By Adrian Gostick
I was on a flight from Las Vegas this week when I overhead a fascinating conversation. The flight attendant was energetic and upbeat, a true ambassador for the airline. He was so atypical, in fact, that the two men seated behind me asked if they could speak to corporate and get him recognized. His good nature faded as he grumbled, “That’s very nice of you, but please don’t bother. We have a recognition system, but you need about three billion points before you can get anything worthwhile. I have maybe 280,000 points, which I think is like a $50 gift certificate.”
Here was an amazing employee who was persevering despite the airline’s poor recognition system. Did he have more to give? Probably. Was he dissatisfied, disheartened and even dismayed by the lack of acknowledgement for his great work? Without a doubt.
Employees are fed up. They admit they have more to give, but just don’t feel like giving it.
As proof, consider a new study just conducted of worker satisfaction in the United States. More than half the respondents claimed they are not satisfied with the level of recognition they receive at work—up a whopping 11% from six months ago. But more to the point, 65% of people who are otherwise satisfied—those who aren’t interested in finding a new job—admit they would work harder if they just received more praise for their efforts.
As a manager, ignore these findings at your peril.
The study, conducted in August by MarketTools Inc. for Globoforce, found that a lack of sincere recognition is also leading to employee turnover. Some 38% of working Americans say they are looking to leave their current companies. And the researchers found a startling correlation between the level of recognition a manager gives and the loyalty of his or her workers.
The problem is, few leadership teams are grasping the importance of this issue. As we work with executive groups, most are failing to admit the true toll on morale that this recession has wrought. Without exception, they’ve laid off workers and/or asked Herculean efforts from their remaining staff. And yet the level of appreciation has not increased; in fact in most cases it’s decreased—after all, leaders are really, really busy.
In one of our surveys, a 10-year look at 200,000 people, we found managers who give frequent, specific, and timely recognition had not only much higher levels of employee engagement but also customer satisfaction and team profitability. These basics are things you can do right away to impact engagement:
Frequent: The Gallup Organization’s research shows that for employees to feel valued and committed, they need to receive some form of praise or recognition every seven days. That doesn’t mean you’ll be handing out Rolex watches every week (if you do, sign me up). Instead, employees need verbal and written reinforcement of their work. Managers who earn the most trust and dedication of their people do so with many simple, yet powerful actions: writing a sincere note of thanks, highlighting a team member’s performance in a staff meeting, doing their least favorite task for a day, sending an e-card of praise to an employee and copying your boss, and so on.
Specific: Non-specific praise is actually disheartening for employees, since it implies that their manager has no idea of the unique value they bring. Managers who offer this type of general praise may think they are rewarding the entire team with comments such as “Thanks, everyone, for your hard work.” But such general praise has no effect. It can even have a negative impact on those in your charge. The best recognition is specific to the individual, and is always linked to a core value.
Timely: Nothing saps energy faster than doing something great and hearing no praise. To be recognized weeks or even a month later is of some reward, but realistically in 99% of cases a manager will forget if he puts it off. To reinforce the right behaviors, we must reward them right away.
In our work, we have found many great managers reaping the tangible benefits of frequent, specific, and timely recognition. These are learnable skills that can truly change your team for the better.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several New York Times bestselling business books, including The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution. He is the founder of The Culture Works, a global consultancy specializing in leadership and corporate culture.