Appreciations In The Workplace

April 28, 2018 by mtchavez

Appreciations are something we likely overlook on a day to day basis. Given enough time and thought to introspect on things in our lives like relationships, work, family, or hobbies we can quickly start to think of all the things we can, and should, give appreciation for. This can translate well into engineering teams that work closely together with each other.

Physiological Effects

The part of the brain that is affected by appreciation and gratitude is the same part that controls basic bodily functions like eating and sleeping, the hypothalamus. “Showing gratitude can increase a person’s wellness, increase better sleep habits, increase metabolism and lessen stress”. [1] The effects of stress on humans is fairly well studied so anything that can help reduce stress is something worth looking into.

In relationships, personal and work, the act of appreciating someone and taking notice of their efforts and hard work goes a long way towards strengthening the relationship. These are some of the reasons I have tried to introduce this simple act of giving an appreciation in the various work environments I have been a part of.

Starting Out

Everyone knows how to give out an appreciation most likely. Without a proper environment to give appreciations it might catch people off guard or make some uncomfortable if they feel singled out or the current culture of the team isn’t used to this.

Find the best time or place to start giving and showing appreciations. It could be as easy as letting people submit some appreciations to be shown at the next company meeting. You may be all communicating in a central place like Slack or Basecamp where you can create a channel of communicating appreciations there for everyone to see. I have found that they are most effective in person and in environments or meetings that are structured as a safe place to speak openly. One such place for that is a retrospective that an agile team might participate in at the end of their sprint.

Agile Retrospectives

One common activity for an agile retrospective is to allow each team member to give an appreciation to another team member. Even if your work doesn’t have retrospectives, or even doing agile for that matter, you can still practice something simple like giving appreciations.

This simple practice at the end of a retrospective is something I have found teams to both enjoy and also help strengthen camaraderie for better team energy and performance. A good format is to have everyone in the room take turns giving their appreciation and giving a brief description of what it is they are appreciating.

When It Can Be Too Much

This can all sound a little too cheesy, or even a bit much for something like the workplace or an engineering team. I agree that it is bordering on the concept of giving trust falls to each other to strengthen the team. This is not lost on me and I have definitely seen this sort of thing go too far, which can lessen the effect overall. It’s an easy thing to go from thinking if a little is good, then why not do it a lot. But appreciations “…can have negative effects as well, such as lowering one’s aspirations. If we spend all of our time being appreciative and content with the status quo, we draw attention away from future possibilities”. [2]

When the team or workplace starts giving appreciations for appreciations you can start to see the negative effects. Other things that can take away from the good intention is over appreciating for every small thing. Some may think this is just having a positive attitude and trying to build their co-workers up. But, it actually does the opposite. We are already in a world of over-consumption and you end up just added to the noise with the over appreciation of small or common things.

Another common negative effect is forcing or requiring appreciations onto the team. This can end up leaving some members feeling like it is just another part of the job requirements and I have seen the appreciations end up being less genuine and more run of the mill. This cheapens the purpose of doing appreciations in the first place and others will pick up on this quickly.

Be Mindful

Even though there are potential pitfalls and negative effects it is more common to have yourself and those around you benefit from this simple practice. If you, and whomever you practice this with, are genuine and are mindful when someone can use an appreciation there will most likely be a majority of positive effects. Appreciations, like a lot of other things in life, benefit from moderation and if you focus on quality, meaningful, and pure intentioned over quantity and status quo I think you will end up benefiting and enjoying the interactions along the way.

(1): https://www.emergenetics.com/blog/workplace-appreciation-gratitude/

(2): https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-matters-most/201409/the-many-benefits-showing-appreciation_

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