© Tobias Tanzya
Appreciation at work
Lesezeit: 3 Minuten
In July 2023, the Research Dialogue 2023 was hosted by the University of Vienna. Professor Sabine Einwiller and her team presented the latest scientific research on employee communications with insights on trends, CEO activism, appreciation, and virtual collaboration.
What employees need and what internal communication can contribute
As organizations are increasingly confronted with fluctuations and shortage of skilled workers, the more important it is to value employees for their work-related efforts. From the perspective of social exchange theory, organizations need to provide sufficient resources in return for employees’ investments in their various job roles (e.g., being an expert, internal and external communicator, creator, knowledge sharer). An important resource in this mutual exchange process is appreciation. The aim of our research project was to find out (a) what employees want to be appreciated for at work, (b) what appreciation can look like, (c) what appreciation is useful for, and (d) who in the work context is responsible to mediate appreciation.
As a first step, we conducted a systematic literature review on employee appreciation to clarify the current state of research on this topic. In doing so, we searched for peer-reviewed journal articles between 1982 and 2022 that focus on employee appreciation from the perspective of various research disciplines. After screening the literature, we conclude that there is not very much systematic literature on employee appreciation – especially from a communication science perspective which is surprising as appreciation is a symbolic resource that is partly communicated verbally.
We decided to apply in a second step,a qualitative research approach in order to generate a deeper understanding on employee appreciation and to stress out a communications perspective. In January 2023, we conducted three focus groups as this scientific method is especially useful to collect deep-held beliefs and perspectives. In each discussion round, six to seven (e.g., supermarket employee, analyst, data scientist, HR employee, engineer, programmer) without leadership responsibility from large Austrian organizations (<250 employees) participated. For the analysis, the focus groups were recorded and transcribed.
Conclusions of appreciation at work
Briefly, we came to the following conclusions:
- There are different reasons for what employees want appreciation at work. Divided into two sub areas, employees want appreciation for their personal characteristics and qualities, and for work-related behavior. The first area includes appreciation for the individual personality, professional competence and experience, honesty, punctuality, reliability, loyalty, and social competence. In addition, employees want appreciation for their spontaneity and flexibility. The second area highlights employees wish for appreciating the execution of their regular work tasks. Besides, they want appreciation for individual achievements, job-related and non-job-related extra efforts, team spirit, and their communication behavior.
- In addition there are different forms that organizations can apply to evoke the feeling of appreciation. Divided into six clusters, appreciation can be mediated through (1) monetary and material forms of recognition (e.g., bonus), (2) the general work environment (e.g., work arrangements, equipment, room for exchange), (3) non-material forms of recognition (e.g., individualized thanks, events), (4) giving purpose and perspectives at work (e.g., development perspectives, meaningful tasks), (5) seeing and taking employees seriously (e.g., taking time for employees, listening, gain an understanding for employees’ situation), and (6) through being human in the interactions with them (e.g., compassion and empathy).
- Furthermore, the focus groups point to different potential effects of feeling appreciated at work. On an individual level, the results show, among other things, that it strengthens self-confidence, increases job satisfaction and well-being. On an organizational level, it fosters, for example, extra engagement, the willingness to help others, strengthens commitment, and reduces turnover intentions.
- As far as responsibility is concerned, all organizational members, but also customers and the public, contribute to co-create an appreciative working environment. Nevertheless, leaders have a special responsibility in communicating appreciation because they work close to employees and know their needs and requirements. When we think about what internal communications practitioners can do, we conclude that, first, they serve as role models by communicating best practices, rules and codes of conduct, watching forums, and working with other departments to set a strategic agenda. Second, internal communications have the responsibility to enable leaders at all hierarchies to become appreciative communicators.