Compliments and appreciation more important than salary

Compliments at work have a lot of benefits. As long as you give compliments the right way, that is. This article explains how you can do that.

Research has shown that employees value their manager’s appreciation and attention more than their salary. You can contribute to that by encouraging compliments at work. 

A good compliment 

A good compliment focuses on the person behind the results. “Compliments at work often deal with the person’s performance”, explains Suzanne Penning. She is the owner of Flirtcompany, a bureau that offers training courses and workshops on attention, connection, and appreciation at work. “Celebrating successes is good, but that presents the risk of someone working harder and harder to get the same appreciation. That can eventually result in a burnout.” 

According to Penning, a good compliment works like a three-stage rocket of performance, effort, and personal characteristics. “For example: say that your employee earns a lot of revenue one day. You can mention the employee’s performance, and specifically compliment the behavioural aspects, like customer service or teamwork. And end the compliment with praise for the person’s own characteristics. For example: it is great that you are always so helpful, enthusiastic, or solution-oriented. The person will feel appreciated for who they are, and will stay motivated to enjoy their work instead of feeling pressure to perform again.” 

Hurtful compliment 

A compliment can also come across the wrong way sometimes. A compliment is not a joke, and should not seem hurtful, say authors Frank van Marwijk and Hans Poortvliet in Het groot complimentenboek (The Big Book of Compliments). “It is brave of you to keep talking, even when nobody responds”, is one of the examples they give of a bad compliment. The writers also explain that a compliment about clothing can be appropriate, but that you should avoid giving compliments about someone’s body to prevent inappropriate behaviour at work

Penning agrees: “In one training course, someone said: ‘You are very attractive. People probably do not dare to approach you, right?’ He did not mean that in a hurtful way, but the person he said it to did feel uncomfortable. When a situation like that happens in a group or team, you should talk to the person who says it. The person probably is not aware that the comment is hurtful, but you can tell them when something inappropriate happens. Make it easy to talk about.” 

Encouraging compliments 

There are different ways to encourage compliments at work. 

1. Start your meeting with positive input

During your daily or weekly meetings, start with what is going well. “For example, start with a round where everyone mentions one or two positive things about the past week, then continue with what needs to be done”, suggests Penning. “That does not mean you should sweep mistakes under the rug, though”, she adds. “On the contrary: when something goes wrong, you should talk about it with each other. But approach it with a positive attitude. Talk about it with the group, and let the team think about what went well, and what you can learn from the situation. When someone feels appreciated in the group, they will be less afraid to make mistakes, and you can build a culture where you learn from one another instead of a culture of fear. That contributes to a positive atmosphere at work.” 

2. Let colleagues compliment each other 

Penning explains that letting colleagues compliment one another also works very well. There are several ways to do that, she says. “At the end of a team building exercise or employee outing (in Dutch), hang a large sheet of paper on the wall for each colleague, and let everyone write compliments on post-it notes and put them on the person’s paper. Everyone can then take their own sheet home after the event. Experience has shown that employees treasure the papers for long afterwards. You can also do that during an online meeting, where you work in pairs and everyone posts a compliment for their colleague in the chat. That creates an infectious explosion of appreciation.” 

“You can also encourage employees to compliment each other with a rotating buddy system. Every week or month, you can bring together two colleagues who will be working more intensively together for the period, and who can check in on each other at regular intervals. Then you can end the period by giving each other verbal or written compliments. Not just about their performance, but also about things like their team spirit or commitment.” 

3. Celebrate Compliments Day 

1 March is National Compliments Day: an annual event that many organisations celebrate to show extra appreciation to their employees or customers. “Compliments Day is an ideal moment for all of your colleagues to think about the positive effects of appreciation. For some people, giving compliments is second nature. Involve those colleagues as ambassadors to help motivate others to celebrate Compliments Day.” 

“But do not save the compliments for a special day, or for a performance review (in Dutch)”, concludes Penning. “Look at it as the starting signal for giving more compliments over the rest of the year.”