How and Why Authentic Appreciation Makes All the Difference at Work

I am deeply honoured to share today’s article, which is written especially for us by Dr. Paul White and shares some beautiful ways to improve workplace morale. We’ve chosen this topic in celebration of the 2017 theme for World Mental Health Day: “mental health in the workplace”.

Dr. White is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, along with Gary Chapman (who you’ll know as the guy who pioneered the “five love languages”). Below you’ll find some of his specific tips on how to communicate appreciation.


“Improve employee engagement”… it’s a headline you’ll see everywhere these days. This is a term used by human resource professionals to represent the degree that employees are enthusiastic about their work, their willingness to learn, and their commitment to the mission of the organisation. Essentially, it is a term that tries to capture how much workers are “into” their job, will persevere and work hard, and do what is necessary to help the organisation succeed.


How engaged you (or your staff) feel at work influences performance…

Employee engagement – both the degree (fully engaged, marginally engaged, disengaged) and the percentage of employees (e.g. 25% fully engaged, 40% marginally engaged, 35% disengaged) – is a very accurate predictor of employee behaviour and outcomes. A company with a large, highly engaged group of employees will have higher production, better customer satisfaction ratings, less staff turnover, and generally function better as an organisation.


What workplace leaders should be looking at

The challenge leaders face is to answer these key questions:

  • What increases employee engagement?
  • And, how do you make that happen?

Companies and organisations often chase employee engagement, when what they really want are the building blocks that result in employees being more engaged. And we clearly know (both from research and observation) that a key way to get employees to be more committed to and excited about their job is for them to feel truly valued by those with whom they work.

We also know that despite companies spending billions of dollars on trying to improve engagement, the reality is that levels of engagement have largely stayed the same over the past 3–5 years. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement since 2 000, and their data suggests that while 32% of U.S. employees are engaged, their international counterparts are only 13% engaged in their jobs and companies.

In our work with companies across many industries, we’ve discovered cost-effective ways of creating a culture of appreciation. And in working with international and multi-national companies, we have learned that while there are some differences in preference for how certain types of appreciation are communicated, all cultures like to be recognized and appreciated – by both supervisors and colleagues – for the work they do.


Core principles for effectively communicated appreciation

  • Make sure your praise is specific and personal. The most common mistake organisations and supervisors make is that their communication is general and impersonal. They send blast emails: “Good job.” “Way to go team.” But they have no specific meaning to the individual who stayed late to get the project completed. Use your colleague’s name and tell them specifically what they do that makes your job easier.
  • Realize that other types of actions can be more impactful than words for many people. Some employees do not value verbal praise (the words are cheap mentality). For many people, they have grown to not believe compliments from others, expecting them primarily to be an act of manipulation. Other actions can have more impact for these individuals, like spending time with them or helping them get a task done.
  • Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient. Not everyone likes public recognition or social events. For many introverts or busy people, going to a staff appreciation dinner is more like torture than a reward for doing a good job. They may prefer getting a gift card for a bookstore and staying at home and reading. Find out what they value and communicate in that language.
  • Separate affirmation from constructive criticism or instruction. If you want the positive message to be heard loud and clear, don’t follow your affirmation with a “Now, if you would only” message. Don’t give them a compliment and then tell them how they could do the task better. They will only remember the constructive criticism, and may not even hear the positive.
  • Absolutely be genuine. Don’t try to fake it, or overstate your appreciation. People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived. Good things happen when individuals feel truly valued and appreciated for their contributions: employee relationships are less tense, communication becomes more positive, policies and procedures are followed more, staff turnover decreases. When supervisors and colleagues build a foundation of authentic appreciation, employees are likely to be engaged and motivated to fulfill the mission and goals of the company.


About the author

Paul White, Ph.D. is a psychologist, speaker and consultant and the author of The Vibrant Workplace and co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (available in 16 languages). To learn more about authentic appreciation in the workplace, visit


What would you love to see more of in your workplace? And what would make you feel more appreciated? Let’s get a great discussion going… share your thoughts in the comments below.


If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share this article with someone who’s feeling a bit low at work and would appreciate this message of change.

© Vivian Chiona, Expat Nest