The High Cost of the Unappreciated

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Appreciation at Work.

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What ministry would choose to squander the most difficult resource to raise? And yet, there are leaders who routinely squander this resource without any thought.

I am not referring to money, but people!

Getting the right people to serve in your ministry is challenging enough. To lose them due to poor leadership attitudes and behaviours seems almost criminal in that light. Losing staff that way is a completely avoidable tragedy!

Appreciation’s contribution to success

Whether your staff and volunteers fulfill or don’t fulfill God’s purpose for them in their ministry roles is largely a matter of how much your team members feel they are appreciated, and that means it all comes down to your leadership!

Why is appreciation so important?

  • Appreciation is critical to your mission success because it goes a long way towards creating a positive, encouraging environment in which people can flourish, be all that God intends them to be, and do all that God wants them to do for the success of your ministry’s mission. You never know in advance which staff member God might have given you for a spectacular contribution that may not ever be made because that person was unappreciated and not encouraged, and either quit or did just what they were told to do and no more.
  • In addition to the emotional environment, appreciation provides excellent feedback and encouragement to the person regarding their hard and soft skills. It helps them be more successful by giving them understanding of what they are doing that contributes positively to someone else’s work, to the ministry’s success, and to their own career success.

In a Harvard Business Review article,1 Tony Schwartz says that appreciation in the workplace is very important because:

  • Everyone wants to feel they truly matter, and that their contribution is recognized.
  • The highest driver of employee engagement is whether or not they feel their manager is interested in their well-being. Appreciation is one way to indicate that interest.
  • Appreciation lifts people up, makes them feel safe and energizes them. These factors free them up to do their best work.

Your ministry’s best performance will come when its employees and volunteers feel truly appreciated by leadership. Appreciated people will flourish with leadership’s encouragement and support and will be high-performers. They will more likely get the job done than those who are not appreciated. So why would any leader not be generous with expressing their appreciation for others?

Why some people don’t give appreciation

Lack of appreciation can be due to a number of factors that can be related to one of four attitudes:

  1. Transactional utilitarianism is a term I’ve coined to refer to the practice of objectifying people as units of production. Staff members are seen as the products of a commercial transaction; an exchange of time for money. In this scenario, there is not much need to express appreciation because the person has merely done what they contracted to do. The utilitarian perspective can see people as expendable and replaceable. So without commitment for the longer term, there isn’t much effort put into building a real relationship. Significant development opportunities might not be offered because the payback isn’t considered fast enough. With the focus solely on utility, there may be ever-increasing and demanding pressure for continuous productivity improvements. Workers have probably heard the leader say many times, “Great, you did what you were paid to do!” and nothing more.
  2. Personal insecurities can cause leaders to be overly reliant on hierarchy, power, and authority, leading to leadership that can be demanding, coercive, and even abusive. These leaders tend to come down from mountaintops to dispense their vision and plans, and aren’t interested in what anyone else might suggest. They need to come up with all the answers themselves, and they see alternate possibilities raised by others as threats to their leadership. Insecure leaders may not be appreciative because they either don’t want to feel indebted to anyone or they are afraid of being seen as not able to do everything themselves. I’ve heard of one leader who told his staff, “I’m not paying you to think! I’m paying you to do what I tell you to do!”
  3. Thoughtlessness is at the root of why some people won’t express appreciation to others. These leaders simply don’t care about the social graces or about the human need to be affirmed. They don’t even see the effort that has gone into a result. They don’t wonder about what it took to do something. And even if they did see something praiseworthy, the idea of expressing appreciation never occurs to them. If pressed, they might say, “Sure I appreciate you. You’re still on the payroll, aren’t you?”
  4. Presumption diminishes feelings of gratitude and appreciation and replaces them with unilateral expectations. Some leaders just take people for granted. A volunteer who agreed to do one activity may be pressured to take on another. A staff member may be told to stay late without any consideration of their personal circumstances. There is no sense of negotiation. Phrases like, “Would you consider…” or “Is there any way you could…” just aren’t in their vocabulary. The expectation is that staff and volunteers will do whatever it takes to get the job done and that this is just part of what they signed up for.

In all these scenarios, people are valued for their capacity to produce, not for themselves. They are seen only as workers, not people. If recognition is given, it is only to use the person as a model for others to emulate.

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Lack of appreciation’s consequences

The effect of not giving appreciation can be devastating.

For individuals, lack of appreciation:

  • Lessens how hard people choose to work
  • Lowers job satisfaction
  • Robs the individual of feeling significant at work
  • Prevents a person from enjoying their work life
  • Causes people to become bitter and resentful over their treatment
  • May result in people questioning their faith or losing passion for the ministry’s mission due to disillusionment with the behaviour of their not very Christ-like leaders

For the team, lack of appreciation:

  • Creates a workplace culture devoid of positive traits as the team becomes bitter and resentful
  • Work relationships deteriorate if the way leaders treat staff influences how staff treat each other

For organizations, lack of appreciation can result in:

  • A bad reputation for leadership’s un-Christlike behaviour, losing support from donors and volunteers
  • Loss of goodwill, if staff adopt leadership’s attitudes towards people outside the organization
  • Increased workflow problems due to higher absenteeism and lower productivity
  • Missed opportunities and lost potential because an organization can only flourish if its people are flourishing

For leaders, lack of appreciating others:

  • Can cause them to suffer some serious negative consequences. For example, leaders often get the credit for the success of their organizations, as if they did it all by themselves. If leaders believe this and don’t appreciate others for what they contributed towards the success, pride will be their downfall.
  • Leads to pride, which leads to hubris, feelings of invincibility, omnipotence, and omniscience. What could go wrong? Hmm.
  • Leads also to self-aggrandizement. Who wants to work for someone who thinks they can do it all by themselves?
  • Negates the role that God plays in your life. Moses recorded a clear warning from God about forgetting the role that God played in your success!2

For the leader’s own good, they need to give lots of appreciation. Doing so:

  • reminds them that they are part of a team,
  • keeps them humble as they acknowledge the help they received, and
  • helps them see their team members as blessings from God.

Appreciation has a high ROI

Long term success comes to organizations with staff who are creative, passionate, committed, and engaged. Money can’t buy these traits. Appreciation is what causes people to voluntarily offer these traits to those they work and volunteer for. Since it doesn’t cost a ministry anything much to appreciate their people, there is no reason not to do so. When appreciation isn’t given, the cost to the ministry, the team, the leader, and both the employees and volunteers is far too high to bear.

Key Idea: Appreciation is the way to go.

  1. Tony Schwartz, Why Appreciation Matters So Much, Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2012
  2. Deut 8:17-18 
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