Increasing Employee Engagement Through the Power of Appreciation

By Lisa Ryan

Would it surprise you to know that the WorkHuman Research Institute that found 21 percent of respondents have NEVER been recognized at work and 33 percent haven’t been recognized in 6 months? That doesn’t mean the boss is saying, “Wait a minute… uhhhhh… Terry, right?” Come on, even those who do not thrive on recognition, need more attention than that!

Can you ever over-thank an employee? Not if you’re specific and sincere. If you finish reading this article thinking, “That Lisa woman said I need to thank five people today, ugh. “Thank you,” “thank you,” “thank you,” “thank you,” “thank you.” Check! That’s done.” You’re right; it doesn’t work. Your employees will see right through your lack of sincere effort.

On the other hand, keep in mind that what gets recognized gets repeated, so the more specific you can be, the better it is. I can either say, “Good job, Maria.” or “Maria, you did an outstanding job handling that call with Mrs. Smith today. She was tough in her demands, and you calmed her down, handled her professionally and solved her problem, and let us keep her as a satisfied customer. You have great customer instinct. Thank you!”

You may look at engagement strategies as a soft skill, but they produce hard results. In studying the communication habits of a team, Marcial Losada found that high performing teams have a 6:1 positivity ratio. That means for every one negative comment heard by a team member; they hear at least six positive responses. On an average performing team, the ratio drops to 3:1. This ratio means your engagement is barely surviving. Your employees are doing just enough work, so they don’t get fired, and you are probably paying them just enough so they don’t quit. They are rowing just fast enough for the boat not to sink. It’s an even balance. On a low performing team, the ratio is.3:1. This means they hear 3 times more negative comments than positive remarks. It’s like being in bumper-to-bumper traffic. For every one person who waves “Go ahead,” THREE people are honking their horn and giving you the finger!

If you need more numbers, the Gallup Organization finds that only 30% of your employees are actively engaged. These are the people that bring more value to your organization than the salary you are paying. They are your rock stars, and you know who they are. About 50% of your employees are disengaged. Again, they are doing precisely the amount of work they are paid to do – nothing more, sometimes less. And, of course, you have your bottom 20% – the actively disengaged employees. These are the poisonous, toxic, horrible people who work for you… the people who can overpower your favorite Yankee Candle just by walking through a room. Just as the Rockstar employees light up the room when they walk in – the toxic employees also light up the room – when they leave! Not only are they a pain to be around, but they are expensive – costing you as much as $3500 for every $10,000 in salary. Ka-CHING!

Who gets all of the attention – the rock stars and the problem children, right? Let’s take a minute and consider the forgotten group – the middle 50%. I like to call this group the Steady Eddies. Eddie might not be a rock star, but he’s not a problem child. He doesn’t get all the notes right, but you can still tell he’s playing “Brown-Eyed Girl.” He comes to work, plays his song, and goes home. What if one day, his manager said to him, “You know Eddie, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your being here every day, singing your song for us.” Eddie might be thinking, “Hmmm, how do I get me more of that?” So he works a little harder because he likes the positive attention. And you’ve opened the door for him to perform BETTER… and you may have given him what he needed to be a Rock Star. (Maybe next week he starts playing Stairway to Heaven!) Where do your actively disengaged employees get their recruits? The middle 50%. The 50% is the group you can have the most impact on, with the right encouragement. This is the group where you can make the most significant difference.

If your employees have not heard a positive word from you in the past week, look for something specific you can acknowledge. Who knows, you may stop that person from clicking “send” with his resume to another potential employer.


Lisa Ryan is the Founder of Grategy. She is an employee engagement and business keynote speaker, gratitude expert, and author of ten books including “The Upside of Down Times: Discovering the Power of Gratitude.” She co-stars in two documentaries: “The Keeper of the Keys” with Jack Canfield and “The Gratitude Experiment.”

Learn more about Lisa Ryan at