Close Engagement Gaps with Little Actions: Appreciation in the Workplace
Written by Manoj Agarwal, Co-founder at Xoxoday
You say, “Thank you.” What they hear is, “Please accept my standard, HR protocol-approved format for acknowledging your most recent activity that was intended to bring me value. The act of expressing these words is purely my own in a personal capacity and the organization may not necessarily subscribe to it. I will also appreciate it if you resume work with immediate effect now, without lingering too much on the possible implications of these words as they are—certainly in letter and largely in spirit—routine and perfunctory.” Yes, the gap. It exists. And it is certainly more common than you think. In this article, we look at the nuances of appreciation in the workplace.
CAN THE TWAIN MEET? MINIMISE GAPS OF APPRECIATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Despite their best intentions, when managers and bosses give a pat on the back to a team member who has excelled at the job, it can be interpreted as a “routine round”—just another box on the checklist that needs to be ticked by 6 o’clock. The reverse is equally true. A worker may be perfectly happy receiving a simple thank-you note, but the giver may hesitate under the misconception that it will be perceived as a meaningless, clinical process.
Interestingly, there is a third permutation to the picture: A supervisor (or peer) may not do or say anything but make the sense of appreciation perfectly clear via nonverbal means, body language or gestures. So except for the fourth combination (where a “thank you” is neither expressed nor intended), we see that there can be a complicated crisscross of emotional nuance and semantic innuendo in the air in a workplace at any given time—depending on how you express appreciation, and how it is received.
Adding to the riddle is the illusion of transparency: A theory proposing that humans are prone to thinking that their deportment and conduct is sufficiently transparent to help the environment get a fair sense of what they are thinking and feeling. In other words, we think the message behind that “thank you” is transmitted exactly as originally intended—wrapped in genuine gratitude for the value received (assuming that it is indeed the case). This isn’t always the reality.
Completing this cycle of opacity is the fact that managers and bosses are perpetually decieved about the precise method of articulating their feelings and expressing their appreciation.
The “perfect way”—one that wouldn’t send mixed signals and would capture exactly what they felt—is, according to most of us, a fairly complicated and specialized task best delegated to HR folks. Who, ironically, may be nurturing a similar state of bafflement.
A “GOOD WORD” IS GOOD HABIT AND GOOD BUSINESS: SIGNIFICANCE OF APPRECIATION AT WORK
Talent Thought Leader Pamela Stroko says, “People want to know they matter and they want to be treated as people. That’s the new talent contract.”
Acknowledgement of one’s contribution (appreciation and recognition) along with incentives (rewards and compensation) is among the principal pillars of a motivated and productive workforce. Stats and studies proving the connection are plentiful.
A study by Walden University shows that doubling the number of employees who receive regular and adequate recognition can lead to a happy snowball avalanche: 24% rise in (output) quality, 27% reduction in absenteeism and 10% reduction in shrinkage.
Another exercise revealed that 84% of employees who were powerfully engaged and went the extra mile at work experienced some kind of appreciation or recognition (compared to just 25% of “actively disengaged” employees). And 70% of workers agreed their morale would get a “massive” boost if they got more “thanks” from their supervisors. And the percentage of workplaces that recognized the performance of their employees (and had more engaged workers) vis a vis those that didn’t was 71:41.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE?
Despite the mountain of evidence confirming that (A) a worker who has received recognition of some kind, be it a silent moment of gratitude or flashy prizes, is (B) a happier worker, and (C) is a more efficient worker, the gap remains.
In a survey published by Deloitte, 82% of employees didn’t feel that they were being recognized sufficiently. The bigger question is this: Were the managers in these surveys really being stingy with their recognition, or just poor at communication? Was it a case of wanting to but not being able to? It could well be.
Expressing emotion in a frank and genuine way—without holding back or delaying the moment—can be tricky at the best of times. At higher levels, it is squarely a professional’s job.
A FEW TIPS TO APPRECIATE TEAM MEMBERS
What about the rest of us? Is it possible to simplify the nuts and bolts of employee appreciation and scrunch the big lessons in a compact, easy-to-follow guide? That is exactly the objective of this exercise.
While not a comprehensive guide, the idea here is to handpick, decode and list some simple techniques and tactics that anyone can practice at work. And engage the teams, channels and extended networks by articulating appreciation instantly, successfully and consistently.
DROP BY FREQUENTLY
A simple “Howdy” or “All good?” as you check into work in the morning can often be just enough to make workers feel acknowledged and buoyed. It may feel like a chore in the beginning (especially if it’s not part of the culture), but the feeling will soon morph into a pleasant habit you will grow to look forward to every day.
