Is your staff excited to be at work? Maybe not excited, but are they engaged? Do you sometimes feel like some of your people are just going through the motions? Well, it’s not just you: according to Gallup, only 34% of employees are engaged at work. And what’s worse, that’s an all-time high for this particular poll.

If this is actually indicative of today’s workforce, the numbers are staggering: essentially we’re saying that 2/3 of the US workforce is currently discontent … if not completely disengaged. How is that even possible?

A better question might be, what’s behind this rash of unhappiness? Here’s a clue: According to OC Tanner research:

  • In a global survey of what job seekers asked, the number-one attribute in a new job was “appreciation for my work.”

  • When employees are appreciated, they feel less stressed and feel more able to take on anything.

  • Employees who receive strong recognition generate twice as many ideas per month compared to those who aren’t recognized well.

And yet:

  • 65% of Americans claimed they weren’t even recognized one time last year.

It doesn’t matter how good a job your staff is doing: if they don’t know that YOU know, they are not going to be happy.

Are you recognizing your staff?

Giving recognition isn’t easy for some people, but as the head of your practice, one of your jobs is learning how to overcome those barriers. We’re not talking mindless or undeserved kudos: those tend to do more harm than good. Nobody wants to feel like you “recognized” them simply to fill a quota.

Making the effort to give your people the recognition they’ve earned, however, is powerful. Acknowledging the unique talents people bring to the game and demonstrating genuine appreciation can make some remarkable things happen. People start feeling more upbeat—a characteristic that will spread to others. You’ll see more energy, more enthusiasm, and more interest in the job.

It also carries with it a level of respect, which as one entrepreneur wrote, is an “essential teamwork skill.” Spending time and energy on developing a culture of recognition is one of the best investments you can make. Having said that …

It can be harder than it looks

“Give recognition” sounds easy enough, but there are all kinds of obstacles that keep it from being practiced on a regular basis. For one thing, like we said, recognition it has to be earned. But that means your people have to know how to earn it. Unfortunately, there’s no code book, no set legal precedent set-in-stone standard concerning what does or doesn’t receive praise.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Mostly, though, it isn’t … which means you’ll have to clearly define what you recognize. That can get especially tricky when you’re talking about, say, an office manager. Tricky, but even more important: in order to practice recognition, any manager has to know what to look for and how to provide it, and they can only learn that from YOU.

So how do you decide what is worthy of calling out? Think about the things YOU would like to be recognized for. Start with what you want to accomplish as a team. Identify goals and essential behaviors that will lead to those results, and then make sure your people know what’s on your radar.

Not everyone is good at giving praise; it doesn’t come naturally for some. Do it anyway: like most things, practice makes perfect. At first, it may feel forced, but the idea is for it to become the way things are done, as natural as breathing.

So build recognition into your daily routine. The more you recognize your staff’s good contributions, the more easily you’ll notice when it happens, and the more comfortable you’ll be mentioning it.