4923683_sDo you know the no.1 reason why people resign from their jobs? Because they do not feel appreciated. This is the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Labour as cited in the book, How Full is your Bucket? (Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, New York: Gallup Press, 2004, p.31). I am sure people resign for any number of reasons but many would agree that lack of appreciation is right up there among the reasons we get discouraged at work.

Elsewhere in their book, Rath and Clifton report a study they did with 10,000 business units and 30 industries. They discovered that “individuals who receive regular recognition and praise:

* increase their individual productivity

* increase engagement among their colleagues

* are more likely to stay with their organization

* receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers

* have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job (p.28).

Clearly encouragement is serious business.

In a recent article in TIME magazine Barbara Kiviat writes about the “burgeoning field of employee engagement, a movement that aims to quantify what, exactly, a company gets when its puts money into bonding with its workers (“The Rage to Engage,” May 12, 2006 Asian Edition, p.100). She writes:

Consultancies such as Towers Perrin, Watson Wyatt, Hewitt Associates and the Gallup Organization measure how “engaged” workers are and then counsel companies how to ratchet up those scores. The result is a slew of initiatives, like frequently telling workers how they generate value and offering them free retraining to move from one division to another, that go far beyond the rudimentary concept of motivating people with pay to get them to work harder. (p.100)

However, Kiviat also quotes Max Caldwell, a managing principal of Tower Perrin as saying: “…we’re not doing this to be nice; we’re doing this for business reasons.” In other words, treating people with respect has no intrinsic value. We engage people only because it helps the bottom line. The implication  then is that if it can be shown that treating people like garbage better helps the bottom line, we will do so.

Fortunately there are less cynical proponents of workplace encouragement out there. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, leadership gurus have this to say: “…at the heart of effective leadership is genuinely caring for people” (Encouraging the Heart, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999, p.14). In their extensive research, Kouzes and Posner discovered that the most important nonfinancial reward that people wanted at work was a simple thank you because a thank you says “I care about you and what you do” (p.14).

Christians should not be surprised at this “discovery” of the importance of encouragement. In one of Paul’s earliest letters, he wrote: “…encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 TNIV). Commenting on this verse, I. Howard Marshall writes:

…he (Paul) envisages an activity in which the members of the church build one another up… A believer does not build himself up, but is built up by the encouragement of other believers. This may be an accident of word-usage, but it demonstrates how much the well-being of the church depends on the growth of mutual love. (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983, p.142)

It appears that there is no such thing as too much encouragement. The Thessalonian Christians were already encouraging one another. Yet Paul calls them to continue to do so.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also understands the critical role of encouragement in helping us to be our best and in helping us find strength to stay the course.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 TNIV)

In the world or in the church, encouragement is serious business.

Unfortunately many of us do not receive the encouragement we need. “One poll found that an astounding 65% of Americans reported receiving no recognition for good work in the past year” (Rath & Clifton, p.39). I wonder what are the statistics for Asian workplaces? I wonder what are the statistics for our churches? Do you think you receive sufficient encouragement at work? In church? At home?

I grew up in a culture where we were discouraged from affirming people if they did well. It was thought that if someone receives affirmation, he or she would become proud and stop striving for excellence. I have since discovered that such sentiments are not confined to Asia. There are also many other reasons why we find it so hard to give encouragement. Many of us still work from a very individualistic approach to life. People shouldn’t need encouragement or anything from anyone if they are really tough. And to give authentic encouragement means we need to be personal, and we need to show some emotion. This is very difficult for many of us.

Clearly, to embark on a lifestyle where we are committed to encouraging others will not come naturally for many. Why bother? The answer is in our response to this question posed by Kouzes and Posner.

The truth that must be confronted is this: How much do you really care about the people you lead? (Encouraging the Heart, p.149)

Kouzes and Posner are writing for leaders. We would rephrase the question slightly. “How much do you really care about people?” Since Christians are to live by the twin loves for God and neighbour (Luke 10:27), how can we not be a community of encouragers? Let me try to connect the dots. If we truly love God we will love people. And if we truly love people we will seek to encourage them. Ultimately we encourage people for God’s sake. But when we do so, we shouldn’t be surprised that we also find new life and energy in our homes, our churches, and in our workplaces.