Growing Design Teams

Why your company is bad at appreciation and how to fix it

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Picture the scene. I’m sitting at my kitchen table at home, trying to unenthusiastically spear a piece of chicken with my fork. I’m mid-impassioned rant to my girlfriend, fork now waving wildly in the air;

“And I didn’t even get a thank you!! Not even a tiny, measly thank you, after all the work I put into that. They just don’t care at all. I can’t take this anymore.”

Rewind a few hours. I had worked like crazy all week to deliver designs for an important presentation. I had poured every ounce of effort into making sure we hit the deadline, suffered through numerous changes as strategies leading up to the presentation shifted, and had one unhappy girlfriend who had been forced into living with a extremely grumpy zombie.

The presentation was now over, and though it had gone well, I was left feeling pretty upset. We’d delivered, well against the odds, a really important, time-intensive piece of work, yet nobody at work took the time to thank us for our efforts. In fact, the converse had happened – our manager had gotten all the credit and didn’t bat an eyelid.

The sad thing is, that I bet most of you can relate to this story. Feeling under-appreciated or not recognised for your efforts by your team, manager or wider company is a common theme that I hear again and again, and that I’ve personally experienced in multiple companies.

Why are so many companies bad at this?

So why don’t more companies embed appreciation as part of their culture? It’s not like there hasn’t been tons of research into this area already – studies consistently show that employees who feel valued are more productive, happier and result in lower turnover rates.

I think there are a couple of reasons why this is:

Not enough training for managers. 

I’ve often been shocked to join companies and find out that there is no manager-specific training about how to look after the employees that report into them.  If companies are struggling to train their managers on even the basics of what a manager is expected to do, I wonder how many invest time and effort into making sure their managers learn that appreciation is a core behaviour they are expected to show.

Appreciation not modelled at the top of the company.

Oh the stories I could tell you about working with some senior folks in companies, both large and small, about how rude and entitled they were! When you’re seeing people at the top behaving so poorly, its no wonder that managers down the chain of command don’t think they need to behave any differently. It doesn’t matter what a company writes in their mission statement or what the CEO says in her TED talk, if the senior management don’t model those behaviours in their day to day interactions across the staff.

Value and recognition is too embedded in monetary compensation.

We all want to be paid what we feel we are worth, and a great base salary and bonus structure definitely goes a long way to help you to feel like you are being recognised for your contributions. But many companies stop there and don’t think about the day to day ways they can embed appreciation into their structural daily rhythms in other ways. One of the best ways I’ve seen this done is in Facebook – they have an internal tool called the Thanks Bot whereby any employee can go in and say thank you to another employee. The thanked employee’s manager is also automatically emailed so your manager knows that you’ve been thanked for something. The Thanks are collated and shown in the performance management tool so a manager can see all the Thanks that their reports have accumulated over the period. This is a structural way that appreciation is baked into the culture and pipes of how the company operates.

How we can get better?

The unfortunate problem with all this stuff is that unless you are a CEO or a senior person in a HR/People type role at your company, you’ll rarely get to move the levers on any of these more systemic problems.

But there are other things that we can all do, no matter if you’re a manager of people, or just someone who works with others in any capacity at all, to help bring appreciation more into the culture of your company.

Taking a bottom-up approach to appreciation could even start to rub off on those around you, and before you know it, you may have started a cultural revolution!

To help me create the list, I asked on Instagram;

What makes you feel most valued as an employee and as a designer?

Some of the main recurring themes that came up were:

Just saying thank you

From nono.naomi:

Sometimes even little gestures are enough to make me feel that I am valued. A “great job” or “thank you” from my colleagues or manager in front of others goes a long way to keep me motivated to do my best and improve even more.

And from clairvoyantstudios:

Sometimes a simple thank you can go a long way. As designers we are sometimes constantly told change this, do that and a simple appreciation of our skills and contribution to a project can go a long way.

Shows of trust

From qbmagnus:

I would say a show of trust from my manager is what drives me the most. More complicated assignments slightly outside my comfort zone, bigger clients or more responsibility. It’s an indirect compliment which also drives my evolution as a designer. And strokes my ego 🙂

And jekkarobbins:

Telling your team member you value and trust their point of view. There is a reason they are on my team – and they should own it. Boost their confidence by acknowledging they provide value. I also second that increasingly larger or more complex projects with adequate support is important, ensuring they are fulfilled at work and giving them credit in front of others.

Having an internal support system at work

alliedesignsthings says:

Having a really amazing internal support system. Some days you make mistakes and some days the clients are not happy. On those days, it important to know your team will not judge or blame but rather be there for you to collectively work towards a solution.

Investing in your career

From nono.naomi:

Having the opportunity to visit workshops or seminars is a great way to make people feel that you have trust in their skills and support them.

chelsearosecreative agrees:

As a lover of learning, I also really appreciate when my employer is willing to invest in education, books, conferences or workshops to allow the team to keep learning and advancing our skills.

Do unto others…

The best thing about most of these themes are they are things that anyone can do! Making sure to thank your colleagues, thinking about how you can be more of an internal support system for them, and showing the trust you have in their skills are all behaviours that can be displayed by every person in a company to anyone else.

I strongly believe that the more you exhibit these appreciative behaviours at work, the more your coworkers take note (even subconsciously!) and before you know it, you find that the appreciation comes back round to you. So next time you may be feeling a little under-appreciated, try this out:

  • Pick a coworker that you’ve been working with that has also been doing a great job
  • Choose an authentic thing that you can thank them for or compliment them on.
  • Go up to them and show your appreciation. I like to say something like, “I was thinking what a fantastic job you did on [X], and I realised that I never said [thank you / well done / great job] to you! So I thought I’d let you know that I [really appreciated your help / thought it was a great example of a job done well].” If you’re not comfortable saying something directly, an email would be an acceptable alternative.
  • Engage in some follow-up chit chat and then gracefully exit.

Doing this over a number of weeks with your closest colleagues is a great exercise in lifting up the people around you, but also you might start to find some of the same coming back to you.

Afterwards, letting your manager know how excited and happy you were when you receive appreciation from your colleagues is a great kickstarter into a conversation about feeling valued at work (although you can have this conversation any time too!) Having a conversation with your manager, framed around how appreciation + thanks makes you feel, is a really important one to have. Being clear about the types of things that will make you feel more appreciated at work so that they know how you like to be recognized will help to make sure they’ve got every opportunity to raise you up when appropriate:

  • “Taking on a more complex project makes me valued as an employee because it shows me  how much you trust me”
  • Having some investment in my learning and development makes me feel appreciated here.”
  • etc

Try it out!

Think you want to test this out? I want to hear from you in the comments if you’re going to try this! 🙂

Lastly, I want to say thank you for reading! 🙂

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

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