I will admit, this has been a tough one for me. I have read the studies and the statistics about how when employees feel recognized and appreciated, they feel valued and willing to go above and beyond.
But I didn’t grow up that way. I grew up in a blue-collar household. My parents were the sort to put your head down and grind out each day. Your pay cheque was the reward. When I first started working in the white-collar world, it was very different. There were no buzzers to signal breaks or lunch time or the end of shift. We were trusted to start on time, take your breaks when you needed, leave after you’ve put in a day of work. Once I was used to the new routine, I figured that was it. Do your job, your pay is your reward. Don’t do your job, get fired. It was binary for me but not for everyone else.
When I started managing people for the first time, I didn’t fully get it. Why do you need me to recognize and appreciate you, if I employ you and give you a certain remuneration package and you do the work we agree to? As time went on and I started learning lessons on motivating employees, I learned that appreciation was a top motivator, more so than any compensation. Studies often put appreciation in the top 5 of motivators! I had to unlearn what I thought I knew was “right” and learn a new approach.
I struggled with this over the years, shifting to appreciating when someone did something above-and-beyond or outside of the scope of their work. It took me years to realize that it all matters, everyday. Authentically saying “Thank you” on a regular basis is meaningful and important to people.
Here are the things that took me years to figure out (and by the way am still learning):
☑️ Observe – pay hyper-attention for when things go right. We have hawk-eyes when it comes to finding the things that go wrong because usually there is a consequence. Notice when things are not going wrong and appreciate your people for keeping things going smoothly.
☑️ Say Thank-you – be specific about what you are thanking them for and within a short time after the situation occurred. Keep it simple.
☑️Learn about your employee’s preferences – some employees prefer public recognition and others prefer it privately.
☑️Change it up – Hand-written notes, voice-notes, emails, phone call, in person. I’m not sure that anything beats a handwritten note though. I still have thank-you cards and notes I’ve received over the years that I refer to when I am not feeling my best, and they always perk me up. It is the gift that has kept on giving.
☑️Just try it – put yourself out there. An employee will appreciate the effort. And, if you’re worried that it will come off clunky and weird, try a bit of transparency and vulnerability with your employees. Let them know that you are working on your appreciating and recognizing skills, so you’re going to try some things and would appreciate some feedback from them on if it is landing with them.
The best part of all this, it doesn’t cost you a cent. So many leaders seem to struggle with this one. Keep trying and keep learning. It is a sure road to higher levels of employee engagement.