Work, by definition, is difficult. As anyone who has worked in providing HVACR services, for even a short time knows, working together to serve clients effectively has unique challenges and stressors. Some of the jobs can be physically demanding, entail long hours, and involve exposure to extreme heat or cold. This stress can deteriorate staff morale over time, both for individual technicians, and the company.
High Staff Turnover is Detrimental to Business
The retention of quality employees (whether full-time, part-time, or contract) is essential to the success of a business. Staff turnover is frequently cited as the most non-productive business expense. The loss of productivity, relational damage among team members, and additional training time, all combine to create significant costs for employers.
Good employees are not easy to find, develop, or keep. Anyone who has lost a key team member (especially unexpectedly) and tried to find a replacement knows this. Finding a person with the training and experience needed to do the job and someone who has the character and qualities you desire, is difficult.
The Real Motivating Factors for Employees
Supervisors and managers are at risk of misunderstanding what their team members want or what is most important to them when remaining loyal to a company. Many owners and managers believe their employees are motivated primarily by financial gain. But what motivates people is different from what makes them feel valued. Yes, people want to earn more money but one study found that 79% of employees reported that the primary reason they left their job is because they didn’t feel appreciated.1 Additionally, the Sloan School of Business at MIT recently found that not feeling appreciated was three times more predictive of employees leaving than compensation factors.2
And, in a global study of 200,000 employees, the Boston Consulting Group found that the number one factor employees related to enjoying their job was that they felt appreciated (financial compensation didn’t show up until #8).3
Many leaders think they are doing okay in this area – that their employees know they appreciate them. But this doesn’t appear to be the case. A national Globoforce employee recognition survey found that 58% of managers think they do a pretty good job of recognizing employees for work well done. However, the problem is: that only 29% of the employees who worked for those managers felt the manager did an adequate job of recognizing them for doing a good job.4
There is a disconnect somewhere. Communicating authentic appreciation is different than using a “going through the motions” approach to employee recognition, or just saying, “Good job.”
What we have found is that the following is truer:
1. Employees want to feel valued and appreciated at work
2. Most employees don’t feel appreciated
3. A majority of leaders and managers either:
a) Don’t care how their employees feel
b) Think they are doing an adequate job of communicating appreciation, or
c) Don’t know what else to do (beyond what they’ve been doing.)
How Appreciation Impacts the Financial Health of a Business
Ultimately, running an HVAC business is about serving your customers well and making a profit doing so. As a result, many leaders think, “I want people to enjoy their work, but I’m not a cheerleader. We’ve got work to get done.” True. But consider this. We know that when team members (regardless of their level in the organization) truly feel valued and appreciated, good things happen.
Conversely, when employees don’t feel valued, the following is also true:
• tardiness increases
• people call in “sick” more often
• productivity decreases
• policies and procedures are not followed regularly (which can lead to safety concerns)
• more conflict occurs over petty issues
• “on-the-job” accidents are reported more frequently
• the number of customer complaints grows
• turnover is an ongoing challenge5
The importance of your staff feeling appreciated becomes obvious.
Employee Recognition Isn’t the Same as Authentic Appreciation
Although virtually all companies have some form of employee recognition program, employee engagement and job satisfaction ratings continue to decline.6 Why? While employee recognition can be effective at rewarding performance, it does a poor job of helping employees feel valued as individuals. Most employee recognition programs are designed in a way that is generic (everyone gets the same certificate and gift card), group-based (a lot of introverts hate going up in front of a group), focus solely on high performers (leaving out most employees), and are viewed an inauthentic (“It’s the eastside’s turn to get the award this month”).
Employees Have Different Value Languages
A key concept to understand is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same way. Not everyone values a verbal compliment. From our work with over 375,000 employees7 who have taken our online assessment8, less than 50% choose words of affirmation as their primary appreciation language. Some people feel valued when you spend some individual time with them. Others appreciate working together on tasks or getting some practical help. We’ve identified five languages of appreciation important in the workplace.9
These five ways of expressing appreciation are Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch. In the HVAC industry, acts of service might look like a coworker stepping in to help another technician reorganize his truck after a long and busy week. For a technician who values words of affirmation, a supervisor could “build up” the technician to a customer by saying something like, “This is one of my best technicians and you are in excellent hands!” To demonstrate quality time, a service manager could stay on a troubleshooting call from one of their techs longer than normal to ensure they felt comfortable and follow up with an in-person conversation the next day. Or, for tangible gifts, a supervisor might drop off an ice-cold sports drink to a technician (in her favorite flavor, of course) on a hot day. While the last language, physical touch, isn’t as common, it can be shown by a fist bump high-five, or handshake (depending) after a job well done.
It’s also true you cannot know what all your employees view as acts of appreciation. So, getting to know employees is the first step. You can do this through surveys or regular communication. Or you might try mixing up the value appreciation rewards.
Keys for Communicating Authentic Appreciation
In working with employees from thousands of companies and organizations across the world, we’ve found four key factors necessary for employees to truly feel valued. Employees will feel truly valued when appreciation is:
1. Communicated regularly (not just once or twice a year at a performance review)
2. Shared in the appreciation language and actions most important to the recipient (not what makes you feel appreciated)
3. Delivered individually and personally (not to the whole group)
4. Perceived as authentic (not just “going through the motions”)
Your employees are your company’s most valuable asset. If you disagree, try accomplishing the tasks at hand without them! Increasingly, finding quality team members has become a limiting factor to growing one’s business. To be successful, you need to make sure you know how to communicate appreciation in 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. That is a headache you don’t want — and that you can avoid.
1. Branham, L. (2005), The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late (New York: AMACOM), 3.
2. Sull, D., Sull, C., Cipolli, W. & Brighenti, C. (2022), “Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture.” https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-every-leader-needs-to-worry-about-toxic-culture/
3. Strack, R. (2014), “Decoding Digital Talent: 200,000 Survey Responses on Global Mobility and Employment Preferences,” Boston Consulting Group. https://bcg.com/en-us/publications/2014/people-organization-human-resources-decoding-global-talent.aspx
4. SHRM/Globoforce (2012) “SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey,” Fall 2012. https://www.globoforce.com/rs/globoforce/images/SHRMFALL.2012Survey_web.pdf
5. White, P., & Chapman, G. (2019), The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Chicago: Northfield Publishing). For a summary of this research, see chapter two, “For Business Leaders: Why Appreciation is a Good Investment”.
6. Gallup (2023) “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.” https://www.gallup.com/workplace
7. White, P. (2023), Differences in preferences for appreciation across various work settings, Strategic HR Review, 22 (1), 17-21. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/SHR-11-2022-0061/full/html
8. White, P., & Chapman, G. (2011). Motivating By Appreciation Inventory. https://www.mbainventory.com.
9. White, P., & Chapman, G. (2019), The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Chicago: Northfield Publishing).
About the Authors
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and leadership expert who “makes work relationships work.” He has been interviewed by the New York Times, BBC News, and other international publications. Dr. White is the coauthor of the best-selling book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 575,000 copies (with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages.) For more information, go to www.appreciationatwork.com.
Kasee Hamilton is an instructional designer and trainer in the HVAC/Plumbing/Electrical industries. She has a Master of Science in Public Health and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership, where she completed her thesis on appreciation in the workplace.