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The Practice, Purpose and Power of Encouragement

Bob Little 

June 23, 2017

Everyone likes to hear words of encouragement… In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey says, “Satisfied needs do not motivate… Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” (Mind Tools Club members and Corporate customers can listen to our podcast review of Covey’s book here.)

When Covey wrote this in 1989, he was only encapsulating a valuable fragment of the wisdom of the ages. Yet, it’s surprising that humans need to re-learn this wisdom when it comes to dealing with other people – especially in a work context.

Key Reasons

Not being affirmed, validated or appreciated – especially by their managers – are key reasons for people performing badly and, ultimately, leaving their jobs.

Labor turnover – or “churn” – can destabilize individuals, teams and workplaces. It means that those remaining must cover for the those who’ve left, and it can be both time-consuming and expensive to replace the missing worker(s).

According to business coach Amy Deane, the average cost of replacing a worker – in terms of recruitment, selection and on-boarding – is, currently, more than $31,000. If your organization is content to live with this state of affairs then, as an L&D professional, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy!

To help you to handle the situation, you may find some inspiration in the Mind Tools article How to Survive High Team Turnover. Among other things, though, the resource makes the point that it’s worth practicing damage control – that is, preventing further departures from the team by providing incentives that encourage people to stay.

Encouragement is Highly Prized

So the expense – and effort – of replacing workers could be saved if managers (especially) took Covey’s words to heart and offered workers words of recognition, praise and encouragement.

As the entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Inc., Mary Kay Ash, said, “There are two things people want more than sex and money – recognition and praise.” Or, as Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, recognizes, “People respond far better to praise and encouragement than blame and criticism.”

Encouragement is a feature of the strategies that you can use to help your organization to stop people leaving, and then to keep them.

Deane says, “The presence of encouragement and appreciation in the workplace has a demonstrably positive impact – and its absence can be as damaging as direct discouragement.

“When a management style is to highlight mistakes, even ‘in the spirit of learning,’ but to never give praise or acknowledgement for great work, individuals’ confidence soon wanes. Then problems go unnoticed because staff lose the confidence to come forward. Simultaneously, creativity and innovation are lacking because people don’t expect support and recognition if they offer up ideas.”

Yet, offering encouragement can be more difficult than it might sound because different people respond differently to different types of encouragement.

A New Skill Set

“Engaging and motivating a team doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” Deane adds. “Managers promoted into positions of responsibility may be professionally successful, but inspiring commitment, hard work and loyalty in others requires a new skill set. These skills are frequently overlooked, yet an organization with low morale and disenchantment among its people will significantly under-perform.”

Deane’s organization recommends Gary Chapman and Paul White’s book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” (Mind Tools Club and Corporate users can hear our podcast review here.) This builds on Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages.”

In the latter, Chapman sets out five languages that communicate love – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Likening them to spoken languages, he argues that only one of them will be an individual’s “native” language, with the individual not being so fluent when communicating using the other four. And there’s no guarantee that the individual’s partner will have the same “native” love language.

Chapman and White apply these concepts – and the five languages – to providing encouragement successfully in the workplace.

Five Reasons to Encourage

Motivational speaker Sam Glenn identifies five reasons why encouragement is important in the workplace:

1. People Want to Feel Important. When you encourage someone – for a good idea or a job well done – it makes him or her feel valuable. Encouragement unlocks others’ greatness. From time to time, we all need to be reminded how valuable we are, how much we have to offer, and that, if we keep doing that bit extra, we’ll achieve the goal – and more.

2. Encouragement Reinforces the Right Things. Encouragement solidifies and reinforces that “doing the right thing” – especially in difficult situations – is what matters most. Encouragement lets people know they’re on the right track, and helps them to maintain positive, ethical and productive work habits.

3. Encouragement Inspires People in Tough Times. Everyone gets disheartened from time to time – especially if their organization is experiencing change. At such times, encouragement can dissolve fear and anxiety.

4. Encouragement Builds Employee Loyalty. Encouragement demonstrates caring and, as people believe you care about them, they’ll trust more and become more loyal to your leadership and to the organization.

5. Encouragement is a Low-Cost Benefit to Workers With Maximum Results.  It costs nothing to share a few uplifting words, ideas or insights, but the potential rewards are enormous.

To this list, you could add that encouragement can help new workers to fit in. Being new to an organization or a team tends to be an anxious time for the worker – and, maybe, the rest of the team. Encouragement during on-boarding orientation or training can boost his confidence. It can also allow him to express concerns and ask questions – and this can help him to fit into the new team quicker and build strong bonds of loyalty.

In this way, a few encouraging words can keep a worker motivated, loyal, committed, engaged – and save the considerable cost of having to recruit, select and train a replacement.

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