From education to employment

The Value of Appreciation

Mark Solomons

According to a study by the HAAS School of Business at UC Berkeley, when people are recognised for their work, they are 23% more effective and productive compared to those not receiving recognition. People who feel valued and appreciated by their manager and team are 43% more effective and productive – delivering nearly twice the impact. That’s the quantifiable value of appreciation.

In the present climate, as wellbeing in the education sector continues to spiral downwards, we may well feel underappreciated by key stakeholders, including government and some parents. However, if we feel appreciated in our workplace by leaders and colleagues, this can give a huge boost to our wellbeing and mental health.

Appreciation makes us feel good – it’s a physiological reaction which creates that feeling, the hypothalamus releases dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Appreciation has a very positive effect on a person’s wellness – it can improve sleep habits, increase metabolism, and reduce stress.

As a contributor to improved employee wellbeing, appreciation also directly impacts work habits – improved teacher engagement means greater productivity and more effective performance, which all go towards improved student outcomes.

Creating a culture of appreciation is one course of action that school and college leaders can take that will deliver long-term improvement.

Appreciation matters

The impact of appreciation goes even further, with staff developing a stronger sense of belonging, loyalty and commitment. It increases their sense of value and promotes positive behaviours. Employees who are authentically and specifically thanked for their efforts or praised for their performance, report higher levels of engagement in their work and increased motivation to collaborate with their colleagues.

Developing a culture of appreciation, builds a better work environment, where staff can do their best work and are more likely to stay. It also:

  • Increases employee satisfaction and morale
  • Decreases absenteeism and reduces costs associated with cover
  • Improves employee retention and reduces recruitment needs and costs
  • Improves teaching and learning
  • Promotes more effective communication
  • Improves co-operation and collaboration
  • Reduces undesirable emotions, for example, perceptions of injustice.

Top tips for creating a culture of appreciation

Creating a culture of appreciation takes deliberate, consistent effort. Here are 6 steps to help leaders take action:

1. Be authentic

Many people have the innate ability to distinguish between authentic and tokenistic appreciation. Genuine appreciation and acknowledgement of hard work can go a long way in boosting morale amongst faculty and staff, while insincere appreciation often falls flat.

Recognise the individual’s contribution and be grateful for the time and effort they put in to accomplish it. This means it must be personal and specific – it can’t be general or vague. ‘Thanks for all you do’, will not illicit the same response as a statement of thanks that includes exactly what that person did and why you appreciate it. ‘Thanks for the way you planned and organised the event last week. We received fantastic feedback on its success and the students had a wonderful experience. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.’

2. Make appreciation a daily habit

While formal recognition programmes have their place, small gestures of appreciation create wider ripples. Where it is communicated in the moment, while it may be unexpected, it is likely to be highly effective. Embedding this type of praise into each day and catching multiple people ‘doing things right’, helps it to become part of the daily life and the culture.

Set a goal of catching at least one person doing something right each day and ideally show your appreciation in person – failing that, a handwritten note as a backup is much better than an email. Ensure you include support staff and non-teaching staff so everyone feels included.

3. Provide focused training for all leaders: senior team, subject leaders, department heads and other line-managers

Appreciating others is rightly regarded as a sign of strong leadership, and it doesn’t always come naturally. Providing relevant training to line managers and department leaders on managing-by-wandering-around, and on how best to recognise the efforts of all staff and provide well-delivered, regular, and authentic praise, will be invaluable in delivering positive cultural change.

4. Encourage peer-to-peer appreciation

Appreciation that flows in any direction regardless of department and is unrestrained by hierarchy is even more powerful. It establishes a strong sense of community in which everyone feels valued. Encouraging behavioural change to deliver this, is best led by example, with senior leaders being role models. Observing senior staff expressing their respect and appreciation for employees, will inspire others to copy. This behaviour is contagious and will lead to a workplace culture that values respect, gratitude and collaboration.

5. Prioritise school staff wellbeing

Don’t just talk about staff wellbeing being a priority, make sure your actions demonstrate it is. Other steps you can take include:

Impactful continuing professional development (CPD) – make sure it is relevant, valuable to the individual, and empowers them to realise their full potential.

Encourage open and honest conversations about mental health, and recognise time off for mental ill-health issues is as valid as time off for physical health problems.

Respect people’s time – keep meetings short and purposeful and to the time agreed. This displays awareness and appreciation of everyone’s time and helps mitigate stress.

Support people when they’re not at their best – provide support in difficult times and show all staff they belong and are valued members of the team. This includes providing access to the right resources and support.

6. Listen and respond

This is one of the most important elements of appreciation – conversations, meetings, one to ones, and anonymous staff wellbeing surveys, are all effective ways of receiving feedback. They all provide insights which if acted on, will affect tangible change. It is important to respond appropriately, as failure to take action, or explain why no action is to be taken, will have the opposite effect.

Building appreciation into your culture builds greater cohesion, interaction, and engagement across all staff and of course improves their wellbeing.

By Mark Solomons, Author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It’, founder and CEO of Welbee, supporting MAT, school and college leaders to transform culture, and improve staff wellbeing and performance.

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