Contrary to popular belief, fear isn't the strongest motivator.

81 percent of respondents to Glassdoor's Employee Appreciation Survey said they're motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. In contrast, only 38 percent said they work harder when their boss is demanding. Just 37 percent said they work harder because they fear losing their job.

One of my favorite resources on the topic is The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White, which discusses a few ways managers can show employees some appreciation. These three stood out:

  1. Words of affirmation--Verbal praise, validation, and recognition.
  2. Quality time--Shared experiences, empathetic listening, and your full attention. 
  3. Acts of service--Servant leadership (willingness to help others), making work easier for someone else, teaching, and mentoring. 

I'd love to take a deeper dive into these areas and suggest some practical applications. However, there are a few things we'll have to address first.

Chapman and White say these are the six things you'll have to get over before you can show real appreciation:

1. Busyness

You need to be observant. That's tough when you're preoccupied and have zero margin in your day.

You have back-to-back meetings. Piles of projects stacking up. It sounds stressful, yet it's strangely comfortable for most leaders. Busyness can be a great excuse for not creating time with employees.

Gary Keller, entrepreneur and bestselling author, said it perfectly in The One Thing: "You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects."

2. The belief that appreciation isn't important 

It doesn't matter if you're in the Fortune 500 or a small manufacturing facility--there's no appreciation-free zone. Well, actually, there is--it's called a toxic work environment. 

Take the lead on creating a culture of appreciation--regardless of whether or not it's supported by those around you. If not, Chapman and White warn us that a narrow mindset will "force employees to live in a thankless community, wishing that things could be better."

3. Feeling overwhelmed with current responsibilities

I get it. You're already overloaded. 

But maybe, all it requires is a slight perspective change. Showing appreciation isn't (and shouldn't be seen as) another obligation. I'll admit, it's tough at first, but after you get into the habit, showing your appreciation won't require extra effort--it'll come naturally. We all find time for the essential things.

Plus, with increased morale, you should be able to delegate some responsibility and free up more time to focus on your people.

4. Structural and logistical issues

There are some legitimate hurdles given the decentralized and global nature of today's work. You work remotely, you have 30 direct reports, you're on different shifts, or you're working on various projects. Yes, those make showing appreciation a little more difficult, but not impossible.

There's always a way to connect. When it gets too complicated, delegate. The most important thing is that employees are consistently encouraged and shown appreciation.

Start small. Look for the best ways to communicate. Start with one or two employees at a time. Schedule 15-20 minute blocks of time to focus on showing appreciation. 

5. Personal discomfort with communicating appreciation

Communicating appreciation is especially tricky for those managers with task-driven workstyles--those who are naturally analytical, introverted, and like to focus on the work as opposed to the people.

I once had a very detail-oriented manager who was most productive when working independently. I'm an extrovert who needs validation and interaction with others to feel recognized. It wasn't my manager's intention, but I often felt undervalued. 

Even if it feels (and looks) uncomfortable, employees will appreciate that fact that you're trying and give you the benefit of the doubt.

6. The "weirdness factor"

After you break the ice and get into a rhythm, the awkwardness of telling someone how much you appreciate them will subside. To get over the hump, Chapman and White recommend the following: 

  • Acknowledge it.
  • Relate it to something else.
  • Appreciate others in a genuine manner consistent with your personal style.

Try saying something like this: "I don't take enough time to show my appreciation for the great work that you do. As we all know, I get wrapped up in my work and even have to remind myself to come up for air. And let's be honest--it's a little awkward for me. Thanks for everything you do."

Published on: Dec 28, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.