You likely learned the power of “please” and “thank you” from your parents. Those are words, we’re told, that hold magical powers. When you say “please,” you are more likely to fulfill your goal. By saying “thank you,” you not only demonstrate respect and gratitude, but also improve the likelihood of future interactions with that person going well. It is largely engrained into our personal lives that we practice these simple, powerful courtesies. And, truth be, told, we feel better about the world when we say and hear these words - at home, at play, and at work.
According to research, people crave more recognition in the workplace – the freedom to give it and the opportunity to receive it. According to one survey by the John Templeton Foundation, over 80% of the 1,000 adults polled believe that their supervisors don’t recognize what they do for them and 56% wished they would. Further, nearly 90% don’t feel their coworkers recognize what they do and 43% wished they would. Overall 40% of the respondents stated they would put more energy into their work if they felt they were recognized for it. 40% isn’t a majority, and yet, in this pool of respondents, that’s 400 people that would feel better about their work!
So why then are these simple practices absent from so many workplaces?
I believe it stems from a mix of factors, including attitudes and tone at the top, confidence, and competence in offering recognition, and fear around the diverse ways people take in recognition and process it.
Tone at the Top:
We know that if mom and dad never emulated “please” or “thank you” it’s unlikely the kids will learn or practice the skill. This carries over directly into the workplace. The tone at the top around noticing, recognizing, and showing gratitude for colleagues' good acts flows directly into all the other areas of a company.
Interestingly, there are some leaders that believe strongly that gratitude and recognition have no place in the workplace. “Your paycheck is your ‘thank you’” is a prevailing attitude. The Templeton survey found that 35% of the respondents believed that if they expressed gratitude at work, it could lead to people taking advantage of you. Wow. Just wow. That is going to be a tough gerbil wheel to get off of if you perceive acts of courtesy, gratitude, and recognition as a trap.
One of my favorite clients, Sharon, is the exact opposite. She runs a large company and has been leading through example. In every meeting with her team, she finds a way to express gratitude for something, be it someone sharing a perspective, delivering a result, or navigating an incredibly challenging situation. When she witnesses negative behavior, such as one member of her management team dumping on another member, she addresses it afterwards and coaches the critic in how to better frame the issue in a way that is more constructive for all involved.
The result? Constructive debate and problem solving, leaders motivated to support one another as they pursue extremely aggressive goals for growth, and, ultimately, better performance and results.
Confidence & Competence with Recognition:
Like any new skill, practicing gratitude and providing recognition in the workplace is the only way to build the confidence and competence in doing it. Like someone’s golf swing, until you’ve practiced it 10,000 times (or in my case, probably 10 million), it won’t feel natural. The muscle memory only grows as you work the muscles.
If you hop on to the web, you will find lots of ideas on ways to show recognition in the workplace. Some of the ideas are monetary while many are not. Selecting which idea will be most effective demands consideration of what it is that deserves recognition, what the culture of the organization is, and how the recipient is likely to best receive it and process it. All of these aspects need to be aligned and the form of recognition or appreciation needs to be “right sized” for the situation. For example, giving a large gift to someone for work done by a team could backfire. Saying thank you to the HVAC installation team for getting through your busy season with Michael’s craft store gift cards make no sense. Providing extremely public recognition to someone that is very private may actually place them in an uncomfortable situation.
The bottom line: Be thoughtful, intentional, and aligned.
Diverse Ways We Take in Recognition:
It is easy to generalize when we consider what may be effective and meaningful recognition or gratitude. The fact is, however, that how an individual takes in the recognition they receive varies from person to person. Some people crave the public attention, would love to hear their name announced, and beam as they came on stage to give their acceptance speech. Other individuals might appreciate hearing their name, but please don’t make them go on stage. Last, there are those that prefer to be anonymous and private accolades are the most powerful.
Context has a direct impact on how we take in recognition as well. I will never forget being at a conference in Las Vegas where colleagues were being recognized for their efforts at the large annual awards luncheon. The “Member of the Year” award went to an amazing woman who had accomplished some game-changing outcomes, The “Thought Leader of the Year” went to a man that was, at his core, a family man. Unfortunately, in true Vegas spirit, the organizer of the awards ceremony thought it would be a great idea to have the recipients pose with him and two Vegas girls, complete with skimpy outfits and feather wings, when receiving the award and then for the documenting photo. W. T. H. Both recipients were absolutely mortified, and you could see it in their eyes as they remained as professional as they could, smiling for the camera. To this day, they remember the flippin’ feathers almost more than receiving the award and no longer hold the organization in high esteem.
Thanksgiving will be here soon. I challenge you to bring it into your workplace this week, next week, and every week. If you do, you will likely see tangible results and a return on an intentional investment in gratitude and recognition. Consider this:
Remember those 40% of adults that said they would bring more energy to work if they felt they were noticed and recognized for their efforts? It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that Mom was right.
“Please” and “Thank you” are magical.
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