Social changes in the field of mental health are providing food for thought. Despite our prosperity and supportive technology, more than half of Swiss employees suffer from the symptoms of stress (2,3,5). Studies have shown that interpersonal factors such as appreciation and support have a major impact on personal well-being and performance (3.9). In contrast, a lack of appreciation is a major trigger for psychosomatic symptoms, exhaustion and burnout (3.9).
But why are these interpersonal factors so important for us humans? Sociobiology provides the answers.
Appreciation as a protective factor
A comprehensive study on employee wellbeing by Hünefeld, Kopatz and Florian (2021) showed that social interaction influences both mental and physical health (9). Employees who receive little or no appreciation at all are significantly more likely to develop psychosomatic symptoms such as fatigue, irritability or sleep disorders. Even “hard” stressors such as deadlines, pressure to perform or physically strenuous activities are perceived to be less demanding by employees who feel supported by their line managers. Appreciation thus acts as an effective stress buffer.
The genetic anchoring of appreciation
Regardless of a person’s age or sensitivity, praise and recognition are essential basic needs, just like oxygen, water and food. Appreciation, recognition and social belonging are therefore firmly anchored in Maslow’s pyramid (1). People strive to be emotionally touched and to be recognised as a whole. Therefore, we can think of appreciation as a “fertiliser of togetherness”.
The way in which we communicate with each other suggests the implicit question: “What is my value to you?” If the moments in which there is a lack of appreciation are not overcome, they can add up. In the long run, continued disregard can significantly impair someone’s self-esteem and membership of the group (8). This affects both their mental health and their trust and loyalty to their employer (10). Around half of all employees would stay with a company for longer if they were more appreciated, and would not even think of leaving (7).
As a result, since the post-pandemic period, around 70% of all employees and 80% of C-level managers say that they put their health and wellbeing before their career (5).
From biology to corporate culture: Appreciation in practice
According to the latest Gallup figures (6), only one in three employees feel that their work is sufficiently valued. Many routinely experience their commitment being overlooked. The following four pillars are effective in establishing a respectful corporate culture:
1) A simple “thank you”
“Everything’s just taken for granted” is one of the most common reasons for marriage breakdowns. The same applies to terminated workplace relationships (8). Managers are therefore in a unique position to bring about real change. It all starts with a simple, genuine “thank you”. When people dedicate themselves to a task and invest their precious time and energy in it, they appreciate being seen.
2) One size does not fit all
It depends on the correct dosage, as excessive praise can lose its meaning. True recognition should be individual, original, honest and authentic, taking into account the person’s preferences when it comes to appreciation.
Even critical feedback can be appreciative, as long as it is conveyed honestly and shows realistic development opportunities. It is about making sincere contact and engaging with people in an authentic way. Appreciation sensitivity means continuously reinforcing the positives, and leaving behind the principle of “no complaints is praise enough”.
3) Languages of appreciation
Who, what, how, when and how often? Due to a lack of practice, many people find it difficult at first to convey appreciation in a natural and authentic manner. However, praise and recognition are often more straightforward and direct than expected.
If appreciation first has to be “earned”, or only the loudest top performers are singled out, then you run the risk of demotivating a large part of your workforce.
Regardless of their position or management level, employees attach a great deal of importance to individual recognition in different categories: dedication, success, expertise, support and practiced values. Individual growth opportunities, salary increases, bonuses and outstanding performance ratings are seen as particularly appreciative, as long as they reflect the person’s performance.
The type of recognition and the way in which it is communicated are also crucial. Small gestures can be made personally, while larger achievements should be acknowledged at higher management levels and in a broader context.
4) Appreciation for mental health
Culturally rooted, systemic appreciation promotes the mental health of employees. Programmes that raise awareness of mental health and offer specific approaches work on both personal and team levels. One proven example of this is the two-day “First Aider for Mental Health” training course, which is offered by the organisation ensa Switzerland together with the Pro Mente Sana foundation. Participants learn to identify early warning signs of mental illness and to take proactive measures in an destigmatising way.
Appreciation is more than just a nice gesture or a management strategy. It is a fundamental human need which is deeply rooted in our biology and social structure. Companies that recognise this and incorporate it into their culture are not only leaders in ethical terms, but also with regard to productivity and employee satisfaction.
- Abraham Maslow (1940-1950). Needs pyramid.
- AXA Mental Health Report. 2023
- CSS, (2022). Wie geht es Ihnen? (How are you doing?) CSS health study.
- Deloitte, (2019). The Practical Magic of ‘Thank You’ How your people want to be recognized, for what, and by whom. Deloitte Greenhouse.
- Deloitte, (2022). The C-suite's role in well-being analytics. Online: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/leadership/employee-wellness-in-the-corporate-workplace.html
- Gallup Workplace, (2016). Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact. Online: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236441/employee-recognition-low-cost-high-impact.aspx
- Glassdoor, (2013). Employers To Retain Half Of Their Employees Longer If Bosses Showed More Appreciation; Glassdoor Survey. Online: https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/employers-to-retain-half-of-their-employees-longer-if-bosses-showed-more-appreciation-glassdoor-survey/
- Haller, R. (2019). Das Wunder der Wertschätzung: Wie wir andere stark machen und dabei selbst stärker werden. Graefe und Unzer
- Hünefeld, Lena; Kopatz, Florian, 2021. Unterstützung und Anerkennung durch Vorgesetzte: Wichtig für das Wohlbefinden der Beschäftigten. baua: Facts 39. Dortmund: Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Matyssek, AK (2012). Chefsache: Gesundes Team – gesunde Bilanz. Universum