Why do four in every five employees quit their job? According to research – and according to Dr. Paul White in his book – it’s because they don’t feel appreciated. Once we know that, the question becomes how can we stop them from leaving us? We can’t fake appreciation, and so we need to genuinely feel it and then communicate it to the people we work with.
In The Vibrant Workplace, psychologist and workplace authority Dr. Paul White breaks down the reasons why we sometimes hold back from authentic appreciation. It’s a reasonably short little book, but it packs a hefty punch. And if aesthetics are your thing, you’re in for a treat because the quality of the book as a whole is pretty good, from the cover and the paper to the interior layout and more.
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This isn’t White’s first book, either. He co-wrote The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace wih Gary D. Chapman, PhD, and has spent the last five years honing the techniques that he shared there and developing them to where they are today. But enough about Dr. White as an author: let’s jump on in and see what he has to teach us.
The Vibrant Workplace – Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation
Dr. White begins his book with a definition which helps to identify the themes and the subject matter of the book as a whole. “The vibrant workplace connotes energy, positivity, and growth – characteristics we desire for the environment where we spend the majority of our waking hours. A vibrant workplace draws people to it – quality, talented employees want to work in a healthy context and become a part of the life-exuding process. Employees bring their own gifts and unique personalities to add to the synergy in a dynamic work setting. A vibrant workplace is the antithesis of how many work environments are described: negative, energy-sapping, and toxic to growth.”
One of the interesting things about this book is that you don’t have to read it from cover to cover, although I’d still recommend it. If you’re in a hurry though, or if you want to prioritise your reading to make the most of your time, you can jump right into whichever chapters you’re most interested in.
How Management Can Create Obstacles
The first section of the book deals with how leaders can inadvertently create obstacles, broken down into three key chapters:
- Chapter #1: A general lack of support for appreciation from management.
- Chapter #2: The different types of pushback and resistance supervisors sometimes exhibit.
- Chapter #3: The mistrust and negative reactions caused by perceived inauthenticity.
The purpose of this first section is to highlight these issues and to provide some practical steps that you can take to combat them. For example, the lack of support from management is caused by a number of misconceptions, including that money is the top motivation for employees and that the main goals of communicating appreciation are to make employees happy and to increase productivity.
Dr. White suggests that some of the best ways to get started are to find out where you are with regards to your employees’ current feelings, educating your management team and setting realistic expectations. He also highlights some of the common reactions he’s received when carrying out his training programs, including, “So I’m supposed to thank people for doing their job?” And, “How am I supposed to do this when I don’t feel appreciated myself?” These are difficult questions to answer, but Dr. White aims to help you to do just that.
In the third chapter, Dr. White takes a stand against corporate recognition programs, explaining that they rarely work because they’re perceived by employees to be inauthentic. He even dips into some of the studies to see what employees don’t want, including public recognition (such as receiving an award), verbal praise (they’d rather that you show your appreciation) and a reliance on rewards (less than 10% of employees want tangible rewards as a way to be recognised). That doesn’t leave much, but luckily Dr. White has a few ideas to share with his readers.
When Workplace Culture Stymies Growth
This second section is all about how our company culture can have an impact on both personal and business growth. It consists of two chapters:
- Chapter #4: A pervasive negative environment.
- Chapter #5: A work culture of extreme busyness, with little or no margin for any activities besides the tasks at hand.
Negativity is like a cancer that can spread through any business. It also has many faces, which can make it difficult to spot it. Just a few common symptoms of negativity include frustration and anger, grumbling and complaining, sarcasm and cynicism, blaming and making excuses, discouragement and apathy, sabotage, violence and bullying. Dr. White says that negativity is typically caused when our expectations are unmet, which is one of the reasons why it’s important to get to the underlying cause of the negativity instead of simply blaming the employee.
In some cases, this negativity is caused because of the culture of extreme busyness, which Dr. White tackles in the following chapter. He illustrates the problem perfectly with a cartoon of an already busy employee being told, “I’m sending you to a seminar to help you work harder and be more productive.”
It’s a classic catch-22 and a tough balancing act. “Yes, people are busy,” Dr. White explains. “And virtually no one is looking for more work to do. But busyness and hyperactivity do not necessarily lead to a thriving workplace – they can actually be counterproductive to the health of the organisation and its employees by stealing the resources needed to accomplish more important tasks. By helping groups to learn how to show appreciation to others in the specific ways meaningful to each person (rather than using a “same thing for everyone” approach) along with spreading the responsibility for communicating appreciation to co-workers, supervisors and direct reports – then the resources of the organisation, and its individual members, can be used to nourish and create a healthy work environment.”
