Employee Engagement

Survey reveals impact of lack of employee appreciation at work

There is a scene in the TV show Mad Men where copywriter Peggy Olson complains to her ad agency boss, Don Draper, that he never thanks her for her work.

Don’s reply? “That’s what the money is for.”

Don’s take on employee appreciation has divided the internet for years since the episode aired. For most of us, work takes up the largest chunk of our waking hours and requires significant energy, attention, and focus. Of course, there is no denying that there is a monetary exchange, and that’s an essential part of the deal. 

But, as it turns out, companies get so much more from their employees when they feel seen, heard, and appreciated by their coworkers, managers, and leadership—beyond compensation. And the impact of a lack of recognition on key People performance and happiness metrics, like employee retention, can’t be overstated.

Today, people don’t just want a paycheck. They want a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging from their work and investment—and employers can best support employees to do their best when they meet these core desires of the employee experience.

Though we’re decades out of the Mad Men era, according to original research conducted by Wakefield Research for Blueboard, most employees surveyed don’t feel valued enough at work. A survey of 400 employed Americans reveals that 2 in 3 (67%) say they don’t always feel appreciated for their contributions at work. In addition, nearly half (42%) of respondents feel their company lacks a strong culture of appreciation.

It doesn't feel good when you bring your all to your job, and your hard work and efforts go unnoticed. But in today’s increasingly tumultuous and distributed work environment, dismissing the importance of employee appreciation can have dire consequences. 

Nearly 3 in 5 employed Americans (57%) reported feeling less than 100% secure in their current job. This number is higher among employees surveyed who think their company lacks a strong culture of appreciation (64%).

These survey results may seem bleak, but it’s not too late for employers and people managers to turn this situation around. By building a culture of appreciation, you can ensure your employees feel comfortable and cared for, empowering them to bring their best—and be their best—at work. 

What the data reveals about the current state of employee appreciation. 

Not feeling valued at work isn’t just a crummy employee experience. It directly impacts how engaged and secure your employees feel in their roles. 

Right now, employers and employees are navigating a turbulent work landscape. Organizations are dealing with a competitive job market, pandemic-related burnout, an exhausted workforce, pressure to control costs, and feelings of disconnection from remote and hybrid work. 

For your employees, layoff and recession anxieties are high, and your people are likely feeling more stressed and insecure about their place in your organization than ever. 

A lack of employee appreciation can:

  • Cause employee disengagement “If no one notices what I’m doing, should I even bother trying my best?”
  • Impact your employees’ sense of belonging“If no one notices what I’m doing, maybe this is not the right company for me.”
  • Erode employee confidence“If no one notices what I’m doing, maybe I’m not doing a good job.”
  • Trigger job insecurity and anxiety in your workplace “If no one notices what I’m doing, how will I get ahead in my career or prove to higher-ups I’m worth keeping around and investing in?”

And for employees with more marginalized identities, feeling undervalued is also a systemic problem hurting them professionally—and affects these communities disproportionately.

For example, women and people of color are more likely to be assigned or asked to take on ‘office housework’ tasks—often without thanks or recognition. Global DEI Strategist and Trainer Noelle Johnson speaks to this idea when describing her evolving career journey: the biases she faced at work led to feeling often like she was “spinning her wheels” and “working twice as hard but getting half as far.”

These systemic and unconscious biases widen the appreciation gap for marginalized workers—and key findings from the Wakefield Research survey validate this. Half of the employed people of color (50%) surveyed and more than half of employed people who identify as LGBTQ+ (53%) say their company lacks the strong culture of appreciation essential for their success, compared to 42% of employed workers overall. 

On top of this, nearly 2 in 3 employed people of color (64%) and employees who identify as LGBTQ+ (64%) say they feel less than 100% secure in their job, compared to 57% of employed workers overall.

Doubling down on your appreciation and employee recognition efforts can help affirm your team members that their actions matter and that they’re in the right place.

New survey shows engagement suffers without adequate appreciation.

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4 benefits of prioritizing employee appreciation in 2023 and beyond.

Given the current economic climate, taking care of the people who stay at your company is one of the top “need to haves” for HR teams and People leaders this year. From remote work isolation to addressing employee wellbeing and mental health challenges to simply feeling ‘left out’ due to your role or identity—there are so many reasons why your people might be feeling more disconnected and disengaged right now.

