel happy, there is no wonder so many people seek ways to tap into it. In particular, when it comes to driving performance in the workplace.

Appreciation in the workplace is important, but it must be sincere

According to Harvard Business Review, appreciation in the workplace is the single highest driver of employee engagement. Researcher Marcial Losada found that in high-performing teams, the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback, is 5.6 to 1. In low-performing teams, the ratio is 0.36 to 1.

That’s some pretty mad science right there.

So yes, showing your colleagues appreciation is super, super important, if you want them to perform well. But if you see “appreciation” as just another formula or tool that you can use to squeeze extra productivity out of your workers, then we think that maybe you’re setting yourself up for failure. You see, in order for appreciation to have an impact, it needs to be sincere.

Read more: The 20 benefits of peer-to-peer recognition

If you’re giving out appreciation on auto-pilot, you actually run the risk of it having the opposite effect. Imagine bumping into a colleague after work, and saying “thanks for your hard work today”, only for them to reply with: “Uh, I wasn’t at work today?” From that moment on, the next time you thank that colleague for doing something good, they are not going to believe a word you say.

So instead of looking for opportunities to say “thank you”, change your mindset slightly. Look for the events that actually deserve a “thank you”, instead of the opportunities where you could speak those words.

By doing it this way, you might not always manage to show appreciation for every event you witness. But the times you do will be sincere. And when you’re sincere with your appreciation, you’ll notice that appreciation can have a big, positive impact – both in the workplace, and out.

How appreciation helped Europe get through lockdown

When lockdown first hit, many countries quickly began to put the power of appreciation to work, by clapping for key workers in what became a megatrend that spread across Europe. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, the “Clap For Carers” movement became a weekly national effort.

If you happened to find yourself in London on a Thursday evening during lockdown, then you might have had to cover your ears. At 8pm sharp, UK residents would come to their windows, doorways, balconies and gardens, to give a huge, national round of applause for doctors, nurses and other key workers who were keeping the country moving.

It soon moved beyond clapping, and began to incorporate the banging of pots and pans, fireworks, and large banners and posters flying from people’s windows. All of this in an effort to show appreciation for front-line workers, who were risking their own health to care for others.

And while there were some naysayers who complained that the noise was pointless and unnecessary, most key workers seemed to agree that this really helped them through a very difficult time. For example, one grateful worker Tweeted:

“I finished work at 8:00 last night, and as I walked home people were thanking me as they clapped. It was a surreal but touching moment which really made me feel appreciated. #ThankYou for the #support”

Appreciation beyond the workplace – make it your personal culture

For your appreciation to be sincere and really have an impact, you need to stop seeing it as a cynical tool you can use, and start making it a part of your own personal culture. This means making it a part of your life both inside and outside the workplace.

Psychology Today says it takes us around 66 days to turn a daily action into a habit. That’s not that long, when you think about it – if you start making an effort to appreciate things daily, you might just have formed a healthy new habit in only a little over two months!

There’s plenty you can do to start making appreciation an instinctive reflex. For example, you could:

– Recognize small acts of kindness, like somebody holding a door for you
– Take time to appreciate members of your family
– Leave a 5-star review on TripAdvisor when you visit somewhere nice
– Thank your server when you eat out at a restaurant
– Thank the bus driver (in real life – not just on Fortnite)
– Write a glowing review when an online seller goes above and beyond
– Thank friends and family for spending time with you

By putting appreciation into your very biological fabric, you’re setting yourself up to have a positive influence on the lives of the people around you. And even though the point of appreciation should not be to make things better for yourself, you’ll probably still find that this is the natural result over time.

Showing appreciation can make you a happier person

We’ve talked a lot about how appreciation can help the people we interact with, but it’s worth noting that showing appreciation can actually make you a happier person as well.

Psychology Today describes the act of appreciation as the “most powerful constituent of well-being”, and Harvard Medical School has even published a load of science that helps to prove this. In a study on 411 people, psychologist Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman tested the impact of various positive interventions. He found that when subjects were asked to write and deliver a letter of gratitude, they immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.

Read more: Could employee recognition support workplace wellbeing?

So even if you don’t believe you can help other people by showing appreciation, then at least take solace in the fact that you’ll be helping yourself. Either way, by increasing how much appreciation you give to the things, and people, around you… you won’t be making the world any worse, at the very least!

So why not give it a try?