Last week the Harvard Business Review reported that although the single highest driver of employee engagement is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing, less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged.
It’s obvious why an employer’s interest in and gratitude to an employee elevates performance – the feeling that we matter, that we are valuable, and the energizing sense of security. Why then is appreciation such a rare experience for employees? Tony Schwartz answers:
The obvious answer is that we’re not fluent in the language of positive emotions in the workplace. We’re so unaccustomed to sharing them that we don’t feel comfortable doing so. Heartfelt appreciation is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build. Oddly, we’re often more experienced at expressing negative emotions — reactively and defensively, and often without recognizing their corrosive impact on others until much later, if we do at all.
One study showed that workers who felt unfairly criticized by a boss or felt they had a boss who didn’t listen to their concerns had a 30 percent higher rate of coronary disease than those who felt treated fairly and with care!
In high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. By contrast, low-performing teams have a ratio of 0.36 to 1. And the stats are not much better in everyday life outside the workplace. On Saturday, while reading Digital Leader by Eric Qualman, two stats hit me hard between the eyes (and in the heart):
- As a baseline, the average person complains 15-30 times per day.
- Across all conversations there is a ratio of 6 to 1 in terms of criticism to encouragement.
Does that sound like your workplace? Or maybe your family? Or even your church? Schwartz’ proposes a four part prescription to remedy this ingratituditis (you can read the exposition of his points here).
- “Above all else, do no (or much less) harm.” The costs of devaluing others are so great that we need to spend far more time thinking than we do now about how to hold people’s value
- Practice appreciation by starting with yourself.
- Make it a priority to notice what others are doing right.
- The more specific you can be about what you value — and the more you notice what’s most meaningful to that person — the more positive your impact on that person is likely to be.
Qualman’s plan involves elastic bands on your wrist (you’ll need to read the book!). I’d add:
- Get some sleep and exercise. There’s nothing more energizing to a critical spirit than a lack of sleep and exercise.
- Start building the muscle of heartfelt appreciation by exercising it as often as possible – may hurt a bit at first.
- Learn the language of positive emotions – again, like all new languages, it may initially feel very awkward, embarrassing, and uncomfortable.
- Raise awareness of this problem in your team, church, family. Why not explain the stats to your family next time you sit down for a meal and then everyone keep a count of positive to negative comments during the meal. It might surprise you.
- Apologize for past failures, ask for forgiveness, and start over.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. How would you like to be treated in this situation?
- Remember he/she is handcrafted by God in the image of God.
- Remember he/she is a sinner with a corrupt human nature (and so are you).
- Ask yourself: “What will their impression of God be if you are the only representative of God they know?” Loving, appreciative, generous, kind? Or hard, legalistic, critical, unforgiving, etc?
- Try energizing your family, church, and workplace with grace rather than law.