Could the relentless pursuit of organisations to drive greater efficiencies and getting more done with less, finally be having an impact on employee engagement globally? With the latest Gallup report showing the UK as having only 10% of workers as being ‘highly engaged’, it raises the question of just how do we show employees how much they’re appreciated?

We know the importance of managers to people’s experiences of work, but Gallup also share how managers reported being less engaged than non-managers, which isn’t surprising when 64% of them identified being given more responsibilities than the previous year, and 41% who shared they’d experienced budget cuts. This might explain how according to Mental Health UK, 20% of workers needed to take time off last year caused by ‘pressure and stress’. With 35% of adults experiencing extreme levels of this, it’s understandable how employees might be cynical about the motive of any employee appreciation initiatives.

So, what can organisations do to turn the tide and really show employees how much they matter?

Appreciating the appreciators

It’s hard to appreciate others when suffering from overload, stress, or burnout yourself. When some managers themselves are more disengaged than non-managers, we need to consider how we support them and help them adapt to the changing demands of work.

Every year, organisations will often reduce costs but increase targets. Rarely are managers supported to equip them to adapt to these annual challenges, resulting in many trying to protect their teams from the additional workload those budget cuts often cause, taking on the added workload themselves. This can result in managers taking work home, impacting upon their personal lives.

With managers being so crucial to the experience of employees at work, they are often overlooked when considering employee appreciation initiatives. Whilst the workload and demands can change, we are often creatures of habits in the way we continue to get work done. Supporting managers on how they can adapt their work, providing time to work out new ways of doing things, can help and by doing so will allow them to be more receptive to appreciating those around them. When managers have the scope to appreciate others, we need to consider what more we can do.

Being heard

So often employees can be left questioning whether the senior leaders in the organisation know what’s really going on, specifically with regards to the stress and workloads people are under. Annual engagement surveys can be the cause of further irritation, often seen as a sterile way to learn how people are feeling, without really understanding after all, as employees can only answer the questions being asked.

There are few, better ways to show employees how much your appreciation, by taking time out to listen to them – face to face, engaging with them on a personal level with no agenda. In order for this to happen, it’s important to create an environment of psychological safety, allowing employees to feel comfortable in sharing how they feel and to share their experiences of work. A natural reaction can be one of defensiveness when hearing how people may be suffering, which can lead to trying to solve this for them, but it’s important to allow them to be heard, without judgment. The fact that they are willing to tell you how they feel, means they are passionate to make work better for all.

Personal development

Time is our most valuable commodity at work, and to take time out for meaningful conversations with employees can help to show how much we appreciate them. It’s often hard to understand how people are feeling, and if their needs are being met during intense days at work. Holding reviews forces both managers and employees to step away from the running wheel and focus on a thoughtful and reflective discussion.

Personal growth is a key way of showing how much we appreciate employees. Often work can focus on if employees are adding value to the organisation, but it’s as important for employers to show how much value they are adding to employees.

Understanding the career and development aspirations of individuals, will allow managers to put together plans to develop people to be their very best. It’s hard for individuals to see their own potential, and these moments of reflection can help them see their value and potential, through the eyes of their managers.

Feeling valued

It has often been a long-standing view, that employees are focused on intrinsic motivation, yet the stagnant growth across the UK, combined with high inflation and lower living standards, means financial rewards are now far more important. If we want to show employees how much we appreciate them, it requires us to consider whether what we are paying them, does this. It’s important to differentiate recognition from appreciation at this point. Recognition often refers to the rewards that are given following the achievement of reaching a target. The focus is on recognising the achievements of someone.

Appreciation on the other hand is focused on appreciating the individual for who they are, the efforts they make, rather than purely on what they achieve. To show how much we appreciate employees, especially when so many are struggling to make ends meet, we need to review the total pay packages we provide. It’s not just on paying more in salary. Having better pension contributions, providing private healthcare plans, offering wellbeing payments for example, can help employees better deal with the challenges of life.

A total package also includes offering flexible working, remote working, offering compressed hours – really considering what would be most valuable to employees.

In summary, when considering how we appreciate employees, it’s easy to focus on wellbeing initiatives – some might even say, quite lazy. To appreciate people, for who they are, and the efforts they make to support our workplaces, means we need to consider meaningful ways to truly demonstrate this. Managers are key, and it’s important that we take time out to look after them, who in turn can be better supported to look after other employees.

Amrit Sandhar
Amrit Sandhar
Founder at &Evolve

Amrit Sandhar is the founder of &Evolve who has worked with many well-known UK brands including Asda, Dunelm, Chester Zoo and Network TV, to improve employee engagement and experience, and to improve organisational productivity. With a passion for neuroscience and psychology to drive behavioural change, combined with his experience in employee engagement, he uses a data-driven approach to identify the issues organisations are struggling with and works with them to create solutions leading to drive sustainable change.