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Creating a culture of appreciation

Creating a culture of appreciation

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator - an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in schools and creator of Welbee a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, winner of the ERA 2022 Wellbeing Award and GESS Judges Commendation Award 2022 – discusses the benefits of creating a culture of appreciation.

We all like to be appreciated, it makes us feel good. In fact, it’s a physiological reaction in our brains which creates that feeling, the hypothalamus releases dopamine – the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Appreciation can have a very positive effect on a person’s wellness: improve sleep habits: increase metabolism; and lessen stress. Alongside better employee health and wellbeing, appreciation also directly impacts work habits - improved teacher engagement produces more efficient and effective performance, which all go towards improved student outcomes.

Creating a culture of appreciation is one course of action that school leaders can take that will deliver long-term improvement.

Appreciation matters

Expressing appreciation within the workplace has a positive and widespread impact. When staff feel appreciated, they develop a stronger sense of belonging and commitment. Feeling appreciated contributes to their sense of value and promotes positive behaviours.2 Employees who are authentically thanked for their efforts with a specific task, report higher levels of engagement in their work and increased motivation to collaborate with their colleagues.

Developing a culture of appreciation, creates and maintains a better work environment. It also:

•    Increases employee morale, engagement and satisfaction

•    Decreases absenteeism and reduces costs associated with cover

•    Improves employee retention and reduces recruitment needs and costs

•    Improves teaching and learning

•    Promotes more effective communication

•    Improves co-operation and collaboration

•    Reduces undesirable emotions, for example, perception of injustice.

6 steps to creating a culture of appreciation

Creating a culture of appreciation takes deliberate, consistent effort. Here are 6 steps to help leaders take action:

1. Be authentic

Many people have the innate ability to distinguish between authentic and tokenistic appreciation. Genuine appreciation and acknowledgement of hard work can go a long way in boosting morale amongst school staff, while insincere appreciation will often fall flat.

Sincere appreciation comes from recognising the individual’s contribution, and being grateful for the time and effort they put in to accomplish it. This means it must be personal and specific – it can’t be general or vague. ‘Thanks for all you do’, will not illicit the same response as a statement of thanks that includes exactly what that person did and why you appreciate it. ‘Thanks for the way you planned and organised the open evening last week. We received fantastic feedback on its success and the parents and students had a wonderful experience. This wouldn't have been possible without you.’

2. Make appreciation a daily habit

While formal recognition programmes have their place, small gestures of appreciation create wider ripples. Where it is communicated in the moment, while it may be unexpected, it is likely to be highly effective. Embedding this type of praise into each day and catching multiple people ‘doing things right’, ensures it becomes part of the culture.

Making this a daily habit means looking for opportunities to express it, no matter how small. Set a goal of praising five people each day and ideally show your appreciation in person – a handwritten note as a backup is much better than an email. Ensure you include support staff and non-teaching staff so everyone feels included.

3. Provide focused training for all leaders: senior team, subject leaders, department heads, heads of year and other line-managers

Appreciating others is rightly regarded as a sign of strong leadership, and it doesn't always come naturally. An institution’s organisational culture has a direct effect on their employees wellbeing.

Providing relevant training to line managers and school leaders on managing-by-wandering-around, and on how best to recognise the efforts of all staff and provide well-delivered, regular, and authentic praise, will be invaluable in delivering positive cultural change.

4. Encourage peer-to-peer appreciation

Appreciation that flows in any direction regardless of department and is unrestrained by hierarchy is even more powerful. It establishes a strong sense of community in which everyone feels valued. Encouraging behavioural change to deliver this is best led by example. Observing senior staff expressing their respect and appreciation for employees will inspire others. This behaviour is contagious and will lead to a workplace culture that values respect, gratitude, and collaboration.

5. Prioritise school staff wellbeing

Organisations that prioritise their staff's wellbeing, show they value their employees as more than just ‘cogs in a machine’. Creating an environment in which staff feel recognised and appreciated, is in itself, prioritising their wellbeing. Other steps you can take include:

Impactful continued professional development (CPD) – making sure it is relevant, valuable and meets the individual’s needs, empowering them to realise their potential.

Encourage open and honest conversations about mental health, and recognise time off for mental health issues in exactly the same way as time required for physical health problems.

Respect people's time - keep meetings short and purposeful and to the time agreed. This displays awareness and appreciation of everyone's time and helps mitigate stress.

Support people when they're not at their best - provide support in difficult times and show all staff they belong and are valued members of the team.

6. Listen and respond

This is one of the most important elements of appreciation - conversations, meetings, one to ones, and anonymous staff wellbeing surveys - are all effective ways of receiving feedback. These all provide insights, which if acted on, will affect tangible change. It is important to respond appropriately, as failure to take action, or explain why no action is to be taken, will have the opposite effect.

Building appreciation into your culture builds greater cohesion, interaction, and engagement across all staff and of course improves their wellbeing.

For further information, support and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact

- Ends –

Notes to editors

1  The Psychological Effects of Workplace Appreciation and Gratitude - Emergenetics

2  A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. (