10 Tips & Tricks To Build A Culture Of Appreciation At Work

advice Sep 28, 2022

While leaders commonly use various forms of workplace recognition to varying degrees of success, appreciation, in general, is often overlooked – especially in larger organizations.

Where appreciation is attempted, it’s  often done as an afterthought (or with no preparation or deeper understanding of what it takes to cultivate a culture of appreciation at work). As such, the increased effort has no effect; or worse – it has the opposite effect when employees feel ignored, misunderstood, or patronized.

So... if you want to do it right, it takes a little bit of forethought and some general understanding of what makes people different. We’ve thought of ten ways to cultivate this culture of appreciation in your workplace below. First, let’s explain why getting it right is so important.

culture of appreciation

The Role of a Culture of Appreciation at Work

While it’s common for leaders to want their workers to be happy and comfortable in the workplace, most benefits relating to the corporate world are measured in terms of financial impact on the company. This form of measurement is a lot more straightforward and measurable with quantitative measures since a numerical input at one end translates to a numerical output at the other.

For the working environment, inputs are a lot more qualitative and subjective, and therefore harder to manipulate with any detailed, measured outcome. However, simply paying employees isn’t enough to get the best out of them, and the workplace environment is integral to the retention rates of an organization.

Recognition is one way to improve this environment, and appreciation may be considered a deeper, slow-burning sister to its efforts. While recognition rewards people for their work, appreciation reminds them that they are valuable simply by being there, and by showing up, day after day, to help the organization reach its goals.

Appreciation, however, is not just about saying thanks. It involves learning the individuals involved, what they like, and how they feel appreciated. And then, it’s about tailoring a little effort to show them that they’re valuable. This is the key to creating a culture of appreciation at work and seeing all the benefits that come from it.

In summary, personally relevant appreciation in the workplace leads to boosts in employee engagement, which leads to reduced turnover, reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity; all of which lead to improvements in the bottom line.

So, even if creating a positive workplace environment doesn’t come naturally to you as an act of compassion toward those who sacrifice their daily lives for the company, it can at least be considered a lucrative venture!

Don’t worry if you’re still wondering how to start off, we’ve got a list of tips and tricks coming up that will get you on the right path. Before you get going, the first step is to understand the fundamentals and do the research. Here’s how it works.

Ten Ways to Employ an Appreciation Culture in the Workplace

appreciation culture

There are two places to begin when planning to instill a culture of appreciation at work. The first and most important thing to remember is that this will take some research and planning. People receive appreciation in different ways, as you’ll see from our list below, and getting the method wrong can have no effect, or even make things worse.

Reading through this list, you’ll come up with numerous questions that you’ll need your team to answer before you can move ahead, so consider designing and handing out questionnaires or surveys to find the answers to these questions before you begin.

These surveys should cover the basics of the five languages of appreciation. This concept is a derivative of the popular book on the five love languages. Gary Chapman, the author of both, suggests the same principle of appreciating people in the language that they value the most. Here are the five languages themselves, followed by five more points to consider:

1. Words of Affirmation

This is the most common form of recognition and appreciation there is, and for many, it works well. In order to do it right, affirmation needs to be specific and tailored to the person and the activity for which the person is being recognized, whether it’s an achievement or a general note of appreciation for being part of the team.

There’s a huge difference between “Thanks for all the good work today” and “Thanks for jumping in early and helping us hand over smoothly”. If your words of affirmation could be directed at anybody, they’re not powerful enough. “Good job” is a cheap and untargeted approach to appreciation, so consider practicing and training your teams to be specific with their praise.

Affirmations can be focused on work or personal traits. Character appreciation goes a step deeper than productivity and addresses people for who they are. This can have a powerful motivation for the right person, so always keep a look out for positive traits to commend someone on. Words don’t have to be spoken, either, and can be more effective in a letter or card, depending on the preference of the receiver.

2. Quality Time

If someone lists quality time as their preferred language of appreciation, then they may respond the best to being offered a variety of forms of time. This might sound confusing, but quality time comes in a variety of manifestations and could involve one-to-one coaching meetings, focused attention to their project, or a compassionate ear for their complaints or grumblings.

Spending quality time with employees is probably the most difficult for managers, because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, however, the benefit of running your surveys at the start is that you identify those for whom you don’t need to appreciate in this way.

And for those who do, the successful creation of an appreciative workplace culture should go some way to providing it on your behalf. However, it is important to show up where you can.

3. Acts of Service

In the workplace, an act of service can be as simple as pitching in to meet a deadline. Fostering appreciation using acts of service is the idea that, where technically appropriate, colleagues or managers can ask if there’s anything they can do to help.

For some, words are cheap. Whether you mean them or not, plenty of people don’t believe in appreciation unless they see it in action. This is the essence of “don’t tell me, show me”, and it’s not a concept that should be new to anyone in a managerial position, especially if they’re involved in hiring.

Serving people is commonplace outside the workforce, yet, from within, it’s an almost alien concept. Creating an environment where it’s okay to offer help is a powerful step in the right direction of designing a culture of appreciation, and will please those for whom words, quality time, or the two appreciation languages coming up aren’t their preferred way to be thanked.

Serving is also an act of true leadership, contrary to what many authoritarians will tell you.

4. Tangible Gifts

This is the second most tricky language to navigate (after number five), and it will certainly involve a bit of a preliminary investigation into who actually values gifts before you jump in. Of those surveyed, only 6% chose tangible gifts as their primary language of appreciation, and the majority stated it as their least effective; so it’s possible with a bit of foresight you’ll find you don’t need to go down this path at all.

This holds some significance in the cultivation of a culture of appreciation at work. Many incentive programs use gifts as their primary motivation, and, as we’ll discuss, it’s often counter-productive to motivate people this way.

