In the modern workplace, it's common sense to think that bosses should appreciate their employees' work. Yet you've probably seen or heard about a litany of bad bosses who belittle their employees, ignore them or otherwise make them feel worthless. Maybe you've been that mistreated employee yourself. With so many ogre-like bosses out there, is there reason to believe that appreciating employees really motivates them to work better? Absolutely. Time and again, research has shown that employee appreciation is essential to workplace motivation.
Early Discoveries in Employee Motivation
Way back at the turn of the 20th century when your great-grandparents were working on assembly lines, workers were commonly seen as commodities -- simply parts of the machine. That all changed when Harvard professor Elton Mayo conducted the Hawthorne experiments in a Chicago area factory from 1927 to 1932. His objective was to discover what made employees work harder. He studied working conditions such as lighting, the frequency of employee breaks and how much workers were supervised. What he found forever changed the study of human motivation. The workers who had more freedom and flexibility in the workplace were significantly more productive than their counterparts who were strictly managed. In other words, they did better work because they felt trusted and appreciated. You probably do, too.
What Employees Really Need
Another famous theorist in the field of human motivation was Abraham Maslow. Perhaps you've heard of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs," which he first presented in 1943. This theory is widely accepted today across disciplines including psychology and management. The theory holds that people are motivated by five basic needs in the following order of importance: 1. psysiological needs like food and sleep; 2. safety needs; 3. belonging needs like love and affection; 4. esteem needs including self-esteem and esteem from others; and 5. self-actualization needs, which are met by achieving individual potential. In other words, once people have their basic physical needs met, they still have three other types of needs that motivate them. A good boss who appreciates his employees will help them feel like they belong, that their work matters and that they are meeting their full potential.
Google's Best Bosses
Modern research continues to support these early theories about motivation. In 2009, Google Inc. embarked on a major research study called Project Oxygen to discover what made a good boss within the company. According to Google employees, the study results showed that the top three traits of a great manager were 1. being a good coach; 2. empowering the team instead of micro-managing; and 3. expressing interest in employees' success and well-being. In other words, employee appreciation is still a big deal when it comes to being a successful boss. It shouldn't be surprising, considering that decades of previous research have produced similar results.
How Bosses and Companies Can Appreciate Their Employees
There's no question that appreciating employees motivates them to work harder, but how to show appreciation isn't always as clear-cut. It depends on a variety of factors including company resources, workplace culture and even different personalities within the office. But successful managers and companies should always adopt some sort of employee recognition strategy. Formal examples include benefits packages, bonuses and award certificates and ceremonies. Informally, bosses can do a lot simply through appreciation, cultivating a positive work environment and providing regular employee feedback. If your boss gives you a smile and tells you to keep up the good work, you'll probably feel pretty good for at least the rest of the day.
Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.