As manufacturing returns to the swing of daily life after stay-in-place orders, communicating appreciation to team members is very important.

Staff burnout, low morale, and high turnover have been an increasing problem in many industries, and manufacturing is no exception. Good employees are not easy to find, develop, or keep. Anyone who has lost a key team member and tried to find a replacement knows this.

Not only is it difficult to find a person with the training and experience needed to do the job, it’s also expensive. Replacing employees is often cited as the #1 non-productive cost for businesses and organizations. The cost to replace employees who leave ranges from 30-50% of the annual salary for an entry-level employee to 150% for a mid-level one, and it goes up from there.

So why are employees quitting? It’s not why you think.

Many business owners and managers believe their employees are motivated primarily by financial gain, that employees will stay if they are given more money. Research studies for decades have debunked this belief. The vast majority of employees, when they voluntarily leave a company, report they don’t leave for more money. In fact, 79% report that a primary reason they leave is because they don’t feel appreciated.

We should note that this may be less true for unskilled frontline workers. Given their financial situations and the tight labor market they might leave for a slightly better paying job.

Employee Recognition vs. Authentic Appreciation

In a global study of 200,000 global employees, the Boston Consulting Group found the #1 factor employees reported for enjoying their job was that they felt appreciated. The second highest reason was having a good relationship with their supervisor, and #4 was that they had a good relationship with their colleagues. Financial compensation didn’t show up until #8.

Most managers feel they do a decent job of recognizing their employees for work well done. And 85-90% of all companies have some form of employee recognition program. But employee recognition focuses on effective performance, but does a poor job of helping employees feel appreciated and valued as individuals.

In contrast, a key concept is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. That is, not everyone values a verbal compliment or receiving a gift card. Some people feel valued when you spend time with them. Others appreciate working together on tasks or getting some practical help.

Since your employees, have gone through a lot of stressful circumstances in the last month, it’s important to check-in with them and see how they’re doing at a personal level. This will go a long way in communicating your concern for them.

Keys for Communicating Authentic Appreciation

In working with employees from thousands of companies across the world, we’ve found four key factors necessary for employees to truly feel valued:

1. Communicate appreciate regularly. How you define ‘regularly’ varies by work setting, the frequency of interaction between coworkers, and the nature of the relationship. But it definitely needs to happen more often than at a once-a-year performance review.

On the shop floor, things move quickly and a supervisor finds themselves pulled in a variety of directions. If you, as a supervisor, manager or lead, see an improvement in an employee’s performance and/or behavior, make sure you recognize them in the moment. Don’t wait until you’ve finished the meeting you’re running to. Many times, when we wait, we forget. So, be 30 seconds late to that meeting. Go over right away and let the employee know how much you appreciate their progress. Even a high five, first bump or a simple ‘thank you’ can reinforce that positive behavior in a lasting way.

Some HR vendors now offer apps that include a recognition feature. The supervisor can send a message via the app, highlighting the accomplishments of a direct report, which then gets electronically posted to an on-line bulletin board for all to see. For some employees, this may well be appreciated and valued. However, others might not feel this form of recognition is meaningful. So, when these kinds of tools become available, leaders would be wise to ensure the tool is part of an overall appreciation strategy and not viewed as the whole solution.

Shift handoff/start up meetings are excellent times to show appreciation. Instead of starting meeting with, “How’s everyone?” or “Here’s our agenda,” try starting by reading a letter from a satisfied customer that highlights the quality work of the team, or an individual.

Another idea would be to teach your team the basics of each appreciation language. Then, ask them what they feel is their top language is and why. You may have already guessed what it is, but sometimes, you can be surprised. Listen to their answers carefully, and then adjust your recognition efforts accordingly.

2. Use the language and actions most important to the recipient. Most people tend to show appreciation to others in the ways they value it. If you like getting face-to-face compliments and praise, that is usually how you will end up expressing appreciation to others. Make sure you are ‘speaking their language’ not yours.

We’ve noticed that when we feel we’ve shown an employee appreciation, and we only get a weak or unconvincing “Thanks,” then we start telling ourselves stories like “Well, fine, they obviously don’t care, so no more recognition. I’ve got better things to do.” The truth is, their weak response is a signal that we’ve missed the mark. We have nothing more important to do than learn what our people value in appreciation, so we can build trusting relationships.

The hard (but important) work of leadership is focusing on the small, daily actions that make a difference to our people. And those actions include being deliberate in noticing and remembering, for example, what sports teams your employees follow, or what stores they frequent. Then, using that knowledge, give them tickets to their team’s game, or a gift card to that store.

3. Recognize employees in a way that is individual and personal. Sending a generic blast email congratulating everyone on a job well done is not effective and can even result in negative reactions. People want to know you value them and the work they do on an individual level. Be specific and be personal.

Some leaders say they don’t have time to be this specific. In reality, the time you invest in being personal pays off in the feeling your people will have towards you. A feeling that, despite how busy you are, you took the time to dive deep with them. That you noticed them and you actually care. That you truly have their best interests at heart.

4. Praise has to be perceived as genuine and authentic. Employees can tell when you are going through the motions. Your tone, voice, posture and facial expression should match what you say or it will sound insincere. And if you act one way in public and another way in private, that person will be suspicious of your praise. Additionally, if you only give praise when you want something, people will question your motives.

“Great job, whoever you are and whatever you do.” We have all, at one time or another, said this (maybe not out loud but in our minds). And all of us have been on the receiving end of that kind of “recognition.” We know how it feels. So, let’s slow down and make sure we are truly prepared to give the kind of appreciation that matters.

In a recent safety meeting, a well-meaning leader gave their team a less than rousing thank you. The leader had typed up their remarks before the meeting and then read them out loud, in a dead pan monotone that convened more “I have to check this box and move on” vs. “I sincerely mean it when I say “thank you.”

Appreciation can flow in multiple directions and isn’t always top down – from assemblers and fabricators to production workers to machinists and plant managers, everyone can be involved.

Leaders don’t blame culture, they own culture. In building a culture of authentic appreciation, leaders set the tone with their daily example.

If a company does regular GEMBA walks, give participants dedicated time to voice genuine and sincere appreciation as they make their way through the shop. The process goes better when each supervisor, manager and lead have a pre-shift plan on who they’ll recognize and how. Some may say “I don’t have time.” Well, it takes less time (and fewer words) to say “Great job!” then to say “I don’t have time.”

Leaders also deliberately train others in showing valued appreciation. They set expectations that recognition will be part of every worker’s daily activities.

Also, it is helpful for leaders to share success stories with each other, to learn from others’ successes.

Your employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. Increasingly, finding quality team members has become a limiting factor to growing businesses. To be a successful leader, you need to make sure you know how to communicate appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to each of your employees. If you don’t, they won’t perform as well, and you will eventually lose key team members. This is a business challenge you don’t need, and that you can avoid.

Start with a small step. We can all influence those around us — start somewhere, today, with someone. Commit to doing what you can to communicate appreciation to those around you and help create a more positive workplace. Small changes over time can add up to significant differences.

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and international leadership trainer who “makes work relationships work”. His company, Appreciation at Work, provides training resources for corporations, medical facilities, schools, non-profits, government agencies, over 700 colleges and universities, and in over 60 countries. He is the coauthor with Dr. Gary Chapman of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 500,000 copies.

Dave Tippett works for the Employer’s Association and has provided training for Campbell Soup, Cooper Tire, Whirlpool, General Motors, Libbey, Inc., Spangler Candy, Sauder Woodworking, among others. He’s a former behavioral healthcare trainer, Past President of two SHRM chapters, and a published and award-winning playwright, author, and speaker.