The other reason that this is a difficult one, is that even with those who value gifts, giving one involves finding something that they actually want. Gifts for the sake of giving only benefit the one giving.

Two good gift ideas (assuming you have identified someone who wants a gift) are concert tickets or food that you know will be appreciated by the receiver. Giving the right gift shows that you have paid attention and that you are getting to know the employee on a personal level.

5. Physical Touch

Any sensible manager reading this will have felt an unpleasant reaction to the obvious minefield of this final act of appreciation. If you’re working in the kind of environment where you can encourage hugs with no fear of HR mediation cases, that’s great. The important thing is that you identify those who appreciate hugs, and those who are likely to cringe or file a report.

Some forms of physical touch are appropriate across the workplace. A handshake, a pat on the back, or a high-five can all be received well, and don’t over-impose.

Plenty of people respond well to these physical gestures, and they’re generally well-accepted. Some people, on the other hand, don’t want to be touched by anyone, in any way, and it’s important to respect that too.

Of course, for remote teams, this option won’t be possible. To mitigate this limitation, in your initial surveys it’s important to rank the top three languages of appreciation so that people involved in hybrid or remote work still get met where they are, as best they can be.

6. Lead by Example

You’re going to want to instill the appreciation culture into your entire workforce, and the best way to do this is to show people how it’s done. Aside from holding meetings and presentations to discuss and educate people on the concepts involved, showing your face and demonstrating the culture you want to see is an important part of leading the way.

It’s also important to teach that appreciation needs to come from peers and management alike. Unlike management, peers spend most of their time in each other’s company and have a lot more opportunities to display acts of appreciation organically, as the need arises, so be sure to get involved and let good habits rub off on the team.

The process of developing an appreciation culture will take time, and it’ll take trial and error. It’s important to remember that you will not be able to please everybody, so the best you can do is set the tone yourself and encourage others to follow. Don’t be too put out by failures; adjust where possible, and accept some failures as inevitable.

7. It’s not about the money

Appreciation isn’t about offering more money for work well done. In fact, extrinsic motivators are generally not conducive to boosting motivation, and can, in fact, reverse it. While many employees benefit from a pay rise when they leave one job for another, around 88% of employees leave their role for other reasons. Incidentally, 89% of managers surveyed did not pick up on this.

This statistic suggests that throwing money at the problem cannot fix it and that employees, as individuals with needs, value more than just monetary rewards or recognition.

8. Appreciation is about value

Here’s one that usually slips through the cracks when it comes to appreciation, and one of the key reasons appreciation is different from recognition.

Appreciation should exist, regardless of performance. Outside of the cases where someone is actively hindering or damaging productivity, everyone on the team has positive value, and appreciating people is about acknowledging that value, rather than rewarding them for achieving something in particular.

In fact, to the contrary of recognition, appreciation can even be given when an employee screws up, or reacts negatively to something and should be encouraged as such. In many cases, nothing realigns a workforce better than a moment of compassion during a challenging work day.

When teaching the team about appreciation, it’s important to distinguish recognition from appreciation, and value from performance. There’s a role for recognition in the workplace, but it should be handled as a separate discipline.

9. Consider public vs. private

One of the last points to consider, and one to instill into everyone in the team, is that not everyone appreciates being appreciated in front of people. Again, this brings us back to the research that you’ll need to do to begin building this culture of appreciation and will involve getting to know one another.

Some people will prefer being taken to one side and spoken to, some would really love to get a high five from the boss in front of their colleagues. It’s important to know which is which, and consider these preferences when learning how to give appreciation. Again, to find these things out, make sure the research has been done in advance!

10. Don’t forget the rest of the team

How often does a concert or show finish with a round of applause for the performers? Yet, have you ever considered how many of the audience are also applauding the lighting technicians, the screenwriters, or the venue managers for creating an environment that facilitates the more visible roles in their accomplishments?

In the workplace there are just as many people working ‘behind the scenes’; possibly even more than there are on the office floor, or logging into the remote work app every morning. These people also need to benefit from your appreciation culture, despite the fact that they’re possibly less accessible than those right in front of you.

To make sure they’re included, involve key individuals from each team in the meetings and discussions, spread your words of affirmation on the company intranet where appropriate, and make sure your remote teams are equally engaged and have remote options for engagement.

Of course, there are some limitations in the avenues of appreciation available to you, but Slack apps like CultureBot go a long way to providing opportunities to promote team engagement remotely. Not only does it make it easier to connect with your remote team, CultureBot also helps with appreciation with features like micro-moments and teammate appreciation shoutouts to promote your company culture from a distance.


culture of appreciation at work

For in-house teams, building a culture of appreciation at work involves getting to know your staff. Before beginning, learn and understand that different people receive appreciation in different ways, and finding out which ways these are is the key to making appreciation work.

Incorporating surveys during onboarding to discover the languages of appreciation that will best serve an individual is a good place to start. From there, hosting meetings or presentations to go over the concepts and encouraging team members to take part in peer-to-peer appreciation should soon see your workplace culture growing and your team becoming more comfortable and productive.

For remote teams, much of the same applies. Ensure they’re not left out of this culture by reaching them where they work. Lead the way by appreciating people where they are, and soon others will be following suit.

Building this culture of appreciation at work comes with its own challenges, but the rewards to your workforce that come from a sense of genuine appreciation will result in greater retention and a much more productive team.

😁 Stay happy & healthy,

~ Oswald


Oswald Reaves

A serial startup founder and entrepreneur, Oswald is a co-founder of the Slack-based employee experience and team engagement platform, CultureBot . Oswald is originally from North Carolina.