Consider adding rooftops to your cubicles, because a dark and dangerous cloud is looming over the workplace. While research positively reported that 75% of employees around the globe feel appreciated at work, that rosy number comes with sharp and costly thorn--recognition is not being shared equally.
"I'm actually not surprised," Ann Rhoades, Co-Founder of Jet Blue recently told me when I spoke to her at a conference. "Many companies struggle to find ways to get their values off the boardroom wall and truly into their culture. And, sadly, it seems the same group of people suffer each time."
Rhoades is right. Even the best companies and strongest leaders often find themselves scratching their heads in confusion when employee surveys don't match their intentions. These leaders surely didn't intend to neglect a large group of people. And, when it comes to recognition practices, there's no way they would have chosen to purposely overlook the largest portion of their workforce--the individual contributors and non-managerial employees.
"I see this problem all the time," Louis Efron, author of Purpose Meets Execution told me in a recent interview. "Many leaders and companies are very competent about how to get the work done in the organization. What they believe needs to get done rarely gets lost in translation between the various layers of the organization. But, then you see these huge gaps when it comes to communicating 'the why' it needs to get done, how it is important to the business, and in this case, celebrating people for actually getting it done."
Recognition, recently shown in global research to be three times more important than pay, title, autonomy, and perks like vacation time, is the number one thing employees say their boss could give them to inspire great work. However, most organizations, even those who intend on creating cultures of appreciation, are, quite sadly, ignoring the people who want the recognition the most.
Think about these numbers from the study. Fifty percent of company presidents report receiving recognition 'Often or Always' during the past month. Forty-five percent of vice presidents, 54 percent of directors, and 41 percent of managers also report receiving recognition 'Often or Always' during the past month. However, when non-manager or individual contributors were asked how often they received recognition in the past month, only 26 percent responded with 'Often and Always.' As you can clearly see, recognition is not being given equally to all titles and roles of the organization. Individual contributors, by far, feel they receive the least recognition. And, in most companies, these people are the majority of your workforce.
Here's the good news. The ceilings on those cubicles haven't been installed yet, which gives you, as a leader, a massive opportunity to shower your employees with the recognition they deserve. Here are three simple things to look for if you want your people to feel more appreciated at work.
I'm sure they exist, but I have yet to meet a person who starts a job thinking they'll be marginal at best. It just doesn't happen. People seek jobs where they think they'll be able to shine. They want to be the best. They want to do work that makes a difference. And, they invest their energy and effort into their work, until they realize that no one is paying attention. In my younger career I recall a coworker telling me to "Slow down and relax. You'll not only make the rest of us look badly, but the boss doesn't notice anyway." But this attitude is horrible. Effort must be encouraged. When you see employees striving to do something great, cheer them on. Show them you notice the effort and you appreciate it.
Ranging from small wins to huge successes, results come in all shapes and sizes. And although some results hardly seem worthy of recognition, it's your job as a leader to not only show that you noticed the result, but that you understand small daily wins eventually turn into huge accomplishments. All results, small or big, need to be rewarded. An accomplishment has been made, a hurdle crossed, a victory achieved. Reward your people with something that matches the impact of the result. If it's a small result, buy lunch. If it's landing a massive client, well, it's time you show them how much you appreciate their hard, diligent work and the value they just brought to the company.
Research shows that our mindsets, engagement levels, and expectations change at different points in our careers. At one year on the job we're thinking something very different from five years or 10 years on the job. But, there's also all that history on each employee's resume (you know, the reason you hired them) that makes a career. Service anniversaries are the perfect time to show your employees how much you appreciate them -- the whole package -- at work. It could be their history, which gives you knowledge of how another organization did things. It could be their contagious energy, their humor, their 'get it done' attitude. As a leader, it's your job to pay attention to these things and celebrate people for who they are, what they bring, and their entire career.
Yes, the people who may need and deserve recognition the most may be overlooked right now. However, the great news for you as a leader is that you can start making an impact today by sharing the appreciation you feel with your people. As leaders, that's our job--to influence greatness in others.