Each year, on the first Friday of March, companies around the world celebrate Employee Appreciation Day. It gets more attention in the U.S. and Canada than it does in Australia and part of me wishes that’s because we’ve done such amazing work here that all our local business leaders know employees should be appreciated and recognized every day of the year. But the truth is, it’s most likely because many of us are suffering from a bad case of discontent. Instead of taking responsibility for building people up, we either ignore, fear or resent the idea of it.
In most of the organizations I come to work with, managers struggle with recognizing employees. I get it — managers are busy. You’re under pressure to address people and operational issues; sometimes things that are outside the scope of what you were originally trained to do. You might feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea of recognizing employees on your employee recognition program or in other ways because it’s not something you’re familiar with, or something you personally look for yourself.
If recognition doesn’t come naturally to you, set yourself up for success.
Instead of approaching it as an obligation, consider employee recognition as a tool that helps you communicate more clearly with your team members. Used well and often (instead of just once a year!), recognition can make your job as a leader easier. It can provide your employees timely and specific reminders of what “great” looks like in your business, and the type of behaviors that you and the company value. It can remind people of how their contribution is helping the company achieve its mission - something we all need to help us prioritize our work and maintain motivation when things get busy or challenging.
Some people wrongly think that employee recognition means putting their employees up on a pedestal, but it’s not that at all. It is simply communicating what is important and helping your people understand the contribution they are making and what you want to see more of; something that should be a priority for all leaders at all times of the year. I genuinely believe that with conscious practice, all people leaders can make recognition a part of how they lead every day.
Here are some ways you can do this:
Recognition doesn’t always have to involve big parties or complex systems. Starting with something as simple as leaving a Post-it note on someone’s desk or typing up a quick recognition message in an eCard to acknowledge that you’ve noticed an employee has demonstrated one or several of your company values will go a long way. For more inspiration, we're posting up employee recognition ideas on our LinkedIn each week this month. Here's Week One to get you started:
Put something in your diary until it becomes part of your natural routine
Some studies suggest it takes at least 66 days to form a good habit, so set a recurring appointment for at least one per quarter. Use that time to seek feedback from your people. That means having conversations, which means increasing the frequency of communication with employees (tick!) and forming a habit to turn good news you hear about into an opportunity to recognize the employees involved.
Kick off team meetings with a thank you
Use the first five minutes of your time with your team to recognize people for the values they’ve demonstrated, and to point out the type of behaviors that you want to see emulated. This helps them reconnect their work with your company values and mission (another tick!).
Be open and authentic about who you are and how you recognize
While I may like a grand gesture, I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you want employee reward and recognition to be part of what you do everyday, then start by doing it in a way that you are comfortable. That makes it more genuine and meaningful for the person receiving your feedback, and makes the habit one that’s more likely to stick.
I know one employee who told me one of the moments that had the biggest impact was when a boss who didn’t speak up much and typically withheld praise came and tapped him on the shoulder and said thank you for something specific he had worked on.
The fact that their boss noticed and took the time out to say something meant more than announcing anything publicly.
Sure, it takes time to learn what suits your employees, but start simple and it will come.
As leaders, it is up to us to initiate change and to build an environment where our people not only understand our mission but are motivated to do their part to achieve it. To achieve this, we need create an environment where open communication and celebration of success is second nature - something that may require some of us to be to change our mindset or step out of our comfort zone.
If leaders genuinely want to improve how they connect and communicate with their team, then we need to acknowledge the change starts - and continues - with us. Maybe this will be the first Employee Appreciation Day that you write your first ever thank-you note. But please don’t let it be the only time you give employee recognition a shot. As strange or unusual as it is to begin with, the more your practice gratitude, the better you become at it. Soon it will be a mentality and not just an action.
I would love to hear more ideas on how you are recognizing your team - especially as the year progresses and you discover what suits your (and your team members’) personality and leadership style. Starting a new thing and turning into a daily habit might not be easy, but leadership never is! That’s why I encourage you to connect with me or share your progress with us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. For what these changes might bring to our businesses and to the lives of our employees, I’d say stepping out of your comfort zone is certainly worth it.
Kylie Green is the Senior Vice President of Consultancy at Reward Gateway. She has over 20 years of experience working with Australia’s top companies to take their employee engagement strategy to the next level and loves helping leaders find innovative ways to connect with their people and build high-performing, world-class teams.
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