The Challenges of Differences
In this third section, Dr. White touches on the way that the differences between us as people can hamper our ability to show appreciation. These chapters include:
- Chapter #6: The unique characteristics of various types of work settings.
- Chapter #7: The foundational differences among individuals.
- Chapter #8: The ways that cultures (both within countries and among nations) view and approach appreciation differently.
The chapter on work settings is one of the longest in the book because so many different settings are included. Instead of reading the whole thing, Dr. White suggests reading the introduction, the section on motivating by appreciation inventory and the conclusion, followed by whichever sections are most relevant to the reader. Those sections focus on a range of work settings including government agencies, long-distance and individual work relationships, medical settings, military work settings, not-for-profit organizations and ministries, sales and sales managers and schools.
From here, we move on to the fact that people are different but we tend to treat them the same, trying to fit square pegs into round holes. This begins at school and continues into the workplace, but if we want our workplaces to be vibrant then we need to understand that every employee is an individual and treat them accordingly. Some of Dr. White’s tips include to remember that not everyone is like you, that you should try seeing as other people see and that you should try asking yourself how you’d feel if you were in their position.
Chapter eight focusses on whether appreciation can cross cultures, and Dr. White comes to the conclusion that it can based on a range of different studies that show what employees are looking for in different industries and from all over the world. He borrows from The Culture Map by Erin Meyer to provide a framework for understanding cultural differences:
- – Communication: Low-context (simple, clear) vs. high-context (nuanced, layered)
- – Negative feedback: Direct vs. indirect
- – Persuasion: Principles-first (deductive) vs. application-first (inductive)
- – Leadership: Egalitarian (among peers) vs. hierarchical (boss/subordinate)
- – Decision-making: Consensus vs. top-down
- – Trust: Task-based (cognitive) vs. relationship-based (affective)
- – Disagreement: Confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
- – Time and scheduling: Linear vs. flexible
Employee Characteristics That Create Problems
In this final section, Dr. White covers two more challenges on the road to the vibrant workplace:
- Chapter #9: Colleagues who, for a variety of reasons, are just difficult to authentically appreciate.
- Chapter #10: The challenges performance issues (both under performers and others) create in communicating appreciation.
In chapter nine, we tackle the thorny issue of how to deal with colleagues who just aren’t likeable. One of the major strengths of modern companies is that they’re so diverse, but this diversity comes with drawbacks including the fact that sometimes we end up with a group of people working together who have nothing in common except for a shared goal. Dr. White suggests that the most common types of difficult to appreciate colleagues are those who are chronically negative (16.4%), arrogant and self-absorbed (13.6%), inflexible and not collaborative (10%), have a poor work ethic or poor performance (8.8%), are not trustworthy/lack follow-through (7.8%), are dismissive of appreciation given (6.6%), have a lack of social connection or personality difference (6.6%), have a disrespectful, condescending attitude toward others (5.4%), are not being reciprocal in helping or showing appreciation (5%) and who are extremely private (4%).
Then we move on to a chapter on performance issues, where Dr. White explains, “The challenge of dealing with employee performance issues cannot be unravelled without understanding how employee recognition, performance and appreciation are intertwined. Like a car engine that has both gas-powered systems and electronically driven components, the two systems are interrelated. Both the gasoline driven engine and the electrical system have to work well independently but they also must coordinate their efforts together for the car to fully function properly.”
The rest of this chapter deals with how to understand and deal with the myriad factors that go into a performance issue, and indeed it’s pretty much the theme of the book as a whole. This final chapter is also followed by a useful collection of frequently asked questions that go into some further detail on the topics covered in the book, with questions including:
- – Are there any times when you shouldn’t try to communicate appreciation?
- – Does your primary language of appreciation change over time or in changing circumstances?
- – Are there really any differences between the five languages of appreciation in the workplace and the five love languages?
- – What is the relationship between the DISC personality styles and the five languages of appreciation?
And as if all of that isn’t enough, he throws in a free e-book, too.
The Vibrant Workplace is a fantastic book to read whether you’re a manager or a regular employee. After all, for the vibrant workplace to become a reality, we all need to make our voices heard, and we all need to feel appreciated and to show appreciation for authors in an authentic, meaningful way.
Authenticity is the name of the game here, and so while the tips that Dr. White shares are a good starting point, they’re certainly not going to work for everyone. The key is to figure out what works for you and then to make that a part of your company’s DNA. You can’t force people to appreciate other people, but you can create a culture in which it’s expected.
Of course, if all else fails, you could also buy a few extra copies of this book and hand them around at the office. People are more likely to buy into it and to get involved if they can see the tangible benefits to themselves, and encouraging appreciation and building a vibrant workplace is good news for everyone. And if you still need a little more help, you know exactly which book to turn to. Good luck.
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