Sometimes, major life events—the death of a relative, a natural disaster, a global health crisis—help people stop and realize that the little things in life are, in fact, the big things. Perhaps you’ll be more inclined to notice the sweet-smelling roses on your walk; maybe you’ll appreciate the shape of a cloud overhead. As it turns out, employee appreciation is about the “little things,” too. More often than not, the biggest strides you can take towards letting your employees know they are valued and appreciated are determined by the seemingly insignificant aspects of the daily workplace routine. And no, you’re not doing enough by simply throwing pizza parties to thank your staff. A recent article published by HBR explores the do’s and don’ts of employee appreciation, as told by one organization’s staff members. The takeaway: frequent, genuine, meaningful, and well-intentioned communication with your employees goes a long way.
First, incorporate regular interactions with your team members into your routine. All it takes is a simple “good morning” or “how is everything going?” to create space for dialogue with your employees about what they’re working on. And, in the process, they may even share tidbits about their personal lives that will add depth and perspective to your relationship.
Second, try to avoid the “compliment sandwich” approach to giving your employees feedback. In other words, don’t insert a piece of constructive feedback between two compliments, as is often prescribed as a polite means of gently delivering criticism. This method detracts from the weight and meaning of each individual comment and confuses employees. They often end up leaving the interaction wondering whether they’re doing well or poorly in your eyes. Instead, use a given interaction to focus on either positive or constructive feedback so that your employees have a clear understanding of what they should be focusing on.
Third, take advantage of opportunities to discuss professional growth with your employees. Give them a chance to share their career goals and paint a picture of what their future may hold at your organization. This not only demonstrates that you care about their professional advancement, but it also creates an opportunity for you to discover areas where your employees want to grow and then to align your employees’ goals with your vision. Be sure that, if you are having these types of discussions with your employees, you follow up with a plan of action to advocate on their behalf and carve their path forward—otherwise, over time, your employees will begin to suspect that these conversations are happening in a vacuum and their goals never come to fruition.
As you broaden and deepen your communication with your employees, it is likely that you will begin to increasingly trust and respect them. If you find this to be the case, and if your line of work allows, try to offer flexibility to your staff where possible. Simply giving them the option of flexible working hours or remote work is a tangible way to show your trust and respect. Your employees will appreciate the offer and will be more likely to trust and respect you in return.
Whatever approach(es) you take to improve communication with your team, be consistent. Your efforts will quickly lose meaning if your “good mornings” are few and far between. That being said, there is a fine line between consistency and automation. If you treat interactions with your employees like a chore, you may be unintentionally signaling that sentiment by using a robotic tone of voice or by repeatedly glancing down at your phone. Soon, your employees will dismiss these interactions—and you—as forced and ingenuine.
Honesty & Sincerity
Along these same lines, if you are not someone who typically seeks out opportunities to interact with your employees, don’t abruptly start now. A sudden shift in your behavior will have insincerity written all over it. Instead, if you wish to start down the path of improving your communication with your employees, then that is exactly what you should tell them. Be honest and share that you are working to improve some of your leadership skills, especially employee communication and appreciation, and ask them to share any suggestions or preferences they may have. For instance, some people may disclose that they relish the idea of public recognition, while you may find out that others detest it.
Reviews & Recognition
A great place to start your journey to better appreciating your employees is by following, or establishing, standard company procedures like performance reviews, quarterly check-ins, and employee awards or recognition ceremonies. To you, these may seem unimportant, but to your employees, they represent landmark opportunities to gain clarity about their role in your organization. Additionally, allowing your employees the opportunity to be recognized, not only by you but also by each other, lends itself to a more collaborative environment. Your employees can hear exactly what their work did for someone else and why it was appreciated.
Free & Contagious
To summarize, pizza isn’t free, but appreciation generally is. By striving for more sincere and meaningful communication, not only will your team feel more valued, but they will follow your lead. In turn, they will be more likely to embrace the culture of appreciation you create and pay it forward to their colleagues.