‘Appreciation’ May Not Be What You Think It Is

May 31, 2022 9:00 am Published by

When you hear the word ‘appreciation,’ what comes to mind? 

The answer may vary depending on the context of the situation. When it comes to financial investments, you want your assets to appreciate – to increase in value (this is also true for real estate and even your home). 

In personal relationships, we often feel compelled to communicate appreciation (that is, gratitude) when a friend or family member has done something to help us out, like helping us move into a new home, or bringing a meal when you’ve just had a baby.

Even in the workplace, a person’s response to the word ‘appreciation’ varies depending on their prior experience and associations with the concept. For many, especially those who have been in the business world for a while, the first association that comes to mind is recognition (and specifically, employee recognition). For years (decades, actually), employees have been exposed to “Employee Recognition Days / Weeks / Awards / Banquets.” During these events the words appreciate or appreciation are used frequently. But as I have written about elsewhere employee recognition is not the same thing as appreciation, even though in some situations they can overlap. Hence, the confusion and tendency to use the concepts interchangeably.

Another idea that people frequently associate with the concept of appreciation is telling someone ‘thanks’ – primarily, thanks for doing some task or getting something done. This is probably the most common use of the term in the workplace, and is, generally, fine – up to a point. Essentially, this usage limits the full scope of the word. We are often grateful for assistance and tasks completed by our colleagues. And communicating our gratitude is good to do. The problem is the majority of people at work don’t value words as the main way they would like to be shown appreciation.

From the data we have gathered over the past decade from more than 325,000 individuals across the globe, over half of employees prefer to be shown appreciation in ways other than words. While 46% of respondents do choose Words of Affirmation as their preferred language to be shown appreciation, that leaves 54% who want appreciation communicated in a different way. Some people think that words are ‘cheap,’ and agree with the saying “Don’t tell me you care, show me.”

Alternatively, many people’s most valued resource is time. As a result, when someone you respect or admire (or just, enjoy the company of) chooses to spend time with you, you probably feel valued and appreciated. This is one of the core concepts underlying the 5 languages of appreciation – that not everyone feels valued in the same ways, and communicating appreciation in the manner desired by the recipient is the most impactful form of communication.

It is important to address the misconceptions people have about appreciation because many people respond to the idea of communicating authentic appreciation as unneeded based on their misconception. “We already have an employee recognition program, why do we need to learn how to show appreciation?” “I tell my team members ‘thanks’ when they do a good job.” But true appreciation, the kind that makes employees feel valued (and also makes them more likely to stay at their current job) than a “good job on the presentation team” group email.

Here’s a challenge: Ask your colleagues (or supervisor) how many different ways they can think of to show appreciation to coworkers besides telling them thanks or sending them a note. What other actions are able to identify? It’s possible they will mention giving a gift, which is something they might have observed in the context of employee recognition. (This can be problematic given that only 6% of employees say that getting a gift is the main way they want to be appreciated.) Even if you add those who prefer Words of Affirmation, you would still “miss” over 50% of employees who want to be shown appreciation in different ways.

Remember: true appreciation is communicating to others that you value them as a person (not just for what they do) and doing so in the way that is meaningful to them. Authentic appreciation is communicated person to person and is qualitatively different than “going through the motions.” Use the correct language for each individual and you will experience positive results.


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May 31, 2022 9:00 am

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