Working in a client-facing role is demanding at the best of times, but as people around the world navigate major change and uncertainty, the challenges for frontline employees are noticeably greater.
For many organisations, pivoting to online or remote working isn’t an option, and travelling into work each day to provide essential services to thousands of customers or patients can bring high levels of anxiety and stress for employees.
In addition, some of our favourite ways to show employees appreciation and build morale - making personal connections and providing free food - are complicated by a need to stay safe and maintain distance.
As leaders, we have an opportunity to provide our people with a sense of security. We can connect, motivate and inspire employees simply by recognising and thanking them for their actions and the impact they are making each day.
It’s tempting to only focus on developing crisis communications or business continuity planning, but now, more than ever, our frontline employees need us to say, “I see you and I appreciate what you do.”
Here are five simple steps to build positivity into your day and empower your people during challenging times using the simple act of recognition:
1. Celebrate small wins and progress
During times of uncertainty, we often operate in “survival mode” and forget the importance of acknowledging and rewarding the small victories that employees have experienced throughout their day.
Studies show that of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
A critical factor in this is frequent and continuous reward and recognition, whether that’s a simple “thank you” after they’ve handled a challenging situation with a customer, or offering the team a treat or early clock-off after achieving a deadline. What’s important is for employees to receive that positive reinforcement as they journey through these uncertain times.
2. Recognise what you want to see repeated
You can help reinforce the right behaviours by calling it out and thanking employees as they do it — whether that’s following new health and safety procedures or talking a customer calmly through a revised policy. Recognise employees for how they treat each other too, not just your customers. If they’re staying positive, finding new ways to connect with each other, proactively sharing information, or improving processes, these are all positive things that will help your business thrive.
We’re wired to respond to positive reinforcement, so recognising these actions immediately and with genuine gratitude means your employees get regular, real-time reminders about what good and great looks like today and into the future.
To make sure you are heard in an ever-changing environment consider changing up your patterns - leave Post-it notes for staff, move from weekly to daily quick one-on-ones, increase the amount of recognition you share organisation-wide to spread the gratitude around.
3. Use multiple channels to spread good news
One-to-one catch-ups, toolbox talks, breakroom boards, internal communications platforms and even employee engagement mobile apps are all opportunities to shine a spotlight on positive stories about what employees are doing in different branches or stores.
Don’t just stick to one channel, use every opportunity you can to remind people that good things are still happening every day, and they all have the opportunity to add to that pool of positivity.
Rembrandt Living, an aged care residence located in South Australia, has used its employee engagement hub to communicate important information about COVID-19 and reward and recognise employees as they support their residents. They've even used the platform to give employees a AUD $20 gift as a gesture of thanks.
Rembrandt has also joined the growing list of organisations who are introducing specific eCards to encourage employees to recognise those helping, supporting and innovating during this difficult time.
4. Empower your people to empower each other
How often do you get to see the things your employees have achieved during their shift as they happen? Probably not as often as you’d like. But the likelihood is, a colleague witnessed how they dealt with a disgruntled customer, or went above and beyond to make sure a patient was feeling ok.
Create opportunities for employees to recognise each other as those moments happen, whether that’s on the whiteboard in the break room, by submitting award nominations into a ballot box at the end of a shift, or sending each other eCards on an online recognition platform during the commute home.
5. Make it a habit
Enabling peer-to-peer employee recognition builds the expectation amongst your employees that it isn’t up to managers to look out for great behaviour. Increasing peer-to-peer appreciation will also maintain positive relationships during stressful times. Your whole organisation can own — and be proud of — creating a culture of appreciation.
To make the act of recognising employees easier, combine it with a task or you’re already doing.
For example, if you want the great formula for recognising employees regularly, pair it with an action or habit you already do every day or week. You could say, “After I make my morning coffee, I will send an eCard,” or if you want more people to recognise each other, commit to recognising one employee at each meeting.
The easier you make it for yourself and others to proactively and intentionally look out for daily wins, the more motivated you’ll become. Let’s use every opportunity we can to anchor our people and give them a sense of purpose and ownership as we navigate this time together.