A Simple Thanks Will Suffice

A senior manager sits quietly in the vice-president’s office, waiting to get an earful from her boss. He is livid because two of their most valuable employees left to work for the competition.
The manager might have known more about why but so many tasks prevented her from checking in how employees were doing. In this business there is simply no time for informal niceties.
She might have known more but the bulk of their contact was spent fixing problems, leaving no time to discuss things like successes. She could have had better insight into what would make them happy, what their ideas and values were, but meetings had to be spent providing direction and instruction. She had hoped to get their input, just as soon as these big projects were off her plate, but they never seemed to be. Now here she sits having to explain what went wrong. She only hears from him when something goes wrong, but she does so many great things. If his approach is poor she may leave too. Is it any wonder what the problem is?

Employee recognition and engagement is a valuable corporate strategy and not merely in stemming turnover. There is value in employee engagement far beyond retaining valued employees.
While engaging and recognizing employee contributions has a great impact, a far more profound impact is not doing so. Lack of recognition produces one of the most menacing of organizational outcomes — people who are paid 100% of their salary but working at only 60% of their capacity, and management not recognizing it.
Common complaints by employees include, “The boss only pays attention when there is something wrong.” “I can do 50 things well and I never hear about it. But when something goes wrong, I hear about it excessively.” Then there is, “I wouldn’t mind negative feedback so much if it was balanced with positive,” or “I care so little about this work because I am bored and uninvolved.” The lack of recognition or engagement can be a major cause of dissatisfaction, resentment and high employee turnover.

To make matters worse, managers and supervisors frequently misdiagnose a perceived lack of engagement as a bad attitude or a lack of skills. Such assessments can lead supervisors to try to improve performance through accusations, heavy-handed management tactics and even threats of termination. The problem is such approaches rarely work, more often backfiring by disengaging employees further. The problem lies not with the employee but with the skills of managers and supervisors, as well as with the organization’s approach to recognition and engagement.
Clearly, one major responsibility of managers is to manage people. Managing people does not begin with managing policies, ideas, paper or even processes. It begins with the actions of management, not with those of employees. For example, managers find that when they do something as simple as check in midway through a project, they discover problems that can be fixed before the deadline. But because managers feel it is not their responsibility to check in, they miss out on the chance to impact results beyond putting out fires. They are willing to let things go wrong because they don’t feel they should have to be the ones to set things right. This approach is not proactive or responsible.

Ultimately, recognition is about managers seeing beyond their own interests and recognizing that the ability to count on staff is not just about trading work for a paycheque. People are dynamic, complicated and have needs that transcend exchanging work for money. Many employees want to be involved, they want a sense of purpose and knowledge of their results and to work with people they like. The key in managing such needs is involvement and engagement. Little things such as asking an employee’s opinion, explaining the objectives of a project so he or she understands its importance and informing him or her of the work’s outcome are simple ways to enhance involvement.
Engagement is largely about ensuring employees’ butts and heads are in the same place. Lack of recognition can prevent this engagement. When people are not recognized for their accomplishments or are ignored by their supervisors, they become pre-occupied with what they are not getting. This preoccupation will take energy and time from their jobs. As well, this dissatisfaction may rub off on others through gossip and complaints. Employees will confide in peers, other managers and even clients when they are disengaged. This can result in a bad impression of the organization, impacting its business and ability to attract new talent.
So what is the solution? While many organizations spend time and money developing formal employee recognition programs and engagement procedures, the most successful methods are simple and inexpensive. In fact, the most crucial ones usually cost nothing. For employees, recognition covers everything from having their work and efforts noticed to the seemingly mundane greeting or asking about their family, weekend or interests. Often, in a frenetic work environment managers forgo such simple forms of recognition. Also many workplaces emphasize problem-solving, so little time is spent talking to employees about their successes, positive outcomes and their lives outside work.
Monetary rewards should not be offered for meeting a tight deadline or solving a problem. After all, such tasks are part of the job. However, employees should be recognized for meeting that challenge. Often a verbal thank you does the trick. If a manager is not informally thanking his or her staff at least two or three times a month, it’s a missed opportunity to motivate employees. While simple forms of recognition may seem unnecessary, the absence of such gestures sends a strong message to employees that affects commitment, loyalty and level of engagement.
Some managers feel that because they don’t need recognition, or never get it, others don’t need it either. Such thinking is problematic. People are different, and being a good leader is about adapting to the diverse needs of followers. People should be managed based on what is, not what should be. If a manager experiences a lack of recognition, he or she should learn from experience and offer employees what he or she has missed out on.
While managers may not hear about the absence of recognition gestures, they can be sure the topic is brought up around the proverbial water cooler. Employee perceptions and gossip can produce untrue assumptions about a boss’s character that could harm a reputation and a career.
Far too many senior managers use such words as “collaborative,” “cooperative” and “teamwork,” but given the opportunity to exercise these values, they default to telling employees what will be done. People are more likely to buy in to initiatives and actions they are involved in than those dictated to them. That’s the true value of engagement — it creates buy-in, commitment, loyalty and excellence because people want to be part of what they do.
This can be as simple as asking what the employee thinks or for suggestions. Again, the pace of organizational life makes it seem more efficient to tell people what to do. Talking teamwork but not doing so can disengage employees so that any time saved by dictating will be lost in employee disinterest.
Sometimes, managers think employees’ views have no value and they know best. However, asking employees what they think can raise a manager’s credibility. Just because you ask, does not mean you have to do what employees suggest — the magic is considering others’ opinions.
If you want employees to stick around, try simple approaches. In the best case, you might find employees provide a new perspective; at worst, you will be seen as thoughtful and considerate.

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