[IMGCAP(1)]Keeping your staff happy and feeling appreciated is one of the primary challenges facing accounting managers today.

When employees don’t feel valued, negative results follow: staff dissatisfaction, tension within the office, increased errors, poor customer service and higher staff turnover.

Given the increased workloads in most firms, communicating “thanks” to team members often gets lost in the busyness of the workday. Additionally, managers must understand that not everyone is encouraged in the same way. While financial reward, achievement and public recognition may drive many professionals, these factors do not motivate many support team members.

Many of the staff members who help make accounting practices successful are not primarily motivated by increased compensation, or even promotion to a higher level of responsibility. For example, many support staff clearly do not want public recognition in front of a group for doing a good job (40 to 50 percent in a typical office setting.)

If you don’t understand and accept that not everyone feels valued in the same ways that you do, eventually you will have a disgruntled staff and experience a lot of turnover.
Importance of Appreciation

Feeling appreciated by their supervisor and colleagues has been shown to be critical to employees’ job satisfaction, but the evidence is clear that most Americans don’t feel valued at work:

• 79 percent of the people who quit their jobs cite not feeling valued as one of the key reasons they leave. Similarly, when accountants don’t enjoy their current workplace, they are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

• Over 65 percent of workers in North America report that they have received no recognition in the last 12 months for doing a good job.

• While 52 percent of managers believe they do a good job of showing recognition to their staff, only 17 percent of staff members themselves report that their supervisor does a good job of recognizing them for doing good work. 

Recognition and Appreciation are not Equivalent
While over 80 percent of all businesses in the U.S. have implemented some form of employee recognition in the past decade, employee engagement has been declining at the same time. In fact, a recent Gallup poll indicated that up to 70 million U.S. employees are minimally engaged or totally disengaged at work. When we talk with employees about their company’s recognition program, the most common responses we receive are cynicism and sarcasm. Staff members report they rarely hear anything positive from their supervisor and that they mainly receive criticism.

Employee recognition programs used by many businesses are not effective for a variety of reasons. Most are based on actions that are generic (everyone gets the same holiday card and gift card), general (“Thanks for all you do for the organization”), infrequent (during their performance review), and group-based (“Our billable hours have increased—way to go!”). Ultimately, employee recognition is viewed cynically because it is perceived as being inauthentic.

Fortunately, we do know how to help employees feel truly valued. Four core conditions are necessary for people to actually feel appreciated (rather than just being given generic recognition). Team members feel appreciated when it is: (a) communicated regularly; (b) in the language and actions important to the recipient; (c) delivered individually and is about them personally; and (d) when the appreciation is viewed as being authentic.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace
Based on the concepts from the New York Times #1 best seller, The 5 Love Languages, we have found that employees need appreciation communicated in the way that is important to them. Some people highly value words of affirmation—which can be a simple compliment. (“Jill, thanks for getting your report to me in time for my presentation.”) However, other individuals don’t value praise because to them “words are cheap.”

One employee reported, “My supervisor compliments everyone all the time and that’s fine. But what I really would like is 15 minutes of his undivided attention, where I can talk to him without distractions.” A third language of appreciation is “acts of service.” One team member shared, “It’s not that encouraging to me to be praised for all the work I’ve done while I continue to work long hours to complete what it is supposed to be a ‘team project’. A little practical help would be quite encouraging.”

For some individuals, a small tangible gift can be quite meaningful. However, this is not the same as bonuses or additional compensation. Rather, it is a small gift that shows that you’re getting to know your colleagues, what they like, and what is important to them in their life outside of work. It can be something as small as one of their favorite cups of coffee, or a magazine about a hobby that they enjoy (for example, gardening), or sports memorabilia for the college team that they follow. Appropriate physical touch is the final language of appreciation that can be utilized in the workplace. While it is critical that any physical touch is appropriate (not being sexualized or unwanted), physical touch is actually common in many workplaces and cultures. “High fives” when a project is completed, a “fist bump” given when a problem is solved, or a congratulatory handshake when an important sale is made are all examples of appropriate physical touch in work-based relationships.

Because of the importance of knowing the language and actions that are important to each employee, we created the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory, which gives an individualized report identifying each person’s language and actions that are most meaningful to them. This allows others to be able to communication encouragement in a way that “hits the mark.” This eliminates guessing, and wasting your time and energy by trying to communicate appreciation in a way that’s ineffective.

Don’t forget—your team members feel valued in different ways than you do. If you begin to communicate appreciation to them in the ways that are important to them, you will begin to see a positive transformation occur before your eyes.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a psychologist, speaker, and consultant. He is co-author of the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the New York Times #1 Best Seller, the 5 Love Languages. For more information on how to communicate authentic appreciation in your workplace, go to www.appreciationatwork.com or contact Dr. White at paul@drpaulwhite.com.