“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”—Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics.

A lot is written about the importance for business leaders to prioritize empathy and extend appreciation to American workers. A body of research has shown that the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in the workplace. It is recognized as a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global market. When business leaders show appreciation and empathy for subordinates, it has a compelling impact on job engagement, satisfaction and motivation and productivity.

However, a SWNS research study of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Motivosity reported that over half of remote workers didn’t feel the love from higher-ups as they faced the struggles of 2020. A total of 79% said knowing they were appreciated would motivate them and boost their mental health. Praise and recognition are important human needs, and it’s imperative that business leaders give it freely and frequently. But what about reserving those same sentiments for the higher-ups, too? After all, they work long and hard like everyone else.

You never know the hidden emotional burdens your team leader, CEO or supervisor carry on a daily basis, but one thing’s for sure. They have their share of struggles, just like everyone else, especially with the outbreak of Covid-19. Business leaders need appreciation and compassion just like employees do.But how often do they get their share of atta-girls and atta-boys, and what effect does praise have on their performance? We give leaders a pat on the back on National Boss’s Day once a year in October, but is that enough? Not according to Gallup, which says workplace praise needs to be delivered on a regular basis because it tends to wear off within a span of seven days.

The Concept Of Reciprocity

The appreciation highway is not a one-way street. The concept of reciprocity is at play, and it goes both ways. New research shows it pays to appreciate your supervisor. When employees show appreciation to their leaders, the leaders have more positive energy, feel appreciated, have a more optimistic outlook, life and job satisfaction, and their helping improves. When the boss is happy, everyone benefits from the bottom up and the top down, and it’s profitable for employees as well as the company’s bottom line. Companies benefit when they prioritize employee well-being and employees benefit when they return the favor. When companies show compassionate leadership and prioritize the needs of the employees, it’s like a boomerang. And appreciation in return comes back up the ladder and back down again. You have a positive engagement cycle, more satisfied employees and a more profitable company.

It Can Be Lonely At The Top

Being a business owner or leader comes with its own unique pressures and stressors that employees may not be privy to. Throw in the pandemic and trying to manage the complex new ways of remote working, laying off workers or closing doors altogether, and it can be daunting. Many business owners and supervisors feel like they have no one to turn to who understands the ups-and-downs they go through. Jacqueline Snyder, product startup expert and co-founder of The Product Boss provided insights into what it’s like at the top: “When you, as the business owner, are struggling, who do you turn to for help? Do you call your best friend and ask them how you will make payroll when the business is down? Or what about when your business is thriving, and you just hit a huge financial goal? When a fellow mom at school asks you how you are doing, do you respond with, “we are up 400% in revenue?” No. Business owners often feel alone in their responsibilities, decisions and ultimately victories.”

Wildbit is a software company that has operated remotely for 20 years, currently with 32 team members spread across seven countries. According to CEO and co-founder Natalie Nagele, “This idea that the company has needs, and that these needs are somehow different from those of the people who run and work for that company is counterproductive. Businesses are designed to support human beings, not the other way around. When you flip your perspective, it opens up a new line of thinking. For Wildbit, it gave us the confidence to support a fully remote team and to do things like experiment with a 4-day work week. If the company exists to support you, then you can start to ask, ‘What do I need to do my best work? What would a meaningful and productive work environment look like for my team?’”

Why Empathy And Appreciation Work

Empathy neutralizes negativity. Imagine you’re having dinner with someone special in an expensive restaurant with candlelight, soft music and intimate conversation. Your server is invasive, impatient and short tempered. How would you feel? Most people would say annoyed or angry. Then the manager informs you that the server’s little boy was killed in a car wreck that she’s a single mom and has to work. Now how would you feel? Most people would say empathetic.

What changed? She’s still the same. But something inside you switched from anger to empathy because you automatically put yourself in her place. Chances are you feel kinder, and your actions toward her are positive despite her unprofessional behavior. Your empathy might even change your decision-making process. You might leave her a generous tip despite the poor service. The ability to temporarily take up residence in someone else’s perspective frees you from your own narrow thoughts and snap judgments. It neutralizes hard feelings and imbues you with a softer approach to miscommunication and disputes.

Sending Empathy And Appreciation Back Up The Chain

There are various ways to send empathy and appreciation back up the chain of command. In the Motivosity study, employees said words from their supervisors were their preferred method of appreciation. They wanted to hear a simple “thank you” such as, I appreciate you doing that, That was helpful, Your time is valuable, I appreciate your help and You went above expectations on this. Similar words of appreciation as those cited in the Motivosity study, along with a handshake, can mean a lot to your boss as well. Or sending an email with well-deserved praise and recognition after your supervisor puts in long hours or shows sensitivity to your personal needs such as, “I really like the way you encourage us to take time out for self-care.” Throw your boss a thumbs up after the successful launch of a project or when your team reaches a milestone or accomplishes a goal. Give atta-girls or atta-boys to your supervisor for outstanding leadership when a project is a success or a failure.

Aside from direct appreciation, there are indirect ways to support supervisors. You can do your part to establish open communication about workplace problems and concerns and an environment of mutual support and respect. It helps to hold judgment at arm’s length when you’re frustrated, angry or dissatisfied with a supervisor. Your ability to temporarily suspend your perspective and see his or her point of view (not necessarily agree) is a powerful tool. It softens your negative emotions, and both you and your supervisor respond more positively, clearing the way for an equitable solution to the problem. Striving for a harmonious connection through empathy and respect for your boss’s point of view (whether you agree or not) can establish a win-win strategy, instead of a win-lose approach, which automatically removes tension and conflict so that both parties benefit.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: https://bryanrobinsonphd.com.