January 27, 2016

The Importance of Showing Appreciation During the Dark Days of Winter

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Now that 2016 has begun and we are facing those dark winter days – now that the weather is cold and there are no holidays in sight – it is time for leaders to take a hard look at how they can support and encourage their team members.

This time of year is often difficult for workers – especially those who like the sunlight. These short, freezing days leave employees feeling “down” in general. They drag themselves along, just trying to make it to the springtime.

As a psychologist who trains leaders and colleagues on how to effectively communicate appreciation in the workplace, I feel it is my duty to offer some suggestions about how you can help your employees feel energized and appreciated during the winter months.

Understand the Nature of Discouragement and Burnout

Discouragement and burnout, over the long haul, come from a combination of weariness and a lack of hope. We have emerged from the holiday season, and now we face the daily grind of doing our normal work. A lot of people are emotionally tired. Add to this a potential lack of vision (“Remind me again, why are we doing this?”) and a lack of hope (“My contribution really isn’t going to make a difference …”) and you have the perfect recipe for team members either going through the motions or giving up completely.

Give Your Team Members What They Need: Vision, Hope, Appreciation, and Encouragement

Leaders can make a tremendous difference by providing vision (where the organization is going and how an employee doing X, Y, and/or Z fits into the overall plan), communicating hope (helping employees see how what they are doing does matter), and offering a lot of appreciation and encouragement along the way.

Communicate Your Appreciation in Ways That Work

One challenge in effectively encouraging your team members is that not everyone’s “language of appreciation” is the same. Therefore, some attempts at appreciation may fall flat for certain employees, while other employees may thoroughly enjoy those same attempts. Leaders must be careful to ensure that they use the proper language of appreciation for each employee. Otherwise, their efforts will be for naught.

pencilsMost people think of appreciation as being verbal – e.g., saying “Thanks” or writing a note  – but in reality, studies show that at least 40 percent of people really don’t value being affirmed with words. (As they say, talk is cheap.) For another 25 percent, a gift card to a local restaurant will not convey the intended appreciation. Some people feel appreciated when you spend personal time with them; others just want help getting tasks done. What works for one employee won’t necessarily work for others.

For people to truly feel valued, four conditions need to be present. Appreciation needs to be communicated:

  1. individually, rather than through a blanket thank-you to everyone involved;
  2. in the language and actions that the individual values, because not everyone values the same things;
  3. regularly, not just at the annual review or at the end of a big project;
  4. and in a manner that the individual perceives as being genuine, versus feeling forced or contrived.

It takes some time and effort to communicate appreciation effectively, but it is certainly worth it when you “hit the mark” with a team member. Just watch as they start to glow or grow teary-eyed and their commitment to you and the mission of the organization deepens dramatically.

As a leader, you will can help your employees endure the cold, dark days of winter. Heck, if you do it right, you employees may even smile occasionally and report enjoying their work!

Read more in Personnel Management

Paul White, Ph.D., is a speaker, trainer, author, and psychologist who “makes work relationships work." Dr. White is coauthor of "Rising Above a Toxic Workplace," and has recently released training resources to help businesses avoid becoming toxic.