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I recently read an interesting article by Erika Flora where she posed an extremely thought-provoking question: "Do you praise your teams enough?" She continued by discussing the benefits of motivating individuals via recognition and praise and offered some valuable tips for easy ways to show more appreciation and regard for employees.
Coincidentally, right after reading her post, I stumbled onto the following article by Eva Jenkins: "The Honeymoon is Over! 22 Million Workers Are Divorced From Their Jobs!" Jenkins' article focuses on the shocking fact that there are 22 million disgruntled workers in the American workforce.
Both these articles made me wonder if the American corporate culture makes employees feel like valuable contributors or just a means to an end? Would job satisfaction and employee morale and retention be higher if there was a concerted effort to treat each employee as if he or she was the most valuable asset a company had?
Do companies give their employees enough credit for their achievements? The short answer—based on the stats above—seems to be no. Is that a huge problem or does it really matter? Let's look at the matter closely to see.
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What Happens When Employees Feel Devalued?
Nothing good happens when employee morale is low and staff members do not feel like they are important or make significant contributions to a business. Some of the top problems caused by unhappy, angry employees include:
1. Unscheduled absenteeism and lower productivity: Over 60 percent of unhappy, unfulfilled employees take more sick days and miss more work, according to a survey by CCH entitled "Unscheduled Absence Survey," which cited low employee morale as the driving force behind unscheduled absences. Most employees who call off for work are dealing with personal or family problems versus being sick. Unscheduled absences are costly according to a survey that showed the following: "Gallup statistics show that unhappy workers cost the American business economy up to $350 billion annually in lost productivity!"
2. Poor customer relations: When employees become disgruntled with a company, they do not respond as quickly or as appropriately to customer problems and complaints. In some cases, they may even vent to the customer about their dissatisfaction with company policies or management issues. This can result in the loss of business or alienate clients.
3. Toxic work environment: "Misery loves company" according to the old adage, and if you've ever had the misfortune of having to work alongside a hostile, bitter colleague, I'm sure you would agree. When an individual becomes disenchanted with an employer for whatever reasons—valid or invalid—he or she creates a toxic, uncomfortable atmosphere and typically disrupts the corporate culture in a variety of ways. Some of these individuals can be very passive/aggressive in their actions, while others become vocal and hostile. Either way, they are not pleasant work companions for anyone.
4. Higher attrition rates: Low employee morale coupled with a feeling of being devalued and unimportant causes most individuals to look for a new job. Whether the root cause of their job satisfaction is a concrete one such as poor management, a mismatch of their skills versus their job position, poor communication or a perceived issue, the bottom line is a loss for both the company and the employee. The business owner must invest time and resources in recruiting and training a new employee, while the former employee loses seniority and job security.
While there are many more issues that are caused when employees feel neglected and undervalued—they may sabotage or impede a project's progress, for example—most of these problems can be avoided easily. To keep any relationship, whether business or personal, strong and healthy, it's important to make the other person feel needed and vital to the relationship. In other words, the courtship and honeymoon phase should never end.
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Are You Fighting the Right Fire?
If you think that keeping your employees happy and productive equals spending a ton of money, you'll be glad to know that you are wrong. In fact, most people work harder and longer to achieve a non-monetary reward than to receive a cash incentive as evidenced by the huge success of Mary Kay Ash's cosmetic company (approximately 2.5 billion in sales), which was founded on the Golden Rule. Mary Kay continually encouraged her team members to treat people as if they were wearing a sign that said, "Make me feel important."
As a former Mary Kay Sales Director, I've seen consultants respond to this type of praise and encouragement and push past obstacles to become the top salesperson for the week to earn a ribbon or recognition as the king or queen of sales. During my managerial career, I used the techniques I learned from Mary Kay and other successful coaches and motivators to "praise my staff to success." This brings us full circle to the question posed earlier by Flora about how often or how well we recognize our employees for their efforts or how we can create high-functioning sales, service and marketing organizations.
As managers, it's easy to be sucked into a cycle of reaction instead of response to real or imagined emergencies. We can become so involved in putting out the current fire that we forget who the real fire fighters are.
When employees are performing at a high level of quality and productivity, we may forget about their value and contribution to our organization because we've become overly focused on the problem employees. While on some level we understand that 80 percent of the productivity is coming from 20 percent of our staff, we neglect to tell these valuable individuals how much they mean to us and how important they are. Even worse, we recognize and praise the top achievers but neglect those consistent, steady producers who bring in sales and profits month after month.
The unfortunate result is that many times these key employees become discouraged and depressed, and they leave for another job. It's important to remember to recognize key staff members on a regular basis no matter what is happening in the corporate environment.
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What's the Solution?
Reversing this trend and retaining trained, seasoned staff members is easy, but it does require effort on the part of management. It's not enough to devise and implement a plan. Starting and abandoning a recognition program because you forgot to plan for how to maintain it for the long haul is more damaging to employee morale than not having such a program at all.
Recognition programs must provide a reward that has perceived value to the employee, be an immediate response to the action or achievement, and be specific about the accomplishment. While it does not need to be in writing, people do love to see their name in print so a line or two about their success in the company newsletter or email communications or a plaque or accolade on a wall of fame produces huge returns on investment for any business. Some quick ways to do this are:
- Create a "serving in the shadows" award for employees who typically go unrecognized (support staff, warehouse workers, delivery teams)
- Throw a surprise staff appreciation day party
- Offer spontaneous, extended lunch or dinner breaks for special achievements
- Start a company newsletter if you don't already have one
- Schedule a special one-on-one lunch or meeting to recognize an individual's achievement
Whether you opt for monetary or non-monetary rewards or a combination of both to encourage and recognize employees, the most important thing is to make the other person feel valued. Compliments must be sincere. While praise is important, it loses its value if overdone or given at an inappropriate time or for a trivial reason. Praise excellence not mediocrity; a simple, heartfelt thank you note left on someone's computer or desk is the most encouraging thing you can do.
- Jenkins, Eva, "The Honeymoon is Over! 22 Million Workers are Divorced From Their Jobs," http://vipinnovations.com/article-the-honeymoon-is-over.php
- Image: Crafoordpriset 2009 Award Ceremony by Attribution: Prolineserver 201, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA 3.0
- Image: Fire photography by Sylvain Pednault under CC-BY-SA 3.0
- Undisclosed, "CCH Survey Finds Most Employees Call in "Sick" for Reasons Other Than Illness," http://www.wolterskluwer.com/Press/Latest-News/2007/Pages/pr_11oct07_2.aspx
- Flora, Erika, "Do you praise your teams enough?", http://pmstudent.com/do-you-praise-your-teams-enough/%20