Fortunately, there are key actions you can take to address the appreciation gaps in your workplace, today and to set your people up for success and great work in the future. Giving your team a shout-out on Employee Appreciation Day is a great first step, but relying on an occasional or seasonal gesture alone won't set your company culture apart. 

To truly unlock the benefits of employee appreciation and recognition, the Wakefield Research survey data and original research on employee connection reveals leaders should focus on building an ‘always-on’ culture of appreciation. And the benefits are many:

  • Increase employee engagement. Employees who feel appreciated are four times more likely than those who are not often appreciated to say employees at their company are fully engaged.
  • Reduce costly turnover. Additionally, employees who feel appreciated are seven times more likely than those who are not often appreciated to feel completely secure in their jobs.
  • Improve employee morale. Companies prioritizing experiential employee recognition with Blueboard scored 61% higher than typical companies on Great Place to Work’s better places to work scale.
  • Increase a sense of belonging and connection. Companies that already use recognition to create employee connection are nearly twice (2x) as likely to report that they’ve adequately addressed employee connection challenges than the average organization.

Building a culture of appreciation starts with the first step.

Building a culture of appreciation may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You can recognize your employees in lots of manageable, actionable ways throughout the year. The key is to ensure your employee appreciation and recognition efforts are consistent, authentic, and personal. 

Here are a few workplace appreciation best practices to keep in mind.

Make appreciation consistent.

Consistency is more important than big, flashy gestures. To build an “always-on” culture of employee appreciation and recognition, you need to support it with dedicated initiatives, processes, technology, and strong cultural norms. For example, can you weave gratitude into recurring syncs, like company all-hands meetings, dedicated Slack or Teams channels, or during 1:1 check-ins? 

Consider creating spot recognition programs to ​​reward specific behaviors, contributions, or milestones when they occur, like employee anniversaries or company values-based achievements. Formal recognition programs to celebrate significant work anniversary milestones, encourage work-life balance, or recognize when employees demonstrate cultural values are another approach. The more you embed employee appreciation into your regular work practices, the better. 

Make appreciation authentic.

A culture of employee appreciation involves celebrating all wins, not just the big milestones or achievements. There’s a time and a place for big public gestures and rewards, but a thoughtful message can also go a long way and brighten someone’s day.

The key is to ensure that your positive feedback is genuine, specific, and timely. The Situation-Behavior-Impact feedback framework is a great place to start:

  • Situation: Describe the situation you're referring to so that the context is clear and specific.
  • Behavior: Discuss the precise behavior that you want to celebrate.‍
  • Impact: Highlight the impact of the person's behavior on you, the team, and the organization.

For example, if a colleague recently helped you out on an important presentation, instead of dashing off a quick “thank you!” message, you could send them something like:

“Thank you so much for reviewing my slide deck for yesterday’s presentation! Your notes were so helpful and helped me strengthen the messaging. The presentation was a huge success, and you were a huge part of that. I got so many nice comments afterward!” 

Much better, right?

A screenshot of a shout out using Blueboard's Peer-to-Peer tool to recognize a leader for their company values based behaviors.
A peer-to-peer recognition tool allows employees to send public and private shout-outs. Include these appreciation notes in company communications like internal department meetings, or organizational newsletters to 'show and tell' the story of building a culture of appreciation.

Make appreciation personal.

Employee appreciation is not one-size-fits-all. While some employees may love a public shout-out, others may feel uncomfortable with that kind of attention, so it’s important to understand your employees’ preferred language of appreciation and tailor your expressions of gratitude accordingly. 

Additionally, if you want to recognize your employees with a reward, consider giving them the power to choose their own adventure, so to speak. For example, with Blueboard’s curated menu, your employees can pick the experience that would be most meaningful to them.

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post by an employee recipient of a Blueboard employee recognition reward.
Marisa shares the Blueboard experience she chose as a reward for a job well done from her company.

As you weave in appreciation touch points, collect data and anecdotal evidence to show impact on the People metrics your leadership team cares about. This will help you unlock additional resources to prioritize employee appreciation and recognition for even greater impact. 

It’s not too late to close the employee appreciation gap. When you create an environment where employees feel seen, heard, and valued daily—everybody wins.

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