Employees say in studies that this simple gesture can be as meaningful for them as formal recognition. As a happy bonus, it doubles up as a “guerrilla social listening tool” and ”mood survey” for leaders, helping supervisors stay in the loops and grapevines of all that’s happening in the ranks.
CONVERT EVERYDAY TASKS INTO MAGICAL MISSIONS (WHENEVER YOU CAN!)
A dry memo or email is about as inspiring as a slow internet connection or listening to a politician’s address. So when you are about to dole out “yet another regulation brief” that features the same tasks and asks, stop. Try to mix things up and make it special. While you don’t need to be as dramatic as, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” from Mission Impossible, you can certainly add context, colour and personalization.
Xoxoday Empuls allows recognition of a task well done
Tell the employee why the gig has come to them specifically and not someone else; for example, they did a great job last time or that, according to you, no one can do greater justice to the spirit of the project. Show that their opinion about the task matters greatly by enquiring how much time they think they might need for it (never mind that the company manual spells it out in great detail). Find out whether they need any extra help or hands. And leave with a warm reminder that they can approach you anytime for support. You have not only given the project a truly awesome start, you have also lifted morale to ensure a better outcome, and perhaps won for yourself a good friend.
SHARE POSITIVE FEEDBACK
A good word from the same boss—while necessary and awesome—can get predictable (or, worse, feel “staged”) after a while. Try to look for positive mentions from other sources like peers, clients and extended channels and networks. If someone has appreciated a team member in a mail or text message, be quick to pass it on.
You can do this publicly or convey it in private, depending on your assessment of the situation and the personas involved. Either way, by communicating that the worker is truly making an impact, you have given the ego a delicious massage—something that is bound to show in vibe, mindset and even quality of work.
THROW A CHALLENGE
The workplace isn’t a drone factory manned by clones. It’s usually not where you clock in a fixed number of hours doing exactly what you did yesterday. At its best, it’s a playground where we must be teased constantly to bring out our hidden talents, punch above our weight once in a while and experience the thrill of trying new stuff. Give your workers an opportunity to do all that. While humdrum tasks and unglamorous routines must remain the bread-and-butter of a business, do keep an eye open for opportunities when you can spice up “chores.”
An example of how Xoxoday Empuls helped running a cost saving contest
For instance, you can weave in a fresh angle or KPI or let folks apply their talents in a different department or lateral function that doesn’t just make the workday interesting but allows the worker to learn something new, broaden the skillset and contribute to the company bottom line in unique and novel ways. The mere act of challenging someone shows that you believe that they can achieve the goal, and that in itself is appreciation.
RECOGNIZE AND REWARD
When appreciation comes in the form of incentives and rewards, it adds an extra layer of zing, and authenticity to the employee-employer premise and promise. There are some thumb rules to keep in mind when you plan to shower your workers with ovation and accolade in tangible form (incentives) like prizes and gifts. For one thing, make it ASAP so that you take advantage of the “magic of the moment.” Incentive delayed is incentive denied. The other is to personalize it.
Peer to peer rewards in Xoxoday Empuls democratize the rewarding process
Make sure the reward matches either the special talent and distinct personality of the individual or has a quirky connection with the task or project in question. This will tell them you are aware (and greatly value) their special abilities and skills, and have taken the trouble of stepping beyond the standard gift list to find something truly appropriate. The other critical element to plan is whether you should make this a public or private affair: If there is no particular reason for choosing the private route, go ahead and make a splash by planning an event that lets everyone catch up over the reward ceremony, recharge sparks and rekindle bonds. Finally, do make the gift or incentive commensurate with the occasion: A realty rock-star who has just sold a mansion in the country deserves more than a pizza voucher. Be involved enough to be tasteful, thoughtful and meaningful when choosing your rewards.
APPRECIATION IS A CULTURE, NOT AN ACT
Appreciation is a workplace habit that must be enforced top-down by leadership. Review your rewards policy frequently, keep it “real,” be generous in dispensing praise and plaudits—and you could be pleasantly surprised at the big shifts your small gestures are creating at work.
By enabling unique channels of communication (be it a virtual heads-up or an impromptu party) among workers, by motivating teams and extended networks (gig workers, channel partners, dealers, call centers and BPOs) through timely and accurate incentives, and by letting you pick the right reward for your organization’s rock stars (from a wide range of gifts, branded currency, perks, vouchers and cards), Xoxoday Empuls helps you close the appreciation gap. And take a big leap forward.