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Upcycling Appreciation

“I don’t feel appreciated.”

This could be the battle cry of many disengaged workers; those who stay and those who leave.

As evidenced by “The Great Resignation” also known as “The Great Reassessment”, the attraction and retention strategies employers leaned on prior to 2020 are long gone. It is no longer enough (maybe it never was) to provide a paycheck and basic benefits such as health insurance and paid time off and expect that we can fill our open positions, which are many. Workers are refusing to exchange their time and skills for a paycheck when it is more beneficial to employers and with little tangible or intangible appreciation shown to them. As competition for talent became fierce and intense, it’s forced employers to look within for solutions. And this is a GREAT thing!

It is essential to look for ways employees at all levels feel valued and appreciated. The obvious ones of course are pay and benefits, but with candidates and current employees having so many choices, this is not enough. Snacks and games are fun and welcomed, but not really a strategy. Flexible work arrangements including hybrid options when possible are a great offering as well, and are now considered the norm for many.

What I’ve observed as one of the main reasons employees leave or look to leave has remained the same as before: they don’t feel appreciated. Sure they may leave for a much better opportunity and as employers, we should be happy for them if that’s the case. If we value and appreciate our employees as individuals, we want the best for them, even if not at our organization. Leaving an organization for growth opportunities that are not possible in the current workplace is very different than resigning because they don’t feel appreciated.

We show our lack of appreciation by:

  • Treating new hires more favorably: higher pay rates and flexibility than current employees in same positions with same level of experience. Sign on bonuses without retention bonuses for current employees

  • Increasing wages or promoting as counteroffers or only when confronted

  • Failing to address concerns or not having a clear process how concerns are addressed

  • Providing little to no feedback or providing feedback only when something goes wrong

  • Rarely saying “thank you”

Saying thank you seems to be the easiest and hardest thing to do. The simplicity seems to trip us up. Either our “thank yous” come across as insincere or we don’t say it enough. In addition, the words don’t always land as well as actions depending on the person. This is where we can upcycle our thank you or appreciation. What do I mean by this?

Merriam-Webster defines upcycling as “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)”. Based on that definition, I see an opportunity to take the concept of appreciation and presenting it in such a way that the value the recipient perceives is much higher.

Because this is such an individual challenge, it’s difficult to give examples that may work for YOU or YOUR recipient but I can share how I personally feel appreciated at work by my direct manager. Manager: if you’re reading this, I am also absolutely okay with a raise and/or a bonus. Just making sure I clarify that.

For context, I work in an environment where 85% of our workforce is remote to me. Although my manager and I are based in the same location, we can go days if not weeks without actually having a conversation beyond short email exchanges. Sometimes I see them pass by when they go to the break room but we don’t always chat. I work independently and reach out to them with escalated or out of the ordinary issues that come up. They are the opposite of a micromanager for sure! They are not one for regular warm and fuzzies which is a unique dynamic as I naturally lean on needing words of affirmation. All that said, they figured out one specific way that cemented for me that I am appreciated as an individual – saving their empty glass jars for me.

What?! Yes. They save their jars for me and have been doing so for years. This began when they became aware that I upcycle glass jars for gifts in jars for local non-profit organizations. Since then, I show up to work and there may be a box of jars waiting for me in my office. No words are exchanged. Just the jars on my desk. Because of this, I’ve been able to gift around 200 jars over several years.

Through this simple but intentional act, I am able to pass on appreciation to others. One year, I used some of the jars for swag for one of our training meetings. It was great fun not related to HR at all, or was it?

Appreciation becomes real to the recipient when it is genuine and individualized. If my manager left jars for anyone else, that person may think “Who the heck left garbage on my desk?” Maybe for someone else it’s words. Maybe it’s snacks. For others flexibility. The main thing is for it to be intentional, thoughtful, and ongoing. Let’s appreciate each other the best way we can.

How do you prefer to receive appreciation?

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