By Jane Sparrow
With a lack of employee recognition for their contributions the single biggest factor for British people feeling disengaged at work, it’s fair to say we’ve got work to do on appreciating the people who work for us. Add in the further expectation, pressure and stress that the current pandemic is placing on many of us and this need for recognition is even more essential.
For something that seems so simple – saying thank you – the reality is that it’s either not happening or not happening anywhere near enough (in meaningful ways) in many organisations. We know this from the thousands of people we speak to on our programmes and as part of our client culture audits every year. As a nation, we may be standing on our doorsteps every Thursday to clap for our carers (and rightly so!), but the penny doesn’t seem to have dropped for all businesses that their own employees deserve some extra recognition too.
Every human being has a fundamental need to feel valued. Feeling that we have value goes part way to building a sense of purpose in life. Without a purpose, it’s very difficult to find motivation. It’s certainly hard to be engaged in anything if we don’t feel valued by those around us. Therefore the fact that less than half (49%) of the respondents in the same survey reference above said they felt valued by their superiors, is fairly alarming. As a leader or manager, if you behave in a way that values others, appreciating those who work around you every day, in different ways, amazing things will happen.
Make it personal
You can make a thank you personal in so many different ways. For some leaders, it’s a handwritten letter or card, for others it’s an impromptu drop-in into a regular team meeting (this works brilliantly virtually!) to thank someone, for others it’s a gift chosen specifically for a certain individual. However you say thank you, make it personal and sincere.
Face to face
It’s quite easy, (albeit great practise!), to drop someone an email to say thanks for a job well done but it takes on a whole new meaning if you’re able to actually track that individual down and deliver your thanks and appreciation personally – a phone call is still better than an email whilst we’re all working remotely.
Horses for courses
Different types of personalities like different types of appreciation. Some love a public thank you in the team meeting, others will value a private demonstration of appreciation much more. Get to know your people and the sort of appreciation they will love.
I knew someone senior in the police force who had cards printed with his name on and would carry a stash around with him ready to write them with his fountain pen and give out to people there and then if he saw/heard they had done a great job. Being ready to show appreciation can make it much easier to deliver.
Scratch below the surface
It’s relatively easy to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ but they’re wasted words if the recipient doesn’t feel there is much understanding of the work that goes on behind the scenes. If you’re showing appreciation for a job well done, explain why you believe it was such a good job and what the impact on others has been.
Appreciate the bigger picture
When we’re caught up in business priorities and what needs to get done (never truer than now!), it’s easy to forget the wider impact of working life, especially at times when going above and beyond is required. Appreciate not only the effort your people make but the impact on their wider lives and recognise it appropriately. This is particularly relevant right now as millions are forced to take their work home (literally).
I know a leader who likes to surprise employees with a celebratory party style thank you on a Friday afternoon. He walks through the open plan office, with a loudspeaker in hand announcing the achievements of a certain employee and the key actions that had led to success. He then welcomes everyone to join him in a round of applause for that person. Not so possible in our current context but if a public thank you is appropriate, there’s some great fun, virtual appreciation techniques which go down a storm.
Recognise effort ahead of constructive critique
Appreciation is a key part of delivering successful critique. So often, employees have invested huge amounts of effort and energy into something, only to feel utterly deflated when the immediate feedback is critical. Ahead of challenging or critiquing work, always acknowledge the effort that has already gone into it.
Create a two way dialogue
As a leader, when you see that an individual has done something it’s great to find them (possibly virtually right now!) and congratulate them personally by saying ‘well done’ but what adds even more impact is also inquiring about what has helped them make it happen. It shows you’re genuinely interested, really understand the gravitas of what has been delivered and want to know how it might be replicated.
Circle back to appreciate success
Things move on so quickly in business (again – so true right now) and it’s easy to forget to check back in on the individuals behind the success of a certain project or initiative. Always take time to revisit the actual human beings that delivered something successfully to honour their achievements, recognise their efforts and show interest in what can be learned or transferred for future projects.
Top up your own tank!
As well as being on the receiving end, let’s not forget how it makes you feel as a person when you appreciate others. Appreciating others is a great way to feel good yourself and top up your own tank of positivity, energy and serotonin. If you sit and write a letter to someone to appreciate them it feels like a very positive thing to do and thus also has an impact on your own personal resilience. Appreciation is a leadership behaviour that will make you feel great, as well as those around you.
The act of appreciation is a big untapped opportunity in business today. Human nature means that we are motivated by so much more than status and pay grade and as a leader, remembering this is vital. Make daily, personal appreciation of those around you a daily habit and you’ll be amazed at the results it brings. There’s never been a better time to do it.
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