Employee recognition is so fundamental. It’s the second item on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs after food and safety. And yet over and over again it comes up on employee engagement and organizational culture surveys.
Lack of appreciation from a manager is one of the top reasons why employees leave a company. How can such a simple and basic act of recognizing another person still be missing in our workplaces?
According to Marcus Buckingham, “People leave managers, not companies.”
It’s happening in a medium-sized manufacturing plant in a small town and it’s happening in a large, national financial services organization. In both cases, employees told me about recent retirements as examples of lack of employee recognition. In both cases, their last days would go by and few people would even know they were leaving. No mention in a company newsletter, no cake and coffee on the last day, just a ship passing in the night. In one case the employee had been with organization for over 30 years!
And now we come to the elephant in the room. It’s a great big elephant because for every employee you ignore, others are watching and also experiencing that lack of recognition. It’s a message that resonates loudly throughout the organization and that message is: people don’t matter.
Why is giving recognition so difficult?
- Are we making it too complicated with our formal recognition programs? First you have to log in, then you have to type up the interaction you want to recognize, then you have to choose a recognition category, etc.
- The culture of the organization doesn’t support recognition. I know one organization that has an internal points program where employees can award points to other employees and then employees can redeem the points for gifts. But people don’t really use it until there’s a reminder that the points are going to expire. That’s because the culture of the organization is focused on every man for him or herself. Everyone is busy trying to climb the ladder to partner. Who cares what’s going on around them?
- However, the biggest complaint managers give for not providing appreciation is lack of time. Hard to believe with 86,400 seconds in a day that one couldn’t use a few to say a thank you.
Giving recognition is management 101. It’s time to kick this elephant back to the jungle and take action.
1. Just say thank you. Make it a goal to say at least one thank you every day. It can be in person, perhaps at the end of the meeting when you thank everyone for their participation. It can be in an email when a report is completed. It can be in a newsletter when a project is completed. One of my clients has a specific section in their weekly newsletter for Employee Shout Outs. The words of good work come from their managers, their peers and even their clients. By making it a weekly activity it drives a culture of recognition. The message is: our people matter. I challenge you to keep track of the number of thank you’s you deliver in one week. Keep track of the delivery mechanism as well. Are they all via email? Are there ways you can expand your network of thank you’s?
2. Coach for employee recognition. So you’re good at saying thank you – how about the people around you? If it’s something you believe in and you’re comfortable with, then you have a great opportunity to help others around you also get comfortable with recognizing others’ work. I would argue that you not only have an opportunity, you have an obligation to grow the management skills of those around you, especially if you want to grow your organization. Be sure to insert employee recognition skills into your performance management system if you really want to drive a change in behavior with your management team.
3. Review your rewards and recognition programs. Are your programs getting traction like the Employee Shout Out program or are they collecting dust like the Shine Points program? Are you recognizing and giving thanks to employees or promoting an every man for himself culture?
Finally, while you’re travelling either into work or on your way home today take a few minutes to ask yourself what it would take to be more appreciative of those around you. If you start the conversation with sentences that start with I can’t (I can’t figure out who to thank, I can’t find the time to add this into my day, I can’t afford to buy recognition gifts) then I ask you to stop and re-word those thoughts and replace the word can’t with the word won’t. Which is it? Can’t or won’t?
Successful leaders understand that you must address one of the most basic needs of people on this planet by showing your appreciation authentically and often. And by the way, even senior leaders need appreciation too – when was the last time you thanked your boss or chairman of the board?
Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive says: “None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you.”