Advice & News

July 2, 2024

The Importance of Feeling Appreciated at Work


Burned out and continually seeking another job is no way to enjoy a career in higher education. But that's what's happening for many workers in academia. According to Gallup, more than a third of higher education professionals feel burned out and 40% of faculty and staff are either actively or passively looking for a new job.

How are colleges and universities supposed to fix this problem when they continue to ask employees to do more with less?

A simple "Thank you" might help.

Skeptics will claim that recognition programs are how employers draw attention away from the fact that they are not paying people enough despite increasing their workloads. But there's a reason why the best institutions recognize and thank their faculty and staff: it's effective.

Employees who work at places with a culture of recognition that matches their needs and expectations are 56% less likely to be looking for other job opportunities. They are also more productive and engaged, and they perform better than those who work at places without employee recognition programs.

Peer Recognition Matters

To improve employee retention, colleges and universities are investing in recognition programs. Some can be simple, low-cost methods that don't involve elaborate gifts or ceremonies. "Miner Mentions" at Missouri University of Science and Technology gives employees a structured opportunity to send thank-you email messages to colleagues.

"It feels good to be recognized, even for the little things that you do," said Simone Waldon, manager of the staff success center at Missouri S&T. "We started a formal recognition program because we felt our campus morale needed a little boost."

More than 700 thank-you messages were sent by employees last year using the Miner Mentions system, which is named for Missouri S&T's mascot. Employees can complete an online form and each week Waldon sends the message to the recipient and their supervisor is copied for their records.

According to Waldon, Missouri S&T still encourages employees to thank colleagues directly, but having a formal program with messages delivered by the institution on behalf of the sender carries more weight, especially when the supervisor is notified.

"Some staff are not comfortable tooting their own horn, so we go the extra mile and make sure the supervisor knows," Waldon said.

The earliest adopters of Miner Mentions were staff employees recognizing their peers, before managers and faculty started using the system. Recognition from colleagues is actually more desirable. According to one survey, 65% of workers believe they'd be likely to stay at a job with an unappreciative manager if their coworkers and peers still recognized their work.

Isn't Money a 'Thank You'?

Still, managers should thank their employees. A paycheck is not enough.

"There are supervisors who might ask, 'Why am I thanking you for doing your job?'" Waldon said. "We hire people to do their job, and when they do it, that's part of the contract. We have an agreement that they are going to do the work that we ask them to do. But if we want them to enjoy the work they do, and we want them to continue doing the work that they do, we have to put some appreciation in it."

Employers most often base salary on the market value for talent. But even if you measure how much your employer appreciates you according to your paycheck, you'll likely want some other form of appreciation. The sense of appreciation from a pay raise fades quickly, and they don't occur often -- once a year, if you're lucky.

"There are plenty of people who are motivated by money and the only thing that's going to make them happy is a raise," Waldon said. "But that goes away much faster than feeling like you're appreciated every day. Employee recognition and thank-you's are lasting."

To the cynics who think praising employees is a replacement for raises, Waldon acknowledges that better pay does help when it comes to keeping employees happy, but recognition is also important and it's just one piece of an institution's overall retention strategy.

Three Things You Can Do

If being appreciated is so empowering, then what can you do to feel more of it at work?

First, make your own recognition system and savor any appreciation you receive. Don't dismiss it. One way is to keep a file of messages from students or colleagues and structure a way to remind yourself of them occasionally when you need them. This could be saving emails in a folder and reading them regularly or pinning thank-you notes to a bulletin board next to your desk.

Second, you can start thanking other people and creating the culture you want to experience. "If you want to see a behavior, you need to exhibit that behavior," Waldon said. "When you feel underappreciated and you start appreciating others, that usually does have a trickle-down effect and can impact any work environment."

Third, have conversations with your manager about your preferences and what motivates you. It's no coincidence that Gallup recommends giving recognition AND communicating expectations as solutions for employers to have better retention. "It could be an honest conversation with your manager and saying, 'This is how I like to be recognized, and I'm feeling like I'm putting forth this effort and I'm not sure that you're noticing,'" advised Waldon.

Know When to Change Jobs

If you continue to not feel appreciated at work, then it could be a sign to switch jobs.

"Sometimes you have to go where you're appreciated, and that's why it's so important that we, as employers, do these recognition programs before it gets to that point," Waldon said. "If you don't feel appreciated in your workplace and you need that appreciation, sometimes it's time to look elsewhere."

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