Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 06 Employee Appreciation 1

Improving dental team morale through authentic appreciation

June 3, 2015
Showing appreciation to the dental team can keep them happy and motivated. You may think you're sharing praise, but are you doing it in a productive manner? Are team members responding to the gestures of appreciation?

Work is difficult, by definition. And as anyone who has worked in dentistry for many years knows, working together to serve dental patients has unique challenges and stressors. As a result, this stress can deteriorate staff morale over time, for individuals, and the staff as a whole.

Dental practices are not immune to the challenges of staff burnout, conflict, and high turnover. Unfortunately, this issue is not limited to dental professionals — most Americans don’t feel valued at work, regardless of their job. While almost 90% of all organizations and businesses in the U.S. have some form of employee recognition program, job satisfaction and employee engagement are actually declining. A Gallup poll found that only 30% of US employees are actively involved in and emotionally committed to their place of employment. This is the highest level of disengagement found since research began in 2000.

Employee recognition isn’t working
In another poll conducted by Gallup, 65% of North American workers reported receiving no recognition for their good job in the last 12 months. Additionally, individuals who voluntarily leave their employment cite not feeling appreciated as the top reason for leaving.

While 51% of supervisors believe they’re doing a good job of recognizing employees, only 17% of employees feel their supervisors are doing a good job of recognizing them. There’s obviously a disconnect between supervisors and those who report to them. In fact, the most common responses by employees when discussing employee recognition range from apathy to cynicism. One team member said, “I haven’t heard anything positive for two years, and you expect me to believe that the bosses value me?”

Why most employee recognition programs don’t work

While the purpose of employee recognition activities are well intentioned, they actually often lead to negative results.
While the purpose of employee recognition activities are well intentioned, they actually often lead to negative results. For example, the generic nature of rewards that many companies use feels impersonal, when everyone gets the same “employee of the month” certificate. Another problem is the focus on recognition in front of large groups — 30% to 40% of individuals indicate they do not want to go up in front of a group to receive an award. In fact, one staff member emphatically stated, “They can give me the award, but I won’t go up and get it unless they carry me up there!” Finally, most recognition programs emphasize tangible rewards – plaques, certificates, gift cards, coupons, and small tokens. While most people don’t mind receiving gifts, if they don’t also hear verbal praise, receive individual attention, or get assistance when needed, the objects given become superficial.

Core conditions for staff to truly feel appreciated
Four core conditions have been identified that need to be present in order for employees to truly feel appreciated, which differs from recognition just being communicated. Team members will feel valued when appreciation is communicated:

RegularlyWhat is regularly? It varies depending on the work setting, the frequency of interaction between coworkers, and the nature of the relationship. However, regularly clearly implies more than once a year at an employee performance review, or when someone receives the “Team Member of the Month” award.
Through the language and actions important to the recipientThe key word is “recipient.” Most of us tend to communicate appreciation to others through the actions that we value, such as giving a verbal compliment or sending an email. But not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways.Some people appreciate words of affirmation, while others are encouraged when someone helps them with a task. Spending time is another way to demonstrate support, like stopping by a colleague’s office to see how they’re doing.
In a way that is personal and individualized—While group-based recognition is a good start, if the appreciation doesn’t relate to what individual team members did to help achieve the goal, the communication can fall flat. Team members want to know what they’ve done that is valued, such as staying later than needed after a procedure to clean up.
In a manner that is perceived as genuine and authentic—If the appreciation is not perceived as being genuine, nothing else really matters. Actions of recognition can appear inauthentic when a) the actions suddenly appear after implementation of a program on appreciation, b) a person’s tone of voice, posture, or facial expressions don’t match what they’re saying, c) how a person relates to you in front of others differs from how the person interacts with you privately, d) the individual has a history of saying one thing and doing another, and e) there is an overall question of motivation of the deliverer; do they have an ulterior motive? There are other factors that undermine perceived authenticity, but these are some of the most common.

ALSO BY PAUL WHITE: Don’t become a victim just because you work in a toxic workplace; help to better your dental office

Practical steps for communicating authentic appreciation
Helping people change their actions is difficult. No one is looking for more work to do. As a result, the focus needs to be on making actions of encouragement more efficient, spending time with those who value time, sending notes to those who are impacted by them, helping someone who will be grateful for the assistance, and giving a gift to someone who will appreciate the thought.

Two important points: appreciation can be communicated by anyone, and every team member, regardless of position, can positively impact the workplace culture. Employees often report they want to know how to encourage one another – they do not want to be recognized just by their supervisor.

How do people find out what their colleagues value? The topic of how someone feels appreciated is not a common workplace conversation and this question can make some people feel uncomfortable. But people tend to think in terms of “encouragement” and “discouragement.” So, the question is, “When you are discouraged, what’s something that someone can do or say that would encourage you?”

There is an online assessment tool that identifies the primary language of appreciation of individuals, along with the specific actions that are most important to them. The results can be compiled to create a group profile and a list of valued actions for a team who works together.

Getting started

Focus on yourself first—Commit to do what you can to communicate appreciation to others. Don’t look to your supervisor or administrators to take the lead. Start by doing what you can from where you are.
Team up with others
Any behavior change is more likely to occur and continue over time when others are involved. Ask a colleague, supervisor, or the team you lead to discuss how this could apply to your setting. Explore the resources available and commit to work on a plan of action together.
See what works and what needs to be changed, and don’t give up.

The environments in which dental professionals work are sometimes stressful, but by learning how to communicate authentic appreciation to one another, colleagues can effectively support each other and a more positive workplace can result.

Paul White, PhD, is a psychologist, consultant, and speaker who makes work relationships work. Dr. White is coauthor of “Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” and “Sync or Swim (a fable about working together as a team)." For more information, visit