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Employee appreciation is vital but employers must also provide challenge
When companies use appreciation effectively and also challenge employees to use and expand their best strengths, the employee connects with the company in a way that allows both the worker and the organization to thrive. - photo by Taylor Cotterell
A new study, the 2015 Strengths@Work Survey, suggests that the path to great performance may be easier than we think. If we want employees to achieve their best we should appreciate them for the things they do the bestin other words, for the things that showcase where their natural strengths and abilities lie.

According to the findings, based on a survey of 1,000 full-time and part time U.S. executives and employees, its the opportunity to work on what they do best that motivates employees when it comes to getting out of bed and giving their best work effort each day.

When employees have the opportunity to focus on their strengths and do what they do best, there are clear bottom line outcomes, study author Michelle McQuaid said in a recent interview with CMS Wire.

The study, completed in conjunction with The VIA Institute on Character, addresses principles that both bosses and employees want to know: When employees feel appreciated and valued for the right reasons, turnover is up to 36 percent lower, productivity is as much as 44 percent higher, and the customers the employees serve are more satisfied, too.

The results make sense. The study notes that employees who believe their managers can name their strengths are 71 percent more likely to feel engaged and energized by their work. Additionally, 78 percent of employees whove had meaningful discussions with their managers about their strengths believe their work is not only appreciated but is making a difference as well.

But is appreciation enough? In my experience, the right kind of appreciation is vital, but its only a start. In order for employees at any leveland most importantly, perhaps, for the senior executives in an organizationto produce their best work, they need to feel not only appreciated, but challenged as well.

A stretch goal provides an incentive worth reaching. In contrast, the status quoeven with praise and appreciation provideddoes not.

As an extreme example, consider the sad discovery of Ford Motors from 1910-1914 after the introduction of the automobile assembly line and the famous Five Dollar Day. By distilling work down to its simplest repetitive components in which employees are placed in their comfort zones and are able to easily succeed, Ford increased the efficiency and standardization of work to a tremendous degree. The company placed people by specialty into the functional roles they filled best. (It also created work for a plethora of people whod previously been unemployed).

The high efficiency also created an unintended side effect. The workers were not pushed or compelled to grow their talents. They were simply pushed to perform their routine tasks faster.

The skilled workers were bored. Before long, they were disengaged and disenchanted with the company, too. Said one worker to the president of the early automobile union, If I keep putting on Nut No. 86 for about 86 more days, I will be Nut No. 86 in the Pontiac bughouse.

It was not the outcome the organization had envisioned.

Yes, this is a dramatic example. The points of the Strengths@Work study are clear: The more an employer is able to identify, value and build on an employees strengths, the deeper the trust and commitment of the employee to the company.

But imagine how much greater the enrichment to both the employee and the company when employees are not only appreciated for their strengths, but pressed and challenged to use these talents to perform at a steadily higher occupational level as well.

Strengths-based leadership development experts know this secret well. For optimal growth, using an employee's standout strengths to accomplish out-of-the ballpark outcomes will produce a greater result than continually grinding away where they're weak.

Employee appreciationfor the right thingscoupled with the right degree of challenge and push is a magic combination that produces an ideal company culture and leads to the highest success in recruiting and retaining ideal employees.
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