Organisational psychologist: Employees’ poor well-being and employee turnover may be due to a lack of appreciation in the workplace

Press release 19 January 2023

Lack of appreciation in the workplace, or in other areas of life, is reflected in everyday life and weakens well-being and job satisfaction. Pekka Tölli, Mehiläinen’s Organisational Psychologist, is concerned that a lack of appreciation in the workplace also increases employee turnover when people feel that their contribution is not noticed and that they are not a meaningful part of the community.

Vague negative feelings, inefficiency and dissatisfaction with one’s own life? A lack of appreciation in the workplace can be reflected throughout everyday life and can cause physical symptoms as well. However, the phenomenon is not new, but the importance of appreciation has become more pronounced in the time of COVID-19 and hybrid work, as seeing others face-to-face has become more difficult.

“We all have a basic need to feel seen. Showing appreciation doesn’t just mean occasional compliments, it’s about other people seeing you, understanding you and caring about you. The need for appreciation can be compared to the need for food: we need a variety of it continuously,” says Pekka Tölli, Mehiläinen’s Chief Organisational Psychologist.
Like with food, lack of appreciation has a direct impact on well-being.

“If you don’t get the appreciation you want in the workplace or in other areas of your life, it leads to a sense of meaninglessness: it doesn’t matter what I do. This directly affects our self-confidence and what we think about ourselves and how we perform. The feeling of not mattering can lead to very negative feelings and despair and, if prolonged, even depression. Therefore, it must be addressed in time,” Tölli continues.

When a person feels seen and heard, they naturally want to give more of themselves and develop. This is often reflected in higher job satisfaction. Tölli sees a lack of appreciation as one of the main reasons for employee turnover, because the experience of unworthiness often leads to a feeling of not belonging in the group.

Appreciating requires genuinely being present – just saying thank you is not enough

Appreciation means that you stop to be present for someone. According to Tölli, it is important to understand that we need appreciation not only for our performance, but also for ourselves as a unique person. A simple thank you is rarely enough to give us the feedback we need on the work we have done.

“It is very important that the employee is appreciated for how they succeed and perform in their duties and what they are good at. On top of that, each of us needs to be appreciated as a person, too: I am appreciated, accepted and loved just the way I am. We need these experiences everywhere, both at work and outside work,” Tölli says.

Supervisors are under intense pressure, as demands come from both the management and the team. In addition, supervisors themselves have a natural need to feel appreciated.

“Everyone, but especially supervisors, should stop and think about what things they need appreciation for, in what ways do they need it to be shown and from whom do they need it. It’s a good idea to consider whether you need it from subordinates, your own supervisor, the management or your colleagues. Defining this is crucial, because the people around us often don’t know what we need. That is why it’s good to ask for what you want directly.”

Tölli illustrates the issue with an example.

“A highly effective employee may receive constant praise for their efficiency and achievements. However, they may also wish to be appreciated as a nice, warm and empathetic person. This is often not very obvious to others, so it’s a good idea to say it out loud.”

The example of the supervisor plays an important role in getting things to go in the right direction.

“Appreciation is broadly divided into three parts: appreciative words, actions and presence. Of these, I would particularly emphasise being present in an appreciative ways with the other person. The supervisor has the power to guide the work community’s operating culture. When a supervisor shows appreciation through their actions, it’s easier for others to do the same thing. The most typical way to destroy appreciation is to not match your actions to your words,” Tölli says.

“If the problems of the work community are difficult to comprehend from the inside, outside help may be needed. Help is available from the occupational health care provider, and at Mehiläinen Working Life Services, for example, we often start by assessing the current situation and identifying obstacles. After this, we will start moving towards the goals we have set one step at a time,” Tölli concludes.

Five ideas by an organisational psychologist for a more appreciative work culture – this is how you show and
receive appreciation:

  1. Recognise what you want to be appreciated for. Think about what things and traits you want to be appreciated for. Also find out how your co-workers want to be seen. The best way to show appreciation is to direct it at actions and traits that are important to the recipient.
  2. Be truthful. For appreciation to work, your words must be true and ones you believe in. True appreciation is harmonious, meaning that words and actions support each other. If you tell someone it’s nice to work with them but you never show it, your appreciation won’t be conveyed.
  3. Repetition is important. Even a good meal won’t keep you full all year. For us to feel truly appreciated, repetition is important. Thanks from time to time or annual compliments during a performance review do not fully build an appreciative atmosphere. It’s important to show appreciation regularly and in a variety of ways.
  4. Appreciation is made up of everyday actions. Showing appreciation does not have to be grandiose. Instead, everyday actions are more important. Look into their eyes and smile, ask how they are doing, ask them to have lunch with you, ask for and offer support. Simply stopping to be present for someone and giving them your undivided attention is the most meaningful thing.
  5. Receive appreciation like you would receive a beautiful gift. Unfortunately, we often shake off expressions of appreciation, rejecting them and squirming when we receive them. What if you received appreciation like you would receive a gift? Receiving appreciation with delight and gratitude would make both parties feel good.